Backward Glances - 1977 Scout SSII Rancher Special
The International Harvester (IH) Scout is 4x4 icon, but it struggled to maintain market share, especially in its last few years of production. That had less to do with the vehicle and more to do with International’s business model. We’ll save that discussion for the financial gurus on cable news. In the growing 4x4 market, Scout’s biggest marketing problem was perpetually being on the edges of the sales mainstream in a market that was growing exponentially. Yeah, they advertised, but you generally didn’t go down Main Street to kick the tires on Scouts like you did Chevys, Fords, Dodges or Jeeps. You went to the industrial district or a tractor dealer on the outskirts of town, neither being places the average mainstream buyer frequented.
The marketing folks at the division knew the mainstream game but found it hard work getting execs more familiar with selling heavy-duty truck or farm equipment to play it the right way. That finally changed in 1976, when the company signed off on a marketing campaign built around a sporty new Scout II model then sponsoring four well-known NORRA desert racers to race them. They did well, too, but that’s another story.
The ’77 Rancher Special’s list price was $5,557.50. This one has only two options: a rear seat for $160 and the top for $322 ($336 with the sunroof). The color is Winter White (paint code 9219). It was built on June 9, 1977, and shipped to Dow Hammond International Truck in Modesto, California. Its life from there is unclear, though likely related to farming. Ismail found the Scout on Craigslist in December 2013, bought it, started the restoration in the last week of March 2014, and finished it near the end of July 2014.
It isn’t clear who laid the egg of the idea, but the cornerstone was set in the latter part of 1975 with a concept rig Scout drawn up by IH stylist Dick Hatch. Initially called the Mountaineer, Hatch penned a Scout II without roof or doors, added a roll bar, a stylish new grille, and plastic door inserts. As it evolved, so did the name, and Scout Side Kick (SSK) became the working name as the prototype was developed. Eventually, to avoid problems with Mercedes (there was once a Mercedes SSK), Larry Ehlers and Howard Pletcher at IH brainstormed the name Super Scout, which soon became abbreviated to SS and later SSII.
The internal product news announcement came on December 22, 1976, but the SSII was introduced to dealers in January 1977 at Parker, Arizona, with two of the sponsored Class 3 Baja racers, Jimmy Jones and Frank Howarth, on hand to show what the SSII could do. The production SSIIs were very much like the concept. A base SSII listed at $5,168 and came with the 86hp, 196ci International four-cylinder, T-332 (Warner T-15D) three-speed manual, Dana 44s front and rear, street tires, and 4.09:1 axle ratios. The open body was standard with door inserts, rollbar, fuel tank skid plate, two-speed transfer case (a single speed was normally standard in Scouts), power front disc brakes, and snapped-in defroster vent covers. A passenger seat, top, and rear bumper were optional. The SSII could be ordered with just about any à la carte mechanical option, but four powertrain/options packages were also offered: the Rancher Special, Brush Buster, Sport, and Baja Cruiser.
The top and soft doors came from Whitco and were available in white or black. A non-opening sunroof was an option. Sometimes the tops were installed by IH before shipment and sometimes by the dealer. Versus a Jeep or small Bronco, the Scout was roomier and stouter but larger, heavier, and less agile. Versus a Blazer, Ramcharger, or the later large Bronco, it was smaller and lighter and therefore a little more agile. The dealer list price of a base SSII was about $770 more than a base CJ-5 and $670 more than a base CJ-7.
The Rancher Special and Brush Buster packages were similar cosmetically and feature-wise, with two front seats, front tow hooks, painted rear bumpers, H78-15 mud and snow tires, T-427 wide-ratio four-speed transmission, and 3.54:1 axle ratios. The Rancher kept the 196ci four, while the Buster got a 304ci two-barrel V-8. The Rancher had the 4.09 cogs optional, and the Buster got 3.54s with a standard rear Trac-Loc limited-slip differential. The next year, you could order 4.09s with the 304.
The Sport was largely the same as the Buster but got a T-407 automatic (Chrysler TF727), the Offroad Tire Package (10x15 Goodyear Tracker blackwalls on white spoke wheels with rubber wheelwell extensions), an AM radio, and a black and gold side appliqué. The Baja Cruiser added the 345ci V-8, rear Trac-Loc, AM/FM radio with a center console, and white-letter tires off-road tires. The Sport and Baja Cruiser with the lurid ’70s appliqués generally are what comes to most people’s mind when they think of the SSII. The Scout SSII was built through the ’79 model year to the tune of just under 4,000 units.
In collector circles, the high-end, decked-out rigs are often given the most attention and attract the highest prices. Here’s a notable exception to that rule: a 4x4 no red-blooded four-wheeler can fail to love. It’s a ’77 Rancher Special that was restored to better than new by IH Guru Jeff Ismail, owner of IH Parts America in Grass Valley, California. This was a rare departure for Jeff, who is better known for Scout buildups than Scout restorations. He claims some otherworldly influence compelled him to restore the Rancher Special to a concourse level. Not only are Rancher Special packages extremely rare, this one is perfect down to original period H78-15 General Gripper 780 tires. This time capsule was the center of attention at the 2014 IH Scout and Light Truck Nationals in Troy, Ohio, and took home the Ted Ornas Award for the best original Scout.
Not even a radio! The upholstery color, what little upholstery there is, was called Tanbark. Floormats were optional, and this one wasn’t ordered with them. Note the snapped-on covers over the defroster vents. These were to prevent a dust storm when the defrosters were activated after off-roading.
The International 196ci slant-four was half a medium-duty 392ci V-8. In the ’77 it made a respectable 86 SAE net horsepower and could deliver fuel economy in the high teens. The slant-four was developed in 1960, inspired by Pontiac’s Trophy-4, which was half of a 389ci V-8. The IH fours were manufactured on the same tooling as the V-8 and used many of the same internal parts. In the original development, 133, 152, and 173ci fours were considered (based on the 266, 304, and 345ci V-8s introduced in 1959) and the 152ci variant was chosen for the first-generation ’61 Scout. When the 392ci V-8 debuted in 1966, the 196ci four was developed from it at the same time. It was an option over the 152ci to the end of 1968, after which it became the standard Scout engine. The optional V-304A and V-345A V-8s came standard with dual exhaust.
One thing for which Scouts were noted was a stout, fully boxed chassis. Dana 44s were standard front and rear and a Trac-Loc was optional in the rear for an additional $82. Earlier in Scout’s production, limited slips had been optional front and rear. The fuel tank skid plate was standard for the SSII but optional on the Scout II hardtops. Optional axle ratios cost $16.50. For ’77s, only 3.07, 3.54, and 4.09 were listed, depending on the engine and transmission combination.
If you think it’s easy to find 38-year-old tires in new or good condition, think again! It took quite some time to find five General Gripper 780s. While they look really good, these tires are only for showing the vehicle and wouldn’t be safe for highway use. Note the lack of locking hubs, maintaining the as-ordered showroom-stock appearance. Manual hubs were a $98 option for the ’77 Scout.
International favored a spring-under configuration. The bar connecting the front shackles is its version of a sway bar. It was effective and cheap and first appeared in the ’74s. The Dana 44 front became standard in the Scout II for ’75 but had been optional since ’72. This Scout has manual steering but a Saginaw power steering setup was a $189 option.
The SSII retained the normal Scout’s 6,200-pound GVW. The higher GVW was adopted to avoid the onset of catalytic converters for the ’76s, which the Scout did until the ’79s. Weighing in at only 3,300 pounds, the Rancher Special certainly had a lot of reserve carrying capacity, certainly more than you could stuff in here. By the standards of the class, the Scout was much roomier than its primary Jeep competition.
The Details: ’77 International Scout SSII
Owner: Jeff Ismail
Estimated value: $25,000
Engine: 196ci OHV four (IH 4-196)
Power (hp): 86 @ 3,800
Torque (lb-ft): 157 @ 2,200
Bore & stroke (in): 4.135 x 3.656
Comp. ratio: 8.02:1
Transmission: 4-spd, IH T-427 (Warner T-19A)
Transfer case: 2-spd IH TC-145 (Dana 20)
Front axle: IH FA-44 (Dana 44)
Rear axle: IH RA-18 (Dana 44)
Axle ratio: 3.54:1
Tires: H78-15 M&S (General Gripper 780)
Wheelbase (in): 100
GVW (lbs): 6,200
Curb weight (lbs): 3,300
Fuel capacity (gal): 19
Min. grd. clearance (in): 7.6
Approach angle (deg): 44
Departure angle (deg): 22