Jason Hall’s 1978 International Harvester Scout II is simply impressive in performance.
It cuts through the sand like a hot scooper to ice cream. It climbs steep hills so effortlessly that it makes the ridiculously steep Test Hill at Silver Lake seem like a bunny hill. And, oh my, how cool it looks — with its sleek, bright siam yellow body, its removable soft top and its muscle-bound, 33-inch by 12.50-inch Wrangler mud terrain tires.
But behind its hardcore performance, neck-snapping power and its pristine look lies an even more impressive story.
Everyone appreciates art when the artist is finished with his masterpiece. Car fanatics, otherwise known as “gearheads,” however, appreciate the work put into making a masterpiece just as much.
Hall, a Belding native and U.S. Air Force veteran, purchased the Scout in June 2008 from an Ohio woman who used it merely to get from home to town and church on Sundays. It sported a stock, two-barrel 304 engine and had 72,000 miles on it.
It was a perfectly fine vehicle for just $2,000, but Hall didn’t buy it to look good on his way to church. This was his dream recreation vehicle, his “big kid” toy, and he intended not only to make it look great, but also to make it run great, too.
Scouts started coming off the factory lines in 1960 and were produced to compete with rival sport utility vehicles like Jeep. They were versatile, used not only for off-road recreation, but used as work vehicles on farms and for snow plowing, as well.
After four years of modifying his Scout, Hall, with the help of his friend, fellow Belding resident Chris Simpson, transformed the vehicle from a quaint Sunday ride to church to an ultimate weekend, off-road thrill on wheels.
“It was very cold-blooded and didn’t have enough power when I got it,” Hall said. “Now it starts right up and idles and has plenty of power to do all I need it to do.”
Hall and Simpson spent their leisure time in the garage in that four-year span, replacing the stock engine with a 2000 Chevrolet truck 5.3 LS drive train, transmission, transfer case and front axle. This axle now sports a Ford Bronco front Dana 44 front axle, which accommodates the front drive shaft that is now on the opposite side of the stock one.
“We actually stripped it down all the way to the frame because it was the only way to do a proper restoration and mock-up to put the Chevy parts in an International body and frame,” Hall said of the vehicle.
Simpson said installing the drive train was the toughest part of the entire modification project.
“It was the toughest part because there isn’t a kit for this out there,” Simpson said. “Everything had to be hand-fabricated and everything was measured, cut, welded — and some cut off — remeasured and welded again, but we did it.”
Hall is surrounded by car fanatics, from his friends to his family. Both his father, Kendall Hall, and stepfather, Jim Hamilton, both of Belding, own or have owned classic vehicles. It was his grandfather, Edward Rhodes, who got him into Scouts, however.
“Grandpa had one, a 1974 Scout, when I was younger and I just fell in love with them,” Hall said. “They are different and more rare than Jeeps.”
Owning a Scout and keeping it maintained is a challenge, Hall said. Finding parts for Scouts can be just as challenging as fitting parts made for completely different vehicles. Hall said the hard work in the garage has paid off and his dream vehicle has been fun to take up to Silver Lake with friends and family.
It also has collected some auto show hardware, as it was named Best of Show at last year’s Danish Festival Auto Show.
For those looking to own classic vehicles like a Scout, Hall said the fun isn’t just in the ride, but also in the work you put into it to get to that point.
“Try to find one unmolested like I did, if possible, and never give up on the restoration,” he said. “It’s definitely worth it.”