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Firing Order: The Attraction of Ugly 4x4s

Posted in Features on July 6, 2018
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I’ve owned a fair number of 4x4s in my 55 years on this planet. I’m not one to trade, sell, or buy a 4x4 often, but when you get to be my age, the number of owned 4x4s is rather large by default.

Speaking of “my age,” recently I was getting ready to pay for a meal at a restaurant while on assignment in Washington State. When the server brought my bill she asked how old I was. Now, why would she ask me that? When I told her I had just turned 55 she gleefully proclaimed that I qualified for the restaurant’s senior citizen discount. I wasn’t ready for that. I considered dramatically storming out in protest, but my knees hurt too much, and that pinched nerve in my spine and the nomadic pain it creates had settled into my right arm, and it hurt when I moved it. So, my gray hair and I just sat there.

Anyway, on the long flight home from that assignment I amused myself by trying to remember all the 4x4s I’ve owned in chronological order. Could I remember them all now that I’ve graduated to the senior citizen discount? I actually made it pretty far down memory lane, but my chronological feed of previously owned 4x4s came to halt with my ugly ’77 International Scout II. Which brings me to the point of this month’s Firing Order (finally). I have never owned a 4x4 that gathered so much attention.

I purchased the Scout for $1,000 in the spring of 1986 (I think), and it was a rustbucket. Anyone who knows Scouts knows that this isn’t an unusual thing, especially in the Rust Belt. Between the staggering amount of rust and the strange factory sticker package, it was probably the ugliest 4x4 I had ever seen. Eventually, the body tub rusted so badly that I had to do something, so I swapped on a ’79 Scout tub (that actually had good rocker panels so the doors wouldn’t sag). I used my old tailgate, liftgate, hardtop, hood, grille, and a few other things, but purchased a like-new used windshield frame and new front and rear fiberglass quarter-panels. I also had the doors reskinned with new metal. And then the money ran out.

I had very little “disposable income,” so that meant no new paint. The Scout had about four shades of white. The panels I reused were one shade, the new doorskins another shade (white primer), the fiberglass panels another, and the windshield frame another shade of white primer. It was ugly, but wow, did the Scout attract attention.

It was always generating comments in day-to-day driving, but on one memorable vacation my wife and I took the Scout on a 4WD trip from our home in Illinois to Colorado and then up to South Dakota. The Scout was like a people magnet. For example, we were sitting at a drive-up window at a fast-food restaurant in Iowa and I notice this gent walking his dog toward us through the parking lot. I turned my attention to the drive-up window, and when I looked back he was gone. My wife said, “Don’t pull forward. He’s in front of the Scout.” He was on his hands and knees in front of my rig looking at the suspension. He then jumped up, ankled around to the passenger side, and started asking us questions about our old rig. A few days later we were in a hotel room in Wyoming with the Scout parked right outside the door. In the early evening another gent showed up at our door asking if we owned the Scout. He then proceeded to quiz us about our Scout. He was incredulous that we drove the ugly rig all the way from Illinois. At campgrounds in South Dakota and Colorado folks stopped to look at our old rig. Gas stations, rest stops, you name it—people stopped to comment.

That old 4x4 drew more attention than many of the newer, far more expensive, fancier 4x4s I’ve driven that have all the body panels painted the same color. It’s happened to me several times since then while driving old, ugly rigs. I guess there’s just something about a cosmetically challenged old 4x4 that has an attraction.

Do you currently own or have you owned a 4x4 that wasn’t perfect cosmetically, but it generated positive comments? If so, we’d love to hear about it. Drop a note to the email address below and tell us about it, and please include a high-resolution photo!

—Ken Brubaker

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