Peter Jeffrey Revson's success in European style racing set him apart from his fellow Americans before his death in 1974. His family wealth (the Revlon cosmetics empire) and exceptionally handsome appearance made him more than popular journalists could resist. In daily papers all over the world, he was Peter Revson, handsome millionaire racing driver. They made him sound like a playboy from the 'fifties or a thrill-seeking movie star.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. He was a dedicated man who worked hard for his racing experience; a man who wanted more than anything else to be World Champion Grand Prix driver and to win the famous Indianapolis 500-mile race. The successful career of this talented driver was closely linked to the growth of Bruce McLaren Motor Racing in the early 1970s.
Driving for the Kiwi Team
In the four years that he drove for the Kiwi team he won a Can-Am championship, pole position at Indianapolis and ultimately second place, and two Grands Prix. Until he drove for McLaren, Revson had achieved little, not so much as a single Can-Am victory. Internal politics forced Revson to leave McLaren at the start of 1974. An offer from UOP, the US inspired and financed team appealed to him because of his own sense of patriotism.
His tragic death in his third race for the team saddened many who had seen him fight for years toward the World Championship. Like many others whose families are known to be wealthy, Revson was handicapped by people presuming that he had unlimited funds to promote his racing career. In fact, he had virtually only what he had saved.
His first serious step in racing was on the well trodden path to Europe. He arrived in 1963, armed himself with a Formula Junior Cooper and a very second-hand van, then set off to the European Continent for the gipsy-like travel-then-race existence, that was just financially possible in those days. He won one event and returned again in 1964 to race a Lotus 24 in Formula One for the Parnell team. Naturally he was often refused entries, so he tried the lower formulae again in 1965. This time he won the prestigious Formula Three race at Monaco and drove several Formula Two races in the Ron Harris team when Jim CIark
He drove a Ford GT40 in World Championship sports car races the following year then returned to America to race sedans for the next three seasons. Not even the death of his brother Doug in a race at Denmark sapped Revson's determination to succeed, though the tragedy did nothing to improve the strained relationship he had with his family who bitterly opposed his racing career. Certainly they made no financial contribution to something they so strongly disapproved of.
Driving the second Brabham at Indianapolis
Peter Revson in his 1974 Shadow DN3.
As a saloon driver Revson had at least become a paid professional, his big break coming in 1969. Goodyear arranged for him to drive the second Brabham at Indianapolis where he finished fifth. Carl Haas invited him to drive his Can-Am Lola and Revson became the new American road-race hero. In 1970 he'drove for McLaren in their first Indianapolis car though it failed to finish. Undoubtedly his long-standing friendship with McLaren director Teddy Mayer helped him get the job. Yet Mayer was a businessman and, equally logically, Revson would not have been offered the opportunity unless he had been equal to the task.
Then McLaren himself was killed and Revson took over his Can-Am car a year later. Now with a competitive mount, he proved his ability, beating Denny Hulme for the 1971 title. It became almost a formality then that he should be invited to partner Hulme in the Yardley McLaren Grand Prix team in 1972 and 1973. Revson returned to Europe and he came back at the top. He had talent but it took years of dedication and practice to prove it. As one man will have a reputation as the best rain driver, another as a Nurburgring
specialist, unquestionably Revson could have claimed to have been the driver who achieved most success on European road circuits and American super-speedways.
As Teddy Mayer once reflected, 'It's stupid really. The man gained more publicity over his romance with Marjie Wallace, the reigning Miss World, than he ever did for all his racing achievements.' That perhaps was a sad comment on just how big a handicap Peter Revson's name and family background really did represent.