The earliest thinking behind the MPV (multi-purpose vehicle or multi-passenger vehicle) format as we recognize today can be traced back to 1935 and William Bushnell Stout’s Scarab.
This Detroit entrepreneur and inventor took his inspiration from airplanes. With his experience of designing an all-metal twin-engined aircraft, he decided to adapt the fuselage into a vehicle intended to be an office-on-wheels.
To make maximium use of space “on board,” he placed the engine, a Ford V8, at the very back, and moved the driving position forward so the steering wheel was almost directly above the front wheels. There was no “hood” to speak of. The wheels were positioned at each corner and the streamlined profile had what car designers today call a “monospace” (or “one-box”) shape—with no visually separated engine or luggage compartments.
Although the driver’s seat was fixed into position, the rear bench seat had cushions that could be rearranged into a full-length bed, the front passenger seat could swivel round to face the rear, and a fold-down table was hinged on the left side of the interior for meetings. However, at a cost of $5,000 each, just nine were sold.
“In 1935, Stout rocked the automobile industry with the sensation caused by his Scarab car. Its appearance was so startling that people would ask, ‘Which way is it going?’”
Odern mechanix magazine, 1943
Video model car Stout Scarab
Specification model car Stout Scarab
YEAR REVEALED: 1935
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Dearborn, Michigan
HISTORICAL STATUS: semiproduction car
ENGINE: V8-cylinder, 221ci (3,622cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 85bhp
LAYOUT: rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: three-door five-seater sedan
TOP SPEED: unknown
NUMBER BUILT: nine