Story and photos by Brian Earnest
It might be easy to ignore or overlook at a weekend collector car show, but Mike Sperl’s favorite truck is a truly unusual machine. There simply aren’t many unmolested International work pickups out there — of any vintage — and Sperl’s truck is an unlikely survivor.
The 1975 IH seemed destined for the typical life of a bare-bones work truck: get used, abused and driven into the ground, then hauled to the scrap yard. It’s the normal life cycle of a farm or work hauler.
Fate had different plans for this International, however.
“We’ve had it about [25 years], I think. It was back in ’91 or ’92 we saw it for sale along the road,” says Sperl, a resident of Waupaca, Wis. “We were actually on our way deer hunting and I was in college. My dad had Internationals and his dad had International tractors… I worked on a farm that had a ’73 International truck. So when we saw this truck, it was in such good condition that we had to stop and look. We thought it was great, but we left and went up deer hunting. I had to go back to school and there was no way I could afford it anyway.”
Sperl kept thinking about the truck, though, and finally called his dad back to discuss it. “About a week and a half, two weeks later, I told my dad, ‘Hey, could you take Grandpa up and take a look at it? Take a look at it and see what he thinks of it.’ A week or two later I called him up again and said, ‘Hey, did you get to look at the truck? What did you think of it?’
“‘He said, ‘Yeah, it was pretty nice, the body was in pretty good shape. It didn’t run real well…” So he gave me this 10-minute spiel about the truck and then I asked if it was worth picking up, and he said, ‘Grandpa bought it for you. It’s in the garage.’”
The two-tone green 200 Series ¾-ton four-wheel-drive pickup had been purchased new in Shawano, Wis., at International implement dealership. The original owner had traded in his 1972 Dodge Powerwagon and kicked in a little over $2,000 to bring the pickup home. His plan was apparently to use it to haul his big travel trailer, but the owner soon fell into ill health and died just 18 months after purchasing the truck. After that the pickup sat in storage for a decade.
“It was in really good shape when I got it,” Sperl says. “There was a little bit of rust on the wheel well and the cab corners, but overall it was in really, really good shape. That’s why we stopped to look at it. Everything we had ever seen, you know they were all construction trucks or farm trucks, and they rusted out so bad.
“So I had it for 3 or 4 years and was driving it and it got to the point where I had to do something to protect it, or was going to be gone. I took it Valley Restorations in Hortonville [Wis]… and had them repaint it and put in a little bit of new metal in the fenders and cab corners. It was basically the same after that as it is today.”
The truck’s odometer shows about 46,000 miles today. The engine and drivetrain have never been apart, and the interior is all original. Not only is the 200 Series Fleetside hauler unique for its originality and condition, but it was also a bit rare to start with. The 1975 model year turned out to the last year of production for the International D Series. IH ended its run of Light Line pickups after that, although the Scout line soldiered on until 1980. There are no exact breakdowns by model and Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), but only 6,329 IH pickups of all sizes and models were built for the 1975 model year, making any survivor an unusual sight.
There were two wheelbases for the regular cab (115 or 132 inches), and two for the crew-cab Travelette (149 or 166 inches). The beds were either the 6.5-foot standard box or the 8-foot “Bonus Load” box.
The exterior of the trucks changed little from 1969 on, but one significant change saw the engines mounted slighter lower and farther back in the engine bay in 1975. This necessitated a change to the manifold arrangement to account for the saddle engine mount.
A small V-8 was standard equipment in both the 150 and 200 lines. The trucks could be optionally equipped with Deluxe or Custom trim packages. All of the conventional pickups and all of the Travelette pickups were built in the fenderless Bonus Load style.
Sperl’s truck carries the 304-cid V-8, which was rated at 140 hp and was the smallest of the three available eight-cylinder engines. Buyers who wanted a little more grunt could select either a 345- or 392-cid V-8 from the options sheet. Other available options included a chrome front bumper, air conditioning, automatic transmission, power steering, AM or AM/FM radios, heater, clock, cigar lighter, seat covers, Deluxe of Custom exterior trim packages, a tow package, tinted glass, dual outside mirrors, a rear step bumper and a spare tire with carrier. All of the D-200 trucks that were built for ’75 carried power disc brakes. Most had one of the two smaller V-8s with a manual transmission. Only about one-third had air conditioning and fewer than half had four-wheel drive.
“Mine’s got the 304, no air conditioning, standard transmission — there isn’t even a radio,” Sperl laughs. “It’s an International! It has your normal gauges, you know, oil pressure and fuel. It’s geared very low. Very low! You can do 75 or 80 on the highway, that’s about it. One thing about it is it’s got two [gas] tanks, which is kind of a fun thing about Internationals. You have your auxiliary tank on the driver’s side, so you have to swing around at the pump when you fill up.”
Sperl jokes that he hasn’t had the truck in the gravel and dirt “in about 25 years. It’s been retired,” but he found it plenty capable of handling tough off-road duties when he initially bought it. “They’re simple, and they are just built really rugged. The body’s aren’t very durable as far as rust, but the Dana axles, the engine and drivetrain — they’re so solid. It’s just a heavy-duty truck.”
Aside from the repaint and some minor body work, and the installation of a more reliable electronic ignition, Sperl rarely had his pickup in the shop until a couple of years ago when he was rear-ended by a Cadillac. “That was pretty sad,” he says. “Here I drive the truck 200, maybe 500 miles a year, and I get rear-ended. So I had to have the back end worked on. Thank goodness for the big steel bumper. It did a wonderful job on the Cadillac. There was a lot of damage to the Cadillac and not much damage to the truck, but that was the one down moment, I guess, since I’ve had it.”
In the end, the gas crunch of the early 1970s and company front office turmoil ultimately combined to doom the long-running line of IH light-duty trucks. The last example ever built was a heavier-duty 500 Series hauler that left the Springfield, Ohio plant in April of 1975.
All of that makes Sperl’s wonderful green specimen one of the “newest” and best International pickups around. He never really expected to preserve the truck as a time capsule, but that’s the way things have worked out.
“If I put a few hundred miles on it in a year, that’s plenty,” he chuckles. “Actually, I am looking for a daily driver, but this ain’t it.”
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