The International Harvester Scout SS II Goldstar Baja Cruiser

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Four-wheel-drive vehicles seem to be all the rage today, with a multiplicity of offerings from the UK, the USA, Japan, Russia and elsewhere to follow in the well-worn mass-production wheel tracks of the Jeep and LandRover. Yet I don’t think any of them has such a mouthful of nomenclature as the extraordinary Scout (I have no intention of repeating the full description) I had fun with recently. It needs literary talent just to spell out the name, so it might come as no surprise to readers that the importer of this 5.7-litre V8 4 x 4 is the erudite John Britten of Arkley.

The Scout tested is the current bearer of Britten’s famous SS 1800 registration number and the only example of its elephantine breed in the UK. International Harvester will be better known to UK readers as builders of combine harvesters and tractors; Britten informs me that they are much more than this, the second largest truck manufacturers in the World and the largest of all in the USA, no less.

A couple of years ago International Harvester decided they would like a share of the off-road sports vehicle market and produced the original Scout SS, based on their existing short-wheelbase station wagon with the steel top and doors removed, but not much else. A developed version of this was entered in the 1977 Baja 1,000 long-distance cross-country race (an event in which I have a yen to participate) — and won.

The lessons learned in developing the Scout racer were applied to a new model introduced for the 1978 season, the Scout SS II. In basic trim this is a very agricultural, low-powered vehicle, but the version imported by Britten is “loaded” with all the optional extras which make up the production Goldstar Baja Cruiser. Britten intends to import them initially in limited quantities at a special price of £7,100 each and is hoping for an official International Harvester dealership for next year. Later imports will be about £8,000 each.

In ride and noise levels, mostly from the huge expanse of flapping hood, of such complexity that I fought shy of lowering it, this 31-1/4 cwt. monster is more Land-Rover than Range-Rover. The resemblence ends when the 5.7-litre (345 cu. in.) V8 is activated, its 163 b.h.p. at 3,600 r.p.m. capable of showing its heels to most UK compacts. And if you should need to tow your cruiser or lead-keeled yacht down to the Med. (and have open-top motoring when you arrive) the Scout’s 292 lb-ft torque at 2,000 r.p.m. will undoubtedly oblige.

I had expected this wide, heavy, left-hand-drive “tank” to be dreadful to drive. Instead it transpired to be child’s play — and fun with it! There is power-assisted steering to turn the enormous, 10″ wide, Goodyear Tracker tyres and a three speed, automatic gearbox driving through a manually changed transfer box which gives four-wheel-drive low or high ratios and two-wheel-drive high ratio. Free-wheel front hubs are fitted, which relieve the drag of front driveshafts when disengaged in two-wheel drive.

There was something extraordinarily satisfying about depressing the throttle pedal and having this great, square, kidney-shaking machine whoosh away effortlessly and quickly. Close on 100 m.p.h. is available and 80-90 m.p.h. cruising if the ears and the kidneys can stand it.  I used this Scout on the mainly motorway journey from Hertfordshire to Shropshire to drive the Midland Motor Museum’s Aston Martin DB3S reported on last month. Enough was enough on the motorway — I settled for spending an extra hour on the cross-country route on the return journey, which showed up an extraordinary quality: there is practically nothing on the roads which will out-corner it! Those huge Goodyears grip like racing tyres and there is very little roll thanks to heavy duty leaf springs (there are live axles front and rear) and shock-absorbers and an ingenious anti-roll bar across the front spring shackles. The tarmac characteristics felt little different whether in two-wheel or four-wheel mode. The disc/drum brakes were of less superior performance and tended to pull and twitch. Alas, I was unable to test the Scout’s cross-country abilities up the likes of Cader Idris, as I would have wished, for Mrs. Britten didn’t want her shopping transport too muddied. But experience on grass and in high-speed, illicit moonlit sorties into stubble fields revealed impressive grip and traction.

The Scout has good load-carrying capacity, especially with the bench rear seat folded and the strong tailgate lowered, but seat occupants have to squeeze between the fixed back rests of the front seats. The flimsy doors and zip-down sidescreens can be lifted easily from their hinges. No carpets or floor mats are fitted, but a radio, cigarette lighter, lockable centre oddments tray and a roll-over cage are standard. Black and gold patterned side-winders add to the hardly subtle appearance.

Very definitely a vehicle for the extrovert in sunny coastal resorts, though great fun. Oh, and it did only 10 m.p.g. of two-star on that fast motorway journey, though 14 m.p.g. should be possible under more suitable conditions. — C.R.