My Car Quest

July 22, 2024

1938 International Harvester

Text and photos by Wallace Wyss –

You know those scenes in the old Westerns about the cavalry where some guy–maybe Charleton Heston–is getting stripped of his badges of rank and busted down to private first class?

Well, I think when I put my name on this story maybe those Ferrari tifosi, you know, the real cognoscenti, will say “You gone too far, boy” and strip me of my badge (I know “I don’t need no stinkin’ badges”) as a exotic car historian because I became enamored of a hot rod. A rat rod to boot.

International Harvester

OK, I’ll admit it. I didn’t even know I could like an International Harvester. Yes they were a bona fide big truck and pickup truck maker. Not in the Big Three. Not even as high ranking as the Little Fourth (American Motors). But they were players.

Now trouble is, since puttin’ on all those furrin’ car airs, painstakingly separating Carrozzeria Touring from Carrozzeria Bertone and all, I plumb stayed away from hot rod shows so lost track of what’s what.

This was not made for racing, and of course, with no bed, it’s not for hauling. They left the bed floor off so they could show off the NASCAR rear end. It’s a cruiser with rat rod influences. “Rat rod?” The term mens assembled of various junk parts. Though this is a lot better finished than the rat rods I see at a Bo Huff Rockabilly show.

International Harvester

So I’ll be guessing from here on. I recognized the grille only because it says International–that’s actually a grille from a ’46. And those bullet headlamps-Lordy, Lordy they’re Packard bullets. This rig got built as a kind of homage to big trucks in miniature. The builder wanted stacks (translation: vertical exhausts like the big truck boys. So that meant dualies (two wheels & tires per side).

The builder bought the cabin, which had already been chopped six inches. Then they built their own chassis, extending the wheelbase in front of where they would be if it was still a working truck.

The engine is a 392 ci Chrysler with an 871 blower from Littlefield, the trans a GM TBH 400. (I love an automatic in a hot rod). It produces roughly 550 hp. The suspension uses an Air Tech system for lifting and dropping (without air bags, a more complicated system) and lemme tell ya, it drops to the pavement right now.

International Harvester

Overall the rig has what I call presence. It’s not just the supercharger, not just the dualies, not just the stance when lowered, it’s overall.

Inside it’s got a bench seat by Mark Lopez, of Elegance Auto Interiors diamond quilted. I forgot to ask if big tractors back then had bucket seats or benches. The shift lever is a Dos Equis beer tap handle (next time you’re in a bar in California ask to see the beer handles). Of course the gauges are all customs.

I might never go back to chronicling Carrozzeria whatsiz again…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss art

AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss has guest lectured on car design history at the Art Center College of Design.


International Harvester

1938 International Harvester
Article Name
1938 International Harvester
I didn't even know I could like an International Harvester but I love this rat rod.


  1. Arthur Salo says

    I had to look up an original 1938 International Harvester pickup to see what was left of it on this rat rod. The only
    thing from the original was the cab. But I also have to express my admiration for the guy who built the rat rod only
    because I am attempting to restore my 1957 Triumph TR3 which is, no doubt, far easier than building that rat rod!
    Although, I do prefer my TR3.

  2. wallace wyss says

    I spent many happy hours cruising Woodward Ave. in TR-3s in high school.Great car with great character. But I think with this IH pickup the owner has created a character that could star in a kid’s cartoon movie.

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