Curbside Classic: 1963 IH Scout 80 – The Advance (SUV) Scout

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(First Posted July 11, 2014)  The precise evolution of the SUV, like all car genres is debatable, but there’s no question that the International Scout is the critical link between the military Jeep and the modern SUV. It was the first vehicle of the genre to be designed from scratch to meet the anticipated growth in the off-road capable civilian market, and it clearly was the template for its many imitators: Ford Bronco, Range Rover, Chevy Blazer, Dodge Ramcharger, as well as the Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero (and others). True to its name, the Scout led the industry into the land of milk and SUV profits, even if it bowed out early.

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International Harvester, which was then still a major manufacturer of pickups and utility wagons, took quite a leap of faith when it began the development of the Scout in the late 1950′s. The civilian Jeep actually sold rather poorly in that decade, in part because surplus military Jeeps were available for peanuts.

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But leap they did, although the project almost died along the way. Early designs were too angular, which rightfully didn’t inspire the execs. When a more rounded design similar to the final version emerged from a late night session, it finally created some enthusiasm.

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The body design might have been a bit adventurous compared to the Jeep, but the grille material looks like it was bought at the hardware store: expanded aluminum. Kids, this is why they call them grilles, although it would surely make a fine and dandy grill.

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Originally planned to be made out of molded plastic body components supplied by Goodyear, when that turned out to be too expensive, the design was adapted to steel. A sturdy frame was not outside of International’s expertise, and Dana transfer cases and axles were readily available.

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That left the matter of an engine, since IH only built rather large and heavy sixes and V8s. The solution: cut their 304 CID V8 block in half, resulting in a slant four of 152 cubic inches. Even the V8 distributor was used, with blanks for the missing other four cylinders.

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The 2.5 liter Comanche four carried a 93 horsepower rating. Not surprisingly, it was a rather rough running unit, but that was in character with the rest of the Scout, which despite its more modern body was still a pretty primitive vehicle, especially from today’s vantage point. The four had a good torque curve, which was important for off-road work, and it was as tough as the IH V8 that donated half its block to it. In 1965, there was even a turbocharged version of the four offered, probably for those Colorado high altitude off roaders. Wonder if any survived.

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The Scout was of course a bit ahead of the SUV boom, and sales were none too brisk. Salesmen would even bring one to your door to check out. Imagine that.

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I would.

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In 1966, the Scout got all dressed up, in an effort to widen its appeal. I’m not sure she looks all that happy though; I think she’d have preferred to pull up in a T-Bird.

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The Scout 80 first appeared in late 1960 and came as a mini-pickup version or the utility, with a removable top. All of the first series (80) Scouts came with a fold down windshield. The Scout 800, which appeared in 1965, did away with that, but brought a number of other improvements in comfort and convenience. The Scout 800A, from 1968 up, even had a grille that looked just a wee bit less hardware-store.

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The 800 and 800A (built through 1971), also had more engine options on tap: a larger 196 CID four; AMC-sourced 232 six; and the two smallest of the International’s V8s, the 266 and 304. The Scout II replaced the 80/800/800A in 1971, but we’ll save that for another CC.

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There’s a surprising number of Scouts on the road here, many in more regular use than this weekend toy, which got rolled (slowly and gently in soft mud) a few years back, without harm to its driver. There’s even Mr. Scout, a repair and restoration shop. Given their simplicity and rugged construction, don’t expect them to disappear anytime too soon.

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