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1934 Stout Scarab | the first Minivan

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 airplane.

For the 1930’s 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 rear mounted. Stout chose a flathead V8 Ford because of its compact size and high horsepower for the times. The brakes were hydraulic (Ford only moved from mechanically activated brakes in 1939!). 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 that could be repositioned 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 $5,000 price tag was ten 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% unemployment in the USA, very few people could justify its sky high price and even fewer like the styling. Consequently, only nine Scarabs were ever built, each with a slightly different interior layout.

Five Scarabs are known to survive today. A running example is on show at the Owls Head Auto Museum in Maine, USA. It 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