Curbside Classic: 1965 International Travelall 4×4 – The Suburban Of Its Day

(first posted 8/12/2012) Once upon a time, if you wanted a big, sturdy four-door “wagon” (the term “SUV” hadn’t yet been invented), there was really only one choice: head to your local International dealer. Until Chevrolet finally got wise, and slowly started adding rear doors, one in 1967, the other in 1973, the Travelall pretty much had that market all to itself. And in those times, the word “Travelall” was as iconic and familiar as “Suburban” is today. It was an institution of higher function, and a very highly regarded one.

Like the rest of its utility wagon competitors, the Travelall didn’t start out with four doors. It arrived in 1953 looking very much like the others in the field: two doors, and lots of scrambling to get into the back rows of seats.

An all new A-Series line of IH trucks arrived for 1958, the firm’s 50th anniversary of making trucks. Foreshadowing the Suburban’s trajectory a decade later, it too had just one rear door, on the right side. A big improvement; almost downright modern!

This basic body is the same as our featured truck, but then it still sat higher on the older chassis with a solid front axle.You won’t find this side shown in any of the ads.

In 1961, International took a very bold step forward: a completely new chassis featuring a torsion bar independent front suspension, with the front wheels set further forward, both allowing a significant lowering of the body. Well, now that was going against the trend in more recent decades. But at the time, many folks were still a bit averse to the “truckiness” of utility wagons and pickups. IH’s trucks now sat very low indeed, and made them so much more palatable during the lower, longer, wider era. And available automatic transmission, and power steering and brakes meant Mommy was much more likely to share Daddy’s dream of a Travelall.

The C and D Series Travelalls were iconic in the sixties and seventies, before the SUV fad kicked in. If you were going to move to the country and haul horse trailers,

or wanted to join a Airstream Caravan through Africa, or just wanted or needed the ruggedest hardworking wagon around, this was it; you just got a Travelall. Well some folks didn’t, and lived to regret it.

I was friends with two University families that each bought old farms outside Iowa City, for horses and other gentleman farmer/back-to-the-land activities. One bought a used Travelall almost exactly like this; the other a used 1964 Jeep Wagoneer. Those early Wagoneers had the infamous Tornado OHC six, and sure enough, problems developed with theirs. Its delicate and warp-prone hemi aluminum cylinder head might have been “advanced” for the times, but when you’re lugging a horse trailer out of a muddy field, Italian sports-car engineering is not necessarily an advantage. Also, the Wagoneer was considerably more compact than a Travelall, and didn’t offer a third-row seating option.

No such problems under the hood here. International’s highly-proven line of six and V8 engines were already legendary for their ruggedness; not surprising since they also powered much larger IH trucks and vans too. To the best of my knowledge, the six was a 241 cubic inch version for this vintage, and the 304 and 345 V8s were optional; possibly the 392 version too, if you asked nicely.

Given that this is a 4×4 version, I was a bit surprised to see a three-on-the-tree. But then these weren’t necessarily bought for off-roading; maybe they lived in a snowy area. And I assume all of these have a transfer case with a Low Range, which would take care of any need to pull stumps.

Nobody built more utilitarian instrument panels than International. A row of genuine gauges, and another row of chromed knobs; they look the like stops on a pipe organ.

Yes, it’s for sale too. Or was. I shot this a while back, so I’m sure it’s long gone. A genuine antique, too.

Between sitting so low, and all that glass, visibility was superb. In fact, I’m surprised it sits as low as it does, given that this one is a 4×4. This was also a significant departure from the Big Three 4x4s: they rode sky high, and on punishingly hard springs. Their market then were serious off road work applications, like utilities and loggers and such. Of course, the International could handle that too, but it didn’t require a big penalty to have four wheel drive with one.

Such a clean machine; no gratuitous chrome or affectation anywhere. Eminently desirable. Why didn’t I buy it?