Tag Archives: William Bushnell Stout

“The Car That Isn’t Streamlined” – Wlliam B. Stout’s Slippery Scarabs

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  • Photos of Stout’s Scarab Number One from the “Automobile Trade Journal” of February 2, 1935.

The hard times of the Great Depression gave rise to a surprising number of innovative automobile designs penned by original thinkers, not the least of which was William Bushnell “Bill” Stout. By applying his thorough knowledge of aircraft construction techniques to his Scarabs, he created a series of vehicles that broke entirely new ground and were years ahead of their time.

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Evidence of Stout’s vision became apparent very early in his life. It’s said that he carved one of the first airplane models out of wood at the age of 18 in 1898 and is credited with inventing the rubber band-powered model airplane. He first entered the automotive field with the Imp cycle car in 1913 which, although a successful design, reached the market at the end cycle car craze in the U.S.

After working for years in the aircraft industry that included a successful collaboration with Ford, a stint as chief engineer for Packard’s aircraft division and such significant achievements as the designing the first monoplane with an entirely internally braced wing, Stout re-entered the field of automobile design the early 1930′s. Completed in 1932, Scarab Number One was the result.

It’s design echoed his background in aircraft. An aluminum tube space frame kept weight to a minimum without sacrificing strength. Four wheel independent suspension was provided by high mounted aircraft-style coil spring “oleos” that are much like today’s ubiquitous MacPherson struts, one at each wheel with A-arms pivoted at the chassis center line in front and  swing axles at the rear. Although no longer than contemporary conventional cars, it’s interior space was much greater, predating the modern minivan by fifty years.

Stout decried the use of the term “streamlined” when applied to his car stating that “a land vehicle cannot be streamlined.” Rather, he said that aerodynamic principles were applied to the shape of Scarab solely to provide stability in crosswinds. By all accounts, it worked.

Stout3The Scarab II in the “Automotive Trade Journal” of November, 1935

Unveiled in 1935, the Scarab II, seen above, was  a further development of Stout’s forward thinking design. Although records are sketchy, sources say that nine were built between 1936 and 1939 with an eye toward eventual production. Stout made six coast-to-coast trips in his Scarab II in 1935 to promote the car during his tenure as president of the Society of Automotive Engineers and eventually racked up 89,000 miles it.

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  • All photos above from “Automotive Industries” of November 2, 1935

There would be a Stout Scarab III produced in fiberglass in 1945 by Owens-Corning plastics engineers R. Games Slayter and Walter Krause in conjunction with Stout. Boasting such innovations as a hand laid fiberglass floor/chassis and the world’s first wrap around windshield done in safety glass, it would serve as the Stout family car until 1951. Previous posts covering the Stout can be found here on The Old Motor, including one showing some rare film footage. You can also see some other aerodynamic experimentals from the same era here.

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Sensuous Steel – The 1936 Stout Scarab at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts

In our continuing coverage on Sensuous Steel – Art Deco Automobiles at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, today we take a look at the The 1936 Stout Scarab in images courtesy of Bruce Sweetman and the history of the Scarab described as follows by the Frist Center:

“American aeronautical designer William Bushnell Stout modeled the sturdy Ford Tri-Motor in the 1920s after his own 3-AT aircraft. The futuristic Scarab (named for the Egyptian symbol based on a beetle) has a smooth and startling shape, with a tubular frame covered with aluminum panels surrounding a rear-mounted Ford flathead V-8. The Scarab’s passenger compartment is positioned within the car’s wheelbase. Access to the interior is through a central door on the right side, and there is a narrow front door on the left for the driver. This unusual configuration anticipated the first minivan.


The “turtle-shell” styling celebrated the Art Deco influence, beginning with decorative “moustaches” below the split windshield. It continues to be evident in the headlamps covered with thin grilles, and culminates in fan-shaped vertical fluting, framing the elegant cooling grilles. The Scarab’s design was even more radically different than other cars of the era like the ill-fated Chrysler Airflow. At $5,000, it was very expensive, and the Depression-wracked buying public did not recognize its many advantages.”

“Stout’s investors, like William K. Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate, and Willard Dow of Dow Chemical, purchased Scarabs, as did tire company owner Harvey Firestone and Robert Stranahan of Champion Spark Plug. At least six cars were built; some sources say nine. Scarab number five was shipped to France for the editor of Le Temps, a Paris newspaper. In the early 1950s, this Scarab was offered for sale on a Parisian used car lot and returned to America at the time.”

An interesting short video showing a car in action with William Stout.

You can learn more about the exhibit, Sensuous Steel – Art Deco Automobiles at the Frist Museum. Kurt Ernst has recently written a very interesting post covering both the Scarab and the fiberglass-bodied Project Y on Hemmings Daily. You can also see other  images and learn more about William Stout here on The Old Motor.

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Posted in Auto photos 1921 - 1942, Auto photos 1946 - 1965, video | Tagged , , , , , , |