The astounding $35,000 speedster built by Harry Miller. Authors collection.
Harry Armenius Miller was an inquisitive young man that became caught up in the bicycle mania of the 1890s. And as was the case with many young men of similar proclivity in the closing years of the 19th century, all things mechanical mesmerized Harry. In pursuit of opportunity to fuel his insatiable appetite for mechanical knowledge, Harry defied his father, a teacher, and quit school at age sixteen. He found work as an apprentice in a machine shop.
After a brief sojourn to Los Angeles and a stint as a bicycle repairman, he returned to Wisconsin and his former employer. Working after hours, Harry Miller utilized the machine shop and applied theories obtained from countless books to design and build a one-cylinder engine. Then he attached it to a bicycle to create a motorcycle. The following year, 1896, he developed an outboard motor.
In 1897, Miller again moved west, this time to establish a machine shop of his own in Los Angeles. It was here in 1905 that he built his first car. And it was also here that he began developing carburetors specifically designed for high-speed engine application, the foundation for establishment of the Master Carburetor Company.
As Los Angeles was at the heart of west coast automobile racing, Miller’s company proved to be quite a lucrative endeavor. Still, Miller was an independent thinker with big dreams and so in 1914 he sold the Master Carburetor Company. This funded his next project, a partnership with master machinist Fred Offenhauser and establishment of the Harry A. Miller Manufacturing Company for the production of a carburetor and lightweight pistons designed specifically for aircraft application.
Engines, ancillary components, and carburetors were not the only products under development by Miller. He was also pioneering marine specific racing engines and components including transaxles and tubular frames for the construction of front-wheel drive racecars.
In 1925, at the Indianapolis 500, a front-wheel drive vehicle equipped with Miller designed and manufactured components claimed second place and riveted the attention of E.L. Cord who was about to launch his automotive empire after successful management at Moon. Envisioning the potential for a cutting edge automobile that could be designed with a lower stance resultant of the absence of a drive shaft, Cord purchased the manufacturing rights to the Miller front wheel drive transaxle, offered a royalty to Miller, and commissioned him to build a prototype.
Enlisting the aid of gifted engineer Cornelius W. Van Ranst, Miller completed the revolutionary prototype in November of 1927. Cord himself traveled to Los Angeles for the first test drive.
After the sale of his company in 1929, Miller became involved in a series of partnerships and projects including the development of a high speed F-head for the Model A Ford engine and a collaborative effort between Miller, Offenhauser, and mechanical engineer Leo Goosen, to build limited edition, special order passenger cars. The first manifestation of this dream team’s talent was a stunning four-wheel drive speedster powered by an in house designed 310-c.i.d. V8 engine. The second and final creation was a front wheel drive speedster powered by another in house designed engine, a supercharged V16 commissioned by William A.M. Burden at a cost of $35,000. A partnership with Indianapolis, Indiana Packard dealer Preston Tucker and the establishment of Miller & Tucker, Inc. followed in 1935.
The Bantam Checker Jeep prototype with front wheel drive and four wheel steering. Authors collection
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