Harry Miller was not only an extremely talented engineer, he was also very versatile and above all productive. Towards the end of the 1920s, Miller still found time, between designing racing cars and marine engines, to help Errett Loban Cord refine the front-wheel drive system for the revolutionary Cord L29 road car. As compensation for his work Miller received an annual licensing fee of $1,000 and his own Cord L29. Not impressed with the eight cylinder Lycoming engine fitted as standard, Miller took up the bold plan to fit an engine of his own in the Cord chassis. His aim was to surpass his old racing rival Duesenberg and their 265 bhp Model J. Interestingly, EL Cord also owned Duesenberg, so it was doubtful Miller actually had mass production in mind.
The exquisite Duesenberg sported a 6.9 liter straight engine with twin overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Miller's answer was an even more complex V16 that was constructed from four sets of four cylinders. Simply put, the engine was constructed by placing two of Miller's Straight 8s at a 45-degree angle on a common crankcase. Each bank featured twin overhead camshafts and two valves per cylinder. Due to the narrow V-angle, the carburetors were mounted between the camshafts. Miller used no fewer than eight twin-choke carburetors, which were of course of his own design. Considerably smaller than the Duesenberg's straight eight, the new Miller V16 displaced just under 5 liter. It was only marginally bigger than the original Lycoming engine, yet at 250 bhp it produced twice as much power.
There is photographic evidence of the V16 engine fitted in Miller's Cord but it certainly was not in there for long. Exactly why it was removed again remains a mystery to this day. This was far from the end of the story though as Miller found another use for the engine; racing. He fitted the five liter V16 into one of his latest Indy-racing chassis, originally designed to house an eight cylinder. The latest regulations mandated a riding mechanic, so the there was plenty of room to accommodate the V16. For its new purpose, Miller retuned the engine and increased the compression ratio. The revisions increased the power to an estimated 300 bhp at 6000 rpm. Bolted directly to the engine was a three-speed gearbox that drove the rear wheels.
Like the engine, the new chassis was a beautiful piece of engineering. Developed for the 1931 Indy 500 race, it was the first chassis Miller had designed from scratch in quite a few years. The ladder-frame itself was very conventional although stronger and stiffer than Miller's earlier designs. What set the new chassis apart was the DeDion rear-axle, used for the first time on an American racing car. It was located by two quarter-elliptic leaf springs on both sides. The front suspension used a more traditional tubular axle, also in combination with four quarter-elliptic springs. Braking was provided by four cable-operated drums. Miller built a total of three chassis for the 1931 race; two fitted with a straight-eight engine and one with the V16.
The Miller V16 was entered in the 1931 Indy 500 by William S. White for the young and very talented Shorty Cantlon and his riding mechanic Duke Smale. Cantlon drove a careful race and was up to third on lap 40 after starting down in 26th. Unfortunately he was forced to make a pit-stop to replace all sixteen plugs, which had fouled due to carburetion problems. It is believed that the unusual location of the intake ports was the cause of the problem. Back out on track, Cantlon once again fought his way up the leader-board He was back up to seventh when a connecting rod failed, ending the race prematurely for the V16 Miller. Unfortunately the other two Millers suffered a similar fate after an impressive climb up the tables.
Indy proved to be the only outing for the V16 car that season. It reappeared a year later, this time in the hands of Brian Saulpaugh. Cantlon could not race as he was recovering from an accident earlier in the season. The V16 had a much better qualifying run this time round with Saulpaugh placing it on the outside of the front row. The 'Midwest Cyclone' struggled in the race and dropped from third to sixth before an oil line broke and ended the race prematurely. Shortly after the Miller was sold. With the V16 replaced by a simpler Miller 'Four,' the car was raced at Indy until 1937, scoring a fifth in 1935. The chassis made one last appearance at Indy, fitted with a single seater body and a Maserati engine. Sadly it failed to qualify and was not raced again.
Quite remarkably most of the unique machine's original parts did survive although not in one place. Over time all the bits were acquired by great Miller enthusiast Chuck Davis. The engine had been cut in half in the 1950s to create a V8 sprint car engine. Fortunately most of the removed parts were retained and a replacement sixteen cylinder crankcase was also available. Once he had everything he needed, Davis commissioned Dave Hentschel to fully reconstructed the V16 Miller. Davis decided to have the car painted in the colors used in 1932 by Saulpaugh. The work was completed just in time for the 1993 Monterey Historic Races where the creations of Harry Miller were prominently featured.
Since its glorious debut at the 1993 Historics, the Miller V16 has been shown at events all over the world. It has been to Pebble Beach, Amelia Island and the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The car has also been a regular at the annual Miller Club meets in Milwaukee. Along with another Miller from the Chuck Davis Collection, the V16 will be offered at the RM Auctions Sports & Classics of Monterey sale in August of 2009. The unique machine is estimated to change hands for $600,000 - $1,000,000.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on August 06, 2009
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