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Enthusiast Roundtable: The International Scout demands that you choose your own adventure

Written by Aaron McKenzie, Photography by Doug and Lindsey Hyland , Additional Photography by Shaun Maluga

Jan 11, 2023

In retrospect, it seems obvious: why wouldn’t Americans want a capable, four-wheel-drive rig that can take them anywhere they want to go while hauling half of everything they own?  American roads are now filled with lifted pickups, all-wheel-drive SUVs, and Jeeps kitted out with every aftermarket part imaginable, but in the early 1950s, back when designer Ted Ornas first joined International Harvester, no one quite knew if the American market could sustain another rough-and-tumble four-wheel-drive wagon. At the time, the Willys Jeep – a civilian version of the little goblins that helped win World War II – was the only such vehicle available, and despite owning this corner of the market even it was not selling in any great numbers. Nevertheless, the International brass came to Ornas in early 1958 with a mandate: create something to compete with the Willys Jeeps. 

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“Design something,” they told him, more specifically, “to replace the horse.”

Marching orders in hand, Ornas got to work. The result: the International Scout, which debuted in 1960 and which, in various configurations, survived through 1980. Over those two decades, the Scout helped define American off-road culture and create a market for sport utility vehicles. And yet, the Scout still remains overshadowed in collector circles by the popularity of the Land Rover Series and Defender models, by Toyota’s FJs, and by early Ford Broncos. 

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For adventurers like Shaun Maluga and Doug and Lindsey Hyland, however, this relative obscurity has been an opportunity to get in on the vintage 4x4 fun and to enjoy the sort of tight-knit community that has a way of springing up around underdog, orphan automotive brands. Maluga, an Australian who currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, owns a 1970 Scout 800A that he bought while living in Southern California. The Southern California-based Hylands, meanwhile, drive a 1979 Scout II that would surely surprise – and, we hope, delight – Mr. Ornas if he saw the adventures it now enjoys. 

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In addition to their age and model differences, these two Scouts are both a study in contrasts and a testament to the blank slate nature of these barebones vehicles. Were Ted Ornas to spot Maluga toodling down a backroad in his Scout 800A with its stock 304 cubic-inch V8 engine, he’d recognize his creation immediately. Maluga has added power brakes, power steering, and Holley Sniper fuel injection in an attempt to make his Scout a little more livable and efficient but, in broad strokes at least, he is experiencing Scout Life much as Ornas envisioned it. The result, observes Doug Hyland, is that Maluga’s Instagram feed has become a documentary of “the great American road trip” as Maluga crisscrosses the North American continent in his fifty-plus-year-old vehicle. 

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The Hylands and their Scout II are another matter entirely. With its LS engine, 40-inch tires, and Dana 60 axles, this is a Scout II in body lines only – and even those have been nipped and tucked in places to accommodate the tires and suspension upgrades. What the Hylands have sacrificed in originality, however, they have gained in capability: their Instagram channel regularly features the Scout II fully articulating its way through rock gardens and over steep ledges in some of North America’s most picturesque locations. 

Unlike present-day SUVs, with their abundance of creature comforts, the International Scout never promised anything more than an affordable and rugged, albeit spartan, motoring experience. These rigs were made to race in the desert, to do blue collar work on the job site, and to carry plenty of cargo alongside a passel of messy kids on family road trips – assignments that are anything but a flowery bed of ease. As a result, there can be a sizable gap  – sometimes small, sometimes the width of Hell’s Canyon – between the romance and the reality of actually using a Scout for one’s adventures in the twenty-first century. Both Maluga and the Hylands make their living as creators of visual media, as purveyors of romance whose very job is to paint an alluring scene around an experience that – they are all quick to admit – can have more heartaches and hiccups than the final photo or video might reveal.

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Doug Hyland: Lindsey and I fight a lot [when we’re on trips with the Scout].

Lindsey Hyland (laughing): I was going to say, “Doug does not want me to go there.” We've been pretty lucky with the Scout. I mean, we’ve had some pretty extreme breaks, but we do pretty extreme things in it. There have been times when, for example, we’ve burned a shifter cable on a shelf road, when I wonder why we do this, but Doug likes to remind me that I started this whole Scout thing.

Doug Hyland: Lindsey made me sell my buggy, so this is Lindsey's Scout.

Lindsey Hyland (still laughing): It is actually registered to only me, although we’re married now so I’m not sure how that works. But when the shifter cable burns out on a shelf road, it’s definitely Doug’s Scout. 

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Shaun Maluga: I'm actually surprised how much my wife enjoys the Scout, but she gets a sore back in the passenger seat. They've got a bench seat and the way the floor and the transmission tunnel are designed means she has to sit a little to the side and it gives her a sore back when we drive for long periods. Plus, it's loud, so you can't really talk when you're doing over 50 miles-per-hour in it. When we are doing more than 40 minutes over 50 miles-per-hour, we have earplugs or headphones in and actually can’t really talk to each other. And even though I've got the dual gas tanks in the Scout, I get about 10 miles per gallon, so about every hour and a half I'm stopping to fill up at least one of the tanks. 

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I remember when I was at New Legend 4x4’s workshop before heading out on a trip to Wyoming, they had a big US map on the wall and in the corner in big letters it said, "Scout Time = 1.5 times." So basically, if Google said it's going to take you six hours to get there, it's going to take you nine in a Scout. So it's definitely a slower way to travel.

It gets to be a lot for my wife after a while when we're constantly fueling up and breaking down – which, I always say, "it's not a breakdown!" She keeps arguing about how many times we break down but, for me, the legal definition of a breakdown is this: if I can fix it on the road and keep going,  and if we don't have to stay somewhere overnight, that's good enough. But for my wife, if I lift the bonnet, that's a breakdown.

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Doug Hyland: This might be inappropriate, but it's the best analogy I can think of, so here goes: owning the Scout is like being married to an exotic dancer. The Scout has really high highs – the most excited you could possibly be about anything sometimes – and then it has really low lows, where you're burning all the skin off your back shifting with a crowbar in the middle of Death Valley thirty times a day just to get back to a road. Scout owners have unique breaks, unique problems, but also uniquely high highs. 

As Lindsey said, we do some pretty hard stuff, but probably ninety percent of the time we're just overlanding, and then maybe ten percent of the time we're rock-crawling. Maybe one percent of the time we're doing very hard rock-crawling. We just want to know that we can make it through whatever's in front of us and find the really beautiful places. We don't do too many trails as a badge of honor or anything like that. We just want to have the coolest camp spot and take the best pictures and see the most shooting stars and not be around a lot of people, and the Scout lets us do that really efficiently at this point. That's the romance. 

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Amidst all of this, however, the reality remains: International Harvester no longer exists as an independent entity and – unless you count the upcoming electric SUV and pickup from the Volkswagen group, which will revive the Scout nameplate – no new Scouts are rolling off assembly lines. Modern-day Scout owners, therefore, constantly walk a tightrope between using these vehicles on the sorts of adventures for which the trucks were intended and the reality that every wrecked – or even modified – Scout is one less original Scout in existence, one less family member of an orphan brand. The Hylands and Maluga contend with this reality every time they undertake a repair or modification. 

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Doug Hyland: We had it easy because parts of our Scout were already cut up when we bought it, so we didn't have to worry about losing a fender line here or there – it was already gone, but we're both really conflicted about this balance [between preservation and usage]. That front fender causes us so much stress because we don't want to lose it, but we need more up travel. And we don't want to be taller, but nothing fits, so there's a lot of weird geometry and design issues in our life. Modifying the Scout hurts sometimes and it's a constant push-and-pull between what we want to do and where we want to go while also respecting the vehicle and its heritage. We just try to find a middle ground.

Lindsey Hyland:  Doug's always been a little more passionate about rock-crawling than I am, so when we go rock crawling I'm always cringing, my hands are sweating, and I'm just stressed because it's so easy to take the wrong line and dent the whole side of your vehicle, and that hurts. It's just dollar signs flashing in front of your eyes. We don't want to lose the original lines of the vehicle, but at the same time, if we don't cut into it we're going to just cause more body damage because we tackled something we weren't built for. It's an internal battle that we deal with all the time. 

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Shaun Maluga:  I'm definitely less extreme, but it was tough when I first got my Scout because it was very original. It was a one-owner and it still had 99% of the original parts on it. My goal was just to make this 50-year-old vehicle as reliable as possible. It was tough doing these improvements to it but I had to keep telling myself that it had been sitting for 20 years. You couldn't just fix the stuff that was there and drive it. Things had to be replaced or restored in some way, but doing those modifications have allowed it to live on and I've done 30,000 miles in it in a couple of years. I just replaced everything that bolts onto the engine. I did a compression test and it was pretty good, so I didn’t have to pull the engine apart. I probably would've done an LS  conversion, solely for the fuel economy, if I was more mechanically competent, because at 10 miles-per-gallon the Scout is expensive to drive. 

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I spend most of my time on paved roads and dirt service roads so I just wanted to know that I wasn't going to break down somewhere.  I also wanted to make it more comfortable to drive on a daily basis, so I added things like power brakes and power steering, which is great here in New York because the old 800s have a bad turning circle. The power steering doesn't solve that but it at least helps me get into those reverse parks quicker. 

I think it's fine to enjoy your vehicle however you want. There's no point trying to preserve it, so do whatever you have to do to make it fun to drive. It would be sad to think that there's this old vehicle that just gets locked away somewhere. 

Doug Hyland: I agree with everything Shaun said. It all goes back to the romance around these old Scouts and why we respect people who put them to use: it could burn down, you could roll off of a shelf road, you could smash into a tree. People romanticize the idea of driving a Scout, but when they put themselves in the Scout driver's shoes, they probably think (if they're being honest with themselves), "I probably wouldn't take that thing off-road, or drive it across the country for 3,000 miles." Most people wouldn't do that, so it's both aspirational and risky to a lot of people.

Werner Herzog, the German film director not known for his sunny disposition, once said that “nature is monumentally indifferent to [human existence],” adding elsewhere that “our civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness.” 

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Every time Maluga and the Hylands set off on one of their long-distance or backcountry adventures, they put themselves at the mercy of either the elements or their fellow humans. This reality, and the likelihood that they will encounter mechanical pickles along the way in a vintage truck, is a reality they take, simply, as part of the story. The Hylands, in particular, are prone to accumulating such stories, given their penchant for exploring unmapped regions, by themselves, as they seek out trails that have not been geo-tagged and Instagrammed to death. 

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Lindsey Hyland: One time, we went and camped on the edge of the San Bernardino Mountains at our favorite camp spot – or what was our favorite spot. It's not even that far from our home. We had our tent set up and we were making dinner and some guy started crawling into the campsite and was hiding behind a tree, just staring at us. He was laughing, throwing his head back and giggling. It was just eerie.

Doug Hyland: He wouldn't leave. He was like, "I'm staying here next to your tent." I grabbed a shovel and I was holding it like a baseball bat. He looked to be unarmed. My adrenaline was through the roof and I was ready to take this guy's head off, but he wasn't afraid, which made me super afraid. He was giggling at me and circling around this tree. 

It was nighttime, just totally black, but I pinned him to a tree while Lindsey packed up our tent.  I have my theories as to what that guy was there to do, but none of them are good. That was probably the scariest person we've met in the wild. Thank God we saw him with a little bit of daylight and he didn't wake us up at night or something like that, because I think he was there for violence.

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Shaun Maluga: The trips I'm doing, for the most part, are not too remote so I don't have any crazy stories like that. And if something goes wrong, generally there's some normal-ish people around that can help in some way.  But then, if I'm doing off-roading stuff, I'd rather do it in a group than by myself or at least with one other vehicle, so that if something does go wrong, you've got the other vehicle.  And, you don't have to go remote. Remote is fun, but if you're going to be by yourself, maybe go to some of the more popular areas. The more remote places definitely attract a certain kind of person.

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Lindsey Hyland: We try to always have a backup plan for the backup plan...when we think of it. Doug and I are both creatives so we're not as organized as we should be, but you've got to plan, prep, and make sure you get off the trail safely regardless of whether you've encountered a vehicle problem or a people problem. Generally speaking, though, I’ve found that people are fundamentally good. If we have an issue with the truck, we usually get people stopping to see if they can help and then crawling under the truck to try to figure out what's going on with it. We've been lucky and people have been good to us.

Shaun Maluga: I've been in the US for seven years and I've seen more of the US than I've seen of Australia and I think you can travel fairly safely. 

Doug Hyland: Bad people will usually be good to you because you drive a Scout.

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In 2008, a retired International designer named Dick Hatch called up Ted Ornas, the man who had hired him back in 1967. Ornas – who had retired in 1980, just as the Scout was coming to its own end – was by this time 91 years old and living out his final days in a Fort Wayne, Indiana, assisted living facility, two miles away from Hatch’s own house. Ornas told Hatch to come on over, so Hatch packed up his tape recorder and headed down the road, stopping at a local drugstore along the way to pick up a box of candy. In addition to reconnecting with an old mentor, Hatch wanted to interview Ornas one last time before a key piece of International’s – and the Scout’s – history disappeared forever (Ornas died in 2009). 

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As the two old friends munched on chocolates and reminisced, Ornas mentioned that, from the beginning, he envisioned the Scout as a “tool” –  that is, not as an end unto itself, much less as some static object of reverence, but as the means by which owners could create their own adventures and engage with the wider world around them. Neither Maluga nor the Hylands ever met Ted Ornas, but the adventures they’ve created with their own rigs would no doubt please the Father of the Scout. 

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Shaun Maluga: This Scout has taken me to parts of America we wouldn't have otherwise gone to. You'll often fly into a big city, you'll stay in a hotel, you'll go to a coffee shop, you'll go to a bar, go to a restaurant, see the sites, and then go home again. But with the Scout, you’re going to or driving through towns you wouldn't otherwise go through, driving past things you wouldn’t otherwise see. For me, the biggest reward of having the Scout has definitely been getting to places we would've had no reason to visit otherwise.

Doug Hyland: I feel like a kid again. Growing up, my dad used to take me to all the places that we weren’t supposed to be: train tunnels, the Meadowlands, abandoned buildings, places like that. I always felt like I was breaking the rules and I felt like, “I get this and no one else gets it;  it's almost like a secret.”  Adults lose that, and the Scout very much keeps that alive for us; it's the coolest thing in the world. I'm grateful for it every day.

Lindsey Hyland: My favorite part of having the Scout is getting to the campsite. We'll pull out our camp kitchen and then we'll set up our bed in the back and have a beautiful view. That's always the most rewarding part: watching the sun go down, sitting on the back of the Scout, and realizing this vehicle got us here. It's a beautiful thing.

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Meet our contributors

Aaron McKenzie is a Los Angeles based writer, photographer, and producer with an eye for all things automotive. You can see more of his work by checking out his Instagram.

Keep up with the Hyland's and Shaun's adventures around the states in their Scouts by following them on Instagram.


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