Chrysler invented the modern minivan when it introduced the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager in 1984. They delivered car-like driving dynamics in a spacious, functional package, and they moved like beer nuts during happy hour. Surprisingly though, these family icons were not the first of their breed.
Arguably the earliest minivan was introduced in 1936. Frankie D. was president, the Great Depression was in full force and when it came to cars, William Bushnell Stout thought Americans deserved a “new deal.”
With its bulbous bodywork the aptly named Scarab offered drivers unheard of utility and passenger room in a streamlined, bullet-shaped vehicle. Overall it looked a lot like the abortive Chrysler Airflow that was in its second-to-last year on the market.
The car took advantage of weight-saving aircraft-style construction techniques. This automotive innovation was no surprise given Stout’s history building planes.
Today’s minivans share much of the Scarab’s DNA. They feature voluminous interiors, independent suspension, unibody construction and short front ends.
The reason the Scarab was so exceptionally pug-nosed was that the engine, a Ford flathead V8, was mounted in the rear. This puts the heaviest part of the vehicle right on top of the drive wheels for maximum traction.
Today, the Stout Scarab is largely forgotten because so few were built. Given the sticker price it’s not hard to understand why. They reportedly cost $5,000 when new, an astronomical figure in 1936.