Most people know Jeep started the true off-road vehicle segment in the early 1940s and Land Rover several years later. But today’s biggest car class, the SUVs, were started by Jeep and Range Rover in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively. In those days, Japanese car brands were almost completely unknown outside of Asia. The lineup of Japanese cars consisted of small, inexpensive economy cars which were uninteresting.
While most Japanese-made models were affordable runabouts, the Japanese also developed the off-road class. So almost all brands had quality off-road models that proved to be dependable and equal to American or European models. Over the years, Japanese off-road models turned into SUVs, so today there are dozens of Japanese models in that class.
But, this list is not about those modern SUVs that never leave the pavement. So, keep reading to learn all about the best classic Japanese off-road cars. These are the most legendary models that shaped the industry and started the SUV trend. Also, these cars have proven themselves off the beaten path and throughout the jungles and deserts of Africa. Some models are famous, and some are obscure, but all are Japanese and capable off-road machines.
1. Subaru BRAT
You might think the BRAT is a pickup because it looks like one. However, if you look close enough you’ll see two rear-facing seats in the bed that transform this compact truck into a passenger vehicle. They conceived the Subaru BRAT, which stands for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter, in the late 1970s. They designed the BRAT o take advantage of the popularity of compact trucks in America.
However, there were steep import taxes for foreign trucks that threatened to kill all of Subaru`s profits. For that reason, the company thought of a genius way of selling the truck as a passenger car by installing two seats in the back. Although this would not be possible today due to safety concerns and standards, it was perfectly legal in the late ’70s when they introduced the car.
Thanks to its unusual features, affordable price and dependable mechanics, the Subaru BRAT was one of the most popular Subaru models of the 80s and a cool classic today. Some owners decided to remove the seats for more usable space, ruining the coolness and quirkiness of this unique car.