Peter Revson’s life ended the way he had lived it: as the glamorous, doomed hero of an auto racing drama, brashly enjoying himself, gambling against death—and inevitably losing. When his sleek black racer crashed and burst into flames, the suave, 35-year-old Revson, was trapped inside and died within minutes.
The location was the kind of exotic setting Revson savored, Johannesburg, South Africa—but the spectacular accident was not in competition. He was on a routine practice run eight days before a race. Revson was the ninth big-name racing driver to be killed since 1970. His brother Douglas died in an accident in Europe in 1967. But while he was aware that death could always find a driver on the track, Peter Revson didn’t let the fear of dying preoccupy him. “The accidents have driven home some of the dangers of motor racing,” he said, “but you just have to think of the race ahead.”
Revson had been a pro driver since 1963, but he found it hard to shake his reputation as an idle rich kid. He was not, as he often pointed out, the heir to the Revlon cosmetics fortune; his uncle, Charles, is Revlon’s founder. But Peter’s father, Martin, owns Del Laboratories, a New York pharmaceuticals and cosmetics firm, and Peter had a comfortable prep school childhood and no shortage of pocket money. He made a few quick attempts at college but never graduated.
After a short stint as an advertising man Revson turned to racing full-time and got tagged as the “playboy driver,” a not unreasonable image, since he had well-chiseled good looks, money and an ample supply of gorgeous lady friends. At the time of his death he was wearing a gold locket from Marjorie Wallace, a 20-year-old blonde from Indianapolis, who lost her Miss World title last month, partly because of a rumor that she was engaged to Revson. The locket was engraved “If not for you…”
But there was more to Revson than intercontinental love affairs. In 1971 he won the grueling Can-Am series and placed second in the Indianapolis 500, a victory that netted him $103,198. He tackled the more prestigious—and more deadly—Grand Prix circuit, and last year won two major races, only the third American driver to do so. His successes brought recognition that Revson was a dedicated, careful driver who had the skills and reflexes to win—and survive.
In an odd sort of way his was a tedious life, commuting 150,000 miles last year alone from one racing circuit to another. He often put in long hours testing his cars and getting the feel of the track. Why he crashed in Johannesburg no one yet knows for sure.
“Where a driver’s skill comes in,” Revson once told an interviewer, “is in finding his limits. A driver who is driving with wild abandon, taking chances, pushing it, is on the ragged edge. There’s a fine line between being brave and being stupid.”