The first air-suspension car was a Stout muscle car – literally, a Stout car. Car designer William Bushnell Stout designed and produced a small number of cars in the 1930′s and 1940′s under the badge of Stout Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan.
Stout combined his interest in cars and planes by building several combination car/planes that he called “Skycars.” During his career he was held in high esteem by fellow engineers, evening serving as president of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) in 1935.
William Stout’s claim to fame was more of an inventor than a car builder and it showed in the host of innovations in his car designs. One of his last, and most popular cars, the 1946 experimental Stout Scarab, was the first prototype car with air suspension and a fiberglass body shell.
Stout was a well known aviation engineer as well, so it comes as no surprise that he had the chassis designed and constructed like an aircraft fuselage. Stout’s design also featured a low flat floor without the usual transmission and driveshaft hump running down the center of the floor. To accommodate this design, Stout placed the Ford built V8 engine in the rear of the car, over the rear axle. By comparison, the steering wheel was almost directly above the front wheels which gave the passenger area an extended, and spacious area to travel in.
The Ford flathead V8 drove the rear wheels via a custom Stout-built three-speed manual transaxle. Stout’s experimental design is often credited as being the first mini-van. Adding to the mini-van characteristics was the flexible seating system that Stout used in his design. The interior seats could be configured in almost any arrangement imaginable, except for the fixed driver’s seat. There was even a small card table which could be fitted anywhere among the passenger seats.
The Scarab featured independent suspension using coil springs on all four corners, providing a smooth ride for the times. The car exhibited great handling and traction characteristics due to the rear-engine weight bias and coil spring suspension. The suspension’s long coil spring design was again inspired by aircraft landing gear.
The total production of the Scarab amounted to no more than nine units with all of the vehicles completely hand-built. The buyers of these innovative cars were well known figures like tire maker Harvey Firestone, chewing gum magnate Philip Wrigley, and Willard Dow of Dow Chemical. No two Scarabs were identical. Reportedly, there are five surviving Scarabs today.
Stout was working on an ornithopter, a machine that flies by flapping its wings, when he died in 1956.
Article courtesy of Rod Authority, written by Bobby Kimbrough.