Stout Scarab

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Stout Scarab on display in Genoa, Italy
1935 Scarab at Owls Head Transportation Museum (Owls Head, Maine)

The Stout Scarab is a 1930–1940s American minivan designed by William Bushnell Stout and manufactured by Stout Engineering Laboratories and later by Stout Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan.[1]

The Stout Scarab is credited by some as the world's first production minivan,[2] and a 1946 experimental prototype of the Scarab became the world's first car with a fiberglass bodyshell and air suspension.


Stout, then president of the Society of Automotive Engineers, had met Buckminster Fuller at a major New York auto show and written an article on the Dymaxion Car for the society newsletter.[3]

Stout designed the Scarab in strong contrast to contemporary production cars that commonly used a separate chassis and body; with a long front, with engine compartment and engine located longitudinally behind the front axle, and a rearward passenger compartment. The front-mounted engine typically drove the rear axle through a connecting drive shaft running underneath the floor of the vehicle. This layout worked well, but had space limitations.

Instead, the Scarab did away with the chassis and drive-shaft, to create a low, flat floor for the interior, by using a unitized body structure, and by placing the Ford-built V8 engine in the rear of the vehicle. The car’s creator, motorcar and aviation engineer and journalist William B. Stout, envisioned his traveling machine to be an office on wheels. To that end, the Scarab's body, styled by John Tjaarda, a well known Dutch automobile engineer,[4] closely followed the construction of an aluminium aircraft fuselage.

Featuring a very short, streamlined nose and tapering upper body at the rear, it foreshadowed the contemporary monospace (or one-box) MPV or minivan design — featuring a removable table and second row seats that turn 180 degrees to face the rear — a feature that Chrysler currently markets as Swivel ’n Go.[5]

Although reminiscent of the Chrysler Airflow, streamliner, and the slightly later (1938) KdF-Wagen — all aerodynamically efficient in appearance, the Stout Scarab was generally considered ugly at the time. Today its futuristic design and curvaceous, finely detailed nose earn it respect as an Art Deco icon.[6]

Innovative features[edit]

The Scarab's interior space was maximized by its ponton styling, which dispensed with running-boards and expanded the cabin to the full width of the car; a long wheelbase and engine placement directly over the rear axle — which moved the driver forward, enabling a steering wheel almost directly above the front wheels. Passengers entered through a single, large common door. A flexible seating system could be easily reconfigured, except for the driver's seat, which was fixed. Anticipating the seating in modern minivans, such as the Chrysler Voyager and Renault Espace, there was a small card table which could be fitted with the passenger seats as needed. Interiors were appointed in leather, chrome, and wood. Design elements also worked in a stylized ancient Egyptian "scarab" motif, including the car's emblem. Visibility to the front and sides was similar to that of an observation car, although rearward vision was negligible and there were no rear-view mirrors.

The innovations did not end with the car's layout and body design. In an era where almost everything on the road had rigid axles with leaf springs, the Scarab featured independent suspension using coil springs on all four corners, providing a smoother, quieter ride. The rear-engine-induced weight bias coupled to the coil spring suspension endowed the Scarab with very good handling and traction. The rear swing axle suspension with long coil spring struts was inspired by aircraft landing gear.[7] The Scarab suspension itself inspired the later Chapman strut used by Lotus from their Lotus Twelve model of 1957.[7]

The Ford flathead V8 drove the rear wheels via a custom Stout-built three-speed manual transaxle. The engine was reversed from its normal position, mounted directly over the rear axle and with the flywheel and clutch facing forwards. The transmission was mounted ahead of this, reversing and lowering the driveline back to the axle.[7] This unusual layout would later be repeated by the Lamborghini Countach.


The first running prototype of the Scarab was completed in 1932, probably the first car ever with an aluminum spaceframe unit-construction body, although the frame parts were steel.[8] The second Scarab, completed in 1935, was an evolution of the first, incorporating some styling and mechanical changes. The headlamps were set behind a fine, vertical-bar grille, and at the rear, narrow chrome bars curved from the back window down to the bumper, giving the car its Art Deco appearance. The body was now steel to reduce cost.

Stout Scarab Experimental (1946)

Stout issued a statement that the car would be manufactured in limited quantities and sold to those who were invited to buy. Up to a hundred a year were to be made in a small factory at the corner of Scott Street and Telegraph Road (U.S. 24), Dearborn, Michigan. Although the Scarab garnered much press coverage, at $5,000 (equivalent to $80,000 in 2010), when a luxurious and ultra-modern Chrysler Imperial Airflow cost just $1,345, very few would pay this hefty premium for innovation, and total production of the Scarab amounted to no more than nine units.[9] The vehicles were completely hand-built and no two Scarabs were identical.

Immediately following World War II, Stout built one more prototype Scarab, called the Stout Scarab Experimental.[10] It was shown in 1946 and was more conventional in appearance, although still equipped with a rear engine. It was 2-door, featured a wraparound windshield and the world's first fiberglass body. Like its metal counterparts, it too was a monocoque, built up out of only eight separate pieces and featured the world's first fully functioning air suspension, previously developed in 1933 by Firestone. It never went into production.

Stout owned and drove his own Scarab, accumulating over 250,000 miles in travel around the United States.[1]

Up to five Scarabs are reported to survive today. A 1935 Scarab in running condition was on display for many years at the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Owls Head, Maine, but it has been returned to its lender, the Detroit Historical Museum. The one on display at the Detroit Historical Museum was scheduled to be returned to the museum's storage on August 21, 2016 when another car would be rotated into the exhibition.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ford Richardson Bryan. Henry's lieutenants. 
  2. ^ "BLAST FROM THE PAST: 1936 STOUT SCARAB". Archived from the original on 2013-10-17. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  3. ^ Lloyd Steven Sieden (August 11, 2000). "Buckminster Fuller's Universe". Basic Books. 
  4. ^ "Airplane Engine Adopted To Streamline Car" Popular Mechanics, February 1935 see notations by editors above on archive issue and photo of Tjaarda
  5. ^ "A Visionary's Minivan Arrived Decades Too Soon". The New York Times, Phil Patton, January 6, 2008. January 6, 2008. 
  6. ^ "Title unknown". [dead link]
  7. ^ a b c Ludvigsen, Karl (2010). Colin Chapman: Inside the Innovator. Haynes Publishing. pp. 114–115, 120. ISBN 1-84425-413-5. 
  8. ^ [1] Archived December 13, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ "Motoring Memories: William Stout and his Scarab -". 2005-07-29. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  10. ^ "1946 Stout Scarab Experimental news, pictures, and information". Retrieved 2012-02-07. 
  11. ^ Detroit Free Press story, August 16, 2016. Retrieved August 21, 2016.

Literature and media[edit]

  • Kimes, Beverly R., Clark, Henry A., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805–1942. Kraus Publications, 1996, ISBN 0-87341-428-4
  • The Stout Scarab is one of 15 hidden vehicles that can be driven in the 2011 video game L.A. Noire.

External links[edit]