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International Scout 80 Project

Posted in How To: Body Chassis on March 21, 2017
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Photographers: Verne SimonsTrenton McGee

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: I am not an International Harvester fan. For many years I have been quite vocal about my distain for cornbinder light trucks in general and Scouts in particular. I am told the company makes fantastic tractors and heavy-duty trucks, but history has proven that it was wise for IH management to cut its losses on the light truck side of things back in 1980. IH trucks are heavy, slow, and rust-prone. They don’t age well, their wiring is a nightmare, and thanks mostly (but not entirely) to old age, they are sketchy in reliability. I have even found that there are a disturbing number of IH fanatics who, to put it politely, tend to be half a bubble off plumb. Therefore the irony is not lost on myself or my buddies that I now own a 13-letter poop spreader. My friends think I am crazy (they would be right), but there’s actually a method to my madness.

I have owned and wheeled both fullsize trucks and Jeeps, and each has its benefits. Fullsize trucks make bringing lots of gear and supplies easy, but technical trails are more of a challenge. Sticking 10 pounds of truck in a 5-pound hole is fun for a while, but it gets old. Jeeps are more or less the trail tool of choice when things are tight and technical, but most are severely lacking in the cargo-room department, and you have to throw most of the drivetrain away to get something that will survive with 35s and lockers. Toyotas are pretty awesome, but even they can be a bit big and expensive. What I wanted was something right in between a Jeep and a fullsize, and that’s how I ended up with a 1964 Scout 80. Check out the sidebar, “Why Tractor?,” for further explanation of my reasoning for settling on the new project, which has been dubbed Plug Ugly, or Pugsley for short.

The plan here is twofold: Exorcise everything International except the body and frame and then apply the KISS principle (“Keep it simple, stupid”). If you are hoping for an early Scout restoration or a build that enhances a Scout but maintains its “essence,” you might as well stop reading now. I plan to keep the body, frame, and patina, but little else tractor will survive. The plan involves a full drivetrain swap with full-width axles and a fuel-injected LS powerplant because it’s simple and reliable. I have decided to go automatic because there is plenty of wheelbase to keep the driveshaft lengths livable, and also because maybe I’ll get my wife to drive this one versus all of my past stick-shift rigs. Leaf springs front and rear are planned for simplicity, as well as crossover steering, hydroboost, and more. I plan to try out some new ideas along the way, and inevitably there are going to be plenty of issues to overcome from using a body and frame outside the mainstream. I am going to keep this one budget-oriented with some junkyard-sourced stuff, but I may splurge on a few things since the plan is to have this one to remain a part of the fleet for a long time. It should be a cool build that I hope inspires more of them without inflating prices on Scout 80s and 800s, which already seem to be on the rise.

Check out all of the warts, good stuff, and the plans for Pugsley below, and stay tuned for some floorboards and other necessary restoration before we dive headlong into the drivetrain swap.

I found Pugsley on Craigslist after about 30 days of searching. It was the third Scout 80 I considered that wasn’t a complete basket case in that time, so they are at least available if not everywhere. It was owned by a nice kid who didn’t really want to sell it, but changes in circumstances forced him to rent a pricey storage unit to park it, hence the motivation to get rid of it. After a little haggling and an assurance that it was going to a good home, we drove the Scout to his house to get the title. I felt ashamed and unclean to own something I had been so vocal about disliking for so many years.
Unlike the last project I brought home, Pugsley actually runs and drives, though it does neither very well. I probably paid too much for it, but I didn’t have the heart to beat up the kid on the price any more than I already had and the patina is something you just can’t buy. The patina and the foldable (and easily replaceable) windshield were the primary motivators for buying a tractor in the first place. A full hardtop in pretty good shape also came with it.
Like most Scout 80s, the saddle tanks were included in the sale but were removed for “cleaning.” Instead, the engine sips fuel out of a converted water jug loosely attached to the core support with twine. An electric fuel pump on the firewall feeds the one-barrel carburetor because the mechanical pump died at some point. There are many similarly questionable fixes like this on the Scout.
All Scout 80s (manufactured from 1960 to 1965) were powered by a 151ci slant-four. This one actually idles really well and runs great up to about 1,500 rpm, where it just makes more noise without making any more power. For some reason the previous owner treated it to a fresh coat of red paint right over all of the caked-on grease and grime. It leaks like a sieve and doesn’t make bad noises, but there are more powerful engines made by Briggs and Stratton. It is basically a boat anchor and is worth more in scrap than whole. It’s going to the steel recycler unless someone wants to pick it up in Phoenix and haul it away for free once I pull it. Keep an eye on 4WOR’s Instagram if you want it.
I believe the front axle is a Dana 25 or 27 and the rear is a Dana 30, but I don’t care enough to actually verify their identity since all of it is going away. The previous owner put disc brakes on the front, so it stops pretty well, but the fancy brakes are like putting lipstick on a pig. A rear brake hardline broke shortly after purchase, so I did the smash-and-pinch trail fix for the short term. Both rear tires wobble due to either a bent rear axle or bent two-piece rear axleshafts.
Though the body is a little rough around the edges, the frame on Pugsley is pristine and rust-free. It is fully boxed and has plenty of crossbraces, making it way stronger than any contemporary Jeep or Chevy product. It is also absurdly wide at 32 inches, making it comically easy to weld on spring hangers for full-width axles.
I don’t know much about the history of this Scout yet. I intend to order a line set ticket So it’s official, you are a Scout freak. —ed., but the previous owner claimed he bought it from the second or third owner in the Verde Valley of northern Arizona. It must have spent most of its life in Arizona, as evidenced by the sunbaked patina and the presence of sheetmetal below the beltline. It also must have spent a lot of time on a ranch, as it has lots of evidence of homebrew fixes and working-life dents. It is far from straight and not a good restoration candidate, which is why I won’t feel bad cutting it up. If you are a Scout aficionado, go ahead and start getting mad now.
There is ample evidence that someone at some point in Pugsley’s past could fix things right with some farm-based ingenuity. Both window cranks had broken, but they were cleverly repaired with formed steel strap and some screws. At some point a weld popped on the tailgate and was fixed in much the same manner. The fixes have likely outlasted the original parts, making them better than factory. Don’t worry—these will be left in place.
Not a single gauge works, and it’s a miracle anything else does judging by the condition of the wiring, which is all one color from the factory thanks to International ingenuity. I think you mean stinginess. —ed. We dig the added RV-sourced interior light, which works and is staying. The T-90 tranny shifts rough, but the Dana 18 transfer case is smooth and solid. A sticker on the dash proudly announces that the rear has a limited-slip, and it feels like it actually works.
The bench seat is held in place by faith and is 3 inches lower on the driver’s side due to sagged springs. Initially the bulkhead behind the seats seemed odd, but it’s kind of ingenious. What better way to keep tools, spare parts, tack, or livestock out of the passenger area? It unbolts, but it’s probably going to stay.
Mostly because Pugsley ran, it somehow seemed like a good idea to take it four-wheeling despite the sketchy fuel system and brake repairs. What could go wrong? True to IH form, it broke down almost immediately. It turns out the cobbled-together converted hydraulic clutch system loosened up and broke the slave cylinder pushrod. I substituted an Allen wrench and kept wheeling, but clutch control gradually went away again, forcing a double-clutch/start-in-gear technique all the way back to town.
The little Scout did surprisingly well on the trail and climbed everything we aimed it at without much complaint. The wheelbase is just about perfect. With some more ground clearance and power, it should be up for more serious trail work.
Other than its being shockingly close to early Bronco dimensions, we went with a Scout 80 because the windshield folds down. The procedure is the same as a Jeep and makes for awesome slow-speed trail visibility, not to mention added cool factor. Though similar to 80s in many ways, later Scout 800s have fixed windshield frames.
The genesis of this build came from being annoyed that early Broncos have gotten so expensive. Pugsley is parked next to Verne Simons’ recently acquired nonrunning early Bronco. He got a great deal on it, but he paid more than double what I paid for the Scout 80, and mine runs and drives. Check out how close the overall dimensions are. The styling of each is kinda cool too. Caught you starting to like your Scout! —ed.
Despite being a desert dweller, Pugsley does have some cancer. Both front floorboards need to be replaced. The previous owner “fixed” the driver side by zip-screwing some hardware store sheetmetal to rusty floor supports, and the ground is visible through the passenger side in several spots. The floors will be the first thing addressed. There’s some more rot in the quarters behind the front doors, which may or may not be left alone. The rest of the floors and sheetmetal are solid.

Why Tractor?

While Scouts may not be my thing, I do like Blazers and early Broncos. I have built two fullsize Blazers (both of which were built in the pages of 4WOR) and then beat the snot out of them to the point that there wasn’t a single straight body panel on either one of them. That was actually part of the problem: Fullsize Blazers are a bit on the large side for serious trail work. The corners are farther away than they really need to be, and all that sheetmetal adds a lot of weight. Early Broncos, on the other hand, strike a perfect balance between a fullsize Blazer and a Jeep CJ-5 or CJ-7. A Bronco’s proportions are such that they can fit tight trails without much trouble, they can transport more than two people in relative comfort, and packing tools and a cooler doesn’t require the Tetris skills you need with a CJ. The problem with Broncos is that a lot of people feel the same way, and the collector car market has shot the prices for early Broncos into the stratosphere. It’s sad that decent early Broncos are usually way outside the realm of a cheap project for a do-it-yourselfer. Even if I could afford one, the last thing I’d want to do is ruin something that would only go up in value by cutting it up and then rubbing it against rocks and trees. I may not be the brightest bulb in the box, but even I know a bad idea (like owning a boat) when I hear one.

It was during a chance encounter with a cheap Scout 80 parked next to an early Bronco at a car show that lightning struck: A Scout 80 is about the same size and wheelbase as an early Bronco but can be had for a fraction of the price. Other than the stigma, if I wanted to build a cheap Broncolike vehicle, why wouldn’t I just start with a Scout? A little research revealed that Broncos and Scouts are within a couple inches of each other in overall length, width, and height, while a Scout 80’s wheelbase is a more stability-friendly 100 inches versus a Bronco’s 92 inches. This also means better approach and departure angles. They are even within a couple hundred pounds of each another in terms of stock curb weight. Early Scouts have sort of cool, vintage lines to them, and when I discovered that Scout 80s have windshields that fold down like a Jeep, I got past my 25-year Scout stigma and started scouring Craigslist.

I missed out on the 80 at the car show, as well as another a little later that in hindsight was in too nice a shape to cut up. Still, it only took about 30 days to locate this viable 1964 Scout 80 project, which runs and drives and was a third of the price of a typical rusty nonrunning early Bronco. While it took a little more patience and digging than looking for a buildable Blazer or CJ-7 project, early Scouts are plentiful enough that they really should not be considered rare or uncommon. Let’s just hope buildable Scout projects like this one remain obtainable for us average folks.

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