By on August 28, 2015


During the city of Detroit’s recent municipal bankruptcy, the billion-dollar-plus-valued art collection of the city-owned Detroit Institute of Arts became an issue due of the possibility the art might have to be sold off to pay the city’s debts. Less generally well known, but probably of greater interest to car enthusiasts, is another collection ultimately owned by the city — the six dozen or so vehicles that are owned by the Detroit Historical Museum. One reason why that collection isn’t better known is that most of its more famous cars are usually on loan, displayed at other museums.

Not only are most of the DHM’s cars historically significant, their provenance is unmatched, gifted to the museum by automobile manufacturers and important automotive personages. For example, the museum owns the two Dodge brothers’ personal Dodge Brothers cars, donated by their widows. The Chrysler Turbine car on display at the Gilmore museum near Kalamazoo was given to the Detroit museum by the Chrysler Corporation.


All of the cars are unique, but surely one of the more interesting vehicles in the collection is their Stout Scarab.

We’ve discussed the Scarab before, along with William Bushnell Stout’s contributions to aviation. Stout was the man behind Henry Ford’s Trimotor airplane, a major factor in the establishment of a viable commercial passenger and freight aviation industry.

Using aircraft construction techniques, Stout designed an automobile whose design many say was ahead of its time and predated the minivan. Unfortunately for Stout, the Scarab’s price, the equivalent of about $90,000 today, was also ahead of its time — the car was built the middle of the Great Depression — and Stout never got near the 100 cars a year production rate he pitched to investors. It’s thought that Stout assembled as many as nine Scarabs from 1934 to 1939; five are known to survive today. As you might imagine, with so few cars built over a period of years, no two are identical. One of the surviving cars was a prototype Scarab with a fiberglass monocoque that Stout made after World War II and it’s quite possibly the first car made from that composite. Since they were hard to sell, many of the Scarabs ended up in the hands of his investors. Such is the case with the Scarab owned by the Detroit Historical Museum. It donated to the institution by the family of chewing gum magnate and owner of the Chicago Cubs, Phillip K. Wrigley, who was also a board member of Stout’s company.


Unlike the beautifully restored Scarab we’ve previously featured at TTAC, the Wrigley Scarab is in original condition as used by the Wrigley family at their summer home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The odometer shows about 10,000 miles, so the Wrigleys must have liked it, especially when you consider its limited purpose and the fact that the Wrigleys likely had their choice of luxury cars to drive while on vacation. By the mid 1950s, though, it was an old car and no doubt the family wanted something more modern. They must have known how special it was because, in 1956, the Wrigleys gave it to the Detroit museum. The car currently carries Arizona license plates from 1940, but so far I haven’t found any sources that indicate if the car was ever registered or driven there. It’s possible that they were added for display purposes sometime in the past 60 years.


As mentioned, much of the Detroit Historical Museum’s collection of historic automobiles is usually on loan to other institutions. Though there is a section of the museum devoted to the automotive history of the Motor City, including an installation of the actual body drop section of Cadillac’s former Clark Street assembly plant, the museum’s building on Woodward Avenue in the city’s cultural center has limited space for permanent display of cars. Besides the Cadillacs in various degrees of completion in the body drop display, the museum has a replica of Ransom Olds’ workshop with a curved dash Oldsmobile, along with a replica of William King Brady’s 1896 automobile (the first made and driven in Detroit, fabricated to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Brady’s historic drive).


In the background is the 1946 replica of Charles Brady King's 1896 automobile, Detroit's first car, which predated Henry Ford's Quadricycle by a few months.

In the background is the 1946 replica of Charles Brady King’s 1896 automobile, Detroit’s first car, which predated Henry Ford’s Quadricycle by a few months.

Perhaps spurred by less than accurate news reports saying that most of the museum’s cars were in storage bubbles in a warehouse at Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne, which is affiliated with the Historical Museum, the DHM now has a showcase for an individual car selected from their collection, with cars rotated yearly. For the past year, the display has housed a classic era Packard Six, but now it’s been replaced by the Wrigleys’ Stout Scarab, previously on exhibit for 12 years at a museum in Maine. It will go on public display starting on Saturday, August 29th. In addition to the actual Scarab, the museum is also displaying a couple of concept models of the Scarab along with a proposed “batwing” airplane model, all donated to the museum by William Stout himself. There is no admission charge to the museum or its displays.


To move the Packard out and the Scarab in, as well as update some of the other exhibits, the Detroit Historical Museum was closed this week, but museum curator Bob Sadler graciously gave TTAC access for these photographs so we could run this post in advance of the display’s opening this weekend.

Photos by the author. You can see the full photo gallery here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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12 Comments on “Stout Scarab Returns to Detroit Historical Museum...”

  • avatar

    Ronnie gets all the access in Detroit. Well done sir. I am going to go down to the Detroit Historical Museum once it reopens to the public.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks. TTAC has someone in Detroit, might as well take advantage of it. Autoblog has at least one staffer located here but they used stock photos from when the Scarab was at Fort Wayne (with cars in storage bubbles in the background). The DHM is maybe 20 minutes from my house. I apologize that the photos weren’t better – because of the lighting and large spaces museums are terrible places to take photos and I forgot the adapter that lets me use my still photo 3D rig on my tripod.

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    An excuse to talk up the Gilmore Museum since you mentioned it, I just love that place they really let you get up close and personal with all the cars including the Chrysler Turbine very few roped off cars. If you are planning a Michigan/Indiana tour of auto museums, (and you should a week won’t be long enough) the Gilmore needs to be on the list.

    • 0 avatar

      I once did the Gilmore, Studebaker, Auburn Cord Duesenberg, NATMUS and RV Museum & Hall of Fame in two days, but it was a schlep. Speaking of the Auburn museums, this week is the ACD Festival, with their big show tomorrow.

      • 0 avatar
        I've got a Jaaaaag

        Those would be 2 long days, unfortunately I only have family in the area and I’m never there for the ACD festival, I’ve been to the labor day auction a few times though. In 2005 they auctioned offed a Pre-Production Ford GT for what I considered cheap at the time, if I only knew what those would be bringing

  • avatar

    Correction: Robert Sadler is the director of marketing and sales for the Detroit Historical Society.

  • avatar

    I was thinking I had seen one of these in person – had no idea they were THAT rare! But I haven’t seen one. What I did see in 2012 at the Ault Park Concours was a cute little Lloyd 600 van thingy.

  • avatar

    There seem to be some Tatra influences about the car,pretty neat looking vehicle.

  • avatar
    Rick T.

    Saw this or a similar one at the Frist in Nashville last year. Impressive.

    The Wrigleys haven’t owned the Cubbies since the early 80’s if memory serves when the sold to the Tribune Co. who sold a few years ago to the Ricketts family….not that anything has really changed as far as winning a World Series.

  • avatar

    That’s really nice. Park it next to your Dymaxion

  • avatar

    The Scarab was at the Owls Head Transportation Museum outside Rockland Maine. If you are ever in the mid-coast area of Maine, the place is well worth a visit. Nice collection of cars and vintage aircraft, and in the summer they fly the planes. Also where I learned to drive a Model T Ford – a birthday present when I was in college. Not sure if they do that anymore, but they do give rides in one.

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