Welcome to Below Average Cars, an occasional series about kickass cars you can buy for less than the average price of a new car.*
I didn't intend to write about a four wheel drive vehicle two weeks in a row. In fact, I was actively trying to avoid it. The best laid plans of mice and men, however, often go awry. Late last night, while basking in the warm afterglow of Game of Thrones and a decent Chilean Pinot Noir, I was a couple hundred words in to a piece about a 1946 Packard when I happened to spot this not-so-timorous beastie, a 1973 International Harvester Travelall, listed for $26,900.
That vinyl roof and woodgrain makes me feel feelings.
I unceremoniously dumped the Packard right then and there. The car I had intended to write about for the first Below Average Cars segment had sold before I got the chance to write about it, and I wasn't going to risk it happening again.
First, a bit of background for those who aren't "Cornbinder" savvy. For people who don't wear overalls and wellington boots to work, International Harvester is best known for making the Scout, an early three door SUV whose most direct competition was the original Ford Bronco. They were similar in size and capability. Despite initial appearances, the Travelall is not just a Scout with two more doors. Rather, it is a full-size vehicle whose most direct competition was the Chevy Suburban.
These days, the Travelall is quite rare. In my thirty-odd years of life, I have probably seen at least twenty or more Scouts for every Travelall I have seen, and I haven't seen one this nice with mine own two eyes since the days of the Reagan Administration. There are a few good reasons for this. When they were new, IH vehicles were more likely to be purchased by people who used their vehicles for work, which isn't surprising when you consider the fact that they were sold at tractor dealerships. That meant that they tended to have a harder life than a Jeep Wagoneer or Chevy Suburban. IH vehicles also had a reputation for being rather spartan vehicles, in an age where most 4wd vehicles were spartan. They were ridden hard, put up wet, and didn't get babied. Accordingly, when it came time for them to change hands, they often went cheap. They also didn't sell in the numbers their competition did. As such, many Travelalls met their final demise as buggies on the beaches of the 70's and 80's. They were the perfect vehicles for the job- they could carry five or six people, beer, fishing poles, coolers, beer, tents, and beer.
They were easy to work on. My Father once pulled the transmission from an IH pickup (on which the Travelall was based) and rebuilt it on it's tailgate while broken down in the dunes of Portsmouth Island in the Outer Banks of NC. After a year or two unwashed but by incessant salt spray, when the Travelall beach buggies were flaky piles of rusted out scrap, they went to the nearest junkyard and were replaced with another, doomed to the same fate. Others met a similar demise on the salty roads of the rime-encrusted North, as they were ideal wintertime beaters.
This makes the Travelall the Passenger Pigeon of the SUV world, except they aren't quite extinct. This one looks to be in fine shape. The ad claims that it is practically rust free. There is some bare metal showing in the door jambs, but this is typical of off-roaders of this vintage.
This is inevitably a thirsty beast. It has a 392 cubic inch motor under the hood. This, combined with the size and weight, means that you would be lucky if you got fuel mileage in the double digits. You could spare your wallet and add value to the vehicle at the same time by doing a CNG conversion, though.
Very little seems to be wrong with this 'Binder. The AC blows warm, and the too-wide tires are wrapped around boring aluminum rims. It has the factory radio, which is nice until you realize that it probably has factory speakers, too. It does have something you don't see every day- the original factory build sheet.
When you look at that and realize it was originally a Canadian vehicle, it's condition becomes even more impressive. It may not have the options list of a modern full size SUV, but what it lacks in luxury it more than makes up for in style, toughness, and genuine off-road ability. This is one Below Average Car that I would truly love to own.
*Following this advice will often make your SO hate you and your mechanic love you. You may end up broke, wrapped around a tree, or both. Just because you can buy a Below Average Car doesn't mean you should, except it obviously does. I'm not affiliated with any seller.