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One of the Rarest Cars in the 1930s: The Stout Scarab

The 1930s was a time when automotive designing was taking shape, even though the Great Depression had taken its toll on the economy in the late ’20s and early ’30s. Automakers continued to build and refine their vehicles, paving the way for cars and trucks in the 21st century.

The 1930s was also a time when new creations, dream cars, and concept designs were exploding. They unveiled futuristic-looking vehicles, giving a glimpse of a possible future of aerodynamic designs, such as the Stout Scarab, one of the rarest cars ever built. The Detroit Free Press explains what the Scarab was and why it was so rare.

What was the Stout Scarab?

A Stout Scarab 1936 on display
A Stout Scarab 1936 is parked during the “Elegance et Automobile” event at Monte-Carlo in Monaco | VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images

In the early ’30s, an aircraft engineer, named William Bushnell Stout designed and built his automobile, known as the Scarab. For the next five years, Stout would build at least six of these vehicles, although some report that it’s probably closer to nine.

But we only know of five Scarabs that have survived. His design would become a precursor to what we came to know as the minivan some 50 years later.

The Scarab was to be sold by invitation only and the price for one of these beauties was $5,000, a huge sum at that time. In today’s money, that would be approximately $89,000, which is close to the price of a Tesla S with the performance package. It wasn’t cheap by any means, but they were hand-built and each one was unique, so you could say that the price was well worth it.

What made the Stout Scarab so unique?

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The Stout Scarab’s unique design had rear-wheel drive and a rear engine compartment. They constructed its body from steel framing with “bug-like” features seen in the headlamps and the engine bay doors that would open up and out to mimic beetle wings.

A Ford Flathead V8, water-cooled engine powered the Scarab along with a 3-speed manual transmission. The acceleration time for a 0 to 60 mph run was 15 seconds, which wasn’t bad for that time period.

The spacious interior had a woven basket type material lining the ceiling from front to back. In the middle, you’d find a card table set up for card games or snacks.

Each door operated on a push-button feature to enter and exit the vehicle. The seats in the Scarab were also re-positionable and could be moved 180°. It was the perfect vehicle to take on family vacations, which mirrors the minivans we have today.

Other ill-fated prototypes from the 1930s

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Hemmings.com shares two other vehicles, from designers of that era, that failed after they built the prototype. Alfred Ney, the designer of the Bendix SWC, had the assignment to produce a prototype for the sole purpose of getting the Europeans to take the car and build it under license from one of their manufacturing plants.

Ney built the car in secrecy and completed it in 1934. They shipped the vehicle overseas, where some carmakers could view it. However, the car had mechanical problems that couldn’t be resolved, so the SWC went back to American soil where Vincent Bendix’s career went up in smoke. One of the company’s stockholders, GM, found out about the secret. They never produced the car beyond the prototype.

The other vehicle that met the same fate was the Hoffman X-8. Roscoe Hoffman who had already built a couple of front-wheel drive vehicles in the 1920s designed and built this prototype. We know little about this car, but it’s reported that he had a contract from a Fisher-owned business to build a couple of cars, like this one.

Hoffman completed his prototype in 1935, but he simply kept the vehicle in his possession without actually selling it, there’s no real record as to why, though. He eventually gave it away to a museum.

The Stout Scarab never made it to the production line. Its innovative design was pretty genius, though even if he was just designing it ahead of his time. A few more decades down the road and this vehicle would’ve been a hit, selling quite a few of them to a more than ready consumer base.