William Bushnell Stout began his career in the early years of the automotive industry. By 1914 he was the chief engineer of the Scripps-Booth Automotive Company. Later that year he moved to Packard Motors, heading their aviation division in 1916. By 1919, he had founded the independent Stout Engineering Company. In 1932 he designed the prototype for the Stout Scarab and formed the Stout Motor Car Company to pursue its production.
Innovation In Every Aspect
During the 1930s and 1940s all cars used a separate chassis and body, with a forward engine and rear-wheel drive. Stout decided to buck that trend with the Scarab. He utilized a unitized body(uni-body) design and mounted a Ford-sourced V8 in the rear. Showing his fascination with aircraft, the body of the Scarab resembled an airplane’s fuselage. Often touted as the first minivan, the Scarab featured many innovations and, unlike several innovative prototypes of the time, was placed into production.
Stout envisioned an office on wheels. To achieve that feel, he wanted to maximize the space within the vehicle. In order to do this he eliminated the ubiquitous running boards of the era, gave the Scarab a long wheelbase, placed the engine directly over the rear axle, and located the steering column just above the front axle. Passengers were able to arrange the seating in nearly any way imaginable. The Scarab also featured a stowable card table for long trips. The Scarab’s innovations extended to the under carriage as well. Nearly every vehicle of the era rode on rigid axles with leaf springs, but the Scarab offered a smoother ride by using independent suspension with coil springs at all four corners. The combination of the coil springs and the rear weight bias produced the best handling and traction of the day. The suspension system of the Scarab was the basis for the Chapman strut utilized by Lotus in the 1957 Twelve model. Other innovations of the Scarab were the transaxle and reverse-facing engine. The three-speed transaxle was custom built by Stout to accommodate the reverse-facing engine. The engine was mounted over the rear axle with the clutch and flywheel facing forward and the transmission was mounted in front of the engine. At the time this was a unique way to mount the powerplant, but it was later adopted for the Lamborghini Countach.
Stout Motor Car Company produced the first Scarab prototype in 1932, but the second was not built until 1935. The sticker price was $5,000 at a time when a fully appointed luxury car was just $1,325. The high price did not appeal to many buyers and only nine were produced, five of which survive today. The last Scarab produced was the Stout Scarab Experimental, a prototype introduced in 1946. Although never produced the Experimental did feature innovations such as the world’s first fiberglass body and the first fully functional air suspension system.
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