Although Chrysler popularised the Minivan in 1984 and made lots of money from it, the guy who really thought up the idea was Bill Stout — way back in 1934.

He called his car the Scarab (after an Egyptian beetle) and being a very successful aeronautical engineer Stout designed his multi-purpose vehicle as if it was an aeroplane.

For the 1930s the Scarab was light years ahead of conventional automobile design and construction.

It did away with a full frame chassis and separate body.

Instead, it was the first vehicle to feature tubular aluminium space-frame construction and four-wheel independent suspension. 

 

The aircraft-like body had flush glass and hidden hinges to reduce wind resistance.

There were no running boards and the mudguards were incorporated into the body.

To ensure maximum interior room, the engine was mounted at the rear. 

Stout chose a flathead Ford V8 because of its compact size and high horsepower for the times.

The floor was flat and the interior boasted a dust filter to ensure pollen-free motoring, ambient lighting, heating controlled via thermostat and power door locks.

The leather seats could be re-positioned to fit around a table. 

Entry was through the front doors or sliding side doors.

You will not be surprised to hear that all of this innovation and luxury came at a cost. 

The $5000 price tag was 10 times that of a basic Chevrolet or Ford and you could get a used Model T Ford for under $100. 

And then there was the styling!

Those of a kind nature called it quirky. 

Most labelled it ugly.

Stout had planned to produce about 100 Scarabs a year. 

Trouble was that in the middle of the Great Depression, with almost 20 per cent unemployment in the USA, very few people could justify its sky high price and even fewer liked the styling. 

Consequently, only nine Scarabs were ever built, each with a slightly different interior layout.

Five of those Scarabs are known to survive today. 

One is in the collection of the Detroit Historical Museum in Michigan.

The Scarab also achieved a cult status in the Australian developed video game “LA Noire” as one of the “hidden” cars gamers can find and use.

Stout died in 1956. His credo was “Simplicate. Add lightness”.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au

 

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Burrell

David Burrell is founder and editor of Retroautos.com.au, a free online classic cars magazine. Dave has a passion for cars and car design. He's also into speedway, which he's been writing about since 1981. His first car was a rusted-out 1961 Vauxhall Velox. His daily driver is a Pontiac Firebird. Prior to starting Retroautos, David was an executive in a Fortune 500 company, working and living in Australia, NZ, Asia, Latin America and the UK.
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