1958 Scarab Sports RoadsterLaced with intriguing elements of success, failure, fame, and fortune, the story of the Scarab racers is one of the most exciting tales in the American motorsports saga. With a rich and arrogant young Yankee behind the wheel of Scarab's efforts, a dynamic story was inevitable. Throughout the history of Scarab's race cars, events played out like perfectly choreographed scenes in a Hollywood adventure movie. Scarab's decisive victories and blatant failures kept racing enthusiasts at the edge of their seats like a box office hit.
The Scarabs were the product of a company called Reventlow Automobiles Inc., or RAI. Founded by the young, privileged Lance Reventlow with great help from the money of his Woolworth-heiress mother, the real backbone of RAI's establishment was provided by a man named Warren Olsen. A talented racecar mechanic, Olsen was very familiar with Lance Reventlow. Prior to his important position at RAI, Olsen had been in charge of maintaining Reventlow's personal racecars.
A well-connected man, Olsen quickly contracted some of the best people in the business to aid in RAI's endeavors. RAI operated out of Olsen's shop in North Hollywood, California and was made up of skilled fabricators and performance gurus who represented the best of America's racing scene at the time. Among RAI's gifted staff was Chuck Daigh. Hired for his skills as a driver and mechanic, Daigh's prowess on the racetrack led to the most exciting wins the Scarabs would ever see.
Reventlow's leadership of the group occasionally led to problems. The young man's cocky attitude caused him to enter into some situations with an overconfidence that was sure to cause disaster. Such a display of Reventlow's character could be seen in his company's Formula 1 efforts. Success with early Scarabs prompted a poorly prepared entry into European Formula 1 racing, a division of motorsports with which RAI was thoroughly unfamiliar. Failure followed, and RAI would never again realize the same fortune as it had with its early cars.
While the F1 attempts by RAI have been largely forgotten, the first cars to be flown under the Scarab banner have reached immortal status. Now referred to simply as Sports-Racers, they were actually labeled Mk I and Mk II. These cars were dignified representations of the young and boastful American spirit at its best. They were fearless automobiles that dominated the competition despite being built by a small and newly established group of people.
The Sports-Racers were built in 1958. This was remarkably soon after RAI's founding in 1957. Given the cars short development time, they were extraordinarily well engineered. A space frame of chrome-moly tubing provided the foundation for the design. Front suspension was by double A-arms, working with Ford spindles and Monroe shocks to maintain a high American part content. Rear suspension used a De Dion tube. Brakes were by Ford but with custom, finned aluminum drums that gave immense stopping power. One of the first cars to take advantage of the small-block Chevy's performance potential, the Mk I was sinfully fast. Before proving his worth as an invaluable driver, Daigh showcased his mechanical inclinations as he built up Chevy small-blocks with displacements of over 300ci to be dropped into the Mk I and its followers.
Only the very first Scarab, 001, was built to Mk I specifications. The other two Sports-Racers, also built in 1958, were Mk II-spec vehicles. Numbered 002 and 003, they were modifications of the original Mk I theme. They were right-hand-drive in order to place the drivers at the inside of most turns on a clockwise track. Their space frames were revised and strengthened, and they had a widened rear track. It would be a Mk II that Daigh would drive to the most spectacular victory of any Scarab.
At 1958's Riverside Grand Prix, it was already known that the Scarabs were quick. Their thrilling success in that race, though, could not have been foreseen. Daigh had piloted a Scarab to victory at Reno the same year, passing Reventlow at the race's end. Reventlow ended up losing control of the car and, openly displaying one of the greatest flaws of his character, grew very frustrated with Daigh for beating him. That win led up to Daigh's impressive Riverside win. Beating Phil Hill in a Ferrari as well as many other notable racers in equally notable vehicles, Daigh and his Scarab grabbed first-place in front of an ecstatic crowd of 100,000.
The Mk II Sports-Racers were sold shortly afterwards to finance new products. They continued to be raced with success for the ensuing years. Scarab 001 had a somewhat different fate. It was taken off the racetrack by Reventlow, who had it modified for street use so that he could drive it as his personal car. Road & Track referred to 001 as 'America's Finest Sports Car' as it reported on Reventlow's roadworthy racer in 1959. The Scarab legend had been created, and even RAI's later failures couldn't take away from the powerful story of how a group of spirited Americans took on the world's best and won.
Pace, Harold, and Mark Brinker. Vintage American Road Racing Cars, 1950-1970. Illustrated. MBI Publishing Company, 2004. Print.
McPartland, Tam. 'The Scarabs.' Tam's Old Racecar Site Web.3 Jun 2009. http://www.tamsoldracecarsite.net/Scarab.html.
'Scarab History.' Scarab Motorsports Web.3 Jun 2009. http://www.scarab-motorsports.com/scarab_history.php.By Evan Acuña
Chassis Num: 003
During the production of the Scarab Sports Roadster, European sports car rules were changed to permit only engines up to 183 cubic inches. This made the Scarab's small block Chevy 283 cubic-inch V8 obsolete. Other engines were tried but were met with....[continue reading]
Of the eight Scarab racers built, the brain children of 22-year old Lance Reventlow - whose father was a European count, whose mother was heiress to the Woolworth fortune, and whose wife at the time was actress Jill St. John - four were astounding su....[continue reading]