America’s Peter Revson was killed in a Formula 1 testing accident 40 years ago. Handsome, intelligent and from a moneyed family, he had it all – and for 13 years had to battle those very same “advantages.” Only after two Formula 1 grand prix victories, a Can-Am championship, a pole position and second place at Indy, a heroic performance at Sebring alongside a Hollywood legend, and victories at Lime Rock and Monaco – in muscle car and dainty junior single-seater – was he judged on talent alone. By 1974 – even though a Ferrari deal had run aground – he had positioned himself for a final F1 push, 10 years after his Revson-portraitfirst. -Paul Fearnley
Clothes and manners were important to Peter Jeffrey Revlon Revson. Hence the title of his excellent book: Speed with Style. But that’s not to say he lacked substance.
A useful athlete – he won the swimming and tennis, clocked 12.9 for the 100 and cleaned 140lb on ABC’s Superstars show – he could handle himself, as Sam Posey discovered at the 1970 Trans-Am finale; revved-up Revvie “had him by his lapels” as they tumbled over Riverside’s pit wall. Let’s put it this way: Sebring’s long-standing chief steward Charlie Earwood was lucky Revson only knocked his hat off during their heated exchange about overtaking under yellows in ’72.
Don’t be lulled, either, by Revson’s groovy description of racing as “jazz.” Glib journalese – millionaire, jet set, playboy – also punctured his cashmere carapace. That’s because the man who had looks, brains, (sufficient) funds and a naughty-two-shoes Miss World partner was for too long denied the tag he craved: racer’s racer. Respect for this well-connected, (usually) polite, preppy, Delta Upsilon frat guy was often little more than grudging. Although not cast as the baddie as such, nor was he in the running for “Captain Nice;” friend, house guest and rival Mark Donohue beat him to that particular PR punch. Jibes that he’d had it easy were what drove Revson to earn it the hard way.
“Peter often felt he had something to prove,” says Gordon Coppuck, understated designer of the McLarens that provided Revson’s greatest triumphs. “He put £100 on himself to win the 1973 British GP. Though he had yet to win a GP at the time, he was offended by the odds. He was also conscious that he’d missed the previous GP because of his Indycar commitments with us, and that young Jody Scheckter had taken his place and done well.”
Revson’s McLaren M23 won on that slate-gray July day at Silverstone, thanks to a measured performance that had been 13 years in the making. That the occasion is better remembered for its race-stopping pile-up – triggered by Scheckter – and runner-up Ronnie Peterson’s jaw-dropping slides in the Lotus 72, however, illustrates the American’s “problem.” Almost 35 at the outset of 1974, he gave himself a year to convince those who had him marked as a 14/1 outsider. Tellingly, he had placed his Silverstone bet each-way. Be it that caution was due to acumen or self-doubt, he admitted now that second and third places were no longer of use to him. The stakes were raised.
“It would have been different had he stayed with us,” says Coppuck. “I’m confident he would have added to his tally of GP wins.”
Fate instead cast its shadow.