Only three front-engine Scarab race cars were built in 1958. But the sleek, low-to-the ground style reportedly first drawn up at the Los Angeles Art Institute wowed Richard Kitzmiller, who was just a boy when they came out.
Now the Scarab has become a second career for Kitzmiller, who builds a street-car reproduction of the Scarabs from his shop in Prairie Village.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful car,” he said.
Kitzmiller takes orders for the cars from customers all over the world and is one of only a few custom builders of vintage race cars. There are some shops making Cobras, he said, but Scarabs are harder to come by because their production was so limited in the first place.
Q. What is the market like for this type of product?
Reproductions are a relatively new segment of the motorsports market, Kitzmiller said. The late 1950s and early 1960s cars were all built with a dynamic look and similar styling, and they hearken back to an era of glamour in auto racing. The Scarab made a splash on that scene when driver Lance Reventlow, race car driver and heir to the Woolworth fortune introduced it. The car went on to win races and break records in several U.S. competitions.
Although there’s a nostalgia for those cars, the originals of cars like the Scarab, Maserati and Aston Martins are hard to come by, with prices anywhere from $10 million to $40 million, Kitzmiller said.
His idea was to build a car with quality parts that is as close to the original as possible. His street version has some modifications in the brake system and fuel cell, but Kitzmiller said the car is about 90 percent the same as the original.
Buyers can order the finished car or a rolling chassis for much less than the original vintage cars, he said. Since his Scarabs are custom built, prices vary. But a finished car could cost in the neighborhood of $172,000 and a rolling chassis about $107,000.
Q. How hard was it to come up with the design specs?
“When I started, everyone was doing Cobras, and I know why,” Kitzmiller said. “There were only three and that made it difficult to get measurements,” A lot of his early work depended on getting access to the existing cars, he said. “If I’d looked too far down the road, maybe I wouldn’t have started it,” he joked.
The aluminum body is made in Europe, but the frame and everything else is done in the United States.
Most of the hardest work is concentrated in the first car, he said. “It’s an expensive first car. After that the cost goes down because you’ve done all your brainwork.”
Q. How is what you do different from a kit car?
Kitzmiller said his business is actually an improvement on the concept of kit car building, which enjoyed popularity in the late 1970s. With kit cars, components are sold separately and not assembled, as his Scarabs are.
But kit cars often came with cheap plastic and fiberglass components, he said. “I looked at the car and wanted to build it the way I thought it should be done, with quality components and craftsmanship.”
Q. How did you get into this business?
Kitzmiller said he never forgot the sports cars from racing magazines he used to read as a boy. While working as a trader at the Kansas City Board of Trade, Kitzmiller made a hobby of building cars after the trading floor closed. “It’s always been a serious hobby. Fortunately my profession allowed me not to punch a clock from 9 to5,” he said.
Q. How do people find out about your business?
Buyers are car enthusiasts who may see his advertisements in specialty publications, Kitzmiller said. He also attends the big car shows in Monterey and Pebble Beach, Calif., and Elkhart, Wis.
Scarab Motorsports was featured on a segment of Jay Leno’s Garage about a year ago.
In a nutshell
Company: Scarab Motorsports
Address: 3509 W. 71st St., Prairie Village
Telephone: (913) 262-6794