Racing History

Lance Reventlow Created The Scarab Racing Cars

IT'S A SCARAB: Lance Reventlow behind the wheel of his Scarab sports car. (Bob Gates Collection Photo)

IT’S A SCARAB: Lance Reventlow behind the wheel of his Scarab sports car. (Bob Gates Collection Photo)

His mother was Woolworths heiress Barbara Hutton. He was married, for a time, to actress Jill St. John. Cary Grant was a stepfather. The most significant person in Lance Reventlow’s life, however, was yet another stepfather, Prince Igor Troubetzkoy.

Troubetzkoy was a race-car driver — a good one. He won the famed Targa Florio, and the young, impressionable Reventlow was drawn to racing through his influence.

As teenager Reventlow competed in club racing around his Hollywood home with his friend, actor James Dean, and then spent a year racing Formula Two in Europe.

While there he was inspired to build and race his own sports cars. Upon his return to America, he did just that, building a beautiful Chevy-powered machine that he named Scarab.

The Scarabs were immediately successful in the hands of Reventlow and his driver, Chuck Daigh. Their most important early victory came in 1958 when Daigh drove one to victory at California’s Riverside Raceway against a stellar field.

That triumph against international competition inspired Reventlow to take his dream to another level, the first purpose built, all-American Formula One car. To accomplish that goal, he enlisted an array of racing heavy hitters.

Jim Travers and Frank Coon built the Leo Goosen designed four-cylinder engine. Famed metal workers Troutman and Barnes created the frame and body. Halibrand cast the wheels, and a host of other California suppliers contributed parts.

Like the Scarab sports car, the Formula One car was a beauty at its unveiling in late 1959. However, it was of front-engine design at a time when Formula One was transitioning to rear engines.

The car’s already obsolete design, combined with development problems from the new engine, made for a dismal 1960 season. Three cars were built. Two were powered by the new engine, the third by an Offy modified by Traco (Travers and Coon).

The cars were raced by Daigh, Reventlow and, on one occasion, Richie Ginther, in all 10 grands prix that season. Their best finish was a 10th at the American Grand Prix with Daigh driving.

For the 1961 Formula One season, Reventlow built a rear-engine Scarab powered by a Traco Buick V-8, but it never competed. Its one race was a Formula Libra event in Sandown Park, Australia, where Daigh finished eighth.

After that it was cut up to create the successful rear-engine Scarab sports car. Using a huge, Traco-built Oldsmobile engine for power, A.J Foyt, among others, won a number of races with it.

Losing interest in car building, Reventlow closed down the Scarab operation in 1962. Carroll Shelby leased the building, creating his famed Cobras there.

Two of the three Scarab Formula One cars have survived and are owned by renowned race-car collector and racer Don Orosco.

Reventlow tragically perished in a 1972 plane crash, leaving behind a unique chapter in a golden era of racing history.

Posted by on Sep 7 2010 Filed under A Lesson in History, Racing History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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