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1976 International Scout Terra Suntanner

The First Civilian Convertible Pickup?

The extra 18 inches added to the Scout II wheelbase gave the Terra a 6-foot bed. The 6,200-pound GVW offered a 1,000-plus-pound payload. The paint color is the striking Fire Orange (3195OR), offered from ’75-’77. It’s a Gold Star model called a “Town Traveler” (#6-SCPU-44-318). The Gold Star program put groupings of popular options together under a single number for easy ordering. The Suntanner kit cost $246.15. The list price for the Scout as equipped was $6,424.50. Ordered in addition to the Gold Star items were 3.54:1 axle ratios ($15.50), heavy-duty step bumper ($34.00), Loc-O-Matic hubs ($42.50), chrome Rallye wheels ($137.00), and AM Radio ($83.00). If the old farmer paid list, he went out with a $6,982.65 bill. That’s $31,743.15 in 2020 dollars.

The 1976 International Scout Terra Suntanner 4x4 featured here belongs to Tom Thayer, who has a world-class collection of rare Scouts and IH trucks. Only a handful of original Suntanners have survived, and not only is this one the nicest known survivor, it's probably the earliest known survivor. Its entire history is known. It was sold to a farmer near Mexico, Missouri, in late 1976. The dealer, Gilmore Implement, installed the chrome Rallye wheels and the Suntanner top. The farmer babied it and put on only 23,000 miles using it as a showy go-to-town rig, trading it in during the mid '90s to a Chevrolet dealer. Lynn Faeth of Scout Connection in Fort Madison, Iowa, (scoutconnection.com), a premier Scout Light Line dealer and restorer, bought this Suntanner from the dealer in 1995 and gave it a cosmetic restoration—mainly to spiff up the exterior finishes. Tom bought it in 1999, and it's one of the cornerstones of his awesome collection and a monument to the 1970s.

Scout Made The Cut In 1975

The 1970s were not kind to International Harvester. In 1975, after nearly 70 years of building light trucks, production of the vaunted International Light Line ended. That included trucks from 1/2- to 1-ton and the Travelall SUV, but not the Scout. Sales of the 100-inch-wheelbase International Scout was doing pretty well overall, so it survived the cut. It had become increasingly expensive for International to compete in the growing light truck market, and with the agricultural side of the massive IH organization also in financial distress, one of the triage moves was to kill the light truck lines.

The extra 18 inches added to the Scout II wheelbase gave the Terra a 6-foot bed. The 6,200-pound GVW offered a 1,000-plus-pound payload. The paint color is the striking Fire Orange (3195OR), offered from ’75-’77. It’s a Gold Star model called a “Town Traveler” (#6-SCPU-44-318). The Gold Star program put groupings of popular options together under a single number for easy ordering. The Suntanner kit cost $246.15. The list price for the Scout as equipped was $6,424.50. Ordered in addition to the Gold Star items were 3.54:1 axle ratios ($15.50), heavy-duty step bumper ($34.00), Loc-O-Matic hubs ($42.50), chrome Rallye wheels ($137.00), and AM Radio ($83.00). If the old farmer paid list, he went out with a $6,982.65 bill. That’s $31,743.15 in 2020 dollars.

How Long Is The International Scout Terra Suntanner?

The Scout product planners had tried to keep abreast of the trends, and that included addressing customer requests for a long-wheelbase Scout. It had been in development since 1971, and when it was ready for primetime, it centered around two models, a pickup and an SUV, both built upon the same 118-inch-wheelbase platform. When they debuted as '76 models, as the Terra pickup and the Traveler SUV, they were perfectly placed to replace the lower GVW Light Line shortbed pickups and the Travelall. Both had a 6,200-pound GVW, leaving the Terra, with a 6-foot bed, in the lower end of the fullsize 1/2-ton GVW realm.

International Scout Terra Was America's First Production Diesel Pickup

The Terra wasn't intended to compete in the fullsize realm so much as to take on the imports that cropped up during the Arab oil embargo. The gas-saving engines for the Terra started with the base 86hp, 196ci International slant four (half a 392ci V-8) followed by a new naturally aspirated 81hp, 198ci Nissan diesel, making the Terra America's first production diesel pickup and the Traveler the first diesel SUV. With the gas four, the Terra could be "high-teens, low-20s" economical, while the diesel could get further into the 20 mpg range, so they were legitimate "gas-savers." The Terra had the advantage of offering much more cab room and cargo capacity than the imports, and better performance to boot.

The Suntanner tonneau covers the bed, with a special section for the spare tire up against the bulkhead. Some versions allowed for locating the spare at the right rear corner of the bed. Even though it was a '76 model year Scout built in November of 1975, it was delivered to the dealer as a stock item and wasn't sold until the end of 1976. Given the introduction timeframe for the Suntanner, it must have been installed right after it debuted. Tom also has the original pickup cab, which is like new and barely used.

International Scout Terra Driveline Rundown

The Terra could compete in the V-8 realm of the fullsize 1/2-ton market as well, having two V-8 options (304 and 345ci, 144 and 163 hp, respectively), plus all the comfort features International offered, which were substantial. Gearbox options ranged from a base three-speed manual to close- and wide-ratio four-speed manuals, plus a three-speed automatic. Dana 44 axles were used front and rear. The available ratios were engine and trans dependent but ranged from 3.07 to as low as 4.09:1. Although most Scouts were 4x4s, a 4x2 option was available.

Terra And Traveler Were Nearly Identical

The Traveler SUV variant was more in the category of "Suburban fighter," but that's a topic for another time. The Terra and the Traveler were nearly identical and virtually the same on the assembly line until it came time to install the textured fiberglass top (choice of white or brown). That modularity made them economical to produce, and the Terra replaced the pickup option that had been offered on the short-wheelbase Scouts since Day 1. Down the road, an owner could turn a Terra into a Traveler or vice versa.

The interior is all original, except the carpet, which was added later. This is the Deluxe interior in a color called Tanbark. The Deluxe interior came with an upgraded nylon/cloth-faced seat, wood-look dash insert, and door trim stripe. Normally it showed Tanbark-colored vinyl floor coverings but Lynn added carpet to mimic the Custom trim package. The Terra came standard with a 1/3-2/3 bench seat but you could order buckets with a center storage box/console.

From Agriculture To Mainstream

As the Scout evolved, it had become less an extension of the agricultural side of IH and more of a mainstream offering. That was a hard transition for the execs and IH to make because the company had a century-long tradition of offering products that were complements to the ag or commercial side of its business. The change became especially apparent in the second half of the 1970s, when International showed a little bit of hip. That "hip-ness" took many forms, some of it laughably off-target, even for the '70s. One product International embraced was the Suntanner, a dealer-installed convertible pickup conversion. And here you thought the '89-'91 Dodge Dakota convertible was the only civilian convertible pickup!

Suntanner Was A Combination Of Soft Top And Tonneau

Starting as early as 1975, we know the styling department at International was working on the Suntanner concept because they produced a concept drawing that year. The records aren't clear how much International and Kayline Manufacturing of Denver, Colorado, collaborated on the design, but we know Kayline built them. The Suntanner was a combination soft top and tonneau. There are indications the first Suntanner prototype was exhibited at the 1976 Chicago Auto Show, but we haven't found any pictures yet. More prototype images come from March and April of 1976, when two Suntanner prototypes were presented at the Mint 400 desert race in Las Vegas. It must have gone over well because the project moved ahead.

The small V-8 was the short stroke 304 (no relation to the AMC 304). It debuted in 1959 as a medium-duty truck engine, along with a short stroke 266ci V-8 for light duty and a long stroke 345ci for medium duty vehicles. The legendary 392 was planned to appear in the same timeframe, but teething problems held it up until 1966. For much of its life in light duty IH rigs, the 304 was virtually identical to the M-D engines, with stuff like trimetal bearings, steel top ring inserts, valve rotators, hardened valve seat inserts, and alloy exhaust valves. To reduce costs, the "A" series engines (e.g., the 304A) debuted for Scouts and light trucks in 1970. They nixed the trimetal bearings, hard seats, and alloy valves and went to less elaborate rotators, among a few other things. Still, when they ran out of A engines for Scouts, they just shipped the regular M-D engines to fill in. The 304 made 144 horsepower at 3,600 rpm with dual exhaust. Dual exhaust was standard for a few years in the mid '70s before catalytic converters appeared for '79. The 304 came only as a two-barrel, but the 345 was offered in two- and four-barrel versions. With 3.54:1 axle ratios, the 304 automatic in a Terra could do 0-60 in 13.7 seconds.

Dealer Installed Option

The Suntanner was announced to International dealers in a document dated Feb. 1, 1977. The recipients were the parts and sales departments and the kits were a direct ship from Kayline to the dealer. The name "Suntanner" appears to have only been used by International, not Kayline. Yes, you could buy the kit direct from Kayline but they called it the "Tonneau Cover and Convertible Top."

Press Had A "Love-Hate Relationship"

The Suntanner got a little press in 1977. The September '77 issue of Motor Trend had a test. It appeared on the cover of the September '77 Popular Mechanics, and Pickup, Van & 4wd ran an extensive test. The common themes were some variation of "love-hate relationship." It seems like everyone loves a ragtop to cruise in nice weather, but give them a long highway jaunt, sudden weather changes, and recalcitrant top operation, and the glow changes to a "grrrr!" It isn't clear how many kits were sold, but they were not common, even back in the day.

And here is Tom Thayer's Suntanner in all its fastback top-up glory. Photo: Tom Thayer

This is one of two Suntanner prototypes built in early 1976. We haven't been able to prove it yet, but this one might have been shown at the Chicago Auto Show. A red one was also done just in time to show them both off at the 1976 Mint 400. This one had all the bells and whistles, including the new IH accessory rollbar and what would become the Off Road Package (tires, wheels, and a brushguard that normally had a small Warn winch attached). The little red decal on the side was a Suntanner logo in the shape of a sun. Here you can see the Suntanner in top down and with the standard Terra Cabtop. Photo: John Glancy Collection

The Details

Vehicle: 1976 Scout Terra Suntanner
Owner: Tom Thayer
Estimated value: $95,000
Engine: IH 304ci V-8
Power (hp): 144 @ 3,600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 247 @ 2,000 rpm
Bore & stroke (in): 3.875 x 3.218
Comp. ratio: 8.00:1
Transmission: IH T407 (Chrysler TF727), 3-spd automatic
Transfer case: IH TC145 (Dana 20), 2-spd
Front axle: IH FA44 (Dana 44, open diff)
Rear axle: IH RA18 (Dana 44, open diff)
Axle ratios: 3.54:1
Tires: H78-15 General Gripper 780
Wheelbase (in): 118
GVW (lb): 6,200
Curb weight (lb): 4,146
Fuel capacity (gal): 19
Min. grd. clearance (in): 6.6
Approach angle (deg): 30
Departure angle (deg): 19