The Scarab Is The Most Beautiful Race Car You’ve Never Heard Of
Written by John Lamm // Photos by Peter Harholdt courtesy of The Revs Institute
It was 1958, and Briggs Cunningham had already proved U.S.-built, American V-8 powered sports racing cars could hold their own with the Europeans, but doubts remained. Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Maseratis and Porsches were still the sports car norm.
There had been some quick California concoctions, like the Troutman and Barnes Special, Ak Miller’s Caballos and Sterling Edwards Specials, but the Europeans held the best hand. Until Lance Reventlow came along.
Young and moneyed, Reventlow hired the best automotive artisans in Southern California, many of them hot rodders, and created the Scarab sports racing car.
The big test came at Riverside in 1958 when Chuck Daigh in a Scarab outlasted Phil Hill in the Ferrari 412 MI. For those of us living in the Midwest, the likes of Augie Pabst and Harry Heuer kept the Scarabs at the front for several seasons beyond that and, at least in my case, are a major reason I am still writing about automobiles 50 years later.
Chuck Pelly is a world-renowned industrial designer today, founder of DesignworksUSA, which is BMW’s California Studio. As an 18-year-old student at the Art Center College of Design, Pelly penned the famous exterior shape of the Scarab. This Scarab is chassis 003, a Mk II model and one of three front-engine race versions built.
In Preston Lerner’s book about the Scarabs, Pelly recalls the design work, saying, “It didn’t take very long, maybe two and a half weeks. As I remember, my total fee was about $200.”
His full name was Lawrence Graf von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow, but he went by Lance. The son of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton and one of her seven husbands, Count Kurt von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow, Lance was twice married to actresses: Jill St. John and ex-Mouseketeer, Cheryl Holdridge. Reventlow was killed in a light plane crash on July 24, 1972 near Aspen. Here he is in a Scarab Grand Prix car at Monaco in 1960.
Lance Reventlow racing a Scarab at Vacaville in 1960. He won the Governor’s Cup and shared the Nassau Trophy win with Chuck Daigh at the 1958 Nassau Speed Weeks. Daigh said of Reventlow, “He was a good driver, but he wasn’t great. He had the skill, but not the confidence.”
At top, the two Scarabs are the left-hand-drive chassis 001 Mk I in the background and the right-hand-drive chassis 002 Mk. II in the foreground.
Chuck Daigh had much to do with building the Chevrolet V-8s in the Scarabs, but also driving the sports cars. His win in the 1958 Grand Prix for Sports Cars at Riverside with the Scarab–seen here–did much to establish the reputation of Reventlow’s sports cars.
The big Scarab-Ferrari showdown was meant to be at the 1958 Grand Prix for Sports Cars at Riverside. Daigh and Reventlow were in the Scarabs, with Phil Hill in the Ferrari 412 MI. Daigh was on the pole, Hill just .02 seconds behind, and here Hill is chasing Daigh. Unfortunately, the Ferrari fell victim to the heat and fuel troubles. Daigh won and Dan Gurney was second in a Ferrari, a major step forward in his career.
Possibly the most famous Scarab race driver was Augie Pabst in the Meister Bräuser-entered chassis 002. Here he is in the last turn at Laguna Seca during the 1960 Pacific Grand Prix, which was part of the USAC Road Racing Championship.
Above is the wooden body around which the body for the Collier Collection’s Scarab body was formed. How quick was a Scarab? Road & Track tested the car with Reventlow driving and managed 0-60 in 4.2 seconds and 0-100 in 9.0 seconds. The quarter-mile came up in 12.2 seconds at 120 mph.
How quick was a Scarab? Road & Track tested the car with Reventlow driving and managed 0-60 in 4.2 seconds and 0-100 in 9.0 seconds. The quarter-mile came up in 12.2 seconds at 120 mph.
Consider the layout of a modern sports car racer with its rear-mounted engine, then think of the Scarab layout from 1958. It was still in line with the likes of Ferrari and Aston Martin at the time, though with the mid-engine likes of Porsche and Cooper making inroads.
Reventlow had hoped to race the Scarabs in Europe, but rules changed to require 3.0-liter engines. The team tried fitting an Offy engine in 003, but it proved too heavy and not powerful enough. So Scarab racing was confined to the U.S. using a 339-cubic-inch, Hilborn fuel-injected Chevrolet V-8 with 365 horsepower at 6,000 rpm.
The “office” of the Scarab had nothing extraneous: a large tachometer, gauges to monitor fuel and oil, an ammeter, rows of toggle switches, and a fuse block. Imagine being strapped into that driver’s seat, 365 horsepower up front, Phil Hill next to you on the grid at Riverside on a hot California day.
Imagine being strapped into that driver’s seat, 365 horsepower up front, Phil Hill next to you on the grid at Riverside on a hot California day.
Stripped of its aluminum bodywork you can get a sense of the Scarabs created by the likes of such legends as Warren Olson, Dick Troutman, Tom Barnes and Chuck Daigh. Using American know-how including a background in hot rods.
Troutman and Barnes’ space frame chassis for the Scarabs weighed just 127 pounds and was wrapped in a body of aluminum formed by another artisan, Emil Deidt.
One of the secrets to the Scarab’s success was its rear suspension, which was based on the De Dion tube you can see behind the quick-change differential. On the sides of the diff are the in-board drum brakes, each with it shroud-and-fins cover meant to act as a centrifugal cooling fan.
Two famous vintage racers, Augie Pabst and the Meister Bräuser Scarab at the July vintage races at his home track, Elkhart Lake’s Road America.
Chassis 001, the left-hand-drive Mk I, was raced successfully in historic races the U.S. and Europe by Don Orosco, here seen at the Monterey Historic Automobile Races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The current owner, Rob Walton, also campaigns the car in vintage events.
The last Scarab was a mid-engine sports car, seen here with Pabst’s front engine at Road America. Pabst owned both cars at one time, and the mid-engine machine was driven here by his son, Augie III.
Finally, the Scarab transporter, which was shown at the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance by Don Orosco.
What do you think of Scarab Racing, the often-forgotten team of American innovators, engineers, and enthusiasts?