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Scouting Kaufman: An Inside Look at the Aaron Kaufman Scout Build

The inside story on Aaron Kaufman’s ArcLight Fab Scout build

Jim AllenWriterBrooks MartinPhotographerArcLight FabPhotographer

If you’re a gearhead, you know the name Aaron Kaufman. The Bearded Wonder! For five years and over 100 episodes, Aaron was the mechanical muscle of the Fast N’ Loud TV show, turning Richard Rawlings’ vehicular ideas into reality. He was Richard’s top gearhead for many years before that. At the end of the 2017 season, Aaron left the show to start his own shop, ArcLight Fab, so he could focus on his own ideas. This change led to a new Discovery Channel show for 2018: Shifting Gears With Aaron Kaufman (https://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/shifting-gears/). Four Wheeler got an inside look at the show’s first project.

For the very few of you who haven’t seen Fast N’ Loud, there was some 4x4 content, but Aaron had an itch to explore that side of the buildup world a bit more. The specific itch he wanted to scratch was a high-performance all-rounder; a rig you could comfortably wheel to the trailhead, do a hard-core trail, and drive home. When it came time to pick a rig, he wanted something uncommon with just the right “look.” He settled on an International Scout.

“I’ve always been curious about International Scouts,” Aaron said, “and the more I learned about them, the more interested I got.” After deciding to go Scout, the next step was to find one with the parts he needed, and so he put out feelers. His good buddy Chris Russman came up with a semi-derelict ’71 Scout 800B Comanche. If you are knowledgeable about Scout history, you will know the Comanche was a limited production promotional special made very briefly in the ’71 model year before the new Scout II debuted. Aaron didn’t know how rare this rig was until much later, but the purist collectors who began sharpening pitchforks and knotting up nooses were somewhat mollified to know that it was the least desirable version (six-cylinder, three-speed manual), was missing all the “unobtainium” parts, and had been severely rolled—not to mention it had sat for a couple of decades. In the end, all Aaron used was the body. The chassis and unused parts went to keep other vintage Scouts rolling.

Then, some strange wild hairs started growing and a new itch needed to be scratched. During a visit with Casey Currie at Currie Enterprises, Aaron discovered Ultra4 racing. Ultra4 is a new flavor of off-road racing, whereby a vehicle can be at 100 mph over desert terrain like a Baja racer one minute, then creeping and crawling at 1 mph over insanely huge rocks the next. With a lot of the build executed, it was way too late to switch over to a scratchbuilt Ultra4 project, but could the Scout project shift gears enough (pun intended) to go racing at Hammertown?

First, it had to be decided into which class the Scout fit. That was determined to be Class 4400, which is an unlimited class. “Unlimited” means that class regulations and build directives were few, so the Scout could play, but it also ensured the Scout was going to be fighting way out of its class and would be up against some of the best drivers and most awesomely built buggies. Well, that guaranteed no trophy, but certainly offered the experience of a lifetime and a challenge for the ArcLight crew. Aaron later described it as, “Bringing a paper clip to fight a gun battle.”

Anyone who competes in motorsports knows the driver makes for 75 percent of a race rig’s success. Aaron has a broad level of experience in different types of competition and has the basic skills to do just about anything, but he had little specific experience four-wheeling. To that end, he consulted a variety of experts in the field for advice and got some specific training when he could get time away from the build.

It took about 100 days to build the Scout. A hundred days of late nights, weekends, and enough caffeine to bring the dead back to life. The crew left the shop in Dallas just a few days before the start of the race with a rig that had little more than a few runs up and down the block…and on some of those runs it had to be towed back! Much of it was typical shakedown things that any new rig experiences. Others were more serious problems that they worked on right to the minute the Scout was loaded onto the trailer.

Upon arriving at Hammertown, the dialing-in continued on both the Scout and its driver. The ArcLight crew continued tweaking the vehicle and the driver absorbed as much of the unfamiliar driving environment as he could. Experienced Ultra4 driver Brian Tilton allowed him to co-drive in his 4800 class rig, leaving the crew 36 hours to dial in the Scout. If you watched the show, you will know that it was all to no avail.

Aaron, with Jason Bowman as co-driver, started out on Friday over a 202-mile course, and they were given 14 hours to complete it. They made it all of 26 miles before a cascade of failures stopped the Scout. Transmission programming had been the deranged gorilla in the room from the very start. The trans just would not shift properly and was always in the incorrect gear. It was a case of an overly complex transmission coupled to a low-tech diesel and no track record anywhere to fall back on for help. Out on the course, it soon began overheating and reached a terminal temperature. The trans problems were complicated by issues with the diesel, which lost power, was rolling smoke like a coal- powered locomotive, and sucking fuel like a 1,200ci marine diesel. It was later calculated to be delivering one mile per gallon due to issues with the compound turbo. At 26 miles, the 26-gallon tank ran out of fuel, and with outside help forbidden by the rules, that marked the end for the ArcLight crew. If the Scout had not run out of fuel, the trans probably would have smoked itself to death before the end of the race. Aaron took the blame on camera, acknowledging a bad choice in the engine and transmission combo.

What’s next for the ArcLight Scout? Aaron cogitates as they move on with other builds. Mostly likely, it will get a 4L80 with a manual valvebody. This is a proven combo with the 4BT. It might also get a manual trans. A fix for the diesel should be a bit easier. It could still get the all-rounder treatment, so stay tuned to Shifting Gears With Aaron Kaufman for the latest.