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The Great British BRAT Relay

Illustration for article titled The Great British BRAT Relay

Findlay is very proud of his new car. The funny thing is, he hasn’t driven it, touched or even seen it in anything other than photos and slightly shaky videos filmed on mobile phones. That’s because Findlay bought a car on eBay at the other end of the country from where he lives (OK, it’s the UK, so it’s not like it’s the far side of Texas or anything like that, but still...)

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Illustration for article titled The Great British BRAT Relay

Now, a sensible well-adjusted person would seek to inspect a car (or have a trustworthy friend do it) prior to pulling the trigger. Ideally, he would see it in person, hand over the cash and drive it away. These options weren’t open to Findlay, so when he unexpectedly won the auction, he had to think for a bit. Fortunately, thanks to the similarly-deranged community at the Northloop forum, an alternative plan was soon formulated.

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Illustration for article titled The Great British BRAT Relay

The forum already contains an area where people can ask for help to get parts collected and hand-carried across the country, but would the same system work to get a complete car from Kent to Aberdeen? Why not? If you have a team of people you can trust with money and/or your old car, and they find the opportunity to “help” by relaying your car home appealing, it’s only fair to give it a shot.

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Illustration for article titled The Great British BRAT Relay

So far, the car has travelled from Whitstable to Chessington to Milton Keynes, back down to Stansted and up as far as Chester. It then crossed the country again to Yorkshire, up to Northumberland and will soon cross again to Carlisle. It should arrive in Aberdeen before Christmas, assuming Findlay’s patience lasts that long...

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Illustration for article titled The Great British BRAT Relay

So that’s the backstory, but what about the car/pickup/ute/bakkie? Well, it needs no introduction here, but I’ll give it one anyway. The BRAT (Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter) was originally based on a family hatchback (the Leone) which Subaru decided to add a 4WD system to back in the 70's. It quickly became the company’s USP, and they’ve maintained the same 4WD and Boxer engine concept ever since.

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Illustration for article titled The Great British BRAT Relay

The naming was interesting. The marketing people decided that it needed a catchy acronym for the US, so they settled on BRAT. In addition, in order to get around restrictive taxation on commercial vehicles (the “chicken tax”), most US versions were fitted with rearward-facing plastic seats (complete with grab-handles and seatbelts) in the bed. With these fitted, it was considered a passenger car (although the rear passengers needed to be brave/crazy and very resistant to car sickness). In Australia, they decided that “Brumby” was a suitably local name, whereas in the UK it was mystifyingly titled the Subaru 284. Not very catchy...

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Illustration for article titled The Great British BRAT Relay

And to drive? Unsurprisingly retro. There is a manual choke to help with starting, although the steering does without any assistance at all. To make up for this, the steering lock is comically large to enable the driver to be able to move it around at low speed. It takes quite a bit of recalibration to stay on the correct side of the road through the first few tight corners, as much arm-flailing and wheel twirling is required. The 4-speed gearshift has a similarly long throw, and the seat doesn’t go back very far, so taller drivers have limited space to do their flailing in. Having said that, the Boxer engine delivers it’s torque in a relaxed and convincing way, and it will happily get up to speed and lope along without the driver getting frustrated or feeling that there is a noticeable performance sacrifice to deal with. On top of it all, it just looks cool (this appreciation doesn’t apply to everyone, though, particularly among the fairer sex whose reaction seems to range from confusion to outright horror). Best to inform the wife before it turns up on your driveway, I think.

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Illustration for article titled The Great British BRAT Relay

The interior design and control layout is also quirky and interesting. I love the vents which extend for the full length of the dash. There are many individual controls, including one which directs fresh air into the cabin without being fed through the heater first. There is only one stalk for the indicators, with the controls for washers and lights being relegated to circular pods either side of the wheel in a slightly Citroen-esque fashion. It’s a funky place to be.

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Illustration for article titled The Great British BRAT Relay

So, would I recommend the BRAT as a funky secondary car? Absolutely, provided you can make a convincing argument to win over your significant other. If they are already open to the idea, you shouldn’t hesitate to be like Findlay and take the plunge. Well, maybe don’t be completely like Findlay. That would be crazy...

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