Project Car Diaries: My 1975 IH Scout Teaches the Joy of Short, Slow Adventures
This old 4×4 may have retired to a farm Upstate, but that doesn’t mean it’s done adventuring. And I’m definitely not done tinkering with it.
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Getting a '70s Scout was a lifetime dream of mine. In 2016, I finally scored one from the desert city of Lancaster, California. Spray-painted, stinky, and leaky, the truck presented pretty rough. But it drove well enough to get home, so home it went. This summer, my long-wheelbase Scout Traveler got "shipped off to camp" so to speak, and it's showing me a whole new appreciation for backroads and low-stakes overlanding while I ponder its second restoration.
I can't take all the credit for the sweat and skills that kept this truck moving from 2016 to 2021. International Harvester specialists (they do exist) both online and in person, plus some friends at The Motoring Club, provided me with plenty of help on critical systems (big leaks, suspension upgraded, a litany of gaskets replaced) while I fiddled around with goofy projects like stitching retro patches into eBay seat covers.
Once its status evolved from "deathtrap" to "viable jalopy" a few years ago, I kind of stopped tinkering with it and just enjoyed driving it around the big city. But even taking it out almost every weekend barely moved the odometer. A three-hour Sunday drive in Los Angeles in an ancient, lumbering agricultural vehicle like this is, like, out to coffee and back.
After one epic 2,500-mile road trip—on the back of a U-Haul trailer—my Scout is spending some time in New York's Hudson Valley where I've got some decent workspace and no real road traffic. That is, as long as I stick to small roads mostly used by farmers well west of the main thoroughfares. Coincidentally, that's also the best way to see a region you think you already know.
With a carbureted V8, four-speed manual transmission, two solid axles, and a frame about as heavy as an oil rig, my long-wheelbase Scout Traveller is not fast, efficient, smooth, or safe. Essentially, you have to drive it like you would a motorcycle—imagining you're invisible and keeping your head on a swivel while constantly sweeping gauges and listening closely for pending mechanical failures. But the experience is really a lot closer to what it's like driving a boat, especially now that I've pulled the removable fiberglass roof off.
If you have driven a boat, you know it's immensely joyous, and will probably understand what I'm finally getting at here. Cantering down empty two-laners, across little bridges, and through single traffic-light towns to the sweet burble of an emissions-exempt V8 is uniquely delightful.
That brings us to my Scout's "big" 300-mile avoid-highways adventure and the canned tune-up I gave it halfway through.
Tools and Supplies
I brought a briefcase-style mechanic's toolkit with me but was mostly counting on prayers to the car gods that I wouldn't have to use it.
All Day To Make 150 Miles
When International Harvester was selling sport utility vehicles, one of its taglines was: "Scout the America that others pass by." I thought about that a lot as I plodded along between 30 and 50 mph, scanning farm fields for cool old derelicts while nudging the Scout's steering wheel every two seconds to keep it from wandering off the road and becoming one.
I'd given myself an easy assignment: An entire Saturday to get from my NY base of operations to a lake in the Adirondacks, about 150 miles from my starting point. All I did for route planning was set "avoid highways" on Google Maps and sent it. The resulting trip was simultaneously among the most engaging and relaxing I've ever done.
Driving my Scout takes a lot of focus and mental energy, so it was impossible to get bored even at a gentle pace. At the same time, I never got scared by a speed trap but the vehicle is so wacky looking that I ended up in all kinds of interesting little interactions. At a hot dog stand, a sweet old lady asked me all about the truck and shared stories about her 1970 Corvette. While I was parked up for ice cream, the guy mixing milkshakes saw the rig and told me about the Bronco he had back in the day. A woman working the taps at a brewery helped me carry a few beer cases out to the rig when I got near my destination, and she shared a Scout story from her past.
I've done many different types of trip/vehicle combinations: Fast car on fast roads, slow car on fast roads, old car with a long way to go ... but low-pace low-stakes adventure in a classic beater on backroads was a new one, and now it's one of my favorite ways to spend a day off.
A Lakeside 'Tune-up'
I'm happy to report that my Scouts 304 cubic-inch V8 sounded pretty healthy, thanks in part to ethanol-free gasoline that's readily available at Stewart's Shops gas stations around here. The transmission seems a little more cantankerous but man, the real racket was an orchestra of squeaks and squinks.
While there's certainly some charm to talkative metal, it gets old after a few hours. And frankly, getting rid of some surface rattles frees up your attention to listen for more serious trip-stopping malfunctions. For that, a dose of WD-40 Multi-Use Formula, the Original WD-40 Formula, goes a long way—specifically from the WD-40 EZ-Reach can which has a strong and flexible eight-inch straw.
WD-40 Brand now offers a wide range of use-specific formulas, like the WD-40 Specialist® Degreaser and Cleaner EZ-Pods you can drop into a spray bottle for cleaning, and WD-40 Specialist Penetrant for breaking loose rusty bolts. The Original WD-40 Formula is highly versatile, good for protecting metal from rust and corrosion, penetration of stuck parts, general moisture displacement, and of course lubrication.
You can pretty much hit any old bolts and joints with this stuff—and the EZ-REACH straw proved perfect for getting around to the back of hood joints and door hinges on my truck that was particularly crunchy sounding. I could even reach the top of my transmission housing—not necessary to service in this particular instance, but another great example of a spot that's tough to hit with a straight straw or nozzle.
The Original WD-40 Formula has been an invaluable and flexible tool in the home mechanic's arsenal for decades. WD-40 EZ-REACH makes it even easier to deploy the product exactly where you want it.
What Lubricant Can’t Fix
As sweet as it would be to spray the Original WD-40 Formula on and call it a day, this Scout is going to need a little more serious attention in the somewhat near future. There's an inconsistent bumping sound coming from around the transmission—I have a feeling a mount is fried though I couldn't immediately spot one in my light inspection.
My BF Goodrich KO2 tires are holding up very well but getting old. I'd like to replace the beadlock-look wheels with some used chrome American Racing Outlaw IIs I copped off Craigslist last winter, and switch to a lighter tire while doing so to save some fuel.
I also need to figure out some kind of soft roof situation. I never want to put the fiberglass hardtop back on—it's just way too much fun to cruise around in the breeze. But it'd be nice to not have to time my drives completely on the sunshine's schedule.
Beyond all that, I've been talking about changing the color from rattle-can camo to restore the truck's previous orange, and I'd like to fix up the interior too ... then again, being able to throw 10 friends in the thing to putter around camp and not worry about my dog's dirty paws on the seats is one of the truck's best features. Maybe I'll just focus on keeping the driveline healthy and road salt away from the frame.