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1975 International Harvester 150 - Budget Buster

As We Say, Not As We Do

Verne SimonsPhotographer, Writer

“Thanks man, but I’ll have to pass. It’s rougher than I thought it was. Way more work than I want to get into.” Those were the last few words I said before the seller said, “You’ve brought a trailer. What would you pay to take it off my hands and haul it out of here?” I should have said he’d have to pay me to get the truck out of there, but I didn’t. Foolishly I said: “I guess I’d give $500 for it.” Next thing I know I own a ’75 International Harvester 150 4x4 with a half-blown-apart 304 and an interior full of cactus and pack rat poop for $550. Yeah, he talked me out of $50 more. Yay! Sob . . . sob.

If we travel back in time we will come to the real reason I now own this pile of American agricultural history. Fred Williams, former friend and current colleague, asked me if I wanted to be a part of 2014’s Cheap Truck Challenge. Williams must have known that I am way too willing to say yes to a foolish thing like this, because I said, “Yeah, sure! That sounds like fun.” In his defense, the event itself was fun and something I am glad I did. Would I do it again? Yes, I would, but I would decidedly not start with a rare, nonrunning, pile of old farm equipment. This is a tale of how I spent way too much time and money on my Cheap Truck doing exactly what I knew I should not do.

If you want to win Cheap Truck Challenge, or at least have the most fun possible, go look for the cheapest, running, most commonly built 4x4 you can find. A dented and worn ’93 Jeep XJ would be great. How about a ’89 tin-top Suzuki Samurai? That’s a great platform. A barf-filled ’90 Ford Explorer 4x4 with 250,000 miles? Yep, if it runs it will probably win—or at least make a good showing. Should I start with a nonrunning, last-year-built, International Harvester heavy half-ton that served unintentionally and unofficially as Biodome 4 for countless generations of packrats? Nope. Decidedly not! Instead follow your first instinct and walk away from an eclectic pile of parts like my IH.

Anyway, here’s what I did to get the old corn binder ready for CTC 2014. Did I have fun? Hell yeah, I had fun, but I violated my budget like no other. This was not entirely intentional or planned, but that’s what happens when you buy a truck that does not run and you don’t know what’s wrong with it.

Nope, it’s not a Scout, but it is an International Harvester. The model is called a 150. We’re not sure what that number refers to or why anyone would care, but some seem to. It catches the passer-by’s eye for sure. To be honest, we do like the faded old mustard-yellow paint and the heavy-duty parts underneath (including a semifloat Dana 60 rear axle!). At this point in the build we felt we could probably get the IH engine running. We were wrong. That small problem and a set of fancy tires (which are awesome) helped blow the budget. It’s probably the first time ever that something for a 4x4 build has blown the budget (read sarcasm).

Rat poop, cactus, and rust are apparently the theme for this truck. It contained more rat poop than we could imagine. We still occasionally notice a turd roll by when we drive it. We hosed the interior down with Clorox bleach and then pressure-washed just about everything inside the truck that we could. We also had to have the seat depooped and re-covered.

The truck seems to originally be from Colorado, but even that does not explain the strange rust patterns in the truck. There are only a few rusty spots, but where there is rust, it is strong. In fact, it has eaten holes all the way through the sheetmetal in several places. Both inner fenderwells had rusted around the hood hinges. We first contemplated using hoodpins and dropping the hinges altogether, but instead we got some nifty hood hinge patch-panels from Isa’s International Harvester Parts. We cut out the rust, positioned the panels, borrowed a welder and tacked them in place.

The first step in our seemingly endless battle to make the IH drivable was to see if the engine would run. The water pump was locked up, and none of the belts were on the truck. Clearly it had been sitting for a while and someone had started taking the engine apart before it sat. That should have been a sign of what was to come. After talking to Isa at Isa’s IH we figured out how to prime the long idle tractor engine. (You have to have the cam positioned correctly to oil each side of the valvetrain in an IH V-8. We know. Crazy, right?)

We cobbled together the ignition with some parts that were in the bed of the truck, hooked up a small electric fuel pump, borrowed a good carb from a friend, and finally got the 304 IH V-8 running. It ran like poop. Clearly the valvetrain was very, very unhappy. She clacked and clattered like a diesel with no oil in it. Bad. Time for plan B, or was it plan C?

So we pulled the IH 304 V-8 and what we believe is a BorgWarner T-19 transmission. Please hold the IH hate mail. We like IHs and would have loved to use the 304, but spending $500-$1,000 on an old engine to get the valvetrain back in order just does not make sense. Especially when you can buy a junkyard fresh Chevy V-8 with fuel injection for $700-$800 and have a much more reliable and powerful package. Yeah, it’s been done. Yeah, it would have been cooler if the IH V-8 would have worked. We get it.

With the engine pulled we ran down to a local junkyard that promised a ’95 Chevy 350 with TBI, wiring harness, computer and all the accessories for $900. Yeah, that’s a big chunk of change from our $2,014 budget, but since we only paid $550 for the truck to start with we were feeling frisky. We figured the $2,014-$550 left us about $1,400 to get the truck running. Add in some time researching and reworking the Chevy’s engine wiring harness, an e-2000 fuel pump, some filters, and a rust-filled “free” gas tank from our buddy’s “junkyard,” and the truck will hypothetically be a runner.

So besides the Chevy 350 we still needed a transmission. Luckily a friend had an SM465 sitting on its side in his private junkyard. The price for the transmission was free. Yep, so $1,400 minus $0 equals $1,400. Of course, the free SM465 needs new seals front and rear. RockAuto was able to source the seals for us (along with hoses, brake lines, the alternator, and so on!). Also we still need to fabricate some motor mounts, transmission mount, exhaust, a clutch system…yada yada yada. We got this! Oh, you are worried about our budget? It’s optional. Oh, we almost forgot to mention that the Chevy 350 is actually a Chevy 305 . . . and the alternator was junk . . . and one of the rocker studs had pulled out of the head . . . and the tie-rod ends were junk . . . and you get the idea. Time to move on to plan M.

Luckily for us the Chevy V-8 we bought had a clutch and flywheel already bolted to it. All we needed was a new throwout bearing and some way to actuate the clutch from the cab of the truck. Being parts hoarders, we had a Jeep YJ clutch master cylinder in the “Used, but Still Good” parts pile. With a quick call to our friends over at Novak Conversions we ordered up a Hydraulic Clutch Slave Retrofit Kit for Chevy bellhousings (PN HCRC-34, $208) with a 3⁄4-inch slave to match our YJ master cylinder. This kit comes with a slave, a bracket to fit the slave to your bellhousing, an adjustable push rod, and a clutch fork. We then drilled some holes in the firewall, mounted the master cylinder, connected it to the clutch pedal, and added some 1⁄4-inch double flare line between the slave and master.

To mount the Chevy V-8 between our IH’s framerails, we bought a set of motor mounts for a ’64 Chevy Impala from RockAuto. With a little fabrication advice from our buddy Dave Chapelle at Chapelle’s Exhaust and Customs we cut some heavy-wall tubing with a 7⁄16 inside diameter to fit between the tabs on these motor mounts. We could then build triangular-shaped mounts running from the frame to the motor mounts using our welder and some 1⁄4x2-inch flat bar stock.

The tranny mount for the Chevy transmission was another bit of fabrication we did with the borrowed welder and some scrap steel. This bracket bolts to the back of the SM465 and then uses a Daystar polyurethane transmission mount (PN KG01008BK, $25) to attach the transmission to the IH’s crossmember.

The IH truck came from the factory with a divorced NP205 transfer case. When we swapped transmissions and engines we needed a little longer jack-shaft to connect the transmission to the T-case. We were able to use part of a Jeep Cherokee driveshaft to make the factory IH shaft a few inches longer. Yep, that’s another either very inexpensive or free part. We also cobbled the exhaust back together with parts gathered from the junkyard.

Somewhere along the way we decided to get a new replacement radiator for a ’95 Chevy 1500 truck to match our new (to us) engine. But mounting the radiator from RockAuto would not be quite so simple. To hold the radiator in the truck, we used some more Daystar parts in the form of four smallish round bumpstops (PN KU09008RE, $8 per pair). We built some brackets and used four of these bumpstops to clamp the radiator in the truck.

Yeah, it’s kind of hard to miss the 38x13.50R17 Falken WildPeak M/T race tires mounted on 17x9 Explorer Pro Comp wheels. How did we get them to fit, you ask? Well, the old method would have involved an expensive and tall suspension lift, but since our budget had already been violated and few suspension lift parts are available for our IH 150, we had to go another route. We pretty quickly realized that despite the smallish factory wheel openings of the truck, there was plenty of room under the rusty and dented sheetmetal. To cut out the wheelwells, we made a scribe with a piece of wood, a nail, and a permanent marker. Then we followed the line with your favorite cutting device (we used a plasma cutter). The result is a low truck with big tires, a combination that we have found works well.

Once installed we noticed another problem. The huge front tires were rubbing the steering box pretty badly when we turned all the way to the right. In order to make this less of a problem, we ordered up a pair of wheel spacers from G2 (PN G/293-85-125, $89.99). These wheel spacers add 11⁄4-inch to each side of the axle and match our IH’s 5-on-5½ bolt pattern exactly. Also the nice black anodized finish looks great. After the spacers were installed, the tires still rub the box but much less, allowing for a reasonable amount of steerage to the right.

Since our truck was relatively low and the rockers were all rusty anyway, we went ahead and cut out what was left of the sheetmetal below the doors. We then welded in some lengths of 2x4x3⁄16-inch steel rectangular tubing we had left over from another project. We ran one tubular runner (13⁄4x0.120-wall DOM) from the back of these rocker guards to the frame, but the front of the rocker guard is supported by the massive factory body mount brackets on each side and tacked to the body.

Total costs
1975 International Harvester 150 $550.00
38-inch Falken WildPeak M/T Race Tires Priceless
Explorer Pro Comp 17x9 steel wheels (4 @ $97.99 ea.) $391.96
Chevy 350 . . .er, 305 V-8 with accessories, wiring, CPU, so on $900.00
Motor mounts $10.00
Radiator $130.00
Alternator $100.00
Seals $30.00
Plus or minus 57 fuel filters $255.00
Hoses $76.00
Transmission Free
Novak Clutch Slave Cylinder Kit $208.00
Old rusty gas tank Free
Daystar transmission mount and bumpstops (for radiator mount) $41.00
Screw-in replacement rocker stud $5.00
Tie-rod ends $30.00
G2 wheel spacers $89.99
Homemade rock sliders and steel for transmission and motor mounts $100.00
Seat re-covered $250.00
Two weeks’ worth of our skilled labor $50.00
Trip to the steel recycler –$120.00
Total $3058.95
(Plus, currently unavailable but coming soon, ultrarare Falken WildPeak M/T racing tires that are probably worth more than the whole truck)