The International Harvester Scout is almost universally respected by all, even if the Scout isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Besides, it’s really more like a cup of strong, gritty, black coffee. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has anything really bad to say about them aside from a total lack of any real refinement. In spite of the “International” brand name, the company’s products were decidedly “American” in nearly every way. Rugged and simple. After all, this was the International Harvester Company – at the time, a leading agricultural equipment manufacturer. International was no stranger to on-road vehicles, however. IH had been building trucks for decades, from pick-ups to semi-trucks. Particularly when it was introduced, the Scout would be relatively dainty among the rest of their model line.
International’s appeal was largely to blue-collar professionals, but there’s no denying they were a huge household name like General Motors or Ford. In the 50s and 60s, a typical mid-westerner could have perhaps stepped off of their International McCormick 181 combine and into an International B-Series pick-up to go to town. Their livestock may even been transported away to the slaughter house in an International RDF-405 tractor-trailer rig. The meat could have even be stored in an International freezer or refrigerator. Little boys and girls went to school in an IH Loadstar bus (on a road paved using an IH dozer) then came home and played out in the yard that was mowed with an Cub Cadet lawn tractor. When they dropped their toy Farmall tractors and ran to the International Metro ice cream truck, they also waved to the Civil Defense guys who drove around in International trucks (and maybe even had M1 rifles built under license by IH.) You better believe those trucks were tough if the C.D. trusted them to hold up against Soviet bombs – but that, of course, is another story and besides, I digress…
While IH had offered vehicles like the Travelall (a pick-up based competitor to the Suburban), they believed there was a customer base who would appreciate something a little smaller and perhaps more fun. A little lighter, and perhaps a little more versatile recreational vehicle. Something that could go off road for a hunting trip or around the farm, but also something that could take a few people out to town for a movie and shopping. In the late 1950s, Willys were the only producers of such vehicles in the States with the likes of the Jeep CJ and Jeepster. Japan’s Toyota had the Land Cruiser, but was very new on the scene at the time. England’s Land Rover was still virtually unheard this side of the Atlantic.
In the late 1950s, the Illinois-based IH went ahead with conception of the Scout. Early plans called for the vehicle’s body to be formed from plastic, though ultimately prohibitively high costs voided that idea. If one looks closely though, some of this plasticine influence during the gestational period can perhaps be recognized in the finished design penned by Ted Ornas. The largely flat surfaces with rounded-off edges seem to lend themselves to injection molding or even fiberglass construction. While IH’s designers occasionally displayed some aesthetic flair in their trucks, the first Scouts of 1961 came out of the womb looking quite … purposeful. Not bad – in fact rather refreshing in its simplicity, but not particularly exciting either.
The original Scouts, known as the Scout 80, had a variety of roof variations and some minor styling changes between 1960 and 1971. One could have a removable hard top that covered the full passenger/cargo area, a shorter pick-up truck style roof, or canvas variant. Early models even had a Jeep/Land Rover-like folding windscreen – perfect for allowing ones face to get slapped by branches and pelted with gravel while off-road.
Initially, IH did not intend to offer the small-ish Scout 80 with any of its preexisting V8 engines. The units that found their way into the vehicle were essentially halved versions of the ‘eights, right down to the slant configuration. International’s marketing department openly acknowledged them as being half of the V304. They referred to these as the Comanche 152 (2.5 Liter) engines. These four cylinders made a respectable 93hp with a rather impressive 135 ft/lbs of torque.
In 1965, a revised edition of the 80 was released and called the Scout 800. Many of the improvements focused on ergonomics and creature comforts, but perhaps most notable were the variety of engine options which appeared. International’s own 152 four-cylinder was available (in ’65 only) with a turbocharger, upping performance to 111hp, and a similar but larger normally aspirated 196 (3.2L) four was added to the line-up as well. The V8 also became an option in 266 (4.3L) form. Somewhat ironically (as the Scout was a Jeep competitor), the 800 could also be had with an American Motors 232 (3.8L ) inline six as well. The 800A of 1969 (and short-lived 800B of 1971) brought further minor improvements and another IH 304 (5.0L) V8.
Released in late 1971, the Scout II, as the name suggests, was the second generation of vehicle. These were a bit larger and a bit more refined than the original. There few distinguishing styling differences – the round taillights were replaced with vertical bars and hard-top models had a destinctive upward kink in the rear side window. This flirt with styling did had a purpose, however. It hid the vertically mounted spare tire in the cargo compartment. Overall, the “II” remained quite basic inside and out. The second generation offered the same variety of roof choices, but also the sporty SSII with soft top and doors.
The Scout II lineup saw the addition of even more engine options: another AMC-sourced inline six of 258 (4.2L) displacement, a heafty IH 345 (5.7L) V8, a massive IH 392 (6.4), and in 1976, an obscenely underwhelming 3.3L Nissan six-cylinder diesel. For 1980, the Nissan engine adopted a turbocharger, though this did little to help matters. The diesels’ performance was about like other diesel vehicles of the era. Intolerably slow. Even the turbo diesel of 1980 was described by Car and Driver as having “glacial” performance. Manual and automatic gearboxes were available for most engine choices, and four speeds was the most you would get if you were willing to shift them yourself. Interestingly, axle ratios were open to a certain amount of variety.
The Scout was certainly always a capable off-roader in four-wheel-drive form (not all were in the beginning). Ultra-refined suspension dynamics and thousands of hours of testing had nothing to do with the Scout. It had solid axles and leaf springs. But to be fair, that was pretty much par for the course in those days. Road manners are probably best described as what they are: truck-like. Front disc weren’t offered until 1974 on the Scout II – a feature that is one considerable drawback. It gained a bit of a performance oriented image with some notable off-road racing victories, including a class win in the infamous Baja 1000 in 1977.
International ceased production of pickups and the Travelall in 1975. The slightly longer wheel-based Scout Terra and Traveler were offered as quasi-replacements. In 1979, a new CEO, Archie McCardell took the helm of the International Harvester Company and steered the ship into a sea of massive cost-cutting. This eventually resulted in a tiff with the United Auto Workers (which also includes agricultural industry workers) who proceeded to strike for six months. The mutiny resulted in a considerable loss that would total over half-a-millon US dollars or more than two billion today. The Scout ceased production in 1980 though plans (and a couple ghastly prototypes) for a Scout III were already in the works. Following its sizable cash loss, International Harvester was forced to sell off its agricultural assets and continue as the Navistar International Corporation.
The Scout maintains a healthy following of fans and many are still used daily for either recreation or work vehicles. Look closely – that rough and rather generic-looking old SUV with a snow plow parked at your locally-owned corner gas station just might be one. Approximately half-a-million were made, and they can still be found. However, decent examples are commanding good money now.
Before International folded, the rather obscure Swiss luxury brand Monteverdi made luxury SUVs based on the Scout – the thinly-disguised Sahara, and more bespoke Safari. These were popular among wealthy Italians who took them skiing in the alps, as well as Saudi oil barons who blasted along open desert. The idea of an upmarket SUV was rather ahead of its time and the International provided a solid base, but the Monteverdis are, of course, another story.
Trucks like the Scout – namely Land Rovers, Land Cruisers, Suburbans, and so-on – have become quite commonplace and rather up-market. It would be interesting to imagine what the Scout may have become, though we will forever know it as a tough old mule.