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Scouting in Santa Barbara

November 2, 2016

 

Napper is the proud owner of a 1978 International Scout II, an “Automotive Rare Bird” if ever there was one. The first Scout hit the market in 1961 to compete directly with the Jeep CJ-5. With excellent agricultural credentials dating back to the invention of the reaper in 1831, IH was well placed to launch what can be seen as one of the first SUV’s. Comparable in refinement to the Jeep CJ-5, it was nevertheless still shy of the smooth ride and creature comforts offered by the 1963 Jeep Wagoneer that would succeed it and start the Luxury SUV segment.

 

 Produced from 1961 to 1970, by the end of its model run the original Scout had been vastly outsold by its main Big Three rivals; Jeep CJ (1946), Ford Bronco (1966) and new kid on the block the Chevy Blazer. Nevertheless, International Harvester, refused to throw in the towel believing that in order to counter balance Detroit’s postwar market - dominance in passenger cars and pickup trucks, a product that could compete in the booming SUV market was crucial. After all, until then, their only other attempt at competition, the Travelall model had been but a flea-nip to GM’s perennial franchise the Chevy Suburban. Therefore, in April 1971 they had a second run at it and released the Scout II, a gleaming pea-green example of which stands before me in the Santa Barbara sun today.

 

 

Built in a time when weight saving was an afterthought and fuel economy but wishful thinking, its doors are made of double layer sheets of steel with Ziebart rustproofing. International Harvester was one of the first companies to use Ziebart rustproofing technology on their cars as standard. Unfortunately it was no match for the humidity that accumulated between the double layer body panels and the benefits were minimal. Luckily Napper’s Scout has lived a very dry life in California since its restoration and the Ziebart screws behind the sun visors remain.

 

 

Despite its age and high mileage the 314 Cubic Inch International V8 burbles steadily with an aura of menace through the custom exhaust pipes.  The three-speed Chrysler TorqueFlite transmission also found in everything from Dodge Trucks to Jensen Interceptors of the era, engages with a thud as reverse is selected and we maneuver out of Napper’s front yard. At idle the Scout sounds relatively domesticated but the resonance from the custom exhaust hints at something special. Only as we pass through Napper’s front gate and he gives it the first dab of throttle does the relatively small V8 begin to show its mettle. It sounds like a much bigger engine as it brings the truck up to a comfortable cruising speed of about 45 mph. Anything faster on the winding roads of the SB mountains surpasses the limits of the trucks leaf sprung suspension and decidedly off road BF Goodrich Tires. Corners cause relatively little body roll but the knobby tires howl.

 

The cabin, devoid of any kind of sound deadening and mainly made of steel acts as a resonance chamber for exhaust, and engine noise. It can only be described as glorious but means we have to find a place to stop so that Napper can tell me the car’s story. 

 

The tale starts when he was five and his mother made a wager with him. If he managed to make it to his 21st birthday without touching a cigarette, she and his father would buy him the car of his dreams. Immediately, the boy who at two and a half years old had been able to name all the car brands on his block in Manhattan was gripped by a yearning for the red Lamborghini Countach, the likeness of which now hung on his bedroom wall.  Only eighteen and a half years of abstinence could make that fantasy a reality and so a deal was struck.

 

The years that followed brought Napper into close contact with many other cars and he learned to modulate a clutch on his mothers Subaru. The Countach fantasy remained but on his 21st Birthday reality hit – all $3000 Dollars of it at the same time. It was the amount written on the cheque his father handed him and it was far from enough for a Lamborghini. Nevertheless, after the initial disappointment, Napper went to work to put the $3000 to the best use possible.

 

 Enter New Jersey’s “Car Tsar, a friend of the family who promised to walk Napper through all of his dealerships to find a suitable car. However it soon became painfully obvious that used Chevy Caprice’s were not what the young man was looking for.

“Nappah,” he said after they had spent hours kicking tires. “You’re not going to find what you’re looking for here but I promise that when you do, I’ll come help you negotiate the best deal possible.”

Mr. De Feo was a car guy to the bone but his children had inherited little of his passion and so his considerable collection was left mostly untouched and in desperate need of exercise. Napper was often recruited by Mr. De Feo to help him remedy the problem and it was on one of these drives around the neighborhood in a Ferrari Mondial that Napper came across a curious looking off roader parked along a neighborhood street. It looked something akin to a Land Rover with short overhangs and an almost vertical windscreen. Napper stopped the purring Ferrari and climbed out to take a look. On closer inspection he discovered the vehicle was something called an International Scout and - more importantly - it was for sale for $3000.

 

Fascinated by its no nonsense look and the big PTO winch bolted to its rear bumper, Napper drove the Mondial back to the DeFeo’s and within the hour, the  “Consigliere” had leapt from the pool and made the unsuspecting 28 year old owner an offer he could not refuse. Napper had a Scout.

 

The Scout carried Napper through college, launching him onto an exploration of International’s History and its deep roots in Americana. His discovery of International’s innovative advertising campaigns of the 1960’ s cemented his desire to concentrate his advertising career on all things automotive. But with unassisted drum brakes and steering as well as laterally sliding windows, the truck was hugely impractical. So finally Napper had to part with it, buying  a BMW 3 Series convertible instead. 

 

His heresy at the hands of the evil Bavarian Bimbo Conveyance however was short-lived and a few years later, while car-less in Manhattan, he spotted a Craigslist ad for a 1978 Scout II. Owned by an actor who had no idea of what he had and cared not, Napper negotiated the price down to $2250 after getting the blessing from his local mechanic that the truck was sound.

 

 

 

Soon afterwards his life would be uprooted once again as he embarked on a cross country Odyssey to Los Angeles to follow the woman of his dreams. The Scout carried him all the way sans-roof. It’s a miracle none of his belongings were stolen along the four day trip.

 

Together, Napper and his Scout would travel LA’s boulevards daily for the next seven years as Napper progressed in his advertising career. Soon, however he began to itch for something more – a raise. Striding boldly into his bosses office, the budding advertising executive made his case for why he should be paid more money. His boss listened patiently but in the end refused apologetically. But instead of a raise he offered to restore the beloved Scout and within a few months Napper’s trusted steed was restored to concourse condition.

 

Since then it has lead a life of leisure. Since Napper’s recent move to Santa Barbara his commute has become much less taxing with none of the stop and go gridlock of Los Angeles that can wreak havoc on many classics. So, when not taking part in a publicity photo shoots for Nappers line of fashion accessories http://www.ntandy.com, the Scout accompanies its owner to his day job lending some class to the office parking lot and regaling passers by with its glorious symphony of cubic inches.  

 

I met Napper over lunch at Chez Jays in Santa Monica with a mutual friend and it soon became clear that I was dealing with a dyed in the wool car aficionado.

 

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