International Scout 80 Project

Part 1: Overcoming Hate With a New Tractor Project

Verne SimonsPhotographerTrenton McGeeWriterTrenton McGeePhotographer

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.

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.