Lance Reventlow (1936 - 1972) - The Story of the Reventlow Scarab

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Lance Reventlow (1936 - 1972) - The Story of the Reventlow Scarab

Lance Reventlow

The Reventlow Scarab

It seems that everything that the Woolworths touched turned to gold, but there was one very notable exception - the F1 Scarab - which was to proved the age old adage that you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear. Thankfully for Reventlow Automobiles Inc, they only managed to make around seven which would enter competition - during a period of four years.

Barbara Hutton

Lance Reventlow was the son of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton and her second husband Count Curt von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow and also the stepson of actor Cary Grant and Prince Igor Troubetzkoy. He was one of the Americans who developed a new enthusiasm for European-style motoring sport in the 1950s. This led him to go racing in Europe in 1957, and subsequently he decided to build an American competition car, and therefore formed a new company - Reventlow Automobiles.

In 1959 Reventlow visited his mother, and from all accouts Barbara Hutton was a woman he barely knew, at her new mansion in Cuernavaca, Mexico. She had just divorced her sixth husband. Reventlow confronted her over his upbringing, and after a heated argument the two parted company. Already reluctantly in the media spotlight because of his mother and the family wealth, shortly after the confrontation with his mother, Reventlow married actress Jill St. John.

Given the fall-out with his mother, he was more determined than ever to enter the world of Grand Prix racing. He managed to secure Warren Olson, who owned a sports-car shop, the driver and engine tuner Chuck Daigh, the Californian chassis specialists Richard Troutman and Tom Barnes (who were later to build the first Chaparrals) and, as an occasional designer, the expatriate Englishman and outstanding racing and development driver, Ken Miles.

The first Scarab sports-racing cars were essentially conventional machines, having Chevrolet engines and gearboxes beneath smooth but undistinguished two-seater bodywork. This model's first race was in March 1968 in Arizona; and after a fairly successful season in minor events, the car, driven by Daigh, defeated the Ferrari of Phil Hill at Riverside in that same year. Two more similar cars were built, and campaigned successfully in events run by the Sports Car Club of America in 1960 and 1961.

By that time, Reventlow's ambitions had led him to commission the design and construction of a Formula One car with which to dispute the Grands Prix in Europe throughout 1960, the final year of the 2½-litre formula. Three of these cars were built, and made their debut at Monaco for the opening race of the 1960 series. The Scarab made an excellent impression by the quality of the workmanship in its construction, and in the beauty of the engineering in its design; but it was designed according to outdated principles. As on so many occasions when the last repository of an over-extended tradition is pitted in competition against the leaders of a revolutionary movement (the Type 59 Bugatti providing a typical instance), the Scarab was too beautiful to be good.

Obsolete at Initiation

It was, in fact, obsolete when it appeared, having too much weight and frontal area, and too little power and agility, to compete with rivals undoubtedly unforseen by its designers. There was nothing intrinsically wrong in its elegant rectangular space-frame chassis, which was composed of small-diameter tubes. There was nothing wrong with the four-cylinder engine, which was laid on its side to keep its centre of gravity low, and had both fuel injection and desmodromic valvegear working on principles similar to those of the W196 Mercedes-Benz that had been successful a few years earlier. And there was nothing wrong with its all-independent suspension, by pairs of unequal wishbones and helical springs.

But there was a problem with the driving position, where the driver sat bolt upright at a huge and badly raked steering wheel, the angle of which conformed to American practice in single-seater racers for oval tracks and Indianapolis, but was hardly appropriate to the type of steering demanded of a road-racing driver. In front of the driver was the engine, beside him the Chevrolet gearbox and behind him a massive transmission aggregate of transfer gearbox and final drive, sharing the tail with a large fuel tank. It was all done nicely, tastefully even, but its only hope of success would have been dependent on the engine developing far more than the hopelessly inadequate 230 bhp claimed for it.

It was surprising that the engine was so ineffectual, coming as it did from the drawing board of Leo Goossen, the most accomplished and respected designer of racing engines in America, who had to his credit not only numerous racing Millers but also the legendary Offenhauser. In much of the detailing, the engine of the Scarab reflected Goossen's past successful practice; but it illustrated the handicap under which Goossen always worked, and of which he very occasionally complained. He was not given a free hand to design whatever engine he felt appropriate, but was instructed to do the detailing of an engine whose basic features were determined by his employers or clients before he was consulted.

Lance Reventlow standing beside the 1960 F1 Scarab
Lance Reventlow standing beside the 1960 F1 Scarab. Beautifully prepared, it was handicapped by being overweight. It had a rectangular space-frame chassis and was powered by a fuel-injected four-cylinder engine equipped with desmodromic valve gear.

Failing to Qualify

For such a car to be fielded in a Grand Prix, after a whole year in which the rear-engined Coopers had demonstrated the superiority of the new order, was either brave or foolhardy. Certainly it must have been ill-considered, as the pace of development in the interim had been such that the fastest car racing at Monaco in 1959 would have been too slow to qualify for the race in 1960, when once again the field was limited to the fastest sixteen cars in practice: the slowest of these sixteen was half a second faster than the winner of pole position in the previous years. Failure to qualify once again disgraced the Scarabs at the next Grand Prix, the Dutch, where the only front-engined cars that qualified to take part in the race were those of the Ferrari team, in the twelfth, thirteenth and fifteenth places.

No such problems inhibited the Scarabs for their third event, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, where the circuit was long enough to accommodate any number of competitors. On this exceptionally fast circuit, where power counted for more than handling, the front-engined car might have a chance, as demonstrated by one of the Ferrari team, which managed a practice lap in 3 minutes 53.3 seconds to get onto the front row of the starting grid. That row it shared with two Coopers, the faster of which earned its place with a lap in 3 minutes 50 seconds. The faster of the Scarabs could manage only 4 minutes 9.7 seconds.

The Scarab-Chevy

Having performed so dismally in the season's first three Grands Prix, the Scarab team withdrew from Formula One racing. After due time for the new racing-car morphology to sink in, Reventlow Automobiles produced a new design which was rear-engined: a sports car with a Chevrolet engine, if its Scarab-Chevy title was to be believed, although in fact the power unit was a lightweight Buick. This car was driven by A. J. Foyt to win a couple of events at Nassau, in the Bahamas, in December 1963. Nine months later, with a large Chevrolet engine replacing the little Buick, the car was driven by the late Wait Hansgen to win a major event at Bridgehampton, defeating Pedro Rodriguez and his Ferrari.

It was not much of a result after so many years of effort, but it was the last of any consequence. However much one might admire the amateur spirit of the Scarab venture, the cars were doomed to failure; ' ...and all that beauty, all that wealth, e'er gave, Await, alike th'inevitable hour: The paths of glory lead but to the grave'. In 1962 Lance Reventlow shut down the operation, leased the California facilities to Carroll Shelby, and quit auto racing altogether.

Cheryl Holdridge and death in a Cessna

Reventlow's marriage to Jill St. John ended in divorce in 1963. In 1964, he married ex-Mouseketeer Cheryl Holdridge, introduced to him by close friend, singer Jimmy Boyd. The couple mostly remained out of the glare of publicity for several years. An avid Alpine skier, hiker, sailor and pilot, Reventlow maintained a home in Aspen, Colorado. It was there in 1972 while looking at an area to build a ski resort with real estate brokers, that, according to the NTSB report, Reventlow was a passenger in a Cessna 206.

Unknown to Reventlow (who was a fully rated instrument, multi engine, commercial pilot with thousands of hours), the Cessna pilot was an inexperienced 27-year-old student pilot who flew into a blind canyon and stalled the aircraft while trying to turn around. The small plane plunged to the ground, killing Lance Reventlow and the others aboard. Cary Grant took some of Lance's closest friends along with him in his plane to Aspen for Reventlow's memorial service, given by his widow Cheryl. His widow later married Manning J. Post, a major figure in the Democratic Party in California.
Lorenzo Bandini
Chuck Daigh's Formula One Scarab leads two Coopers during the 1960 United States Grand Prix at Riverside. The race was eventually won by Stirling Moss driving a Lotus.
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