Home » Same Idea, 26 Years Apart: 1980 Subaru Brat vs 2006 Subaru Baja

Same Idea, 26 Years Apart: 1980 Subaru Brat vs 2006 Subaru Baja

Sbsd 5 12 2023
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Good morning, and happy Friday to you all! For our end of the week showdown, we have a Subaru truck, and… a Subaru truck. So let’s finish up with yesterday’s plain white sedans, so we can get to them:

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A rare win for a lackluster Chrysler product! I’m not sure if that means it’s the better choice, or just less bad. But I agree; in my younger days I probably would have chosen the Accent for the manual, but now at fifty, I’m much more inclined to choose the comfy car. And compared to a Hyundai subcompact, that Stratus is like riding on a cloud. So to speak.

For today’s choices, I have the fine folks over at Opposite Lock to thank. I had already spotted one of them, but I had no idea what to put up against it, until Oppo members “Beefchips” and “Highlander” suggested the perfect idea: the same car, only newer. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that? Thanks, fellas!

1980 Subaru Brat – $4,495

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter overhead valve flat 4, four-speed manual, part-time 4WD

Location: Longview, WA

Odometer reading: 158,000 miles

Runs/drives? Excellent, they say

The Subaru Brat (or BRAT, for the pedantic, standing for “Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transport”) is one of the most egregious vehicular tax dodges of all time. It’s a pickup truck; anyone with any sense of automobile taxonomy would call it a pickup truck, but because it technically seats four, Subaru circumvented the infamous “chicken tax,” a 25 percent tariff on light trucks. But wait, you’re about to ask, it’s a single-cab truck; where do those other two passengers ride?

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In the back, of course, holding on to a pair of rubber-gripped “oh shit handles” for dear life. These seats were welded in place, so they could be called “permanent.” Many Brat owners cut them out to make full use of the bed. I’m actually surprised to see this one with its jump seats intact.

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Inside the cab, the driver and the one passenger they actually like are treated to such luxuries as heat and seatbelts, and get to sit in these snazzy plaid seats. The vinyl is a bit cracked in places, but for its age, this thing is in remarkable shape inside. The seller says it runs and drives “excellent,” but leave extra time to get where you’re going – the little carbureted pushrod flat-four in this truck only makes 67 horsepower.

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Cosmetically it looks pretty good, except for a little boop on the nose and some unevenly faded paint. I’ve always liked these early Subaru steel “wagon wheels,” too. And I like the brown; when I was a kid I had a Stomper 4×4 toy that looked just like this.

2006 Subaru Baja – $5,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.5 liter overhead cam flat 4, five-speed manual, AWD

Location: Santa Fe, NM

Odometer reading: 199,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Yep

Subaru dropped the Brat in the US after the 1986 model year, and then went sixteen long years before offering another vehicle with a pickup bed: the Baja. This time it was based on the Outback station wagon, with four doors, so the rear-seat passengers could sit inside, out of the rain. This would have neatly avoided the chicken tax again, but the Baja didn’t need the help; it was built in Indiana.

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This Baja is from the final year of production; the Baja is one of those vehicles that everyone loved the idea of, but nobody bought. Only 30,000 were sold. This one has a five-speed stick, but it doesn’t have the hot turbocharged engine that was available. It’s all wheel drive, of course, like every Subaru from the mid-90s onward.

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The dealership selling it doesn’t give us a lot of information to go on regarding its condition, and it does have nearly 200,000 miles on it, but Subarus seem to hang in there all right, as long as you keep up on the maintenance. You would be wise to ask about the head gaskets, since they are this car’s mechanical Achilles heel. At this mileage, I would imagine they’ve been replaced once.

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We don’t get many photos either, but from what we can see, it looks straight and undamaged, with only a couple of minor dings and some wear and tear inside. It’s kind of boring in silver; I prefer the yellow-and-silver two-tone Bajas myself.

Sadly, Subaru doesn’t make anything like the Brat or Baja anymore, and is unlikely to ever again. But as usual, the aftermarket has you covered: a company called Smyth Performance (which you might remember from the Charger ute we showed you last week) offers a DIY kit to turn an Impreza or WRX into something resembling a 21st century Brat. But if you’re unwilling to take a Sawzall to a perfectly good Subaru, you can always go for the factory option. You’ve got two eras to choose from. Which one will it be?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Cyko9
Cyko9
1 year ago

The Baja is probably the more practical option, but the Brat is calling to me. Is it even legal to ride in those jumpseats anymore?

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
1 year ago

Wow, exactly tied after 300 votes!

I had to go with the new one: the old one would be more fun as a short term deal, but its novelty would wear off pretty quickly for me.

Camp Fire
Camp Fire
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Roth

We canceled each other out. Now it’s exactly tied after 302 votes!

Camp Fire
Camp Fire
1 year ago
Reply to  Camp Fire

Full disclosure – I already daily drive the same series of Outback, so the Baja wouldn’t be a huge change for me (though I’d miss the covered cargo space and I would need to add rear jump seats).

I voted for the BRAT simply for the novelty.

Green_NGold
Green_NGold
1 year ago
Reply to  Camp Fire

I wonder if anyone has seen a Baja with jump seats added.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 year ago

Slightly OT: I know this has been discussed in the past, but what is the final consensus on boxer engines? Are they overhead valve or side valve?

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
1 year ago

So….. the valves on a side valve engine don’t actually travel sideways. They open straight up. It’s called side valve because the valves are to the side of the cylinder, but they open along the same plane that the piston travels

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 year ago

I had the same Stomper! It ran great until I tried it at the beach. Sand ruined so many toys like that.

Voted Brat, because I live in Wisconsin and am hungry.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
1 year ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

OK, we must be in the same age bracket. We used to have backyard Stomper mud bog races. We had a stock class and a modified. With the modifieds, we used to put slotcar motors and 9v batteries and more LOL

Angel "the Cobra" Martin
Angel "the Cobra" Martin
1 year ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Great, now I’m hungry!!!

JurassicComanche25
JurassicComanche25
1 year ago

Well plop me in a Walmart and make me scream for Legos, it’s BRAT time!

I want that. Can anyone help me get it across the country to NY?

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
1 year ago

I voted for both of them, as I would take both of them.

TheHairyNug
TheHairyNug
1 year ago

No f’ing way am I buying a modern Subaru with 200k on the clock. I’ll take the ancient BRAT and not be over my head in mechanical requirements. IDK how Subarus have the rep that they do for “hanging in there”, but they love to eat their most expensive parts.

One More Last Chance
One More Last Chance
1 year ago

I’ve spent time in a BRAT. Driving it and riding in the back. Oh, the stories I could tell. With Manopoly money, my 18 year old spirit, and some beer goggles, give me the BRAT!

Gubbin
Gubbin
1 year ago

I love this poll! BRAT definitely, it’s (barely) long enough to carry a motorcycle or two, and it’s not far away from here. I could ride over with a folding ramp strapped on my bike, roll the bike on and drive it home!

Evidence: https://www.advrider.com/f/threads/is-subaru-baja-bed-useful-reliable-vehicle.961703/#post-23703152

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
1 year ago
Reply to  Gubbin

Better take an angle grinder along to remove the jump seats first – the ADVRider one has them removed…..and then what’s the point of the BRAT?

JDE
JDE
1 year ago
Reply to  Gubbin

not sure the sub 100HP of thunder in the brat could handle a motorcycle in the back?

10001010
10001010
1 year ago

WE NEED A BOTH OPTION!!!

Chris Wright
Chris Wright
1 year ago
Reply to  10001010

This is the way.

Outofstep
Outofstep
1 year ago

I’m like a few others in that if this was a 2nd gen Brat I’d be all over it. But since it’s a 1st gen I’ll go with the Baja.

I would really like a modern day Baja. I mean I don’t know how many Santa Cruz’s are being sold but I see a few of them regularly so maybe a case can be made for a Baja revival. I’d much prefer a Brat revival but Baja seems more realistic.

World24
World24
1 year ago

The Brat had me right at the rear seats, but it’s not looking very nice and, honestly, the Baja has more practical use for me day-to-day, including finding parts.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

Both of these are personal favorites for me, but my inner brat wants the BRAT. I prefer the 2-door layout to the Baja’s four, though the long cargo pass-through is a nice asset on the longer car.

Chris D
Chris D
1 year ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

I agree – the back seat in the Baja would mostly go to waste.
The Brat was unique in its day and as they get rarer they will only get more valuable.
This one looks like it rear-ended someone, and had a junkyard bumper attached to bent mounts. The interior is showing its age. It will need restoring. The Baja looks good all over, but with its mileage, sadly, it’s not long for this world.
My vote is for the Brat, because I have a thing for unique cars from that era.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
1 year ago

Yes the Baja is better in all regards, but given the choice, I’ll take the BRAT.

S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
1 year ago

I didn’t even need to read the article. If I see a running, not visibly rusty Brat with the jump seats still intact, I’m going to pick that one no questions asked.

Timothy Arnold
Timothy Arnold
1 year ago

The Baja is a decent car but they have some serious chassis rust issues. Maybe being in Santa Fe means that one is solid, but still seems risky
Brat all the way for me.

Drew
Drew
1 year ago

The Brat is only like 6 hours away from me (well, 7, according to Google, but I…make good time on that drive). It’s pretty close to my parents, so I might even be able to convince my dad to pick it up. This is the most tempting SBS ever.

Last edited 1 year ago by Drew
Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 year ago
Reply to  Drew

Eh, don’t bother your Dad. Be like DT and ask a near stranger or person you have never met to both purchase and store it for you. Until you feel like showing up to remove it from their property and life. Yeah. Got to love that kid.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
1 year ago

As a few interesting car I go with the old BRAT, I have always had a fascination with these. Did they crash test them with dummies in the rear facing seats? Anyway, I could see the Baja as my daily, I have a big yard, buy a lot of mulch and such and the wife a lot of plants, but I would still probably like having my sedan and an old Ranger
with a real bed like I used to.

Result, virtual tie here.

WR250R
WR250R
1 year ago

Brat all day even if it didn’t have the seats but especially because it does. So since they were sold that way from the ‘factory’ that does mean it’s still legal to use them right? Kinda like an old car that was sold without seatbelts?

S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
1 year ago
Reply to  WR250R

I bet it’s one of those still technically legal but setting yourself up to get hassled by every cop in town anyway type of situations. I’m sure there’s plenty of cops out there that would ignore the fact that it came that way from the factory and just write you the ticket anyway. They aren’t going to let that ticket money get away that easily.

Last edited 1 year ago by S13 Sedan
SarlaccRoadster
SarlaccRoadster
1 year ago
Reply to  S13 Sedan

To be fair, a cop would just as easily write you a ‘no seatbelt’ ticket even if you had it on, just like they always add a few mph to every single speeding ticket I’ve got in the US; ‘murican cops lie just as they breathe.

David Smith
David Smith
1 year ago

Oddly (maybe not oddly since I’m a middle aged white guy) my last two encounters with cops were very chill. The last one was when my car got totaled in a rear ender (my rear end). I made the crack about how I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue and he had a good chuckle.
The previous encounter was when I was running about 85 in a 65 when he pulled me over, this is on a stretch of road that usually runs 5 to 40 at that time of day. After introductions he asked what the rush was. I replied ” Did you see how wide open the road was?”. He let me go with a warning.

Dumb Shadetree
Dumb Shadetree
1 year ago
Reply to  WR250R

Eh, depends on where you live. Out my way it is perfectly legal for passengers to ride in the bed of a pickup truck, regardless of whether it has seats. As long as the passengers are in the bed and not sitting on the bedsides, you won’t get ticketed. I know some states are more restrictive.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
1 year ago
Reply to  Dumb Shadetree

My rural state banned riding in the back of pickup trucks many years ago. Not without a lot of debate. When I was in high school (way before it was illegal) I worked on a friend’s parent’s farm in the summer. They had a 50s Chevy truck, straight six, holes in the floorboards. I remember many a trip to and from town in the bed of the truck. Good times.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
1 year ago
Reply to  WR250R

Texas bans minors from riding in the bed, but there are exceptions:

  • operating the vehicle to transport farmworkers from one field to another field on a farm-to-market road, ranch-to-market road, or county road outside a municipality
  • operating the vehicle on a beach
  • operating a vehicle that is the only vehicle owned or operated by the members of a household
  • operating the vehicle in a hayride permitted by the governing body of or a law enforcement agency of each county or municipality in which the hayride will occur.

No specific exception for factory seats, so if you have to let a minor ride in the back, best to put some grass clippings in the seat, unless the BRAT is the only functioning car you own.

TheHairyNug
TheHairyNug
1 year ago

My sardonic paraphrase is, “minors can’t ride in the bed unless they’re a field laborer or a kid on a field trip”

Chris D
Chris D
1 year ago

So Texan lawmakers think it’s OK to have kids in the back of a pickup at 80+MPH, as they tend to do, all over the place, as long as it’s a one-vehicle family?
There is a lot wrong with Texas, and this is one of them.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
1 year ago

What an incredible pairing. Happy Friday to you as well, Mark. I think both of these are amazing and like pretty much every enthusiast I adore these weird Subaru attempts at trucks. I still get giddy whenever I see one in person, and there’s actually a guy near me who appears to use his Baja as a legitimate work truck. How cool is that?!

Anyway this is a 1A and 1B type situation and they’re both priced within impulse buy territory for me personally. Good thing they’re far away. That being said, I have to give the nod to the Brat. It’s BROWN! And look at that interior! I also like that the back seats are intact. Spend a couple grand to get it looking pristine and you’ll be the talk of every Cars and Coffee in your area.

My family has a house on the water in rural VA and I’d love to leave the Brat down there as a pure summer fun vehicle. We could load it up and take folks and furry friends to the beach all day. While the back seats are egregiously unsafe I think they’d make for an entertaining short, slow drive a couple miles on empty roads away to the spot affectionally known as the secret beach.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
1 year ago

I had to go Baja but…anyone make sweet plaid seat covers that would fit?

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
1 year ago

Much preferred the gen2 BRAT styling over the original, so it’s the Baja for me. I’d be all over a gen2 BRAT with T-Tops and a manual.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 year ago

I’m more partial to the second-gen Brat, but this one looks to be pretty nice shape. But I’d want something to actually use and drive, and for that reason I’m going Baja.

JDE
JDE
1 year ago

Heart says Brat, but if I really wanted to actually use the vehicle the Baja is the correct choice. If that had been a midwest Baja, I would look long and hard underneath though. those plastic molding covers trap moisture and hide rust pretty severely some times.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
1 year ago

I will take the Subaru…

At 20, I am buying the 1980 Brat

At 40, I am buying the 2006, or both.

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