The International Scout, farm buggy-turned-people-mover, is considered one of the first “SUVs.” The brand lasted just two decades and is pretty much only remembered by fans. But thanks to two guys’ work over 17 months, we now have a full-color look at this weird truck’s elusive history.
Automotive historian Jim Allen and International Harvester-brand guru John Glancy went through every document, interview and photograph about the Scout to create the International Scout Encyclopedia: The Authoritative Guide To IH’s Legendary 4x4.
The hardcover book is about as heavy and imposing as the trucks themselves, with almost 400 pages of beautiful pictures and interesting facts written mainly by Allen. Besides the history of the vehicle itself and every iteration there’s VIN decoding, evidence of prototypes you’ve definitely never seen, and an extremely comprehensive breakdown of every possible Scout variant on Earth.
“It hits that level of ‘pedantic’ that the enthusiast like but doesn’t go over the top,” Allen said when we spoke about his book over the phone. That was after he explained some “50,000 words and 158 pictures had to be cut to make [the book] fit to size.”
Glancy, Allen’s main partner on the project who currently owns the trademark to the “Scout” model name, other enthusiast experts and former International Harvester employees corroborated stories, myths and legends that had come up about the truck over the years.
Everything that made it into the book was obtained as primary-source information, from product planning materials to ads to accounts of people who actually physically built the things forty years ago. “If anything’s in there and isn’t right,” Allen told me, “at least I can base it on evidence.”
But he admitted some stories were almost impossible to completely confirm. “You can have two pieces of paper from the same era, from the same company, that contradict each other,” he said.
Obviously that left plenty of confirmed info to fill 380 printer-paper sized pages, but one particularly awesome bit of folklore that didn’t make it into the book was about why International Scouts are so notorious for ravenous rust issues.
It came up in my conversation with Allen when I excitedly told him about the rust-free ’75 Scout I’d just brought out of the desert, and the scaly ’64 I left in New York to be eaten by the Earth. (Actually, I passed the restoration torch to another lunatic who still has it in his garage and will be starting work ‘any day now.’)
“Oh, they’ll still rust in the middle of the Mojave,” Allen assured me with a laugh.
According to legend, here’s why a Scout is almost always rusty:
When Scouts were being built, many American automakers including International Harvester purchased steel from this one particular facility in Ohio.
The steel was sold in rolls. Car companies would order the raw steel in quantity, and then pick it up as-needed to bring to their own factories and stamp out body panels.
After the steel was rolled, stacked and made ready for pickup it was placed in storage. Under a shelter with a roof, but no walls.
Now apparently the steel producers charged storage fees based on how close to the edge the material was dumped. The closer it was kept to the center, the better protected it’d be from the elements and less likely it’d be to rust. So the “rent” was higher.
While Ford and Chrysler ponied up to put their raw steel away from the rain, International Harvester decided to save a few bucks by letting their stock sit on the outside. As a result the material would sometimes get rusty before it even became part of the truck.
“Of course [International] would clean the exterior side down so they could paint the panels,” Allen said. “But sometimes steel parts would ship with patina, and go onto the truck that way. That’s what I mean by saying some Scouts were ‘born rusty!’”
Actually this is good news if you’re doing a Scout restoration right now... don’t bother replacing all that rot because your truck might actually be factory-correct with metal cancer.
“Now you have to take stories like that with a grain of salt,” Allen added, which is why that yarn didn’t make it into the book. “But we heard it from enough people to make me think it probably did happen.”
The Scout’s other legacy is basically the birth of the modern sport utility vehicle.
Allen explained to me that International Harvester had originally set out to build a compact pickup truck.
“The station wagon was an afterthought,” he said, referring to the fully-enclosed SUV bodystyle like the ’64 I had. But apparently that was the one that sold in far greater quantities, and laid one of the earliest foundations for America’s love affair with boxy off-roady vehicles as family cars. For better or worse.
But the Scout isn’t cool because it helped pave the way for soccer moms to lug 6,000 pound psuedo-trucks to the grocery store. It’s interesting because it’s so damn weird.
“Never say never and never say always,” Allen told me, meaning that there was always some informality and inconsistency going on throughout the Scout’s life on assembly lines. “They’re not stamped out of ticky-tacy. There’s a lot of delightfulness to discover with these things.”
It sounds like building Scouts was a lot more “art” than “science,” with abnormalities and personality baked into every one that went down the assembly line. That’s why the history of this truck is so interesting to read about.
Now get yourself a copy of this book. I’ll make you a Scout superfan yet!