scarab_f1




Lance Reventlow (1936-1972) was the only child of the American socialite Barbara Hutton, surnamed “the poor little rich girl”, heiress to the Woolworth’s fortune, one of the biggest fortune in the world at the time, and Count Kurt von Haugwitz-Reventlow, a Danish nobleman, his second (of seven) husband. No need to say that Lance will be largely moneyed all his (short) life long (he inherited of $60 – $70 million when he was 21 years old).

Lance was turned on to fast cars and motor racing very early, from the age of 12, by the third and fifth husbands of his mother successively, Prince Igor Troubetzkoy, winner of the 1948 Targa Florio, and Porfirio Rubirosa, the famous playboy and amateur racing driver. A real family story…

Lance started racing with the California Sports Car Club when he turned 21, in the mid-1950s, before setting up his own company - Reventlow Automobiles Inc. - in Venice (CA) to construct V-8 Chevrolet-powered front-engined sports racing cars that he named Scarab (*). They were real beauties, which in addition were very successful in US Road Racing sportscar events. The superb victory scored by his chief-mechanic and test driver Chuck Daigh in the 1958 Riverside International Grand Prix in California, beating a field of international race car teams, including the Ferrari Team, did much to establish the excellent reputation of Reventlow’s sports cars. The Scarabs were almost unbeatable during the 1959 season.

Encouraged by that success, Lance had hoped to race his Scarabs in sports car European events, but rules were being changed to require 3.0-liter engines. So Scarab racing would have to remain confined to the U.S. Then Lance did realize that building a Formula 1 car would give him the opportunity to race it in the F1 World Championship, mostly European at the time. Here we are ! The idea of the youthful enthusiast was to build an “all American car”, meaning that all parts and components used should be US made (except tyres, Dunlop being the sole manufacturer in 1960). It also would be the first American F1 car ever ! His project raised a lot of curiosity and interest, knowing how talented and competent was the staff (engineers and artisans) Lance had hired.

They came up with an open-wheel front-engined car, powered by a
4-cylinder 2.5 liter unit similar in layout to the Offenhauser, but entirely of Scarab's own design, featuring desmodromic valve gear similar in design to that found on the Mercedes F1 engine of the 1950s. The so typically American look of the car, inspired from Indy cars, and their immaculate finition would undoubtly bring something really new in F1 paddocks.

The project having been delayed, it’s only during the 1960 season that two brand new Scarabs arrived in France, ready to race the Monaco GP, in the hands of Lance himself and Chuck Daigh. Neither Lance nor Chuck could make the qualifying cut. Perplex as to whether the problem was with the cars or with their F1 inexperience, Lance asked Stirling Moss - the poleman - to give the car a try, what Stirling accepted very kindly. After a few laps, Stirling stopped at the pits without having been able to improve significantly the chronos of the Scarab drivers. A confirmation that the cars were definitely outclassed, if not already almost obsolete in front of the new mid-engined British Lotuses and other Coopers, much more agile especially on a tourniquet like Monaco.

After the Dutch, Belgian and French GPs - a very frustrating time for the Californian team, with recurring engine troubles (valve failures) - Lance, totally desillusioned, had already made his decision to shut down his F1 operation. The two cars having blown up with engine damage at Reims, they were not present at Silverstone for the British GP, two weeks later, so Lance and Chuck shared a third works Cooper Climax. Chuck having been faster at practice got the car for the race, and Lance was withdrawn. Sadly, the 1960 season and his F1 adventure were over for Lance.
As for Chuck, he bought his usual car and entered it privately in the last GP of the 1960 season at Riverside - the Scarab home GP - where he finished 10th,
the best placed of the few front-engine cars still in F1 and the last appearance of a Scarab in a F1 GP.

Back to California, Lance returned to sports cars, with success again. His last creation will be a
rear-engined Scarab sports car. In 1962, he closed down the Scarab operation, rented his Venice racing shop facilities to Carroll Shelby, including the famous Fiat / Bartoletti GP car transporter (ex Maserati) that Carroll will use to transport his Cobras, and quit auto racing altogether.


Epilog : It is said that 28 years later Chuck Daigh, having taken on a project of revisiting the desmodromic valve gear, discovered that the valve lash was different in reality from what was specified in the original design (an error in one of the decimals). Chuck made the correction as per the specs and obtained an immediate 20 percent increase in power ! Fatal error, with heavy consequences, even if it’s difficult to predict how the1960 season would have turned out for the Scarabs with this increased power !...





(*) Scarab, name of the legendary Egyptian “good luck” beetle, was often thought as being “a deliberate reaction against the exotic and macho names other sports cars were called at the time” (Mark Galanty, Venice Vanguard Newsletter - Nov 2003).


(†) In 1972, Lance Reventlow was seeking real-estate developers as partners to build a ski resort in Aspen, Colorado, where he had a home. On July 24, 1972, while scouting locations for real estate in a light plane, Lance being a passenger, the young inexperienced pilot stalled the plane over the Rockies causing a fatal crash to the ground, with no survivors. Ironically, Lance was also an excellent fully qualified pilot… RIP !