It’s ironic that, on the very cusp of the SUV revolution, International Harvester stopped production of its Scout, a line of truly sporty and utilitarian vehicles. Unlike so many of today’s tufted and frilly trucks that, aggressive images notwithstanding, are rarely used to go any further off-road than a mall parking lot, the Scout was a basic, yet brilliant, concept. In its day, it was the de facto American Land Rover in terms of its possibilities, abilities and attitude. Today, it’s something of a 4X4 icon.
Long a force in heavier trucks, International saw a market for a small, all-purpose vehicle that would one-up Jeep in terms of utility and comfort. The result was the Scout, smoother on the road than the Jeep CJ model and with more usable space for passengers and cargo. Scout styling is rugged and cute, and it has aged well.
Soon after its 1961 debut, Scout sales would exceed projections many fold. Even with competition from Ford’s Bronco and Chevy’s Blazer, Scout was a continuing success. An unexpectedly high percentage of Scout buyers ordered all-wheel drive, a harbinger of a market trend still very much a factor today. Top configurations make Scout a pick-up, a station wagon or a roadster to be reckoned with. With the removal of 17 screws and 14 bolts on the full-length Traveltop, every Scout is capable of being transformed into an open-air motorized buckboard.
Scouts ride and handle better than any number of high center of gravity vehicles and are as at home on city streets and freeways as they are off road. Thanks to a short turning radius and (depending on tire choices) a fairly smooth ride, Scout makes an excellent everyday driver if you’re willing to put up with wind noise and the spartan cabin environment though air conditioning was a factory option. Because they’re so affordable, Scout people tend to amass troops of these trucks, a great idea if you want a ready source of parts.
It’s best to seek out one equipped with power steering, unless you’re looking for an upper body workout every time you park. Power brakes are a good idea, as the non-assisted kind makes stopping a muscle-straining chore.
Because International didn’t have an appropriate engine with which to equip such a small vehicle, the company did the resourceful thing and sawed their big truck V-8 in half to create a slant four. The displacement of every Scout four-banger is exactly half that of the eight that begot it: The 304 C.I. V-8 was the source of the 152 four and later, International’s 392 V-8 spawned a 196 four.
Turbocharging was helpful in pulling more power out of the four but, ultimately, International yielded to Americans’ abiding belief that more is better and offered a 266 C.I. V-8 and two years later, the 304. Along the way, an AMC-sourced six – still used in present-day Cherokees and Wranglers – and 6-cylinder Nissan diesels found their way into Scout’s endlessly accommodating engine bay.
During two decades of production, Scouts were fielded in three successive series, all based on a 100” wheelbase. According to Northern California Scout guru Jim Marsh, thanks to a wide stance, “they don’t go over easy, especially with the top off.” Though less prone to rollovers than some of its contemporary and later rivals, it only seems prudent to have a roll bar installed, if not for safety’s sake than to have a frame on which to fasten an after market “bikini” top. This simple fabric bandeau minimizes the risk of sunstroke keeping things otherwise wide open.
Scout 80, the first series, ran for four years and was followed by the 800 series in 1965. Gone was the folding windshield of the earlier truck, but now a four-speed transmission was offered as well as something unique in a utility vehicle: carpeting! One of the slickest variants was the Sportop; it featured a folding convertible top or a removable fiberglass top plus a Continental style spare, much like the original Jeepster. The limited edition luxury Aristocrat arrived in 1969 with lots of chrome and a custom interior with bucket seats and padded door panels. While not close to today’s standards, Aristocrat was one small step toward opulence.
Scout II was introduced in 1971 and was available over the years in numerous editions including the SSII, a rugged, purpose built off-roader that came equipped with a skid plate, a front sway bar, a roll bar, heavy duty shocks and springs, brush and grille guards, etc. Plastic mountings for optional fabric doors were installed and even the front and rear passenger seats were optional. Other Scout II models included the very upscale Rallye, the longer (118”) wheelbase Terra pickup and its Suntanner and Traveler offshoots.
Thanks to an extended production run and its rugged nature, there are literally thousands of Scouts on (and off) the road today. The greatest area of concern is demon rust due to IH’s laissez-faire attitude towards rustproofing coupled with owner neglect/abuse. Leaves that enter through the cowl end up moistly decomposing within the lower reaches of the front fenders – the bad kind of “trickle down.” Body mounts and welds are also prone to rust but Scout folks are rather blasé about the issue; a California-based Scout with a bit of rot around the wheel arches would be considered almost “cherry” by a Midwestern standards.
Happily, every body part is available should you decide to go the restoration route. For example, a new front fender can be had for around $250 in steel, $170 for a fiberglass repro and $150 for a used one in serviceable condition. Likewise, powertrain pieces are available from any number of suppliers. Cautionary note: Avoid Scouts that have been used as rock crawlers; the frame tends to get beat up under that kind of punishment.
What to Pay: $2,500 – $10,000
Production Figures: Scout II production (1973 -1980): 272,700;
Watch Out For: Rust in the front fenders, body mounts and welds. Avoid Scouts that have been used (and abused) in rock crawling events.
Clubs: Scout and International Motor Truck Association, New Palentine, IN, IMSIMTA@aol.com
Spares: Anything Scout, Mountain View, CA, www.anythingscout.com
Super Scout Specialists, Springfield, OH, 937-525-0000, email@example.com,
Giddum’ Up Scout, Colorado Springs, CO, 719-632-8294