My Car Quest

July 23, 2024

Lance Reventlow The Hollywood Racer

Versions of this article were originally published in 2011 and in 2015. You should read the Comments as an integral part of this article because some of the commentators have first hand experience with the subject matter.

From the My Car Quest Wayback Machine.

by Mike Gulett –

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, European royalty father, one race car driving stepfather, and another stepfather a movie star named Cary Grant.

With the recent success of Ford vs Ferrari and then Ferrari Hollywood may now be ready to tell the Lance Reventlow story.

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, including Phil Remington, Leo Goossen, Jim Travers, Frank Coon, Emil Deidt and others, 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. While Shelby acquired his chassis and body for the Cobra from AC in England and powered it with a Ford V8, Reventlow chose to design and build the chassis and body with his own team in the US.

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 (Laguna Seca). 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 (including Phil Remington), 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 and his Scarab race cars.

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

Imagine the possibilities if Reventlow would have built and sold street cars to pay for his racing. He could have competed with the AC Shelby Cobra and if he would have kept his operation and people maybe the Shelby Cobra would not have existed as we know it today.

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 what you think in the Comments.

Lance Reventlow and the Scarab

The Don Orosco Scarab in 2015 – photo by Mike Gulett

Lance Reventlow The Hollywood Racer
Article Name
Lance Reventlow The Hollywood Racer
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.


  1. ken phillips says

    Mike. We raced against the mid engine Scarab at Bridgehamption with the Ferrari 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. Incredibly beautiful little car. The front engine cars were not small but light and very well designed and very classy presentation.

    • 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.

      • 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


    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.


  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. Eric selinger says

    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

  10. martin moffitt says

    This guys sounds like he lived a FULL LIFE! even though it only lasted to 36.

  11. Raoul “Sonny”Balcaen says

    I was the guy along with help on some coach work with Phil Remington that converted Lance’s only left hand drive sports racing car into the street legal you see in the Road and Track cover shot.They special has a Scarab imaged hand made by me which I made into a small grill.The had many engine innovationss to make it an easy street driver.Including progressive carburetors to economize fuel.Don Orzoco (spelling) had Tom Barnes and Dick Troutman reconvert it into a race car, I was a part of the entire Scarab program.Lots historical information about the cars,people,and times printed today are very,very incorrect,,,.Sonny Balcaen

    • Sonny,

      Thank you for your comment. It is always great to hear from someone with first hand experience. The last Scarab photo is the Don Orosco car.

      Please let us know what is “very, very incorrect” about this short article about Lance Reventlow.

      • Raoul ‘Sonny’Balcaen says

        My biography is nearing completion. The entire story will be I told from my experience and complete involvement. I am now 85 years old and want to correct my part if the story. Stand by, Raoul ‘Sonny’ Balcaen

        • Desiree Gillingham says

          You’re right, Mike, Reventlow is a great story and, rabbit-hole googling, I found “Sonny” did publish his bio, in 2022.

          “Raoul ‘Sonny’ Balcaen: My exciting true-life story in motor racing from Top-Fuel drag-racing pioneer to Jim Hall, Reventlow Scarab, Carroll Shelby and beyond”

          The publisher’s book description follows:
          Raoul ‘Sonny’ Balcaen grew up in Los Angeles at a time when it became the epicentre of American motor racing, nurturing a vast talent pool of people whose influence has echoed through to today.
          As a teenager, he successfully competed with his home-built Top Fuel dragster during the formative years of the sport. With Lance Reventlow, he worked on the famous Scarab sports cars and was standing in the dyno room when the team’s all-American Formula 1 engine was fired up for the first time. A period as Jim Hall’s crew chief and a close association with Carroll Shelby added to the know-how that guided him towards becoming a successful entrepreneur and led to all that followed.
          Aged 17, Balcaen built his own Top Fuel drag racer, the ‘Bantamweight Bomb’, which he developed relentlessly and drove to many successes.
          His role in the fabulous Scarab sports cars — the landmark all-American racers — and insights into life with their creator, the incomparable Lance Reventlow.
          Working as crew chief to the brilliant Jim Hall, preparing and running his Lotus Eleven and Lister-Chevrolet long before the famous Chaparrals emerged.
          A second spell with Scarab, this time with the Formula 1 project — the first American Grand Prix car — plus a special job for Reventlow converting a Scarab sports racer into a street car.
          Onwards into setting up his own successful business, IECO (Induction Engineering Co), to create and sell high-grade performance and appearance accessories, with Chevrolets — especially Corvair and Vega — featuring strongly.
          His many-faceted dealings with Carroll Shelby, leading to consultancy and even assignments as occasional Shelby American company pilot.
          Along the way we meet many other big names of the era, including Chuck Daigh, Bruce Kessler, Warren Olson, Dick Troutman, Tom Barnes, Phil Remington, Ken Miles, Leo Goossen, Jim Travers, Frank Coon, Ed Donovan and Pete Brock.
          This engaging memoir is the very personal history of a momentous time and place in which we meet a who’s who of West Coast road-racing heroes.

  12. No mention of the front eng sports cars sold off in 1959 to. Jim Jeffords Nickey Chevrolet Team chassis #2. Harry Heuer Meister Brauser Team lurched chassis #3. End of 1959 Meister Brauser Team lurched chassis #2 from Jeffords. The MBTeam raced until1963.

  13. Hi Mike,

    My friend here in the Santa Ynez Valley, CA, Stu Hanssn, has a beautiful street/track Scarab. A few months back he gave me a ride and I grabbed an iPhone video as he took me on a little blast through Santa Ynez and the Happy Canyon area. Here’s a safe youtube link to my video. I’ll see if I can get some specs on Stu’s Scarab. (You may have to endure a commercial before the video starts.) Best, Jim

    • Beautiful!

      • Hi again Mike,

        Here are some of the specs on Stu Hanssen’s Scarab and a photo I took of it in the paddock at Laguna Seca back in May of this year. He was racing his red Swift DB5 (in the background of this photo) and was hoping to run a few exhibition laps in the Scarab.

        1958 Date code 283 corvette block & camel hump iron cylinder heads
        Steel crank,H beam rods,& race pistons
        T10 early corvette transmission
        FIA Spec Chassis as original
        Halibrand quick change rear end
        Halibrand style Knock off alloy wheels
        All aluminum body as original
        Hilborn Intake fitted with EFI
        Willwood 4 wheel disc brake upgrade
        15 gallon racing fuel cell
        Custom pin-striped paint job

        Best, JIm

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