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Backward Glances: Scout Hearted, 1961 Cab-Top

Backward Glances

Jim AllenPhotographer, Writer

When the International Harvester Scout was introduced on November 21, 1960, International was operating on a set of assumptions that proved woefully incorrect. The first was that the Scout was going to be a minor addendum to the company’s light-truck line, maybe 6,000-10,000 units per year. The second assumption was that people mostly wanted a pickup version of the Scout. Finally, they figured people only wanted bare-bones Scouts.

So, let’s talk about flawed assumptions and how International came out smelling like roses anyway. Almost immediately, International had more Scout orders than they could handle. A second shift was added on January 23, 1961, the first time for a second shift since the Fort Wayne plant opened in 1923. Production rose to 164 units per day, a gobsmacking statistic for the normally slow-paced company, but it still took six months to work through the backlog. By May 1961, the 10,000th Scout was celebrated, and total production would rise to 28,031 for the year, more than double their best-case estimate.

The Scout was conceived as a pickup, which International called the Cab-Top, but late in the design process, a full-length top was developed. This top stemmed from a comment by VP of the Motor Truck Division Ralph Buzzard. He noted that liquor-store owners using the Scout for deliveries might want a lockable bed cover. A bed cover was developed but also a full-length top, which was the more generally useful idea adopted for production. The full-length top, called the Travel-Top, proved extremely popular even though it didn’t make the Scout a “true” station wagon.

How do you define “station wagon?” It starts with an easily accessible rear seat. Because of a permanently installed bulkhead between the front and rear, and a pickup-style rear tailgate, the cargo area wasn’t easily accessible by any stretch of the imagination. International toyed with a rear-facing seat but very quickly realized the lameness of that idea. Yeah, the bulkhead had to go, but it took a while. It happened first with an interim special conversion done on the assembly line (or via a dealer-installed kit) starting in the middle of the ’62 model year, and finally with a removable bulkhead starting with the ’63s. Without a bulkhead, the rear seat could be accessed from the front, and the Scout could become a true station wagon.

Initial production had a high percentage of 4x2s by design, but buyers left them sitting on the lot in favor of 4x4s. International adjusted production very quickly, but 1961 would have the highest percentage of 4x2 Scout production in its 19-year history—33 percent. After 1961, it averaged about 12 percent, occasionally falling below 10 percent, and the last year it dropped to 0 percent.

Almost immediately, dealers were inundated with comments like, “If only you made Scouts with a few comfort features.” Early on, “comfort” consisted of an optional heater, left- and righthand door armrests, and a few dealer-installed goodies like a radio. A good number of the comfort requests related to the Travel-Top/fixed bulkhead combo and lack of a rear seat option, and they were addressed starting in July of 1962 with the interim Walk-Thru conversion. Bit by bit, International added bling, and 1964 began the era of the “Doll-Up,” an internal moniker for a high-level-trim Scout. Later that year the plush Red Carpet edition debuted, celebrating the 100,000th Scout; from that point on, high-end Scouts were part of the lineup.

Eric Martin’s ’61 Scout 80 Harvester Red Cab-Top was built on May 5, 1961, about the time the 10,000th Scout was being celebrated but still built to the original assumptions. It’s a typical bare-bones Scout Cab-Top, but it did have four-wheel drive. The only “luxury” items are a heater and a driver-side door armrest. It didn’t have far to go from the Fort Wayne, Indiana, assembly plant. It was picked up at the factory by the original owner, a farmer in Roanoke, Indiana, and spent its early life on a farm hauling grain wagons.

Eric purchased it in 2014 from noted Scout collector Sam (“not that Sam”) Elliott, who bought it from the original owner in 1974 with only 28,000 miles. Sam drove it until 1980, cranking the miles up to 44,000, when rust got the better of it. It was a genuine barn find when Eric acquired it in 2014. After a year in the shop, it emerged as you see it today. It’s showing only 48,000 miles and needed very little mechanical work beyond gaskets and seals. This superbly restored Scout was seen at the 2018 Scout and Light Truck Nationals (midnitestar.org), where it won the Street Stock First Place Trophy ’61-’68 Scout. It won the same award in 2017 and 2015. In 2015 and 2017, it won Best of Show Scout.

The Details

Vehicle: ’61 Scout 80 Cab-Top
Owner: Eric Martin
Engine: IH 152ci OHV 4-cyl
Power (hp): 93.5 @ 4,400 rpm (gross, 86 net)
Torque (lb-ft): 142.7 @ 2,400 rpm (gross, 137 net)
Bore & stroke (in): 3.88 x 3.22
Comp. ratio: 8.19
Transmission: IH T-14 3-spd (Warner T-90)
Transfer case: IH TC-144 2-spd (Spicer 18)
Front axle: IH FA-14 (Spicer 27F)
Rear axle: IH RA-4 (Spicer 27, open diff)
Axle ratio: 4.27:1
Tires: 6.00-16 4-ply, non-directional
Wheelbase (in): 100
GVW (lb): 3,900
Curb weight (lb): 3,000
Fuel capacity (gal): 11
Min. grd. clearance (in): 9
Approach angle (deg): 47
Departure angle (deg): 35