Lance Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow, born in 1936, ran in Hollywood circles.
His mother, Barbara Hutton, inherited the Woolworth department store chain and was considered the wealthiest woman in the world at that time. His father was a Danish Count. For a time, Reventlow was married to actress Jill St. John.
The most significant person in Lance Reventlow’s life, however, was yet another stepfather, Prince Igor Troubetzkoy.
Troubetzkoy was a race car driver – a very good one. Among other accomplishments, he won the famed Targa Florio, contested over Sicily’s public roads. As an impressionable youngster, Reventlow was drawn to auto racing through his influence.
With his resources, Reventlow did more than fantasize about being a race car driver. While still a teenager, he was already competing in amateur sports car events around Hollywood, with his friend, actor James Dean. On their way to a race in Salinas, Calif., Reventlow and Dean stopped for a cup of coffee. Dean left the dinner before Reventlow and died 30 minutes later.
Reventlow turned to professional racing shortly after Dean’s death, driving a Mercedes in the states before traveling to Europe where he spent a year dabbling in Formula 2 competition.
While in Europe, he was impressed by independent car builders such as John Cooper and Colin Chapman, and saw no reason why he couldn’t emulate them. Upon returning to America, he did just that.
Reventlow hired Phil Remington, a young engineer fresh out of the Army who would go on to work for Carroll Shelby and Dan Gurney, to design the car he envisioned.
The result was a beautiful Chevrolet-powered sports car that Reventlow named Scarab.
The Scarabs were immediately successful in the hands of Reventlow and his driver, Chuck Daigh. Between them, they won the majority of the major sports car events of that era. Their most important victory happened in 1958 when Daigh won at California’s Riverside Raceway against a stellar international field that included Phil Hill in a factory-backed Ferrari.
That win against international competition inspired Reventlow to take his dream to another level – the first-purpose built, all-American Formula 1 car. To accomplish that goal, he enlisted an array of heavy hitters.
Ted Halibrand cast the wheels and other magnesium components. Jim Travers and Frank Coon, the former Bill Vukovich mechanics by then operating as TRACO, built the new, four-cylinder engine, which was designed by the legendary Miller/Offy creator Leo Goosen.
Travers and Coon were also tasked with assembling the cars once the bodies and frames arrived from metal craftsmen Troutman and Barnes.
Travers was often frustrated when Reventlow appeared at the race shop.
“He would usually show up with one Hollywood starlet or another,” recalled Travers. “And everything would grind to a stop while the guys ogled them and then they wasted more time carrying on about them once they left.”
Like the Scarab sports car, the Formula 1 car – completed in late 1959 – was a thing of beauty. However, its front-engine design was already turning obsolete as Formula 1 builders were beginning to transition to rear-engine cars.
That, combined with development problems with the engine, made for a dismal 1960 season. Three cars were eventually built. Two were powered by the new engine, the third by an Offy extensively modified by TRACO.
The cars were raced by Daigh, Reventlow and on one occasion by Richie Ginther, in all 10 Formula 1 races that year. Their best finish was 10th in the American Grand Prix, with Daigh driving.
In anticipation of the 1961 F-1 season, Reventlow commissioned a rear-engine Scarab, powered by a TRACO-built Buick V-8. However, it never competed on the Grand Prix circuit. Its only race was a Formula Libra event in Sandown Park, Australia, where Daigh finished eighth.
After that, it was cut up and the parts were used to create the successful rear-engine Scarab sports car. Using a huge TRACO-built Oldsmobile engine, the car won a number of races with A.J Foyt behind the wheel.
By 1962, Reventlow had lost interest in race car building and closed the Scarab operation. Shelby, who had raced Scarabs on occasion, leased the building, producing the first of his famed Shelby Cobras there.
Out of the racing business, Reventlow turned to real estate development. On July 24, 1972, he was a passenger on a private plane, scouting for land for a planned ski resort near his Aspen, Colo., home. The plane crashed and its passengers perished.
This story appeared in the Oct 4, 2023 edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.