There are few things that are considered true originals, and the International Harvester Scout is one of these rare, real McCoy's.
Introduced in 1961, as an alternative to the growing popularity of the Willy’s Jeep, International’s Scout has a well-earned reputation for capability and timeless style. International Harvester has a long history of producing vehicles that were well ahead of their time (the IH Travelall for example) but the Scout is extremely unique because it took the formula of a Jeep and added in some additional utility that made the International Scout not only more capable but more livable and user-friendly as well. It could be argued that the International Harvester Scout is the first real SUV and that its basic no-frills design would be copied and popularized by vehicles like the Bronco and Blazer in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
Although International Harvester as a company is long gone, the Scout is achieving meteoric popularity amongst both car collectors and classic connoisseurs alike. We love a true American original, and today we’re going to cover everything you need to know about the awesome International Harvester Scout:
Scout Design & Development
Ready to dig your feet in and hit the trail? Let’s get into it!
Scout Design & Development
Due to the post-war boom and a growing love of the outdoors; the 1950s was an interesting time for American car makers. Although the wagon and the sedan clearly still ruled the road, there was a growing subset of enthusiasts who were looking for vehicles that could take them off the beaten path. A new national obsession with camping and the rise of outdoor culture saw a huge spike in demand for vehicles like the Willy’s Jeep. In fact, the only vehicle that really was a true recreational 4x4 was the Willys Jeep! International Harvester, which had been making vehicles since 1907, saw a gap in the market and started the development of the Scout around 1956.
Their goal was to create a no-frills vehicle that could be completely customized down to every fine detail to create something that was perfectly suited for the individual owner that was ordering it. Scouts were destined to do everything from going camping off a tough mountain trail, to performing working duties on a ranch with a variety of attachments that did everything from digging a post to helping pull out a tree stump. This new vehicle also needed to be extremely affordable. Typically, a specialized vehicle like the Scout was a second or third vehicle for an active family. This new creation also needed to be offered in a variety of body styles that could accomplish the tasks that Scout owners would put the vehicle through. The decision to offer multiple body styles is what ultimately led to the wide success of the Scout.
By 1961, the Scout was ready for its debut and right out of the gate it was incredibly successful.
The Scout 80 was produced from 1961 to 1965 and what made the Scout 80 so unique was the variety of body options that buyers could choose from at launch.
Every Scout was available as a half cab pickup, an open-top, door-free roadster, and a full coverage body style known as a “Travel Top”. Retaining a wide variety of body options while still keeping the hardcore off-roader style body and chassis instantly separated the Scout from the Willys Jeep of the same era. The Scout featured a unique fold-down windshield and a trick set of vacuum-powered windshield wipers that hooked to the top of the windshield. Inside, the interior was remarkably basic and even passenger seats and floor coverings were completely optional! Engine choice was limited to a tough but weak iron block “Comanche” 4 cylinder engine.
International sold over 100,000 Scout 80 models, making it a runaway success.
International Harvester quickly realized the Scout needed an upgrade once the Ford Bronco came to market in 1965. The Scout 800 (1966-1971) took all the goodness of the original model and created a more robust option list full of interior options, and engine options to better compete with the likes of the Ford Bronco. All the same body styles carried over into the Scout 800, Including the ever-popular travel top, half cab, and roadster variants.
Engine options included a turbocharged version of the Comanche 4 cylinder, a 232 inline 6, and beginning in March of 1967 a 266ci V8 engine. The turbocharged model, an extremely unique option at the time, was discontinued in 1968 due to low demand. Transmission options were limited to a three-speed manual up until the Scout 800 would see its final demise in 1970.
The Scout 800 began to define itself by offering a selection of interior options that moved it from a utilitarian type of vehicle into one that could not only handle cargo but also people as well. You could option the Scout 800 to not only have two rows of seats but also an option for upgraded bucket seats, upgraded ventilation systems, and an upgraded dashboard. This was the concept that was taken over by nearly every American manufacturer for the next 30 years!
International also offered a Scout 800 a from 1968 to 1969 and a Scout 800B from 1970 to 1971. Each of these models would offer a slew of special editions and a variety of upgrades to the interior, engines, and overall performance/capability.
For model year 1971, International completely redesigned the Scout and created the beloved Scout II. This generation would go on for a staggering 10 model years, but would completely die out in 1980 due to the financial dilemmas of International. Continuing the theme of persistent and regular updates, the Scout II was available with not only a wider variety of engines but a wide variety of transmissions as well. Everything from a 196 CI inline 4 to a heady 345 V8 was available to suit every need.
Transmission choices including everything from a Borg - Warner 3 speed manual, to a Borg Warner t49 automatic transmission. The Scout II could be ordered in either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and came in travel top, half cab roadster, and soft top variants. The roadster variant is exceedingly rare and most Scout II models were purchased as travel tops or soft tops.
1976 Scout II Traveler
One of the most interesting vehicles to come out of the Scout II era was the Terra and Traveler half cab series. The Traveler offered a full liftback/hatchback type fiberglass liftgate, while the Terra offered a half-cab with an open bed design.
1976 Scout II Terra
Each of these models was extended by 18 in between the wheels, and the Traveler was one of the first family-style SUVs sold on the market!
Today, you can find all matters of International Scouts for sale on the used marketplace but by far the most popular are the soft top and travel top versions.
The legacy of the International Scout is impossible to ignore.
Not only was it the first American vehicle to completely reinvent the idea of what a capable vehicle could be, but it would go on to be the first American SUV. Sure, vehicles like the Bronco, Blazer, and Jeep Cherokee would eventually go on to perfect the model but the Scout was the very first vehicle that could take a family of five out of their favorite camping spot with ease. Quite simply, it redefined fun to drive and redefined American adventure and ingenuity.
Today, the world is absolutely full of vehicles that claim to be SUVs but these are really just tarted up cars on a lifted chassis. Real, true, tough SUVs like the Scout are exceedingly rare and the market is currently dominated by vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler. Recent introductions into the world of SUVs like the brand new Ford Bronco, resurrected after 30 years, indicate a new love of the outdoors and renewed interest in what an SUV can do.
We can only imagine what IH would be able to produce today if they were still around but those looking to relive the Glory Days of the Scout can purchase one of the many used ones for sale or go for a full restomod that completely redefines what a vintage vehicle can be.
International Scout II by Velocity Restorations
If you have the chance we highly suggest you get out there and drive one of these classics. There's nothing like driving down the road with the top off in a real SUV!
It's truly a remarkable and uniquely American experience.