1960 Scarab Grand Prix
1960 Scarab Grand Prix Story
2.5 litre, original dual overhead cam four-cylinder inline alloy block engine with desmodromic valve actuation and Hilborn fuel injection; 267 bhp at 6,500rpm.1960 Scarab F-1 Grand PrixScarab Formula 1 built in 1959-1960 using aluminum bodies, only three were produced. One of the greatest stories in the history of American sports car racing.What a couple of 18 yrs old kids by the name of Lance Reventlow and Bruce Kessler were able to accomplish in American and International Racing Circles is nothing short of amazing!Scarab F1 had captured the imaginations of racing fans across America and around the world. The success of the Scarab sports-racers and the romance of a small team of Americans from southern California taking on the best of European constructors with an immaculately constructed – and the construction and finishing standards of the Scarabs were an order of magnitude beyond those seen on European GP cars.A tribute to the imagination and determination of one of history’s great characters, Lance Reventlow, and the talented team he brought together in Venice, California. Its appearance is electric, a handsome blending of form and function that is as innately pleasing as Lance Reventlow’s many beautiful women companions. Its intricate desmodromic valve dual overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine may be the highest development of an American racing tradition, an ill-fated design which subsequent experience has revealed was innately sound but rushed into competition without sound development.Only six months later two Scarab sports racers rolled out of Reventlow’s shop. The Chevy V8 powered Scarab sports-racers which this all-star team built not only dominated the U.S. Road Racing Championship but so completely overwhelmed their competition in style, construction, and presentation that they became a legend in only a single season of competition under the Reventlow banner.
Lance Reventlow could do just about anything he wanted with his mother’s, Barbara Hutton’s, Woolworth family legacy. Lance had been reading up on chassis design and decided after leaving Lister’s that he could assemble a crew to build an even better car. It was the most successful of all schools, taught by talents like Harry Miller, Clay Smith, Fred Offenhauser, and Leo Goosen, and it turned out fabricators, designers, welders, machinists, and assemblers who could build the highest quality, fastest, most reliable racing machinery in the world. The Scarab Formula One cars were ambitious undertakings employing untested technologies but rooted in a conventional front-engine rear-drive layout. Reventlow insisted upon the proven – both in Grand Prix and in American oval racing – four-cylinder layout, designed from inception to lay over on its side as currently fashionable in Indy Roadsters. If the design had stopped there it might have been implemented successfully but Reventlow chose desmodromic valve operation. Desmodromic valve gear had been a dream of engine designers for years. In concept it positively mechanically controlled valve opening and closing through two cams.
The 2.5 litre, dual overhead cam four-cylinder inline alloy block engine with desmodromic valve actuation and Hilborn fuel injection; 267bhp at 6,500rpm, ladder-type four tube steel chassis with triangulated bays, front mounted transmission with quick-change rear differential, four-wheel Girling disc brakes, four-wheel independent suspension with triangulated arms and trailing arms and coil over shock absorbers plus anti-sway bars.
The Scarab F1 first appearing to immense interest and fascination at Monaco. Reventlow offered Stirling Moss (driving a mid-engined Lotus 18 in the race) a chance to drive the Scarab. If anything Moss’s talents behind the wheel masked the front-engine Scarab’s numerous shortcomings but even freshly completed and barely shaken down both Reventlow and Daigh would have been competitive with 1959 qualifying times in the season for which the Scarab F1 was designed. This Scarab, GP-2, is the only one to race at both the United States Grand Prix and the Gran Prix of Monaco. The Scarabs have become more sought after than ever as the remaining important cars are locked away in serious racing collections and not likely to escape! The front-engined Scarab GP will never lack for invitations to prestigious racing events, Concours, and shows where its thunderous exhaust and unique appearance will be the centerpiece of any paddock display and will draw spectators from far and wide to its on-track performance..
1960 Scarab Grand Prix driven by Stirling Moss
1960 Scarab Grand Prix Race Car History
2.5 liter, original dual overhead cam four-cylinder inline alloy block engine with desmodromic valve actuation and Hilborn fuel injection; 267bhp at 6,500rpm, ladder-type four tube steel chassis with triangulated bays, front mounted transmission with quick-change rear differential, four-wheel Girling disc brakes, four-wheel independent suspension with triangulated arms and trailing arms and coil over shock absorbers plus anti-sway bars.
THE SCARAB SPORTS RACING & FORMULA ONE CARS
In the world of Formula One, the only crucial time has always been the one frozen on the face of a stopwatch, and the worth of any machine – or driver – is forever judged according to those unforgiving seconds, tenths and hundredths of a heartbeat. Fortunately, the passage of time lends a gentler perspective and cars that were unfulfilled dreams in their day can now be appreciated for their beauty, the strange quixotic stories they have to
tell, and the endless human effort they represent.
Young Lance Reventlow’s Scarab team was on top of the world at the end of the 1958 season. Fueled by his mother’s money and thanks to the hotbed of gearhead car culture in Southern California and the infamous withdrawal of all the American manufacturers from motor sports competition, the 22 year old Reventlow had managed to pull together a once-in-a-lifetime talent pool of hot rodders, oval track builders and sports car types.
Their Chevy-powered Scarab sports car was designed and built in five short months and, after the usual teething and development agonies, went on to steamroll the opposition – including the highly touted Cunningham Lister Jaguars and the best Ferraris in the country. In addition, they were the most beautiful, and beautifully built, racing cars anybody had ever seen. Original plans called for a campaign in Europe, including the 24 Hours of LeMans, and there is every reason to believe they had the speed, determination and team personnel to be front-runners there as well. However, in response to the terrible spectator tragedies at LeMans in 1955 and the Mille Miglia in 1957, the FIA decreed a three liter limit for sports cars beginning with the 1958 season. The Scarab’s European tour was over before it started. This would not be the last time a rule change from Paris scuttled the California team’s plans.
A privileged and ambitious young man who was used togetting what he wanted, Lance Reventlow decided that his goal was to have the best damn racing car in the world and based on the Scarab sports car’s overwhelming success, there seemed little doubt in his mind he could do it. No question the Holy Grail of road racing had to be Formula One. The seductive, patriotic fantasy of taking on Europe’s best with a homegrown American challenger must have seemed irresistible. Following a final victory at Nassau in December of 1958, Lance put the Scarab sports cars up for sale (at a bargain basement $17,500 each!) and with the American motor sport press howling their approval and encouragement, set his sights on Formula One.
In retrospect, it is easy to see that the Scarab Formula One project was doomed before it started as it was hopelessly over ambitious and philosophically flawed. To make matters worse, the RAI crew was caught in a sea change of Formula One technology that found the traditional front-engined machines from Ferrari, Maserati, Vanwall and BRM beginning to be outclassed and out-maneuvered, literally, by the smaller, lighter and far nimbler rear-engined Coopers. Another problem for the Scarab team was Reventlow’s overly idealistic sense of
patriotism. In spite of the fact that all the existing Formula One component suppliers were in Europe, Lance committed to a strictly all-American race car.
Leo Goosen of Meyer-Drake fame was chosen to conjure up the 2.5 liter engine and, given his wealth of experience with the famous Offenhauser powerplant, it is no surprise that he settled on a Hilborn-injected four-banger designed to be laid on its side to keep the weight and frontal area low like the latest generation of Indy roadsters. RAI also chose to copy the championship winning Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix machines of 1954 and 1955 and
employ a complicated desmodromic valve gear that opened and closed the valves with positive cam action rather than relying on conventional valve springs.
RAI General Manager Warren Olsen hired 23 year old aircraft designer Marshall Whitfield to lay out the chassis. It was the first racing car Whitfield had ever attempted. He produced a neat and tidy conventional front-engined design, but deviled it with all sorts of unconventional details, some due to his background in aircraft and some the direct result of Reventlow’s unwillingness to use overseas component suppliers.
Meanwhile, the 1959 season was slipping away while the F1 Scarab’s engine and chassis dawdled through design and development. Even plans to enter the cars in the final Grand Prix of the 1959 season at Sebring, Florida, turned into pipe dreams.
The fact that Bruce McLaren and Maurice Trintignant finished one-two in Coopers at that Sebring race and Jack Brabham literally pushed another across the line to take 4th and seal his and Cooper’s first World Championship, only served to underscore that the “new” all American Scarab was already hopelessly behind the curve. Worse yet, there had been statements from FIA headquarters in Paris – the first coming as early as October of 1958 – that the current 2.5 liter cars had become too fast and dangerous and a new 1.5 liter Grand Prix formula would be adopted for 1961. Despite these declarations, many, including Lance Reventlow, doubted the FIA would ever relegate the finest drivers in the world and its most important championship to such “toys”. But with the FIA, you never knew.
Eventually the revised car was finished and there were some encouraging test days at Riverside with a three liter Offenhauser engine installed in place of the still unfinished desmo. RAI’s new open wheeler proved as fast as anything that had ever run there. The 1960 season was at hand and, ready or not, it was time to pack up and head off to Europe.
SCARABS IN FORMULA ONE AND THE INTERCONTINENTAL SERIES – 1960 & 1961
The first race was at Monaco, a tight, twisty, difficult circuit that favored the nimble rear-engined cars and made the Scarabs look lumbering by comparison. Driver Chuck Daigh and Reventlow struggled to learn their way around the little principality, all the while battling a brake pedal that would suddenly and mysteriously plunge all the way to the firewall, then seem fine when checked over in the pits. “I almost went into the harbor one time when the pedal went to the floor,” Daigh remembers. “It wasn’t real pleasant.” And the beautiful sounding desmo engines were, if anything, even more outclassed than the chassis. Other cars shot past the Scarabs on the short Monaco straightaways like half the plug wires were disconnected. “We’d been talking about something around 260 horsepower from those motors,” Daigh says disgustedly, “but what we actually had was more like 218 or 220.” Reventlow even asked Stirling Moss to take a few laps to see what he could do. Moss was arguably the best driver in the world at the time, as well as an acknowledged master of Monaco, and he quickly lopped four seconds off Daigh’s best time. The Scarab drivers struggled manfully against the clock in qualifying and Daigh managed to cut Moss’ advantage by more than two seconds, but they were still so far off the pace that neither car
made the grid.
Things went modestly better at Zandvoort in Holland, where Daigh put all the problems and disappointments aside, set his jaw and managed to put himself on the grid. Reventlow, on the other hand, did not make the cut, but was rewarded with a somewhaoptimistic “official” qualifying time that got him on the grid – the organizers dearly wanted both Scarabs to race. There were immediate protests from privateers who had been moved down the grid (and out of starting money) to make room for the Scarab. Amazingly, Reventlow backed the European privateers, a heated exchange with the organizers ensued and Lance ultimately told the entire Scarab team, including a frustrated Daigh, to pack up and take off. “Lance wanted to be a good sport,” Daigh recalls today. “He did not realize it was business.”
Next up was the daunting and notoriously dangerous Spa circuit that sweeps through the Ardennes forest in Belgium. Here the Scarabs finally made the back end of a somewhat expanded grid and started their first Grand Prix. But their efforts at Spa remain no more than a bleak footnote to one of the blackest weekends in Formula One history. Moss and Mike Taylor crashed their Lotuses heavily in practice and sustained serious injuries, while rising British stars Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey were both killed in high speed accidents during the race. Reventlow really had no stomach for the place and was well off the pace in practice and qualifying, then retired early in the race with a blown engine that many believe was a “clutch job” done on purpose. Daigh soldiered on with his usual grit and determination until an oil leak put him out. Photos of him drifting the uncompetitive Scarab full-lock sideways through the fast sweeper at Burneville where Moss and Bristow had crashed are absolutely breathtaking. Even the jaded European press took notice and gave him his due.
In the bitter aftermath of Spa there was now no question that the 1.5 liter Grand Prix formula would be on for 1961, and so time was running out for the struggling RAI effort. The Scarabs final European race was Reims, France but engine problems sidelined both cars.
Ironically, the final race of the 1960 season, and of the 2.5 liter formula, was the United States Grand Prix at Riverside in November. There, on his home turf, Daigh put in an incredible performance in his underpowered dinosaur of a car. He qualified 18th, ran the whole race with fuel starvation problems, diced throughout with the rear-engined Cooper-Maserati of Wolfgang von Trips and came home in 10th place to post the Scarab team’s
sole Grand Prix finish. No question Chuck Daigh was a fast and fearless race driver. But was there a future for RAI?
Not believing the 1.5 liter formula would ever come to pass, Lance had commissioned a new, rear-engined Scarab chassis to carry the recalcitrant desmo four-banger. It was a neat, tidy, well conceived design that owed much to the English – in fact, it was dubbed “the blue Cooper” by the RAI crew – but the fit, finish and workmanship were up to the usual California standards and yards ahead of anything from Europe. There was even talk of selling customer cars. But the FIA held firm on the new 1.5 liter Formula One, and so Reventlow threw in with owners of other “obsolete” 2.5 liter cars to promote a new, three liter racing class called the Intercontinental Formula. After all, the public wanted to see big, fast, powerful racing cars, not the crop of effete little tiddlers in the new Formula One.
While the new car was being built, two of the front-engined chassis headed in decided apposite directions. Chassis GP-2, the car presented here, went back across the Atlantic with an improved version of the desmo engine to contest – and moreover support – the first few races of the 1961 Intercontinental Formula in England. At a very wet Goodwood, Daigh held an amazing third overall for a few laps before finishing 6th. He then took 7th in the rain again at Silverstone, but crashed hard at the next Silverstone meeting, writing off GP-2’s back end and putting himself in the hospital.
Well-known automotive author BS Levy for the preceding historical and technical overview of the Scarab GP cars.
THE RESTORATION OF SCARAB GP-2
After Chuck Daigh’s serious crash in the 1961 Silverstone Intercontinental Formula race the remains of GP-2 were shipped back to RAI in southern California. All usable pieces except for the badly damaged chassis and rear body section were saved and survived until the mid 1980s when the restoration partners were able to acquire them. Most of GP-2’s parts that had originally belonged to Reventlow were collected from former RAI/Shelby employees within 75 miles of the old shop in California. These are documented to include the complete front suspension with uprights, A-arms, shocks and springs as well as the original steering rack and anti-sway bars. For the rear the right upright and the shocks and springs as well as two road wheels were obtained. Other major parts found included the gas tanks, radiator and numerous engine components and all of the aluminum body panels, except for the crashed tail section – i.e. long and short noses, cowling with racing mirrors, left and right side panels, both front cowling panels and the hood, resplendent in its original blue finish and handpainted Von Dutch insignia.
The actual “desmo” engine that powered GP-2 in its first 1960 season was acquired from California enthusiast Ron Kellogg along with various blueprints and documents. With the engine acquisition, the partners concluded that they had now gathered all of the significant remaining parts of GP-2 that had survived Daigh’s 1961 Silverstone crash. The professional restoration, begun in 1988 was to take the better part of a decade due to the
complexity of the Scarab’s design and construction. Original chassis fabricator Dick Troutman brought out the original drawings and specs and reconstructed the structure on the Reventlow chassis table that was still in his shop. Further chassis work, suspension and drive train components, were provided under the guidance of original team member Chuck Daigh. Later Daigh, a consummate motor engineer as well as a world-class driver oversaw the rebuild and dyno-tuning of the original “Desmo” engine now in the car. Numerous written records that document the restoration of this will of course accompany the sale of GP-2.
CURRENT VINTAGE RACING HISTORY
Brian Redman first tested GP-2, then fitted with the RAI Formula Libre Chevrolet engine at Savannah on January 22, 1997. Later show awards followed included Best Racing Car at Lime Rock, plus displays at Amelia Island, Greenwich, the Louis Vuitton Concours D’Elegance in New York and Bagatelle in Paris, France. Later, now fitted with its original “Desmo” engine, it was twice invited to the Goodwood, England Festival of Speed, driven by Redman and also Damon Hill and Chuck Daigh.
A most interesting and positive footnote to the GP-2 story occurred during Chuck Daigh’s recent painstaking rebuild and dyno-tune of the generally unloved desmo engine. “They’d put in some clearance to keep the valves from breaking as things heated up and expanded, and trusted to compression to hold them shut,” says Daigh. This affected the original engine’s breathing on the intake stroke, reducing its power output, but Daigh’s newly built and
properly adjusted desmo engine reportedly pulled a strong and healthy 265 horsepower on the dyno. “It wasn’t enough to make us World Champions,” he says matter-of-factly, but we sure would’ve looked a hell of a lot better than we did.”
Grand Prix cars nowadays are designed on super computers and built by machines out of composite materials, the names of which for the most part, are unpronounceable. Just try to count the number of scientists in your average GP teams pits today. Even the drivers have been almost reduced to button pressing robots because of traction and brake control, sequential gearboxes and other technology. GP races are more often than not, won by a pit
crew who can deliver a sub-eight second stop for fuel and tires.
What a contrast this presents to the era of this Scarab Grand Prix car. Its chassis was drawn on a manual drafting board by one man with the 2H pencil as was its body design sketched by another with the chassis welded up on a chassis table from chrome-moly steel tubing by a third. These persons and all the others involved, some totally self-taught, are all known by name and individual reputations and were the very best in the specialties of their
choosing. The list reads like a who’s who of California car culture; Lance Reventlow, Wayne Olsen, Phil Remmington, Ken Miles, Jim Travers, Frank Coons, (Traco), Leo Goosen, Chuck Pelly, Emil Deidt, Chuck Daigh and Von Dutch, the famous pinstriper and artist. Even the drivers who sat in GP-2’s racing seat during its short career in the period are well known – Stirling Moss, Lance Reventlow, Chuck Daigh and Ritchie Ginther.
History is a continuing phenomena and GP-2 is now ready to create its next spectacular career in current historic racing for an astute new owner of perhaps the ultimate 1960s American racing icon – the Scarab Formula One race car.
THE INTERNATIONAL PLAYBOY
Lance Reventlow was the son of a Danish Count, Kurt von Haugwitz- Reventlow and the “world’s richest woman,” Barbara Hutton. The count was her seventh husband (Cary Grant was another) and although Lance was born in London, he escaped to America after a fierce custody battle in European courts. At prep school in Phoenix he made friends with Bruce Kessler and they began racing together with Lance debuting at Santa Barbara in his black 300SL Gullwing in 1955.
Reventlow decided to build his own American racer, and the Scarab marque was sponsored by an inheritance of $25 million on his 21st birthday. These beautiful Chevy-powered roadsters achieved impressive results with Chuck Daigh and Reventlow driving but plans to race in Europe were quashed by the FIA’s introduction of a three liter limit in 1957. The new target was F-1 but the project soaked up his fortune and rumour has it his mother eventually called a halt after the disastrous 1960 season.
Reventlow Automobiles Inc. continued until 1962 when the US tax system made it attractive to close the business down. His playboy lifestyle never slowed with a succession of glamorous partners – including Natalie Wood, Jill St. John and Cheryl Holdridge – private jets and a self-designed house in the Hollywood hills. In the last 10 years motor racing was replaced by polo, skiing and sailing before his death in 1972 when his private plane crashed in bad weather near Aspen, Colorado.
*Well-known automotive author BS Levy for the preceding historical and technical overview of the Scarab GP cars.