Unusual Vehicles is a series that looks into the design of an unorthodox machine. Minivans have a long history and many people identify the Stout Scarab as the world’s first production minivan. Developed in 1936, the Scarab came out of the new wave of American aerodynamic designs that swept over the globe. The Scarab shared similarities with other aeronautical cars of the period, like the Dymaxion, showing how popular the style was becoming.
The creator of the car, William B Stout, was a former aircraft engineer in charge of the Society of Automotive Engineers. He intended to develop a car that was streamlined and eye-catching. He worked with Dutch engineer John Tjaarda to build a vehicle that eliminated the chassis and drive shaft in favour of a unitised body structure. Stout envisioned an office on wheels, with Tjaarda creating a design that emulated aluminium aircraft fuselage.
The Scarab featured a Ford V8 engine and a streamlined shape that foreshadowed the structure of a modern minivan. Design elements incorporated an ancient Egyptian scarab motif. The interior had a flexible seating system that could be refigured. The table could be removed and the second row seats could turn 180 degrees to face the rear. Over fifty years later, Chrysler marketed this feature as ‘Swivel ‘n Go.’ Other innovations included independent suspension with coil springs and oil shock absorbers.
The first prototype was completed in 1932 and the production model arrived in 1936. Stout said it would be manufactured in a limited quality and sold by invitation. No two Scarabs were made the same.
After WW2, Stout built another Scarab that looked more like a conventional vehicle. It possessed the world’s first fibreglass body and fully functioning air suspension. When the Scarab was first brought out, it was considered ugly. Years later, the Scarab’s futuristic appearance was recognised as an Art Deco icon. It inspired a host of other cars, including the Lamborghini Countach.