My Car Quest

December 11, 2018

Lance Reventlow The Hollywood Racer And The Scarab

by Mike –

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.

Lance Reventlow and the Scarab

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.

Race Cars and Hollywood

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 ex-Mouseketeer and actress, 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.

Lance Reventlow and the Scarab

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.

One could make the argument that Carroll Shelby’s success with the Cobra was built on the shoulders of Lance Reventlow.

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.

Lance Reventlow and the Scarab

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.

Lance Reventlow and the Scarab

Lance Reventlow and the Scarab F1 Race Car

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.

Let us know in the Comments who you think should play Lance Reventlow in a Hollywood movie.

 

 

Lance Reventlow and the Scarab

The Scarab Today

This article was originally published in March 2011.

Summary
Lance Reventlow The Hollywood Racer And The Scarab
Article Name
Lance Reventlow The Hollywood Racer And The Scarab
Description
Lance Reventlow built a terrific race car called the Scarab.
Author

Comments

  1. ken phillips says:

    Mike. We raced the mid engine Scrab at Bridgehamption with the 250 LM. Days before the race I had come out in the dense morning fog to find the mid engine Scarab on it’s simple open one car trailer that had pulled in late that night. When I saw the Scarab I knew it. Would be a tough race because if the Scarab was here the other best teams would be here. Increadably beautiful little car. The front engine cars were not small but light and very well designed and very classy presentation.
    Ken

    • Ken,

      Wow, that is fascinating. Do you remember who was the driver of the Scarab?

      • ken phillips says:

        No. Bob Grossman was driving our Ferrari. Bob lived at the other end of Long Island and Bridgehampton was almost a local track for him. There were a few drivers that could post faster one lap times than Bob but he was incredibly smooth and very easy on the car. There were not many that could do better on the endurance races.

        Maybe the thing to save from this is the simplicity of those times. Here were two of the most competitive cars in a big race parked outside the Indian Squaw motel on their low , open , single car trailers towed by a pick up truck with a camper top to hold whatever parts and tools there were for that race. I think the Scarab still had the little Olds/Buick all aluminum V8. The Europeans were still having trouble accepting the horsepower and more important- the massive torque of the American V8 engines. They over estimated the weight and underestimated the torque. They kept trying to sacrifice the torque for the little engines like the Olds/Buick aluminum ones. Bruce McLaren tried this with his first Can Am car . They all finally got it right. First with the small block Chevy then the big blocks. It was not easy for them. They still did not accept the torque and broke every drive line part ever invented and twisted their little frames. Ever see those crazy rubber ” doughnut” universals ?

        For you Alfa folks: We campaigned a Simca Abarth under 2 liter car with the Ferrari and knew the little engine cars and teams well. We had not brought the Simca to this race which was actually two separate races ” The Bridgehampton Double 500″ which was one race for under 2 liters and a second for over 2 liters.

        These races were usually won by Porsche 904s . But there was an Alfa GTZ entered in this one. It seemed like a very serious , well financed effort with factory juice as it came with an Alfa factory mechanic. However the owner driver was having trouble working with the Italian factory mechanic mostly with the ” failure in translation” . The owner asked us to help as our race was not at the same time. We said sure and all of us pitched in. Even the owners wife did what she could with good nature fetching coffee or things for us. She did all this wrapped up in full length coat and hood with the normal wind and sand of “The Bridge ” . I remember standing next to the mechanic as Grossman was testing our Alfa set up going around and around with the Alfa engine screaming . It seemed like a lot of revs to me well over 10,000 . I tried to ask the Italian mechanic using hand signals what was the Red Line? I think he was trying to tell me something like 8,000 but I am not sure.

        The Alfa gave Porsche 904s a good race and came in 3rd. These races are near New York City (100 miles) and always got way more press than normal for car races with the NY papers sending everybody in the pressroom out to the races. The mass of press and camera men rushed out to photo the winning 1st 3 cars. But they all ignored the 1st and 2nd place Porsches and were all over the Alfa and most wanted pictures of the owners wife with the car. Turned out the driver owner was Harry Tioridesacropilis ( apologies to Harry and wife for my spelling if someone can help me with this please do) a very wealthy fellow and his very lovely wife was Europe’s top fashion model. The news folks did know what they were doing. I do not think about those two 904s but have never forgotten that couple.

        When old guys tell you new ones you have already missed the best times for racing they are not kidding.
        Ken

      • Walt Hansgen

    • Something needs to be said here so young folks who weren’t there will know it: lance drove a Scarab on the street. It had a cove built in the rear end to have a license plate, it had vestigal rear bumpers and when Road and Track tested it, it was Lance’s driver. So get this straight: An American playboy at the top of his game also drove the fastest street car in the world, period. No contest. Show ’em.Lance!

  2. Harry Theoradoracopulos

  3. wallace wyss says:

    My favorite Reventlow story is when he was Shelby’s landlord and every month he would show up in the Scarab with Jill beside him and yell out “Billie Sol, Billie Sol, get your ass down here with that rent check” and Shelby would run ass-over-teakettle to get it, while Lance chuckled, enjoying Shelby’s discomfort,

    Billie Sol Estes was a famous Texas con man so naturally some called Texan Shelby “Billie Sol” because he danced close to being a con man at times himself…

    Wallace Wyss author
    SHELBY The Man, the Cars, The Legend

  4. Robb Northrup says:

    Mike:

    What is not known is that Lance considered buying into International Motor Cars and the Apollo GT after IMC stopped production to find more financing. I have the my taped interview with Ned Davis (now deceased) describing his experience with Reventlow at his :mini mansion” and the discussions about the Apollo. We lost a good one when Lance was killed.

    Robb

  5. Joe Lineberger says:

    I read that Lance entered the Salinas race in a 300SL . He met Dean at Blackwells Corners just before the crash.

  6. The answer to “who drove the Scarab at Bridgehampton” is Walt Hansgen…

  7. Im doing research on the Formula 1 effort by Lance. I am a volunteer at a Museum that has aScarab(#3) and also an F1 engine. my paper and presentation is on the the F1 engine if any of you have any interesting stories,quotes, etc…. I would love to hear about it.

  8. Michael A Lugo says:

    My brother Ali A. Lugo was half owner of Scarab F1 # 2 He found and restored the car and then had Chuck Daigh rebuilt the desmodromic motor for him. While timing the camshafts on this engine, he notice that the specs write on the blueprints of the motor, seemed to be not quite right. He checked and double checked the setting on the valves and discovered that the exhaust valves were completely off. After placing the engine on the test stand, and redoing the settings the engine came to life. By advancing the timing the engine got cooking, and produce almost right away 260 hp. After some more tinkering the engine settled down to a steady 275 hp and a flash reading of 280 hp. Turns out all the power was being blown out the exhaust. Chuck called my brother right away with the news. Chuck said that it was a good news and bad news story. The good news was that the engine produced over 270 hp, the bad news was that he could have been World Champion. So an engine deemed an expensive failure, in the end it proved the talents of Leo Goossen. But for a mistaken spec written on the blueprint, the engine could have been a success. But in truth the real problem was time, not enough to get the engine or the chassis right. The engine had been designed to be opened up to three liters. Think of the life it could have had in racing. Bye the bye, a three liter Offy engined Scarab(F1 #3) is running circles around the other cars in its vintage class in Europe. As the sad line goes: “I could have been a contender”
    PS. See Vintage Racecar magazine’s interview of Chuck Daigh for more on the Scarab engine.

  9. I would be interested to know anything about the scarab raceteam members that were killed on their way to a race. Most specifically their names. I have a hand drawn car on a huge piece of craft paper that very well could be an original sketch of a recent low scarab. I need to verify who these members were to further my research. Thank you. Eric Selinger egs567@gmail.com

Speak Your Mind

*

Find us on Google+