Category archives: Vehicle Profiles

Classic Profile: Mercedes 710 Type SS

The Mercedes 710 Type SS in Bayreuth, Germany,  in 1937 | courtesy of the author
The Mercedes 710 Type SS in Bayreuth, Germany, in 1937 | courtesy of the author

Sometimes a picture reveals more than what first appears. What drew me to this picture is the Mercedes 710 Type SS. Looking almost new, this car was still something special a decade after its manufacture and clearly seems well cared for.

The Mercedes W06, as the factory designated it, Type SS was the top of the line for Mercedes street cars at the time. Only 111 Type SS cars were made between 1928 and 1933. Offered with two versions of the potent 7.1-liter supercharged straight-six engine, the car makes up to 170 horsepower before the supercharger kicks in – boosting the output yet another 55 horsepower. The supercharger on these cars engages at higher RPM, thus one must be quite determined to drive it at its limits.

This car pictured here looks to be wearing a Sindelfingen body – Sindelfingen was a subsidiary of Mercedes at the time – and if you look closely, you’ll also note that this car appears to have flag holders at the front corners.

Which brings us to the darker side of this story. This picture was taken in Bayreuth, Germany, in 1937. Bayreuth today is known for its annual festival celebrating the German composer Richard Wagner. But in 1937, Bayreuth was the center of Nazi power in the Bavarian region.

The first Nazi party leader in the region was Hans Schemm, and he was known to have acquired a Mercedes 710 Type SS in 1932. Schemm died in 1935 but his car still exists, on display at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. Is this the Schemm car seen in 1937? Regardless, it’s tragic that this triumph of German engineering is forever linked with the tyranny of the Nazis.

Classic Profile: 1916 Hudson Super-Six factory racer

The 1916 Hudson Super-Six factory special at Daytona | Courtesy of the author
The 1916 Hudson Super-Six factory special at Daytona | Courtesy of the author

Since its beginnings in 1909, Hudson had gone racing to prove the merits of its cars. In 1916 came the introduction of Hudson’s Super-Six and with it a significant increase in horsepower over the previous Model Six-40. The Super-Six had a number of innovations, chief among them the use of a counter-balanced crankshaft, which helped the engine achieve 76 horsepower.

Hudson built a few “specials” to promote their new model and enlisted the help of veteran race driver “smiling” Ralph Mulford to put the cars through their paces. On April 10, 1916, Mulford drove the Hudson to a new mile record at Daytona, achieving 102.53 miles per hour. During this American Automobile Association-sanctioned event, Mulford and the Hudson set a new American mark for a stock car chassis over a straightaway mile.

This is a new record for man and machine.”

The Hudson Triangle, The Hudson Motor Car Company’s internal newsletter, would report on yet another achievement: “A Hudson Super-Six stock chassis was driven by Ralph Mulford 1,819 miles in 24 hours, that average speed being 75.8 per mile for every hour of the 24. This is a new record for man and machine.” Mulford would follow this with a win in August at the inaugural Peaks Peak Hill Climb, where he would set a time of 18:24.70 – a record that would stand for eight years.

Hudson’s Super-Six would turn out to be a popular model and the company would continue to use the name through the 1949 model year. Ralph Mulford would move on to promote other manufacturers, including another record run, this time for Paige-Detroit at Daytona in 1920.

Hudson struggled against the “big three” American manufacturers as an independent yet was one of the few automobile companies to survive the Great Depression. In 1954, Hudson finally merged with Nash-Kelvinator to form American Motors. Although the Hudson name would be retired, American Motors soldiered on into the 1980s.

Classic Profile: The 1936 Vanderbilt Cup race revival

‘Smiling’ Ralph Mulford in the 1914 Stutz Bearcat for the 1936 “Old-Timers” exhibition | Courtesy of the author
‘Smiling’ Ralph Mulford in the 1914 Stutz Bearcat for the 1936 “Old-Timers” exhibition | Courtesy of the author

In 1936, George W. Vanderbilt III banded together with Boston Braves owner George Marshall, and Eddie Rickenbacker, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to revive a major event from the early days of motorsports, the Vanderbilt Cup.

The Vanderbilt Cup was founded by William K. Vanderbilt (George W. Vanderbilt’s uncle) in 1904. America’s first international motor racing event, it attracted the best cars and drivers from around the world. Running sporadically through 1917, the race was idle until 1936 when the group lead by George W. built the Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury, New York, to stage the event.

America was still in the grips of the Great Depression and the organizers knew they needed to put on a great show to draw an audience. A large purse enticed leading drivers and teams from Europe and America. Additionally, a bit of history was added with an “Old Timers” exhibition race before the actual Vanderbilt Cup competition.

George Robertson, the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup winner — driving the Locomobile affectionately named “Old Sixteen” that was the first American car to win an international motor race – was made vice president of the event. Robertson, who was instrumental in the design and development of the Roosevelt Raceway, turned to his old racing buddies and paired them up with “vintage” racecars for the Old Timers exhibition prior to the start of the actual Vanderbilt Cup race.

Ralph DePalma in a 1914 Mercer Raceabout | Courtesy of the author
Ralph DePalma in the Mercer Raceabout | Courtesy of the author

“Old Sixteen”, the car the Robertson drove to victory in 1908, was brought out, as was a 1914 Mercer Raceabout for racing legend Ralph DePalma. Smith Hempstone Oliver’s 1914 Stutz Bearcat was also invited – piloted by the great American racer Ralph Mulford. Smith Hempstone Oliver would go on to curate the Smithsonian’s automobile collection and author many books on automobiles.

Ralph Mulford is often remembered for ending up in second place in the disputed finish of the inaugural running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Mulford won the Vanderbilt Cup that same year and would go on the claim to National Drivers championship in 1911 and again in 1918.

Nicknamed “Smiling” Ralph Mulford by the motor press, he was described as a true gentleman and said to be a crowd favorite among the many drivers of his day.

Mulford’s career started as a demonstration driver for the Lozier Motor Company of Detroit. When Lozier entered racing around 1907, Mulford became the factory’s driver. Mulford would win the 24-hour race at Point Breeze (outside Philadelphia) and the Elgin Trophy Race, among others, for Lozier.

After parting company with Lozier, Mulford set endurance and speed record for Hudson and Paige before retiring from racing in late 1920s. However, as this image attests, he stayed active and happily interested in racing throughout his life. Mulford passed away in 1973 at his home in New Jersey at the age of 89.

The presence of Ralph DePalma at the 1936 race was a major draw for motorsports fans, and it was no wonder that Vanderbilt called on him to headline the Old-Timers historic event. Few American race drivers have had a career the equal of DePalma’s, who crossed the finish line first an estimated 2,000 times in a career that spanned 27 years.

Among the triumphs for DePalma (1882-1956): four American National Driving Championships, two Elgin Trophies, the 1914 Vanderbilt Cup, a land speed record in 1919 and 10 starts at Indy that included winning the 1915 race while driving for Mercedes.

DePalma had driven for the Mercer team back in the day and the 1914 Raceabout, looking a bit worse for wear, was supplied by Socony-Vacuum Oil Company (later Standard Oil) for DePalma to drive in the Old Timers race. This Mercer would later be given to James Melton, the Jay Leno of his day, by the oil company. Today, the car remains in the long-term care of its Florida owner.

The Vanderbilt Cup race was run on October 12th, 1936, with the legendary Tazio Nuvolari driving a Scuderia Ferrari-entered Alfa Romero claiming victory.

But despite the expansive efforts of its organizers, the second-generation of the Vanderbilt Cup would be short-lived. After the 1936 revival, it was held for just one more year in 1937 before shutting down for good.

Classic Profile: The Mighty Cadillac V16

A 1931 Cadillac 452A V16 Fleetwood is shown off on the beach in the 1930s | Courtesy of the author
A 1931 Cadillac 452A V16 Fleetwood is shown off on the beach in this vintage photo | Courtesy of the author

In the enthusiasm of the late 1920’s, Cadillac developed its trend-setting 16-cylinder engine of 452 cubic inches – developing 175 horsepower.

While it is true that Packard introduced the landmark Twin-Six, its 12-cylinder engine, in the 1916 model year, it was the Cadillac V16 that set off the American “cylinder wars” at a time when car sales were plummeting due to the escalating economic depression.

Even in those difficult times, many American luxury brands join the fray, including Marmon with its V16, Auburn and its 12-cylinder engines, as well as Packard’s re-introduction of the Twin-Six in 1932.

Not to be outdone, Pierce-Arrow and Franklin introduced V12’s, and Lincoln joined in as well. Although it’s hard to image today, these larger engines were not developed for performance but rather for increased torque and reduced vibration. They were intended to pull long-wheelbase, formal cars as smoothly and with as little noise as possible.

Introduced in January 1930, roughly 2,000 16-cylinder cars were sold by Cadillac in the first year. Sales dropped off quickly, although amazingly Cadillac continued production through 1937 and then re-designed their V16. These later 16-cylinder cars were sold through 1940 in very small numbers.

The 1931 Cadillac shown here in a period photograph wears a 1932 New Jersey license plate and is proudly being shown-off on the broad beaches of the Atlantic shore. As with the majority of first-series 16-cylinder Cadillacs, this car wears a Fleetwood body. The Fleetwood company was founded in 1909 in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, and would be purchased by the Fisher Body Company in 1925. In 1931, General Motors absorbed Fisher/Fleetwood and moved the company to Detroit.

This car wears Fleetwood style number 4376, which was probably made in Pennsylvania prior to the move to Detroit. Originally priced at $5,950, this was one of more than 50 different body styles offered for the V16. What’s interesting about this car is that it was ordered without the typical side-mount spare tires and without the more common wire wheels. Only 98 units of this body style were produced and at least one is known to survive today.

Classic Profile: Packard Model 30 Runabout

The original owner proudly displays his 1907 Packard Model 30 Runabout, chassis 3924  | Courtesy of the author
The original owner proudly displays his 1907 Packard Model 30 Runabout | Courtesy of the author

Packard is one of the most highly regarded brands from the classic era, with roots going back to the very beginning of the 20th Century. Although the automaker is revered today for bold luxury cars, it’s not often remembered for its early days when Packard built sporting cars.

Packard, like many other manufacturers of the age, did produce what we would today call a sports car. The cars were expensive and highly prized by “gentlemen racers,” who campaigned them all around the country.

Packard entered its cars in tests of endurance right from the beginning. But in 1906 with the release of the Model 24 Runabout, the company turned to tests of speed. Introduced in 1907, the Model 30 succeeded the Model 24 and really put the company on the map.

With an increased wheelbase and greater horsepower, the Model 30 was offered as a touring car, limousine or a “high-powered” runabout. A 4-cylinder engine (cast in pairs), with a bore of 5 inches and a stroke of 5½ inches, powered the car and developed close to 60 horsepower at 650 rpm. Few American cars could match the Packard Model 30 Runabout in 1907, with Simplex, Lozier and Thomas being the primary competitors.

It should be noted that Packard used the European “taxable horsepower” system to denote the horsepower of their cars. In the early days of motoring, many European countries, and a number of American states, based the cost of licensing passenger cars on a calculation of horsepower. “Taxable horsepower” was computed slightly differently in each region, but was based on the number of cylinders and their dimensions (bore).

In an effort to reduce the tax levied, the “taxable horsepower” was always stated as less than the actual. Thus Packard’s use of “30” in the model name.

After the release of the company’s groundbreaking Twin-Six in 1915, the first American production 12-cylinder car, Packard shied away from building sporting cars. Soon after, the last of their factory-sponsored racing efforts ceased as well. With the possible exception of the Model 734 Speedster, Packard concentrated on the luxury market.

The Horseless Age of June 12, 1907, states, “The Packard Motor Car Company, of Detroit, announces the completion of the 1907 output of 1,129 cars twenty-nine days ahead of the schedule prepared nine months in advance.”

Although the panic of 1907 slowed automobile sales, this production total boosted Packard to the eighth largest manufacturer that year, just below Cadillac and Franklin.

The car pictured here, believed to be chassis 3924, was cherished by its original owner – as the photo would suggest. Known today only as Mr. Shaw of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he kept his prized possession until 1940 when the esteemed collector of early Packards, Rod Blood, purchased the car in wonderful original condition.

Blood would drive the car often, and it is said that this car was his favorite among his 30 or so Packards. When he passed in 1966, the car found its way through a number of well-know collections. The car now remains in New England, where it has spent its entire life.

Classic Profile: The Kissel Speedster

Gene Husting with his 1920 Kissel 6-45 Speedster in a 1950s-era photo | Courtesy of Steve Evans
Gene Husting with his 1920 Kissel 6-45 Speedster in a 1950s-era photo | Courtesy of Steve Evans

The Kissel Motor Car Company may not be a well-recognized marque today, but it is owed a debt of gratitude from every red-blooded American car guy.

The reason is the company’s introduction in 1919 of its Speedster (later nicknamed the Gold Bug Speedster) which cemented in the American mindset the idea of the sports car.

No, Kissel wasn’t the first to sell a sports car, but it did give rise to the sporting trend of automobiles in the Roaring 20’s. From those days forward, the idea of sports cars has lived on here in America, and today’s car buyers arguably have the best selection of sports cars ever offered.

The idea for the Kissel Speedster actually came about through the activities of some of New York’s automobile dealers. It was popular at the time to create custom bodies for certain cars on the showroom floor, providing something unique for their upscale clientele. Many brands were subject to this “customizing” and it’s written that New York car dealer Conover T. Silver originated the design that would be adopted by Kissel. In 1917, Silver added the Kissel line to his dealership and his custom designs to Kissel chassis.

It was reported in the February 6, 1919, issue of The Motor Age, “New York dealers have found it extremely profitable to have special bodies built practically creating a new line of cars such as the Silver-Apperson or Silver-Kissel . . . Some of the special bodies and painting jobs included a Kissel roadster of sporty type in canary yellow.”

Apparently, Kissel saw the value of this sporty style and adopted it, largely unchanged, for the 1919 model year. The Speedster was listed for $2,850 in 1920 and featured a side-valve 6-cylinder engine and Houck wire wheels. Priced roughly midway between a Ford and a Cadillac, Kissel is said to have sold around 100 Speedsters that first year.

The Kissel Motor Car Company also offered a sedan, coupe, and touring in 1920. Additionally, Kissel as with a number of other automobile manufacturers of the day, had a commercial division that produced trucks.

However, the Hartford, Wis., company would end up yet another victim of the Great Depression and closed its doors in 1930.  Today, the Kissel Gold Bug Speedster (almost always seen in yellow) is prized by collectors for its unique sporty style and performance. In fact, this very car (chassis 451964) was offered in 2013 at RM Auction’s Hershey sale — bid to $140,000 it was a no-sale.

The car pictured here is said to have spent 37 years in the family of the first owner, Charles Bent of Rhode Island, who originally purchased the car to take his new bride on their honeymoon to Niagara Falls. Seems not much has changed over the years.

Vehicle Profile: Lamborghini Diablo VT

The 1st-gen Lamborghini “Diablo VT” was breathtaking to behold and is arguably one of the most beautiful, sexy and extremely-fast, exotic-supercars ever produced! This over-the-top, almost-as-fast-as-a-speeding-bullet, as aerodynamically perfect as anything earthbound could be, fire-breathing beast was designed by the infamous and proud Marcello Gandini, who had also designed the two predecessors in line to the “Diablo”, the Miura and the Countach.  The “Diablo” moniker was drawn from Spanish history and was the name of a famously ferocious, 19th century, fighting bull, which was owned and raised by the “Duke of Veragua”, who also happened to be the grandson and heir of Christopher Columbus! The edict was sent from the top brass at the time (around June of 1985) to design a vehicle that could reach a top speed of 315km/hr (approx. 196 mph, for us metrically challenged folk) and yet meet all the new (and ever increasing) emissions standards and safety regulations of the day. Rumor has it, that after the Chrysler Corporation had taken over ownership of Lamborghini in 1987, (which was right in the midst of designing the “Diablo”) they frowned at the angular design of the new model ( maybe to much like the Countach?) and had their designers in Detroit take a hand at smoothing-out the aggressive angles by massaging the bodywork into a more curvaceous look.

Zero to 60 mph took just over 4 seconds and handling was unbelievably well-controlled, even under the most lead-footed of handlers, due to the perfectly-balanced weight distribution of the rear-facing, mid-engine and “VT” all-wheel-drive system, which automatically/electronically (or manually, depending on how the driver had the controls set) switched traction to the front wheels in the instance the rear wheels broke loose. Even though the “Diablo” overall was larger, wider, stronger and thus heavier than the “Countach”, it was still the fastest production car in the world at the time of it’s debut in 1990. The body was uniquely designed as well, using steel, composite and aluminum panels and retained those tell-tale Lamborghini “scissor-style” doors which opened straight up and angled forward out of the way. The new Lamborghini “Diablo” was also outfitted with more creature comforts and refinements than ever before but remained an icon of all that is Italian in supercar motoring and still draws a crowd every time one is seen in public.

Vehicle Profile: Chevrolet Camaro

Chevrolet Camaro

Sometime during April of 1965, long before any official announcement was made by General Motors’ Chevrolet Division, reports had begun circulating that Chevrolet was preparing to build a vehicle code-named “Panther” in the newly identified Pony/Musclecar category. This mysterious new vehicle was intended to compete directly with the highly successful Ford Mustang. The Ford Mustang was introduced in late 1964, as a “new for” 1965 model, and received rave reviews and huge sales numbers. Not to be outdone . . . GM had an ace up their sleeve to face this Ford rival, head on.

Chevrolet sent the first of two telegrams to 200+ automotive journalists on June 21, 1966, announcing their plans for the “Panther”, using very mysterious language. The first telegram read something to the effect of: “Please save noon of June 28, 1966 for important S.E.P.A.W. meeting. Hope you can be on hand to help. Details will follow .” The telegram was signed by John L. Cutter, Chevrolet Public Relations and S.E.P.A.W. Secretary. On the following day, the same group of journalists received another telegram to the effect of: “Society for the Eradication of Panthers from the Automotive World will hold first and last meeting on June 28. The (insert city name here) chapter will meet at (insert hotel name here) joining in a national 14 city live telephone conference with Detroit based , Chevrolet General Manager, E. M. “Pete” Estes. Please R.S.V.P. by telephone, etc….”.  This second telegram was also signed by John L. Cutter. Both of the telegrams left many automotive journalists puzzled at the time because none of them had ever heard of S.E.P.A.W. before the two telegrams were sent.

By June 28th, the industry was buzzing with anticipation and excitement about this big, strange meeting. Chevrolet’s General Manager, Pete Estes, would have some fun with this secretive game and make the announcement himself. Now, back in 1966, they used quite a cutting edge means of reaching more people collectively, in the Automotive Journalism society, than ever before possible. Rather than forcing all the 200+ journalists to make a trip to Detroit, GM utilized a new technological advancement by the Bell Telephone Company called two-way conference calling. It was the first time in history that 14 cities were connected together in real time for a press conference via telephone.

After a brief speech about how well things were going for General Motors and how they intended to remain the number one automotive manufacturer in the USA, Mr. Estes then said “Oh yes! I almost forgot! The purpose of this meeting! . . . Gentlemen, as much as we appreciate the tremendous publicity given “Panther” we ask you to help scratch the cat once and forever. And as such, this will be both the FIRST and the LAST meeting of S.E.P.A.W.! Chevrolet has chosen a name which is lithe, graceful, and in keeping with our other car names beginning with the letter “C”, it suggests the comradeship of good friends, as a personal car should be to its owner! Above all, it is the name of our new car line to be introduced on September 29, 1966! To us, at GM, the name means just what we think the car will do . . . GO! ….and here it is!”

At that moment, five beautiful girls came onto the stage, each holding a letter, while Mr. Estes held the sixth letter. While a narrator described to the out-of-towners, that could not see what was going on, Mr. Estes placed each girl in order and then lined up with them for all to see the word CAMARO. There was excitement and amazement and yet many were still puzzled at what it meant and what exactly was a CAMARO? The Product Managers, who fielded the many questions after the announcement about this peculiar, yet immediately likable name, only said (as smug as possible), it is “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs”.

And so, later that year, on Sept. 12, 1966 in Detroit, MI, the new Camaro was unveiled to rave reviews and an eagerly awaiting public hungry for their own GM produced pony/musclecar. And, as stated at the mysterious meeting back in June, the cars were available at Chevrolet Dealerships across the country on or about Sept. 29,1966.

Alrighty then… now for some details about the First Generation (1967 to 1969) Camaro or F-Body (a platform also shared with the new Pontiac Firebird) which was a built on a front-engined, rear-wheel drive platform and only available as a 2-door coupe or convertible. A wide variety of engines were available, ranging from the 230-cid L6 to the ultra rare optioned ZL1 (only 69 were ever made and only for the 1969 year model), drag-race ready, aluminum block 427-cid, big-block V8, or COPO 9560 (Central Office Production Orders) package, which added over $4,000 to the sticker price, which was a lot of money back then. But oh, what fun it must have been to stuff your foot into that one. There were actually over a dozen (14) different engines available during the first three years of Camaro production and some were only available to a choice few specifically for racing purposes.

Some of the available options, such as the RS, was an appearance package that included hidden headlights, revised taillights, RS badging, and exterior rocker trim. The SS, which included a 350-cid V8 engine or the optional L35 and L78 396-cid big-block V8 was also available in SS package. The SS also featured non-functional air inlets on the hood, special striping and SS badging on the grille, front fenders, gas cap, and horn button.  It was even possible to order both the SS and RS packages together to make a Camaro RS/SS. In 1967, a Camaro RS/SS convertible with a 396-cid V8 engine, paced the Indianapolis 500.

The Z28 option code which was introduced in December 1966 for the 1967 model year was the brainchild of Vince Piggins. He conceived offering a virtually race-ready Camaro which could be offered for sale from any Chevrolet dealer. This option package was not mentioned in any sales literature, so it was unknown to most buyers and dealers for that matter. The Z28 option required power front disc brakes and a Muncie 4-speed manual transmission be installed on these models. It also featured a 302-cid small-block V8 engine, an aluminum intake manifold, and a 4-barrel, vacuum-secondary Holley carburetor. Only 602 Z28s were sold in 1967, along with approximately 100 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Replicas. The origin of the Z28 nameplate came from the RPO (Regular Production Option) codes – RPO Z27 was for the Super Sport package, and RPO Z28, at the time, was the code for a Special Performance Package intended to compete in the Trans Am racing series of the day. Many Camaro’s are raced, and very successfully I might add, in various forms and venues all over the world to this day.

There have been five generations in the life of the Camaro, with a brief hiatus in production from 2003 to 2009, with the awesome, retro-looking fifth generation Camaro making it’s debut in 2010. During the First Generation production run from 1967 to 1969, a total of 699,538 Camaros were made. You know what that means . . . there is a good chance that your favorite model, options and color are still out there and available for purchase .

Oh, hey, did I ever answer the question of the meaning of the Camaro name? When pressed for an answer, over a year later (sometime in 1967), as to how he came up with the name Camaro (which actually means friend, pal or comrade) from a list of over 2,000 words of which to choose, Mr. Estes laughed and casually admitted, “I locked myself in a closet and came back out with Camaro”!

Vehicle Profile: The Scarab

1958 Scarab

One of the most successful, purpose-built race cars in American history has to be the legendary, Reventlow Automobile’s Scarab.  Named America’s Finest Sports Car by the influential “Road and Track” magazine, this beautifully sculpted, aluminum bodied race car was born in the mind of an amazingly talented young man named Count Lawrence Graf von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow (or Lance Reventlow, as he preferred to be known).

Born in 1936, he was the only child of Danish nobleman Count Kurt von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow and American socialite Barbara Hutton. He was born at Winfield House in London, which was built by his mother and named for her grandfather Frank Winfield Woolworth who created immense wealth with his chain of stores by the name of F.W. Woolworth’s Five and Dime. His parents’ marriage was a tumultuous one, filled with his father’s emotional and physical abuse of both Lance and his mother, along with his mother’s growing alcohol and drug addiction.

Barbara Hutton, who had inherited the Woolworth department store fortune and was also the daughter of the extremely successful Franklin Laws Hutton of E.F. Hutton fame, was then one of the wealthiest women in the world. The marriage to the Count, Barbara Hutton’s second of seven, did not last and young Lance became the subject of a bitter custody battle. Left to be raised by nannies and boarding schools, Lance Reventlow was six years old when his mother married the world-famous actor, Cary Grant, who took the already troubled boy under his wing. Reventlow’s mother and Grant, unfortunately, divorced on July 11, 1945 and two days later the then nine-year-old was abducted by his biological father and taken to Canada but later returned. Grant remained close to Reventlow, who spent a great deal of time in the Los Angeles area. In fact, by the age of 30, Lance’s mother had been married and divorced a total of seven times.

Given his tumultuous upbringing and fortunate, young Lance had a love for all things mechanical and especially fast cars, racing and airplanes. On a trip to Europe in 1957, with his friend Bruce Kessler, they enjoyed touring all the race venues, renting race cars and even entering a few events. They visited all the top European race factories, including the very successful Cunningham Team’s Lister-Jaguar headquarters. Lance, then 21 years old, saw nothing they were doing in Europe, that couldn’t be done back home in the USA. So he decided to get back to California and start his own racing company. Upon his return home, he immediately set up his company, Reventlow Automobiles, in (Venice) North Hollywood, CA and told his chief mechanic and good friend, Warren Olson, to hire a Dream Team of the best designers and builders of the time to create the race car he had envisioned in his mind, specifically with the idea to beat the big boys from Europe at their own game.

His team, which included the likes of former Kurtis fabricators Dick Troutman and Tom Barnes and engine guru’s Jim Travers and Frank Coon, who would later form TRACO. Lance also called on the help of legendary racer and designer Ken Miles to design the chassis. The final piece of the puzzle was Chuck Daigh, who was hired as both a driver and drivetrain specialist. Lance had one big advantage over the European sourced competition . . . he could build a car specifically for American style stop and go racetracks, which were quite different than their much faster European counterparts.

With this in mind, he asked for a race car that was compact, lightweight and above all, able to put its power to the ground very well. Inspired by the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, Ken Miles penned a design for a space-aged frame with enough room for Olson and his men to make their own mechanical design interpretations. The suspension was equally advanced with double wishbones at the front and DeDion axle at the rear. Making an American built race car meant he had to make a compromise and use drum brakes instead of the superior British disc brake systems. The only inconsistency, or non-American component, was the Morris sourced rack-and-pinion steering gear.

The very American Corvette V8 formed the basis for the Scarab’s powerplant. Although by the time Travers and Coon were done with the engine, it was a very different beast altogether. The first order of business was to increase displacement from the original 4.6L (283 c.i.) to 5.5L (339 c.i.) by boring and stroking the little V8. The enlarged displacement engine was even equipped with the advanced-design Hilborn FI unit and the intake manifold sported eight very stylish intake trumpets splayed at all different angles. With all these modifications in place, the V8 was good for anywhere between 360 and 385 bhp, most of which was available from very low rpm’s. The engine was then mated to a Borg-Warner 4-speed gearbox, which had a lightweight aluminum casing. An amazingly curvaceous, aluminum body was styled by then 19-year old Art Center school student Chuck Pelly, which rounded off the sexy package. The completed machine weighed in at a very competitive 1,900 pounds.

The very first prototype, dubbed the MK1, rolled out of the garage early in 1958, incredibly, only a few short months after the team had been assembled and was named Scarab. The name, chosen by Lance himself, was in reference to the Scarab dung beetle of Egypt, which was considered sacred in ancient times. Although not immediately successful, by June of 1958 and for many years after, the Scarabs dominated the racing world and even beat the previously dominant European teams, here in the USA, at some of the most famous venues and exciting races of all time. Scarabs were successfully piloted over the following years by such greats as Carroll Shelby and Augie Pabst (When Lance exited the racing scene in 1962, he leased his facility to Mr. Shelby).

Tragedy surrounded Lance much of his young life and early in his career.  He had became close friends with fellow auto enthusiast and promising actor, James Dean. They even competed in club events all around California and on September 30, 1955 Lance was one of the last people to speak to Dean, when they met on their way to an auto race in Salinas CA. Dean was killed a few hours later in his racing Porsche 550 Spyder.

In 1964, Lance married ex-Mouseketeer, Cheryl Holdridge, who was introduced to him by close friend, singer Jimmy Boyd. The couple managed to remain out of the glare of publicity for several years and attempted to carry on a somewhat normal life. An avid Alpine skier, hiker, sailor and pilot, Lance and his wife,Cheryl, maintained a home in Aspen, CO. It was there, in 1972, while looking at an area to build a ski resort with real estate brokers and an inexperienced young pilot, Lance’s promising young life of only 36 years, would be cut short. According to the NTSB report, Lance was a passenger in a Cessna 206 and unknown to him (Lance was a fully rated instrument, multi engine, commercial pilot with thousands of hours under his belt) the Cessna’s pilot was an inexperienced 27-year-old student who flew into a blind canyon and stalled the aircraft while trying to turn it around. The small plane plunged to the ground, killing Lance Reventlow and all others aboard.

Stay tuned to see “Part 2″, the future of the awesome Scarab automobile…..

Vehicle Profile: The Scarab – Part 2

Thanks to the efforts, admiration, fond memories and sheer determination of Mr. Richard Kitzmiller, president and founder of Kansas based Scarab Motorsports, LLC, ( the amazingly successful, Holy Grail of America Racing History and the original 1958 creation of young Lance Reventlow has been born again. He wanted to remain as close to the original design as possible (by making only a few safety and structural upgrades) in order to honor and maintain the integrity and historical significance of a true legend, which had been created by the vehicle’s designers some 50 years ago.

Mr. Kitzmiller, as Lance had done, assembled a group of rabid motorsports enthusiasts, engineers and designers. They collaborated to re-create, from the original specifications, a modernized continuation line of Scarab front engined race cars for your enjoyment on the street or track. He successfully revived, in true form, the very cars that dominated the racing world, tracks and teams of their hey-day.

Every aspect of the original masterpiece has been painstakingly re-created with only a few modernization updates. These minor updates (which are actually major when compared to the antiquated components used on the originals), are mainly for structural and safety reasons, as well as to utilize current technology. They are, however, difficult to detect from the original by the average admirer, but are easy to spot by a trained professional or a concours judge. These continuation Scarabs are built to exacting specifications and include a strong foundation consisting of a hand-built, tig-welded 4130 Chrom-Moly tube frame, Corvette C-6 uprights and hubs, fitted with custom upper and lower control arms, Wilwood 4-piston calipers and 12.19 inch brake discs front and rear, with a Winters Quick-Change rear differential (very similar to the original used, but much more serviceable) and independent rear suspension.

This re-creation of a legend, features a beautifully hand crafted, curvaceous body, in right or left hand drive configuration, using the most durable aircraft aluminum by skilled artisans of metallurgy in Poland and then shipped to the USA for assembly to the completed, rolling chassis. It also comes with a variety of options including leather interior, roll bar, tire upgrades, custom paint selections, and much more, up to and including a period correct Hilborn FI system. This allows you to personally design the updated Scarab most suited to your individual needs, with all the visual beauty of the original car.

The continuation SCV (Scarab Component Vehicle) from Scarab Motorsports, LLC, is offered as a rolling chassis that does not include an engine, transmission, drive shaft, exhaust system, or battery. The rolling chassis does include standard paint in a choice of two blues with traditional white scallop. Because there are many choices in the powertrain department for your Scarab, they leave that up to the individual to decide upon how they intend to use the vehicle. Many options to complete your personalized Scarab are offered by the company. By exotic car measures, the new Scarab is comparably affordable and considering the fine details, hand-craftsmanship and high-quality components included, you really get a lot for your money.

So, If you want to own a real piece of racing history for yourself, your family and your friends to enjoy and admire, or if you just want to regain your youth and enter the SVRA Racing circuit, there is no better time, nor more exciting vehicle, than the new Scarab.