My Car Quest

October 23, 2017

Lance Reventlow and The Scarab Race Car

by Mike – 

Race Cars and Hollywood

Scarab race car

I am surprised that the story of Lance Reventlow has not been made into a Hollywood movie. It has all of the elements of a blockbuster: Rich mother, one race car driving stepfather, and another stepfather, movie star named Cary Grant. Grant remained friends with Lance after the divorce from Lance’s mother, Barbara Hutton, the heiress to the Woolworth fortune, the WalMart of it’s day. Reventlow’s father was a count, his other stepfather was a prince and Lance inherited the count title.

At the age of 12, Lance’s mother married Prince Igor Troubetzkoy who won the famous Targa Florio car race that year, thus leading to Lance’s interest in motor sports.

Reventlow, who turned out to be a handsome fellow, married the famous and beautiful movie star, Jill St. John, and later an ex-Mouseketeer, Cheryl Holdridge, remained interested in pursuing motor sports, eventually deciding to build his own race car.

Lance Reventlow

Lance Reventlow

Lance’s race car is called the Scarab, it was fast and won many of the races it entered. The exception was Formula One, where they had a very bad outcome, likely due to the front-engine design car, when most of the other teams were changing to the mid-engine layout. But ignoring the Formula One difficulties, the Scarab sports cars were very successful and dominated United States racing in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

The Scarab was engineered and produced by a Who’s Who of the United States racing world in the late 1950’s – even the pinstripe was done by the famous Von Dutch. Lance used many of the same people who would later work with Carroll Shelby. Carroll Shelby also won at least one race driving a Scarab.

Scarab Racecar

Road & Track Magazine wrote about the Scarab Mark II in the February 1959 issue where they reported that it went from 0-60 MPH in 4.2 seconds; reached 161 MPH in one car and 174 MPH in another car on the straight at the Riverside race track. They called the Scarab “the most potent sports racing cars in the world”.

Lance was a friend of fellow racer, and actor, James Dean. On September 30, 1955, Lance was one of the last people to see James Dean alive when they met on their way to a race in Salinas, California. James Dean was killed later that day near Paso Robles in his Porsche 550 Spyder.

When Lance dropped out of racing in the early 1960’s, his facility, and many of his people, were taken over by Shelby who put them to work making the Shelby Cobra and Shelby Mustangs. This team went on to achieve considerable success in racing.

Unlike other companies Reventlow Automobile Inc. did not make street cars to sell in order to pay for the racing. Lance was rich so he, and his mother, paid for the cost of racing. The result of this is that there are only a handful of real Scarab cars in the world, and include the following eight:

Scarab Mark I and II built in 1958 using a Chevy V8 engine and an aluminum body – three were made.

Scarab Formula 1 built in 1959-1960 using an Offenhauser, Goosen and Chevy V8 engines, all with aluminum bodies – three were made.

Scarab Racecar

Scarab Intercontinental built in 1961 with a Buick V8 and aluminum body – only one was made.

Scarab Mid-Engine Sports Racer built in 1962 using a Buick, Olds and Chevy V8 and aluminum body – just one was made. AJ Foyt had considerable success driving this car.

Scarab Racecar

Unfortunately, this story does not have a Hollywood happy ending. In 1972 Lance died in a small plane crash in the Colorado Mountains near Aspen where he had a home. Even though he was an experienced pilot he was not flying the plane that terrible day. Lance Reventlow was 36 years old when he died.

Click on the images for a larger view.

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Comments

  1. Stumbled onto your blog today thru a link on Stephen Mitchell's. Here's The Reventlow Scarab at Riverside: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaN9y6VuFhY

  2. Mike Gulett says:

    Scott,

    This is amazing video, thanks for sharing. I would love to know how and where you found this.

  3. What a great story, and what a vision this guy had. We just finished a video about Continuation Line of the Scarab Roadster and part of Lance Reventlow story is in it too.

    http://youtu.be/r0An9nt58W8

    Hope you like it.

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