The At­trac­tion of Ugly 4x4s


’ve owned a fair num­ber of 4x4s in my 55 years on this planet. I’m not one to trade, sell, or buy a 4x4 of­ten, but when you get to be my age, the num­ber of owned 4x4s is rather large by de­fault. Speak­ing of “my age,” re­cently I was get­ting ready to pay for a meal at a restau­rant while on as­sign­ment in Washington State. When the server brought my bill she asked how old I was. Now, why would she ask me that? When I told her I had just turned 55 she glee­fully pro­claimed that I qual­i­fied for the restau­rant’s se­nior cit­i­zen dis­count. I wasn’t ready for that. I con­sid­ered dra­mat­i­cally storm­ing out in protest, but my knees hurt too much, and that pinched nerve in my spine and the no­madic pain it cre­ates had set­tled into my right arm, and it hurt when I moved it. So, my gray hair and I just sat there.

Any­way, on the long flight home from that as­sign­ment I amused my­self by try­ing to re­mem­ber all the 4x4s I’ve owned in chrono­log­i­cal or­der. Could I re­mem­ber them all now that I’ve grad­u­ated to the se­nior cit­i­zen dis­count? I ac­tu­ally made it pretty far down mem­ory lane, but my chrono­log­i­cal feed of pre­vi­ously owned 4x4s came to halt with my ugly ’77 In­ter­na­tional Scout II. Which brings me to the point of this month’s Fir­ing Or­der (fi­nally). I have never owned a 4x4 that gath­ered so much at­ten­tion.

I pur­chased the Scout for $1,000 in the spring of 1986 (I think), and it was a rust bucket. Any­one who knows Scouts knows that this isn’t an un­usual thing, es­pe­cially in the Rust Belt. Be­tween the stag­ger­ing amount of rust and the strange fac­tory sticker pack­age, it was prob­a­bly the ugli­est 4x4 I had ever seen. Even­tu­ally, the body tub rusted so badly that I had to do some­thing, so I swapped on a ’79 Scout tub (that ac­tu­ally had good rocker pan­els so the doors wouldn’t sag). I used my old tail­gate, lift­gate, hard­top, hood, grille, and a few other things, but pur­chased a like-new used wind­shield frame and new front and rear fiber­glass quar­ter-pan­els. I also had the doors re­skinned with new metal. And then the money ran out.

I had very lit­tle “dis­pos­able in­come,” so that meant no new paint. The Scout had about four shades of white. The pan­els I reused were one shade, the new doorskins an­other shade (white primer), the fiber­glass pan­els an­other, and the wind­shield frame an­other shade of white primer. It was ugly, but wow, did the Scout at­tract at­ten­tion.

It was al­ways generating com­ments in dayto-day driv­ing, but on one mem­o­rable va­ca­tion

Imy wife and I took the Scout on a 4WD trip from our home in Illi­nois to Colorado and then up to South Dakota. The Scout was like a peo­ple mag­net. For ex­am­ple, we were sit­ting at a drive-up win­dow at a fast-food restau­rant in Iowa and I no­tice this gent walk­ing his dog to­ward us through the park­ing lot. I turned my at­ten­tion to the drive-up win­dow, and when I looked back he was gone. My wife said, “Don’t pull for­ward. He’s in front of the Scout.” He was on his hands and knees in front of my rig look­ing at the sus­pen­sion. He then jumped up, an­kled around to the pas­sen­ger side, and started ask­ing us ques­tions about our old rig. A few days later we were in a ho­tel room in Wy­oming


with the Scout parked right out­side the door. In the early evening an­other gent showed up at our door ask­ing if we owned the Scout. He then pro­ceeded to quiz us about our Scout. He was in­cred­u­lous that we drove the ugly rig all the way from Illi­nois. At camp­grounds in South Dakota and Colorado folks stopped to look at our old rig. Gas sta­tions, rest stops, you name it—peo­ple stopped to com­ment.

That old 4x4 drew more at­ten­tion than many of the newer, far more ex­pen­sive, fancier 4x4s I’ve driven that have all the body pan­els painted the same color. It’s hap­pened to me sev­eral times since then while driv­ing old, ugly rigs. I guess there’s just some­thing about a cos­met­i­cally chal­lenged old 4x4 that has an at­trac­tion.

Do you cur­rently own or have you owned a 4x4 that wasn’t per­fect cos­met­i­cally, but it gen­er­ated pos­i­tive com­ments? If so, we’d love to hear about it. Drop a note to the email ad­dress be­low and tell us about it, and please in­clude a high-res­o­lu­tion photo!

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