Peter Revson (1939 - 1974) : The bitter End of a wonderful Dream

Thirty years ago, when you had a look onto the list of drivers competing at the beginning of the season, you knew pretty sure, that after one name, possibly two ones, you would have to put a deathly cross behind at the end of the year. That was the reality and accepted by society. Surely, Grand Prix Racing always had been less dangerous than most of the other categories in international motorsport, but the Grand Prix drivers of those days were also competing in a lot of other races being paid sums of starting money of extraordinary quality because of their popularity. Peter Revson, born in 1939 in the first year of World War II, always had considered racing in his American home country as fulfilling a national duty. A victory in the Indianapolis 500 was a war to be won in his opinion. Thank God he never had been in Vietnam. Brett Lunger, who had done so, had got different experiences concerning that.

In 1974 Grand Prix Racing had lost two drivers, Peter Revson at the very beginning of the season and young Austrian Helmut Koinigg, who had studied sports and communication science, writing his thesis, at the end at Watkins Glen. There could not have been a greater contrast.

Peter Jeffrey Revson is only the fifth Grand Prix winner coming from the United States of America. Richie Ginther and Dan Gurney had won races, Phil Hill, after the death of Wolfgang von Trips, and Mario Andretti, as a boy fled from the communists at the Eastern part of Italy together with his family, also had become world champions. But in most cases European orientated Grand Prix Racing alsways has been a little strange to the Americans. The Americans, says great German US-expert Peter Loesche, really are no transatlantic Europeans. Revson, born in New York, had studied at the Cornell University like his later McLaren boss Dr Edward E. (Teddy) Mayer. Revson had lived at Hawaii before coming to Europe in 1963. Then, during the seventies Redondo Beach in the sun state of California was his home. Confronted with his origin of the Revlon cosmetics dynasty (who were later advertising with German super model Claudia Schiffer for many years), Peter Revson not always reacted very happily. Revson´s father and uncle really had been the co-founders of of the group, but his father already had retired from the company´s board of directors in 1958. Peter Revson himself had never been involved in the company´s business, in spite the tabloit newspapers saying something different. The Yardley sponsor contract for McLaren during the years of 1972 up to 1974 really had different reasons: Revlon was an independent group, Yardley belonged to British American Tobacco.

Once, really only once, Peter Revson had driven a Cooper in Formula Junior for Uncle Ken Tyrrell. The first, not complete year in Grand Prix Racing in the private Lotus B.R.M. team of Reginald Parnell with Chris Amon and Mike Hailwood as his team mates was influenced by total chaos, but also by the joy of life of the Swinging Sixties in London. It was the time of the Beatles and Twiggy, the super slim model, all girls tried to imitate with the consequence of taking great risks for their health. The Dutton Road Flyers, where Revson, Amon, Hailwood, journalist Eoin S. Young also Tony Maggs and a certain Frank Williams were residing, were a commune of pretty fame. Far away from Europe, in South East Asia Lyndon B. Johnson sent 50 000 of GIs into death practically from the school desk. Paul Hardcastle´s famous song Nineteen with the mashine gun fire in the background set them a memorial. In 1965 Peter Revson drove Formula 2 and 3 for Ron Harris, he won the little Grand Prix of Monaco, at that time the best option for a career in Grand Prix Racing. But there had been something making that stagnate in a certain form, the offers of the great works teams, expected by Revson, never happened, and the man from the new world went back to his home country very frustrated. In 1967 he lost his brother Doug in a Formula 3 race at Danish Roskilde near Copenhagen. During the following years America´s colours were represented by Dan Gurney (by his own construction Eagle Weslake) and by Mario Andretti (at Lotus, March and Ferrari).

To return to American motorsport, especially sportscar racing, became more difficult, than Revson had expected. A works contract with McLaren failed by a lack of sponsor money, of course. But at least Revson drove some races for John Wyer. Together with Steve McQueen, also being an excellent racing automobilist, Revson became second in the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring in an underdog private Porsche 908. From this point he was back again. Peter Gethin, who had taken over the cockpits of Bruce McLaren after his death in June 1970, pretty fast lost the job again in CanAm; the son of a champion jockey always was fast but also unconsistent. At that time McLaren was the greatest racing team in the world, two of the bright-yellow works cars with the Kiwi at their sides were on the grid of Formula One, CanAm and USAC (later called CART). In 1971 Peter Revson was on pole position to come home second place in a McLaren Offenhauser; with a McLaren Chevrolet (and Coca Cola as co-sponsor) he won the highly paid CanAm the same year. Ken Tyrrell, never denying own wrong decisions, took him back to Grand Prix Racing at the side of world champion Jackie Stewart and lieutenant Francois Cevert at Watkins Glen at the end of the season. Meanwhile Gethin also had been sacked by Teddy Mayer, who owned 51 per cent of McLaren, for Formula One. Now Revson was driving at the side of the McLaren prehistoric rock Denny Hulme in 1972 and 1973; after Stewart´s 1972 stomach desease also in the old and the new world : Formula One and CanAm the same time.

Peter Revson´s autobiography has got the the title Speed with Style. The man from New York was an American Graf Berghe von Trips, good-looking, fit like later Michael Schumacher, full of humour, financially independent and, of course, nearly ever surrounded by beautiful women. Marjorie Wallace, the Miss World, was his fiancč. Peter revson drove race for passion, not to earn money. The aesthete within the cockpit had two dreams in his life that pretty easily were to be realized: To become Formula One World Champion and to win the Indianapolis 500. From reaching both these goals he was not far away. The American patriot always had orientated to Europe, Revson was aristocrat and man of the world, and for this reason more popular than A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti in his home country. Both his Grand Prix victories he scored with the famous McLaren Ford M23 in Yardley livery and each und dramatic circumstances: In Silverstone there had been the great mass collision before, in Mosport had happened the greatest rain chaos in history. Peter Revson did not enter the Shadow Ford in 1974 for patriotism, but because he had no other choice.

One week, after Peter Revson had won his first ever Grand Prix in England, nine years after his debut, he was sacked by his fellow countryman Teddy Mayer. The lawyer for economic and tax rights needed the cockpit for Emerson Fittipaldi and the millions of US dollars of Marlboro and Texaco. But Ferrari, who had already had signed up with Niki Lauda, were on the search for a second star driver after being bitterly disappointed by Ickx and Merzario before. Peter Revson naturally was the ideal driver for Maranello, because Ferrari is selling more than 50 per cent of their production in the USA. Phil Hill, America´s first ever world champion, had driven a Ferrari in 1961. In Maranello there already had been printed the Lauda and Revson biographies to be sent to the media. Nobody had got doubts on the fact, the Ferrari team of 1974 would be represented by the Austrian and the American. But then details stopped the contract from being signed. It is sure, that Ferrari was not willing to release Revson for Indianapolis 500 and maybe for some other USAC races as they had done for Mario Andretti in 1971 and 1972 (what had caused enormous problems). It also might be, that Revson had haggled a little too much for money and prestige, we do not know that. Finally Dr Luca Montezemolo, the sporting director, decided to stop the negotiations with Revson. Meanwhile McLaren´s Formula One team had been divided, into the Texaco-Marlboro Division with Fittipaldi and Hulme under Teddy Mayer on the one side, and the single Yardleymac under Phil Kerr, also a lawyer, on the other. Yardley had insisted on their contract not wanting to buy theirselves out, for this reason the permanent third McLaren (that had been only a sporadic entry in 1973). For not being out of job, Peter Revson signed up for Yardley McLaren. The cosmetics group had guaranteed him an absolutely equal status to Fittipaldi and Hulme, Mayer, frustrated of the return of his sacked employée, gave him only the position of the team´s third driver. When he had heard that statement, Revson immidiately let the contract cancel.

The thing was long, wide, and thanks to the sponsor UOP, also black. There had been nearly no height like nearly at all racing cars. Don Nichols, in the early days a soldier in Korea, then a C.I.A. agent in Hong Kong, really was looking for some advice who to name his racing car, at that time in the CanAm. He discussed with his wife to get the igniting idea: Shadow. When entering Grand Prix Racing in 1973, with Briton Jackie Oliver and American George Follmer (who had won the CanAm in 1972) he had been asked for his sporting goals. The answer had been typical for Nichols: "To kill Formula One." already in the first race Follmer drove into the points, in the second event at Montjuich he was on the podium, but with nearly 40 years he simply was too old for the great Grand Prix career. Revson´s juridical problems with Ferrari and McLaren were not bad for Nichols. The All-American team (engine by Ford, tyres by Goodyear, sponsor again UOP) had been quickly established, as their second driver Shadow signed up with the fresh Frenchman Jean Pierre Jarier becoming European Formula 2 Champion the year before. At Shadow there had been no sorrows about Indianapolis 500 for Peter Revson. The 1974 hopes were high in spite of the fact Peter Revson´s thoughts were at Ferrari at that time (what he also said to Dr Montezemolo).

But in Buenos Aires Revson collided with team mate Jarier in the first lap, in Interlagos he had been only on 14th place, when he retired in lap 11 with an overheated engine. After the Race of Champions the cars had been brought to Kyalami, where, as every year, extensive testing was taking place before the Grand Prix of South Africa (that was the third round of the worldchampionship in 1974). Kyalami (in English: My Home), lying nearly 2000 metres high and northward of Johannesburgh, offered the Grand Prix family the perfect mixture between professional testing and relaxing holidays in March of each year, something you cannot imagine today. For this reason it happened very often, that some drivers were practising on the track, while others were sitting at the pool or playing table tennis. At the early evening of nearly each day and at nearly the same time a heavy tropical thunderstorm was appearing to make the sun shining again after one hour. As the only country outside the United Kingdom South Africa had got an own national Formula One Championship, many of the old warhorses like Dave Charlton, Eddie Keizan or John Love from Rhodesia also competed in their Grand Prix, because of their in most cases older cars (all forner works cars) they often started from the rows behind of the grid. With an average speed of 188 km/h Kyalami in it´s original version belonged to the faster circuits. Eight days before the Grand Prix Peter Revson made some tests for the set up of his gearbox and from the beginning on he was really fast. The Barbecue Bend is the second curve after start and finish, with 220 km/h pretty fast for the fact there really were neither run-out areas (that were created shortly before the Grand Prix) nor catch fencing, that were used in those days. The smoke coming until the nearby Ranch (the famous bungalow hotel once founded by a former KLM pilot), some minutes later the sirens of the fire brigade and the ambulance service: First many people thought, that one of the South African drivers had crashed, that it was Revson, nobody would believe in. At Revson´s car a titanium bolt at the left front suspension, that had had a routine change before, had collapsed. That part had not been produced by Shadow theirselves, but bought from a London based supplier. Revson´s Shadow Ford DN3 had crashed into the safety barrier, before the car caught fire. The American Lord died immidiately.

Klaus Ewald

 

 

Graphics by project * 2000

 

© 2004 by researchracing

 

l Home l Peter Revson l