Curbside Classic: 1976 International Scout Terra – The Hometown Truck

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As a car-crazed kid growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I was always envious of other people who came from “car towns”.  Detroit was, of course, the mother of all car-towns, but there were many others.  Those from Lansing had their Oldsmobiles, while those from Kenosha favored their AMCs.  CC’s ranks of authors include Joe Dennis who hails from Flint (Buick City) Michigan and Jim Grey from South Bend, Indiana, home of the late, great Studebaker.

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It took awhile before I realized that I came from a car town too.  As a school kid, we were all taught about Fort Wayne history.  There was General “Mad Anthony” Wayne of the Revolutionary War and Chief Little Turtle of the Miami people.  John Chapman (better known as Johnny Appleseed) was buried within the old suburbs of Fort Wayne.  And yes, there really was a fort there at one time which has been recreated in recent years.

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None of my teachers, however, ever found it necessary to teach we kids about Fort Wayne’s automotive heritage.  I knew that my hometown was a very industrial city back then, with companies like Magnavox, Rea Magnet Wire, Tokheim Pump and other manufacturing companies where a lot of fathers made livings for a lot of families over the decades.  We were even home to a manufacturer of automotive and marine pistons, The Zollner Corporation.  Zollner is probably best known for the fact that it’s owner moved his pro basketball team (the Zollner Pistons) from Fort Wayne to Detroit in 1957, in search of a bigger market.  I understand that they are still known to play some basketball from time to time.

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The king of Fort Wayne factories was, however, International Harvester.  Fort Wayne was not International’s headquarters (which was in Chicago) but it did have an assembly plant that had turned out heavy trucks in huge numbers since the late 1920s.  Only much later did I learn that this factory in my hometown was also (after the end of Canadian production in 1968) the sole source of the International Scout.

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I knew little of International Harvester, despite knowing several people who worked there.  I found it strange that everyone called the vehicles “Internationals” while everyone referred to the employer as either “Harvester” or “The Harvester”.  I did know that it was a big operation in which tons of miscellaneous parts were converted into trucks.  I also knew that the company was in not-great financial shape through much of the 1970s.  I knew this from the periodic layoffs that seemed to roll through the ranks of family members and acquaintances with startling regularity.  But somehow I did not know that this was where all of the Scouts came from.

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It is funny how I harbored many youthful daydreams of touring a working auto final assembly plant, but could never manage to talk my family into a vacation in a place where one of those plants was.  Yet here I had one in my own backyard and didn’t even know it.

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Scouts were a normal part of life in Fort Wayne in the ’70s, and I just sort of assumed that they were universally popular everywhere else too.  Not Chevrolet kind of popular, but at least AMC or Jeep kind of popular.  I started to really take note of Scouts when I met my best friend Dan in the fall of 1972, and soon thereafter got regular rides in the ’71 Travelall that his mother drove everyday.  Dan’s father (my car-mentor Howard) soon traded the Travelall on a Dodge van, but later bought a ’74 Scout II from a friend around 1975 or 76.

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I spent a lot of time in that Scout, as it’s designated role in life was to serve as No. 1 car for the three teen drivers in that family during their high school years.  Each of the three wrecked it at one point or other, and each time (except for maybe the last) it was rebuilt with fresh body panels.  Which was perhaps the only way to keep a Scout II from rusting in northern Indiana.  It was an expensive way, but still a way.

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I got a fair amount of wheel time in that particular Scout.  I would have liked driving it a lot more if it had sported either the IH-built 304 (5.0 L) or 345 (5.7 L) V8s.  This one, sadly, was saddled with the, uh, relaxing performance of the AMC-sourced 258 (4.2 L) six, which droned gamely through its Torqueflite automatic.  Until I drove an automatic Mustang II that belonged to a friend of my mother’s, that Scout was the slowest thing I had experienced.  Getting a ride in another Scout while in college was eye opening.  It was seriously rusty, but with a 345 and a stick, it also had some serious scoot.

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The Scout story would come to an end in 1980, but the party seemed like it would go on forever in 1976.  I was sad to see my beloved Travelall disappear from the scene that year, but a vehicle of that class had not really hit the mainstream acceptance that the Suburban would find within a few years.  But never mind, because the Scout seemed to be where the action was, and International broadened the line.  The Scout Traveler was a slightly enlarged Scout II, presumably designed to provide maybe 80% of the Travelall’s utility.  I suppose we could consider it sort of a Scout II.V?  And then there was this one: the Scout Terra.

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I was a little confused by the name.  I was taking latin at the time, and knew that “terra” meant earth or land.  So, Scout Land?  Land Scout?  Dirt Guide?  Whatever the name meant, it was marketed as America’s only mid-sized pickup.  This early effort at brand extension was meant to divert attention from the fact that beginning in 1976, International would be without a standard duty pickup truck (the Light Line) for the first time in about seventy years.  There had been a Cab Top version of the short wheelbase Scout II since 1974, but it had never sold well and disappeared when the Terra was introduced.

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The Terra, with its 118 inch wheelbase and 6,200 pound GVW should have provided a viable pickup choice.  It was  larger than the new crop of compact pickups but smaller than the standard sized trucks (including the dearly departed “Other Pickup” from International.)  On a 118 inch wheelbase, the Terra was a big jump over the Scout II’s 100 inch wheelbase and was even a little longer than the 115 inches on the shortest wheelbase of the 100 Series of the departed Light Line pickups (though not nearly as long as the 132 inches on the larger 200 Series trucks).  Unlike the Light Line trucks, the Terra’s body was constructed like the 1961-62 Ford “unibody” pickups which lacked a separation between the cab and the bed.

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When the Scout Terra was introduced, the six cylinder engines were gone.  The standard engine in 1976 would be the “Comanche 4”, a 196 cid (3.2 L) unit which not so coincidentally measured exactly half of the International 392 cid (6.4 L) which had been cut in half to make it.  The four was rated at 86 bhp @ 3800 rpm, but made its 157 ft. lbs of torque at 2200.  Which was not a lot of output for an engine that weighed nearly 550 pounds with standard accessories. Of course, the International-built 304 and 345 V8s remained available as optional equipment.

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I found this Scout Terra for sale in a car lot near me which was always good for some interesting finds.  Until it went out of business.  Could it just be easier to sell used Camrys and F-150s than unique things like a Scout Terra?

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Never having spent any time around one of these undersized pickups, it was both familiar and foreign to me at the same time.  These were never anywhere near as common as Scout IIs in Fort Wayne (or anywhere else, most likely).  But the basic bones of the Scout are recognizable at 100 yards.  Another familiar thing about this Terra is rust.  Scouts rusted like mad in their hometown, where briny streets are a way of life for a third of the year.  There are not many vehicles that look good with patch panels visibly riveted onto the lower body, but I think that this Scout handles that look better than most.

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The Scout had steadily sold in the 30,000-40,000 unit range through most of the 1970s, even reaching about 44,000 in 1979.  Unfortunately, the combination of a nasty strike and a nasty economy resulted in a disastrous 1980 model year that came to only about 13,000 vehicles.  I have not been able to find figures that break Terra and Traveler production out from the Scout II, but have seen that those two offshoots provided a healthy dose of Scout volume in the final years.

scoutterraad01The whole company was in a bad way by the end of the Scout’s life, with over half of the Fort Wayne workforce on furlough by September of 1981.  What had once been a juggernaut of industry had become a shell of its former self by 1979.  That 1979 strike against International came about after President Archie McCardell got a $1.8 million bonus at the same time it was trying to squeeze work rule concessions out of the union.  But even without that strike, the economy was preparing to fall off a cliff by the beginning of 1980, so no factory reliant on Scouts and heavy trucks was going to make it for long.  We knew that the end was coming when International announced in the summer of 1982 that it would close one of its heavy truck plants.  We also knew that Fort Wayne dated back to the 1920s, while the Springfield, Ohio plant was much more modern.  Fort Wayne’s closure was announced that fall, and the last International truck rolled off of a Fort Wayne assembly line on July 15, 1983.

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In one way, Fort Wayne’s story in auto manufacturing has a relatively happy ending.  Where South Bend never really recovered after the closure of Studebaker in late 1963, the vacuum left by International in Fort Wayne was filled within a few years by General Motors, which built a modern new light truck assembly plant there.  But Chevy and GMC pickups are built in several locations around the country, so we natives of the Summit City lack the same kind of pride in those that came from the Scout.  Or would have, if we had known then what we know now.

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Further reading:

1963 International Scout 80 (Paul Niedermeyer)

Scout II Rallye (Outtake – Paul Niedermeyer)

1972 Scout II (COAL – Eric VanBuren)

1973 Scout II Cab Top (COAL – Eric VanBuren)