Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
After only a few short years of distribution in Australia, Subaru quickly garnered a level of enthusiasm rarely found in Australia for Japanese cars, although it certainly nowhere near that for the revered Aussie sizes and bent eights. Most found the Subaru simply “unusual and mechanically interesting”, and who could blame them. A small four cylinder 4 wheel drive Japanese utility with a boxer engine was certainly not following any formula we were used to at the time.
And although initially the appeal of the Brumby would have seemed limited, this was certainly not reflected in the sales or demand generated. The Brumby was powered by the Subaru 1600cc horizontally
opposed four-cylinder “boxer” engine that produced a rather limiting 50 kW at 5200 rpm, but thankfully low-down torque was reasonable at 110 Nm at 2400 rpm.
The first models of the 'Sub' (as it was affectionately known) were prone to producing an unbearable amount of mechanical noise; however with second generation models this problem was to the most part rectified. The transmission
was through a regulation four-speed manual gearbox, and no low range transfer case was fitted. Consequently the Brumby made do with a rather tall first gear, not really acceptable for a fully fledged off-road vehicle.
But on the positive side, engaging the rear wheels by pulling back on the “4WD” lever would bless the Brumby with plenty of traction, and given its featherweight status when compared to more traditional 4 wheel drives, the Brumby could actually traverse rugged terrain well beyond what many considered it could, or should. Another more minor “plus” was that, unlike most 4WDs, the Brumby did not need to be brought to a stop to engage 4WD, thereby helping you get out of trouble without losing forward momentum when the terrain caught the un-weary off-roader out.
But what really set the Brumby apart from the majority of its competitors was its fully-independent suspension
. The front used a conventional MacPherson strut arrangement found most front wheel drive
vehicles; the rear drive arrangement added to convert the Subaru into a four-wheel drive however was also independent.
The more traditional four wheel drives may have proved more capable off road with their conventional live axle set up, but the Brumby’s independent suspension
provided a blissfully smooth ride (by 4WD standards) on both road and rough terrain. On the bitumen, in two-wheel-drive, the Subaru displayed typical front wheel drive
characteristics, with power-on understeer and power-off oversteer. Unfortunately with an empty rear tray the Brumby was somewhat skittish. Appointments and comforts were up to typical Japanese standards, and they managed to retain their value very well. Overall practicality was limited by the two-person cabin and small tray, but nevertheless the Brumby was distinctive and individualistic, and soon became a favourite with the young.
The Bi-drive, Recreational, All-terrain, Transport - or "Brat"
In America the Subaru Brumby was released in January, 1978, however it was never known as the Brumby – rather it was called the Brat". That stood for Bi-drive, Recreational, All-terrain, Transport. The Australian management must have been worried about the word "Brat's" bad connotations. So Brumby it was. When you first saw the Brumby, it looked like their four-wheel-drive station wagon, but with the roof cut off. In fact, the Brumby's advertising campaign was built around just that. By making that basic alteration to what, particularly in this country, was a very successful concept, Subaru created almost an entirely new concept. And appearances could be deceiving. The Brumby was in fact 160 mm longer than the wagon and a massive 60 kg lighter. The load area measured 1150 mm x 1200 mm, while it had a payload of 400 kg.
Subaru offered two versions of the Brumby. There was a base model aimed at commercial or rural use, which cost $5798, and the RV version which cost $6298’. The RV found itself in an already crowded market, but with the success of its station wagon brother, Subaru were onto a sure thing - even if on nothing else but its uniqueness. The Brumby was fitted with desert white wheels shod with 155 SR13 radials, not the large sand tyres
that were popular at the time. There was a bull bar at the front with a skid grille, together with stripes and stickers. One unique feature (on what was already a pretty uni0que car) was the tonneau cover which fitted across the load area. The cover swept up over the rear window and attached to the trailing edge of the roof via a Velcro strip. Vision wasn’t impaired thanks to a clear plastic window built in to the cover. The cover was fastened conventionally along the sides and tail gate.
Subaru's thinking on the tonneau cover was that it allowed the owner to install a roll bar behind the cabin, something that was very popular in America. The other reason was that the American version had two rearward facing seats bolted to the pick up bed. Unfortunately Australian Design Rules mean that they were unavailable on the home market. As an off-roader the RV Brumby was best suited to sand or mud, but many would quickly be impressed with the cars off-road ability.
It was a hell of a lot easier to drive around town than a conventional 4 x 4. Behind the wheel you would know there was a boxer engine up front. Very noisy, it would want to rev and rev for ever. The stiff controls that wouldn't really loosen up until the 10,000 km mark has been reached, the all-washable practical interior, the front drive drag, everything. It was the same in the 4 x 4 wagon, except for one very important thing.
Despite the Brumby's extra length, the cockpit was quite cramped. You couldn’t sit and stretch your arms right out to the steering wheel, as the seat didn't move back far enough. Another criticism - an old one - was that the speedo was hard to read because of its shape within the dash. The brakes
on the Brumby were a surprise. They performed very well - better than the wagon - although thanks to the light rear end, the tail skipped around a bit in panic stops.
Roadholding too is better than the wagon, which wasn't bad at all. An option was the radio – something you would quickly appreciate as you tried to to drown out the engine noise. "It may not be a practical little truck, but it is a great off-roader" said Car and Driver. They were spot on – the Brumby provided a another way of enjoying the off-road, but with something a little different.
Subaru Brumby Quick Specificatons:
Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd; Subaru Brumby; Light truck - two seater cab; Price: Basic - $5798; RV Pack - $6298; RV pack ($500). Engine:
Front, Alloy, Four, Horizontally opposed 1595cc, Pushrod overhead valves
; Twin choke Stromberg carburettor; Compression ratio - 8.5:1; Bore and stroke (mm) - 92 x 60; Power output at 6400 rpm (Kw/bhp) - 56.7/76; Torque at 3600 rpm (Nm/lbs ft) - 103/76.
Four speed manual; Front or four wheel; Ratios: 1st - 4.090; 2nd - 2.312; 3rd - 1.464; 4th - 1.029; Final drive: Front - 3.3; Rear - 3.9.
Construction - Unitary; Panel material - Steel.
Length - 4035; Width - 1550; Height - 1440; Wheelbase - 2450; Front track - 1265; Rear track - 1215.
Front - Independent, anti-roll bar
, transverse links. Rear - Independent, rear torsion bars.
.Hydraulic dual circuit; Front - Drum (228mm) Hand brake off these; Rear - Drum (180mm).
Rack and pinion; Turning circle - 31.5 ft.
Wheel type - Sunraysia multi-spoke mag; Diameter - 14in; Rim width - 5in; Tyre make - Bridgestone; Type- Steel radial; Dimensions - 155SR13.
Acceleration from standstill to - 60 km/h - 6.2s (2WD) 5.9s (4WD); 80 km/h - 10.4s (2WD) 10.2s (4WD); 100 km/h - 15.1s (2WD) 15.7s (4WD); 120km/h - 24.5s (2WD) NA (4WD); Acceleration from 60 km/h to 100 km/h - 8.6s Standing start (400 metres): Elapsed time - 20.2s; Terminal speed - 117 km/h; Maximum speed in gears: 1st - 40 km/h, 2nd - 70 km/h, 3rd - 120 km/h, 4th - 145 km/h; Braking - 110 km/h to zero (average distance taken In metres) - 51; Fuel consumption (litres oer 100 km/mpg) - 11.3/25. Tank capacity - 45 litres.