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AMERICAN LANCE Reventlow’s Formula One car had the same high-skilled fabrication and immaculate presentation as his Scarab sports cars. These dominated sports car racing throughout the 1958 season. However, the Scarab F1 effort initiated a year later had problems, each a matter of timing.
The first problem of timing is easily described: The Scarab had kinship of design with the classic Indy roadster: Its engine was in front.
However, by the Scarab’s debut in the 1960 Grand Prix season, the Cooper and Lotus cars had their Climax engines mounted behind the drivers. Even holdouts like Ferrari were soon to follow.
The second matter of Scarab timing is a more involved story; a third, more recent.
Lance carried excellent car genes from his mother, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. Her Ferrari GTC showed her exquisite taste in motoring (http://wp.me/p2ETap-Rs). Lance’s father was a Danish nobleman. (One of Hutton’s other marriages, of seven, was to Prince Igor Troubetzkoy, winner of the 1948 Targa Florio.)
Lance applied a tidy sum of his Woolworth “five & dime store” inheritance to auto racing, both in Europe and North America. Then in the late 1950s he turned to manufacturing his own sports car.
Reventlow hired extremely talented guys from the hot rod culture of southern California. Among them were fabricator/chief engineer Phil Remington (who subsequently went on to Shelby cars), chassis specialists Dick Troutman and Tom Barnes, small-block-Chevy wizards Jim Travers and Frank Coon (of Traco Engineering) and engineer/driver Chuck Daigh (as in “day”).
Scarab sports cars won the Sports Car Club of America National Championship in 1958, besting the likes of Phil Hill and Ferrari. The Scarab effort was renowned for the cars’ exquisite finish and its immaculate operation (neither of which was characteristic of motor racing back then). This success encouraged Reventlow to enter international Formula One—with a car entirely of American design and fabrication.
This goal of an all-American effort led to major delays. For example, the team spent lots of time and cash developing drum brakes, à la standard Indy practice (where braking isn’t a high priority). The team finally gave up and fitted Girling discs despite their British heritage.
F1 was in its waning years of the 2.5-liter formula, so any small-block Chevy was out of the question, 4.3 liters being its smallest displacement. The 2.65-liter 4-cylinder Offenhauser was a possible starting point, and who knows what might have occurred had the Scarab team adapted a straightforward normally aspirated version of this supercharged Indy engine.
However, Scarab engine designer Leo Goossen (of Offy fame) was tantalized by desmodromic valves, as fitted to the highly successful Mercedes-Benz W-196 Grand Prix cars of 1954 – 1955. These use cam actuation of valve closure as well as opening (whereas standard practice uses spring closure).
More time and cash were spent on attempting to follow the Mercedes technical approach. The project fell a year behind, and what might have been moderately competitive in 1959 was outclassed by 1960.
Neither Chuck Daigh nor Lance Reventlow made the qualifying cut at 1960 Monaco. Even a trial drive by Stirling Moss didn’t resolve matters.
The cars performed better at the Dutch Grand Prix’s Zandvoort circuit. In qualifying, Daigh was 15th fastest (out of 22 entrants). A squabble in official lap timing caused Reventlow to withdraw the team. At Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, both cars retired with engine troubles. The team ran short of engine spares and neither car made the grid of the French Grand Prix at Reims.
The last race of the season was the American Grand Prix at Riverside, California, the Scarab’s home circuit. (See http://goo.gl/e5Afof for a video of Reventlow piloting the Scarab F1 around Riverside.) Daigh qualified the team’s single entry 16th out of 23 starters. Despite intermittent vapor lock caused by hot weather, he finished 10th, the best placed of the few front-engine cars still in F1.
The last matter of timing occurred years later. In 1988, Chuck Daigh took on a project of perfecting the Scarab F1’s desmodromic valve gear. He discovered that the original design had specified a valve lash of 0.002 in. However, in the engine’s setup, this had been increased to 0.012 in., the idea being a standard compensation for component expansion when hot.
Daigh’s use of the designed valve timing yielded an immediate 20 percent increase in power.
Had the Scarab F1 car been this powerful in 1960…. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014
Even if the engine had been more efficient, it still had a serious handling handicap compared to the Cooper-Climax cars… I was there when Moss drove it at Monaco, and it was quite obvious that the chassis was simply obsolete compared to the British cars.
The last new car that Lance bought was a silver Porsche 911E. After he passed away, his brother Richard bought it from the estate and shipped it to Troutman and Barnes for modification. The car is now owned by a friend here in Boulder, Colorado.