9 May 2013

This van-tastic idea didn’t sell

Art deco on wheels: Only five of unique aviation-inspired Scarabs survive today


Having the ability to closely examine a unique piece of automotive history is always exciting.
And I had such an opportunity last Sunday while attending the inaugural Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance at the historic Pinehurst golf course in North Carolina, a place steeped in history dating back to 1895 and the home of the 2014 U.S. Open.
The long and unusual 1936 Scarab was designed by aviation pioneer William B. Stout, who was also responsible for the Ford Tri-Motor airplane.
The Scarab has to be one of the earliest streamlined unitized-body vehicles ever produced. The spacious passenger compartment created by its long wheelbase has a large flat floor due to the rear transversely mounted Ford flathead V8 engine, mounted directly over the rear axles (consequently not requiring a driveshaft tunnel).
The front wheels are placed as close to the front of the vehicle as possible to achieve its long wheelbase and for added stability.
Stout envisioned his travelling time machine to be a mobile office and recreation vehicle with an extremely comfortable ride thanks to the fact he substituted a conventional rigid axle and leaf springs for an aircraft landing gear-inspired swing axles and independent coil spring suspension combined with the rear engine weight bias. Stout also designed and built the three-speed manual transaxle.
Despite a vigorous marketing campaign and Stout driving his own example around the country covering some 250,000 trouble-free miles, the admired aerodynamic art deco design, which is greatly appreciated today, failed to excite interest during the late 1930s.
The $5,000 price tag ($80,000 in 2013 dollars) compared to a similar ultra-modern Chrysler Airflow available for $1,345, was also a major factor. Potential purchasers were simply not prepared to pay a premium for these modern conveniences and innovations.
For that, the world would have to wait another 14 years until the early VW split-windshield Kombis was built and fully embraced.
Only five Scarab examples have survive today, making them extremely valuable.

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