Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1961 IH Scout – “Who Is Going To Buy The Scout?”

The Scout was the first competitor to the Jeep, reflecting the rising interest in off-road capable vehicles. But it was still early days; only the gnarly JC and the slightly-less so Jeep Wagon (and Pickup) were in the field at the time, and it’s not like sales were exploding, although Willys was growing and quite profitable, finally giving the Kaisers a happy solution to their travails with Kaiser-Frazer.

Who was going to be the first to jump into the market? Not the Big Three, yet. But International did, and that’s not too surprising given the popularity of their Travelall (available in 4×4) in the recreational market.

In a reflection of the times, the Scout that Car Life tested did not have four wheel drive. This may seem curious now, when just about every CUV has it, but back then 4WD was still seen as a rather expensive option for those situations where it was truly needed; high clearance vehicles with RWD were still the norm even in off-road settings.

CL starts by noting that the Scout was not just a “rehash of the old WW II Jeep”. Yes, by 1961, the Jeep, which had changed very little since the war, was beginning to look a wee bit old. Yes, the ride was better than the Jeep, but only so much, given the off-road capable stiff springs,

The 4.27:1 rear axle ratio was a bit short, but it did allow the Scout to hit 80 mph (when fully broken in), but a cruising speed on the highway of 65 was about as fast as one would normally want to push it.

The rather abbreviated off-road driving that was undertaken didn’t faze the Scout: “only a 4-wheel drive model could have exhibited any greater ‘go-anywhere’ ability.” It’s hard to argue with that logic. An unexpected desert storm did show a weakness: the Scout’s body leaked like a sieve.

Fuel economy was surprisingly good, with a range of 18-22 mpg. The 87 hp 152 cubic inch four was of course essentially one half of International’s 304 V8. “It is smoother than you might expect from a ‘4-barrel’ and delivers great gobs of torque at ridiculously low rpm”.  (“4-barrel” was a common term for four cylinder engines before the widespread use of four-barrel carbs).  CL seemed to find the acceleration (0-60 in 21.1 sec.) quite adequate for the intended purpose. The three-speed floor shifter required a fair bit of muscle power when rowing the gears.

The steering wasn’t light either, which “makes this a real man’s car. The ladies may think its cute but they aren’t going to think it’s fun after they’ve grunted it around the block a few times.” We’ve come a long way…

CL asks the rhetorical question as to who is going to buy the Scout. Obviously farmer, ranchers and certain fleet operators. “Well, we thought perhaps you might—and don’t look surpised. Outdoors is a big business in America today…Why? Because living in such close proximity to each other seems to be giving some of us sort of a…type of claustrophobia, and only getting out into the boondocks occasionally is going to cure it.”  Yup! And the boom is still…booming.

CL asks you to picture yourself with a station wagon for the wife and a Scout for you, to drive to work during the week and then the wife and kids head off into the great outdoors.

One final observation: the tough looking Scout keeps folks from cutting one off. That alone might be worth it, right? Isn’t that one of the main reasons we all drive such big, tall vehicles now?


Related CC reading:

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