SCOUT: Anything Less is Just a Car
-Scout advertising slogan
In the years following World War II, a new craze was taking hold of America. The Jeep, the ugly 4-wheel drive General Purpose truck developed for the U.S. Army, became wildly popular with civilians as a weekend warrior capable of taking on the roughest terrain imaginable. After four years of war and a new period of economic prosperity just getting under way, Americans were ready to stretch out and explore within their own country, and the Jeep's sales skyrocketed. Although the Jeep was right at home while fording a mountain stream or blazing a forest trail, it was not built for comfort or looks. Knowing a market when they saw one, International Harvester stepped in.
The Scout 80 was introduced in 1961, and, for all intents and purposes, was the first true Sport Utility Vehicle. The Scout 80 was International Harvester's take on the Jeep, but with a few improvements. The utilitarian Jeep had no doors, a canvas roof, and virtually no cargo area, but the Scout 80 had a bolt-on hardtop, solid doors, and a spacious pickup-like bed. These additions made it possible for Scouts to be driven comfortably in cold or wet weather, and also made the Scout look more presentable than the function-over-form Jeeps.
Where the Jeep was built for little more than getting from one quagmire to another, the Scout 80 was highly adaptable and was produced in several configurations. 4x4 and 4x2 models were available, with the 4x4 version garnering the biggest sales. (International Harvester had predicted, incorrectly, that most people would prefer the 2-wheel drive model, and production of the 4x4 lagged behind demand for some time.) The truck was available with the Pickup Top, which turned the Scout into a small pickup truck, and the more common Traveler Top that covered the cab and the cargo area. Both tops were removable and made the Scout 80 comfortable and functional. Among the features borrowed from the Jeep was the Scout 80's fold-down windshield. Drivers that took advantage of the truck's convertible top and folding windshield were in for a fun, open ride.
The Scout 80 was powered by International Harvester's own 4-cylinder, 93 horsepower Comanche engine. The low-end torque provided by this engine allowed the Scout 80 to hold its own in any offroad situation, but many owners resented the lack of speed and horsepower. (Scout 80s made after 1964 rectified this problem by integrating a turbocharger into the engine's design.) Although these engines tended to wear out fairly quickly and had their share of problems, Scouts suddenly began outselling Jeeps and developed a reputation for being dependable, rugged offroaders.
The United States Navy and Jordan's King Hussein were among the Scout 80's early fans. The Navy and Marines used Scouts for beach patrols and other grueling tasks, while King Hussein purchased a 4x4 Traveler Top model to use on his personal jaunts around Jordan. Many businesses that required reliable, versatile transportation would purchase entire fleets of Scouts, and the vehicle's popularity continued to rise. As more and more high profile companies employed the Scout 80, it earned a name for itself by being able to work just as hard as it played.
Eyeing International Harvester's meteoric rise in sales, the Ford Motor Company unveiled its entry into the SUV market: the 1965 Ford Bronco. In terms of features and styling, the Bronco was little more than a copy of the Scout 80, but the truck did manage to improve in several ways. The Bronco had more creature comforts and was better suited to street driving than the Scout, and the Bronco quickly cut into the Scout 80's market share. Not to be outmoded by the SUV craze they helped start, International Harvester went back to the drawing board.
While Ford's Bronco had been both a facsimile and an improvement upon the Scout 80, International Harvester's next Scout truck was a retort to the Bronco: 1966's Scout 800. Although the introduction of its successor immediately dated the Scout 80's features and looks, the little truck's sales remained fairly strong. However, the changing face of the SUV market finally overtook the Scout 80, which was officially retired after the 1968 model year.
Today, Scout 80s are becoming increasingly difficult to locate. No large manufacturer currently makes major components for the Comanche engines, and even small parts for regular tune ups will require a special order from your local Auto Zone. The difficulty in obtaining parts and the evaporating supply of the vehicles themselves means that the Scout 80 is held in high regard by collectors. However, the Scout 80 remains the offroader of choice for the hardcore few that are willing to run roughshod with this innovative, classic truck.