This is a 1936 Stout Scarab. It is a very unusual car and I recently got to take a look at it – Up Close and Personal as they used to say – and shoot a video about it. It is one of only 5 remaining examples and it is in pristine condition.
In between me flubbing my lines, I broke out my camera and got some photographs. The video production crew will do what they do and I will post the video when they are done. In the meantime, here are some photos I took of it and some random facts, just to show how cool a vehicle this is. The production numbers are hazy but no more than 9 were built, and perhaps as few as 6. How's that for rare?
William Bushnell Stout was an old school inventor. The kind who dabbled in different disciplines and often wondered what would happen if you took ideas from one arena and applied them in another. So, he built airplanes and then wondered how some of those ideas might work on cars. In 1932 he built his first Scarab, named after the Egyptian beetle with the cool shell.
He decided on some modifications and then built his second. This model, a 1936, is one of the second generation. The Scarab is rear-engine, rear wheel drive and will remind many people of a certain vehicle Volkswagen would make a little over a decade later.
Stout used copious amounts of aluminum and magnesium in his car. And made it streamlined to cut through the air better. He removed the door handles and replaced them with electric door-opening switches. Press that mother of pearl button and the door pops open.
Long before minivans invaded our consciousness, Stout considered other uses for the interior of his Scarab. It could be used as an office. Or a mobile living room. Maybe it would help if the seats could be moved around - not adjusted - but actually moved by simply sliding them from one place to another.
Oh, NHTSA would never allow such a thing today but NHTSA wasn't around yet.
Stout apparently liked materials, and didn't seem to care what convention called for. So along with the aluminum and magnesium he used on the body, you can see the wood he used on the interior and the wicker woven into the headliner.
Stout had considered what kinds of material were strong but also lightweight and lent sound-deadening qualities. I did not get to go for a drive in the Scarab so I cannot attest to the accuracy of his vision on this one. But I can tell you - the headliner in the Stout Scarab is the coolest headliner I've ever seen. If you are into that sort of thing.
And of course, there is the large bench seat in the back. I suppose one could lay on that bench and just gaze at the wicker ceiling for hours.
The drive train was conventional in one sense: Stout bought a flathead V-8 and 3-speed tranny from his friend Henry Ford and put them in the rear of his Scarab. This eliminated the dreaded hump down the middle of the car for the drive shaft and allowed him to have a low and flat floor. It was unconventional in the sense that Stout designed his own chain-driven transaxle to tie it all together.
Stout was a genius at a lot of things but marketing was probably not one of his fields of expertise. He tried selling his Scarabs for $5,000 at a time when that would buy you a coach-built Packard. Which probably explains why he only made as many as he did.
Shortly, this Scarab will be in a museum and in a few weeks, I'll post the video we shot of it. In the meantime, there is a rumor that another Scarab - less the drive train - was used as a fishing shack by Stout out on the small lake he lived near in Michigan. When the ice melted, the Scarab was still out there but now rests on the bottom. Perhaps a little detective work and some snorkeling will allow you to get your hands on your very own Scarab. You'll need a drivetrain but how hard can that be to come up with?
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation.
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All photos by me. Special Thanks to Mark Lieberman of Nostalgic Motoring.