scout

The Scouts were affordable (read: cheap), rugged, and largely unwanted due to their primitive designs and lack of technical support. Above, Eric Meltzer's 1971 IH Scout 800B. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Before the SUV displaced the minivan as the family hauler of choice for the American consumer, that market was defined by Jeep.

Virtually any on- and off-road vehicle that could be useful to complete a task was a Jeep. The International Scout and first generation Ford Broncos were often be referred to as Jeeps, the very vehicle they were designed to compete against. Jeep was to SUVs as Kleenex is to facial tissues.

International Harvester knew something of rugged workhorses, their Farmall line of tractors and implements dominated the market and their strong dealer network peppered around rural America made serving their core customer, the farmer, convenient.

It was this convenience and IH’s recognition of the specific demands of the farmer that helped International expand into household appliances and Lightline vehicles. It couldn’t have been any easier for the man working his fields to run down to the crossroads IH dealer and pick up a critical disc harrow part and maybe a new refrigerator. While he was there, he could check out the latest pickups and Scouts.

The Scout, introduced in 1961, was a relatively bare-bones rig with a folding windshield and removable doors intended to compete with the Jeep. They were also equipped with a power-take-off or PTO to run implements and tools, like the Jeep. As this market was defined, Ford introduced the first generation Bronco in 1966, offering a basic “roadster” version with folding windshield and door delete inserts.

The first Scout, the model 80, debuted in late 1960, and was made through 1965, when the model 800 came out.

In 1968, the model 800A was introduced until the model 800B which was only made for a little over a half a year in 1971. This was back when International eschewed model years in favor of model numbers or letters to denote changes and improvements. Half way through 1971, the Scout II debuted, a decidedly more refined vehicle but equally as rugged as the first generation.

This Scout, along with the Scout Traveler and Terra pickup, both with 18 inches added to the length between the wheels, were made until 1980, when all International Lightline production ended.

As an International fan, I owned and drove a Scout 800B as my daily driver for years followed by an 800A and several Scout IIs. At that time, in the mid 1990s, they were affordable (read: cheap), rugged, and largely unwanted due to their primitive designs and lack of technical support.

The 800s with bias ply tires rode like a buckboard with arm-strong steering and drum brakes, handled like a go cart made out of a pallet with shopping cart wheels, produced just enough heat in winter to turn the frost at the very bottom of the windshield to water droplets (always have an ice scraper on the seat next to you), and the vacuum wipers stopped wiping when you needed them the most.

But as a young 30-something I thought they were a blast to drive when I popped off that half-cab roof and there was no denying the individualism of driving such a unique vehicle.

The later Scout IIs were luxurious and advanced by comparison with insulation, power steering and front disc brakes, automatic transmission, carpet, and some even had cruise control and air conditioning.

Still, there was no mistaking their original design intent, or the fun of driving a rugged, albeit gas guzzling “truck”, that was unstoppable and relatively unknown, by then, 20 years after the last Scouts rolled off the assembly line in Fort Wayne, Ind.

But the winds of change have blown the venerable Scout moniker out of the American Midwest and into the waiting hands of Volkswagen through Traton, their European truck subsidiary via their acquisition of Navistar, parent corporation of International.

Navistar, and now VW, owns the Scout trademark for "land vehicles over 2400 pounds gross vehicle weight (GVW), licensed for use on public streets, highways as well as off road use, namely, light duty trucks excluding fire trucks, such as pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles, medium duty trucks, and severe service or vocational trucks."

The “International Harvester” trademark went to J.I. Case who bought the core IH tractor business when financial hardship befell them in mid 1980s. Mercifully, the revered IH logo has been respectfully allowed to fade away.

Volkswagen may have other ideas for the Scout nameplate and it involves their planned electric vehicle off road package. The Scout may become a stand alone brand spawning several models under the name but that’s currently just speculation.

One thing is for certain, the Scout name still carries street cred with a large segment of off road enthusiasts and VW is banking on that brand recognition like Ford did with their reintroduced Bronco. The aim is to price the Scout around $40k to compete, once again, with the Bronco and undercut soon to be Johnny come lately Rivian EV whose price point is around $70k.

While all this may be exciting for some and I count myself a forward thinking person, I just can’t divorce the memory of my younger days behind the wheel of classic Scouts (and often under the hood) from the idea of a thoroughly modern cyber Scout reinvented by a corporation plucking at their newly acquired low hanging marketing fruit that some random focus group acknowledged with a thumbs up.

I’m sure the new VW SUV EV will be a tour de force of engineering technology that will find its own road or trail. It should find its own name, too.

Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a licensed, full-service automotive sales and service facility at 26 Portland St. in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion, and they appreciate anything that drives, rides, floats or flies.

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(1) comment

BillVog

As a former owner of two Scouts, your column brought back fond memories. It also reminded me of the rust issues that plagues Scouts. Also, did you know IH gave away Scouts as a premium with the purchase of high-end combines?

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