Yes, there were two different cars wearing the name SCARAB, and both inspired by the sacred Egyptian beetle.
Because I’m a rev-head at heart, the only Scarab I knew about was the 1953 Scarab sports car, financed and raced by the heir to the Revlon empire, playboy Lance Reventlow, and designed by Chuck Pelly, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at Pebble Beach (sacred gathering place of auto buffs).
Chuck Daigh became the first, and so far only, American to win the United States Grand Prix when his Scarab-Chevrolet beat Phil Hill’s Ferrari in the inaugural event at Riverside raceway in 1958.
|Chuck Pelly (top left); 1953 Scarab GP (top right); 1958 Scarab Mk.2; Lance Reventlow + friend|
However, in researching my recent post on the Hyundai Prophecy EV concept I was introduced to the 1935 Scarab, product of the fertile mind of inventor, engineer and futurist William Bushnell Stout.
Stout not only decided to dabble with car design, but as a revered aeronautical engineer he was also responsible for the Stout ‘Skycar’ – which was WAY AHEAD of its time.
This whole 30's Scarab concept is a fascinating episode in American auto design history.
Going against trend, putting practicality ahead of styling, the roomy, dome-shaped passenger vehicle was both futuristic and avant-garde.
In order to provide a very roomy interior, it was powered by an L-Head Ford V8 engine mounted over the rear axle.
Stout and his design team conceived the concept with 180 degree vision.
The Scarab’s engine was reversed from its normal position, with the flywheel and clutch facing forward.
The transmission was mounted ahead of this, reversing and lowering the driveline back to the rear axle.
This unusual layout would later be repeated in 1974 by the Lamborghini Countach.
Today, designers and engineers are talking about future EVs being based on a ‘skateboard’ platform, and it’s easy to typify the Stout Scarab as a forerunner of this concept. The design allowed a full-width passenger cabin offering much greater longitudinal interior room between dashboard and rear engine.
Many automotive historians refer to the 1935 Scarab as the world’s first minivan, such was the capacious interior and its versatile fit-out, which could even include a couch, reversible seats and a folding table!
Although Stout's automotive venture was essentially a 'start-up' he managed to build a small factory in Dearborn, Michigan proudly bearing the name The Stout Motor Car Company, near Telegraph Road, which was about a mile west of where the Henry Ford Museum is located today.
So he was right in the heart of 'car country'.
Scarab's body, styled by John Tjaarda (right), a well-known Dutch automobile engineer, closely emulated the design of an aircraft aluminium fuselage. The use of lighter materials resulted in a vehicle weighing under 3,000 lb (1,400 kg).
Actually, design-wise Tjaarda’s Scarab concept borrowed many of the cues and themes he originally developed for the Briggs Dream Car in 1932 (below).
Many of those design cues also ended up in Lincoln’s 1936 Zephyr.
Sadly, despite its immense practicality Stout’s unusual approach did not win many admirers.
In fact, Stout’s marketing ideas may have heavily influenced its commercial failure. He advertised it would be offered for sale by invitation only, and would cost USD$8000.
At the same time a luxurious Chrysler Imperial Airflow (below) cost a mere USD$1350. Just nine Scarabs were completed, but not offered for sale. Only five examples exist today.
However, the advanced thinking from Stout and Tjaarda was just the inspiration Sanyup Lee and Simon Loasby needed to ‘lift’ some great ideas from the Stout Scarab, to incorporate in their sexy, streamlined Prophecy.
Even more interesting is the (six degrees of separation) link between Simon Loasby and the Tjaarda family.
Although I have to say I much prefer the 21st Century approach, despite Stout's pace-setting conceptual thinking and advanced design.