Miller ‘S8’ (1921)
by Michael Ferner
Harry Miller’s first eight-cylinder job, which was built in two (possibly three) distinctly different versions. The prototype engine was installed in the 1921 Leach=Miller (’2103’), named after the short-lived Leach-Biltwell Motor Car Co., a rare L. A.-based car manufacturer to which Harry Miller had been contracted for engineering work. The car was exclusively known as the “Leach Special”, or “Leach 999 Special”, never a Miller - at the time, Harry was desperately trying to get a foothold in the industry, and didn’t particularly care to establish a Miller ‘marque’. This “problem”, however, was shortly to be resolved when the Leach company went under in early 1923, due in no small part, it seems, to the failure of the Miller-designed Leach road car!
On August 6 in 1922, and driven by long-time Miller associate Frank Elliott, this car took the historic first “all-Miller” win in a AAA National Championship event (if we accept Tommy Milton’s earlier wins as those of a hybrid), which initiated a run of thirteen consecutive Miller victories, only ending in Duesenberg’s supercharged Indy win twenty-two months later. The second Miller ’S8’ replaced the Duesenberg unit in Milton’s “Durant Special” (’2001’), and beginning with this engine, the exhaust porting and manifolding was changed from a 4-in-2 to an 8-in-1 layout, but the detachable cylinder head was apparently retained, the same as on the next engine which went into Tommy Milton’s 1922 “Leach Special” (’2208’). At this point, it should be noted that many historians, including the late Bill Castle who obtained one of these engines for his 2009 replica of the “Durant Special”, have opined that only the first two engines had a detachable head.
After that, Miller introduced his famous integral head design, which was to be carried over as a salient feature of his “engine dynasty” up to the days of the turbocharged Drake-Offenhauser, where it proved especially attractive! At the same time, perhaps coincidentally, he switched the exhaust over from the left side (a Peugeot legacy?) to the right, where most American engines of the time exhausted to. It may well be that this change was at least partly inspired by Miller’s latest customer, Jimmy Murphy, who wanted the fourth Miller ’S8’ engine to go with his Grand Prix winning Duesenberg (’2125’).
This new combination proved an immediate success, winning four races (including the all-important Indy 500) in succession, after which the rout continued with Elliott’s win in the 1921 car and the dozen following wins for Miller chassis. The dazzling truth is, that with the introduction of this “second generation” Miller ’S8’ no normally aspirated engine other than a Miller won any AAA National Championship race for almost exactly 100 months, i.e. more than eight years!
Even more astonishing: after this one defeat, and including all variations of the “engine dynasty”, this streak went on for another three decades and more, only ending under USAC sanction with Jim Clark’s win in a Lotus/Ford at Milwaukee in 1963, more than forty years after it began! Pedants will point out that a few Ford-based engines won Sprint Car races in 1946, or that a Lincoln won the 1955 Pikes Peak hill climb – all this in events that, for one reason or another, happened to carry points for the National Championship, but the purist in us has to concede the singularity of this achievement, especially when juxtaposed with the three wins of Tommy Milton’s Durant/Miller of the older type.
The cars in which these engines were installed were (apart from the two Grand Prix Duesenbergs) all built at the Miller factory, yet to vastly different specifications! There is a point to be made to regard them as “Specials”, i.e. to name them after the customer who (usually) dictated those specs, which would also facilitate the discussion about their further destinies, however, personal preferences will probably always prevail, and I don’t expect to set a standard here. As an overview, in chronological order of first appearance with a Miller ‘S8’ engine, and mentioning only the major differences from the predecessor:
- the 1921 Leach=Vail/Miller was a two-seater with left-hand steering, left-hand exhaust and standard suspension (i.e. four longitudinal semi-elliptic leaf springs)
- the 1920 Chevrolet=Durant/Miller had right-hand steering
- the 1922 Leach=Milton/Miller had transverse semi-elliptic springs front and rear on a short chassis (i.e. without front and with truncated rear horns)
- the 1922 McDonald/Miller reverted to standard chassis and suspension with left-hand steering and right-hand exhaust
- the 1922/3 Durant/Millers had right-hand steering with new, “angular” chassis frames
- the 1924 Conlin/Miller had left-hand steering
- the first 1924 White/Miller was a single-seater with right-hand steering arm and “bobtailed” bodywork
- the 1924 Elliott/Miller had custom-made full bodywork (i.e. with a proper tail section)
- the 1924 Milton/Miller had a left-hand exhaust
- the 1924 Sloan/Miller had a right-hand exhaust, left-hand steering arm and “bobtailed” bodywork
- the second 1924 White/Miller reverted to custom-made full bodywork
- the 1924 Duray/Miller had underslung rear suspension
- the 1924 Vail/Miller had a two-seater body with left-hand steering and standard suspension
- the 1924 Tarbet/Miller had a single-seat body on an early (i.e. pre-angular) chassis frame
- the 1925 Lockhart/Miller reverted to an angular chassis
- the 1930 de Paolo/Miller had transverse springs on a short chassis and left-hand exhaust
Needless to say, all those cars incorporated many, many detail changes, but one can already see that no two successive cars (except for the six identical Durant/Millers of late 1922/early 1923) had even the same basic configuration! Also, some of these cars were clearly constructed from the remains of some of the earlier cars, which will (hopefully!) become clearer in the following car-by-car histories:
the 1921 Leach=Vail/Miller #3
New for Ira Vail at Indy, then almost exclusively driven by Frank Elliott, but also by Art Klein, Roscoe Sarles and Pete de Paolo until early 1923; heavily damaged in a December 1921 accident when its crankshaft broke, but apparently rebuilt around its original components, including the engine; subsequent history unclear, but engine likely reappeared in 1930 as the de Paolo/Miller (see’3035-P’).
the 1920 Chevrolet=Durant/Miller #1
First campaigned with a 4-cylinder Miller ’183’ engine, then with an 8-cylinder Duesenberg ’183’ until early 1921; first appearance with ‘S8’ apparently at Fresno (April 30) for Milton; for Milton through April ’22, then Cliff Durant, Dave Lewis and Roscoe Sarles who crashed fatally with it in September; presumably scrapped although references to it racing in 1923 exist.
the 1922 Leach=Milton/Miller #8
New for Milton at Indy and until early 1923; for Ralph Hepburn at Fresno RD but eventually driven by Milton again; subsequent history unclear, but engine probably used to build 1924 Milton/Miller (see ’2405-P’).
the 1921 Duesenberg ‘GP’ #25
Originally campaigned as a Duesenberg works car with Duesenberg ’183’ engine; new for Eddie Pullen at Indy, but eventually qualified by Joe Boyer and driven by Joe Thomas; for Jimmy Murphy at French GP (July 26), then returned to US and driven by Murphy until early 1922; fitted with Miller ‘S8’ engine for Murphy at San Carlos (May 7) and driven until September wreck at Kansas City; engine apparently pulled for Durant/Miller ’2201-Z‘, and chassis possibly sold to Art Bartold in New York; likely replaced with single-seater chassis for 1924 and sold on to Roy E. Jones of New York to be raced until around 1930; subsequent history unclear.
the 1922 McDonald/Miller #3
New for Bennie Hill at Cotati (Aug 6); for Hill until early ’23; engine rebuilt to 2-litre spec for Indy and also driven by Martin de Alzaga in relief; sold to Walter Shafer for Wally Butler at Los Angeles TD; engine apparently restored to 3 litres and possibly to Dewitt Brady for Allen Mulford and others (?) and/or car rebuilt as Tarbet/Miller (’2412-P’).
the 1921 Duesenberg ‘GP’ #16
New for Joe Boyer at French GP; sold to A. G. Stephenson who ran this car for Harry Hartz with its original engine until September of 1922; Miller ‘S8’ engine fitted for Hartz at Kansas City (Sep 17); for Hartz until early ’23; subsequent history unclear, but engine probably used to build 1925 Lockhart/Miller (’2527-P’).
the 1922 Durant/Miller #1
New for Jimmy Murphy on September 30 at Fresno, finishing 8th and last; a month later at Cotati again last (4th), then three wins in succession in Championship events at Beverly Hills (twice) and Fresno; fitted with a new Miller ’122’ engine and sold, likely to Martin de Alzaga (but see ’2207-Z’ and ’2302-X’!) for Murphy to drive at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza in September (3rd as #5), then entered (#3) for the Spanish Grand Prix in October, but shipped back to the US instead for the Thanksgiving Race at Beverly Hills, presumably for Ernie Olson; sold to Bobby Dunn and entered for Los Angeles WB in early ’24 but rejected; original engine and chassis probably sold to Murphy and used to build single-seat Murphy/Miller (’2521-P’).
the 1922 Durant/Miller #4
New for Eddie Hearne at Beverly Hills in December (finished 10th), then again in February (4th) and at Fresno in April (2nd); engine rebuilt to conform with 2-litre formula, and car sold to Frank Elliott who drove it with some success during the rest of the year on the Championship trail and in dirt track events as #31 (Indy) and #4; apparently rebuilt as single-seat Elliott/Miller in early 1924 (see ’2409-X’).
the 1922 Durant/Miller #5
New for Earl Cooper in December at Beverly Hills (2nd), then in February (retired) and at Fresno (4th); engine rebuilt like #4, and car sold to Bill White for Harlan Fengler (3rd at Kansas City = best result for the rebuilt type), Ora Haibe, (possibly) Slim Corum, Al Melcher and Wes Crawford to drive in Championship and dirt track events as #26; likely rebuilt as single-seat White/Miller (’2408-I’).
the 1922 Durant/Miller #6
New for Art Klein in December (6th) and February (retired), for Leon Duray at Fresno (accident); rebuilt to same standard as #4 and #5, and sold to Duray who drove it with little success for the rest of the year on the Championship trail and in dirt track events as #28 (Indy) and #9; presumably rebuilt as Conlin/Miller (’2426-I’).
the 1922 Durant/Miller #7
New for Cliff Durant at Beverly Hills in December (retired), in February (9th) and at Fresno (retired). Subsequently fitted with a new Miller 122 engine and sold, possibly to Martin de Alzaga (but see ’2201-Z’ and ’2302-X’!) who drove it at Monza as #16 (6th), and entered it for the Spanish Grand Prix as #2, but instead returned with it to the US; for de Alzaga at Los Angeles TD but eventually driven by Leon Duray; rebuilt (possibly with original engine of ’2302-X’) as White/Miller (’2403-I’).
the 1923 Durant/Miller #2
New for Dario Resta at Beverly Hills in February (8th), and for Frank Elliott at Fresno (5th). Subsequently fitted with new Miller 122 engine and sold, possibly to Louis Zborowski (but see ’2201-Z’ and ’2207-Z’!) who entered it at Monza in September as #11 (retired) and Sitges in October as #1, though pictures show it to be #9 (2nd), then in August of 1924 at Lyon as #6 (retired). After Zborowski’s death two months later, the car was sold and raced for a time in local events in Britain, thence via New Zealand (Bert Shorter/ca. 1927, Elliot [Keith?] Cutten/ca. 1927-1933, Gerry Mathieson/1934-1936, Eric Morgan/ca. 1936-1938), Australia (Paul Haverland?, etc., incl a spell with road registration 1947-1952!), the USA again (?/ca. 1985-1992), to Germany (Eckart Berg/ca. 1992-1996), Switzerland (Karl Blöchle/ca. 1997-2005) and back to Germany (Stephan Rettenmaier/ca. 2006), to Dano Davis (FL) in 2012.
the 1924 Conlin/Miller #26
New for Hal Conlin at Ascot (Feb 3); possibly to Fred Lecklider (#1) in March; to Steve Elmore (#4) later that month and also driven by Fred Frame, Frank Lockhart, Eddie Meyer, John Smithson (?), Earl Cooper (?), Jack Petticord, Lou Moore (?) and Jerry Tabnac until about 1927; subsequent history unclear.
the 1924 White/Miller #3
New for Leon Duray at Ascot (Feb 24); sold to Jack Petticord in June; to Eddie Hearne in August and rebodied (#1), used by Hearne in dirt track racing until about 1926; possibly to Clarence Tarbet for Fred Frame; subsequent history unclear.
the 1924 Elliott/Miller #9
New for Frank Elliott at Los Angles WB (Feb 24); apparently sold to Alex Sloan in March for Fred Horey (#23), later Sig Haugdahl (tan #H3); still with Haugdahl in 1934; subsequent history unclear.
the 1924 Milton/Miller red & blue #5
New for Tommy Milton for Class D record attempts at Muroc Dry Lake (from late March to Apr 4 – 23.8’/151 mph for the flying mile) with wide frame, slightly oversize 1924 bodywork but wire mesh radiator, neither front nor rear wheel brakes but with transmission brake, ‘S8’ type engine with left-hand exhaust (presumably from the 1922 Leach=Milton/Miller ’2208’) and right-hand steering gear; termed the “183 Convertible” by Mark Dees and others; used sparingly by Milton and Ralph de Palma in West Coast dirt track racing, otherwise idle until driven by Norm Batten and possibly Horace Shaw in dirt track events in the East (1925); sold to Fisher & Jacobs in Pennsylvania (?) in late 1925 or early 1926 for Jimmy Gleason in NMRA events (#1), then AAA in 1927 (#11), also for Al Aspen and possibly others; likely to Paul Gimarino (dark green #33) in 1928 and ’29; subsequent history unclear, but engine probably used to build 1931 Floyd Smith front-drive two-man car “Empire State Special” (’3103’).
the 1924 Sloan/Miller (#1?)
New for Sig Haugdahl at Ascot (Apr 13), apparently a discarded ’122’ frame (from ’2301’?) and ‘S8’ engine (from ’2207-Z’?); for Haugdahl, Fred Horey (#40) and probably others until 1929?; apparently fitted with Duesenberg engine and possibly to Swede Anderson; subsequent history unclear.
the 1924 White/Miller (#8?)
New for Babe Stapp at Ascot (May 4); possibly for Floyd Roberts, Red Shafer and/or Roy Meacham in 1925; for Jack Petticord (#12), Roberts again (?), Pete de Paolo and George Souders until early 1927; to Harry Milburn of Texas for himself, Jack Petticord and Johnny Lee until about 1930 (still #12); subsequent history unclear.
the 1924 Duray/Duray #2 car
New for Leon Duray at Ascot Speedway (Jun 8) with big block engine (236 CID); possibly to George Beck (1925); to Lou Folscheid (?) in late 1925 for Zeke Meyer, Russ Snowberger and Ray Keech; possibly to Charles Ganung (late 1928?) for Doug Wallace (?), Bob Robinson, Jimmy Gleason, Jimmy Patterson and/or others; subsequent history unclear.
the 1924 Vail/Miller #4
New for Ira Vail apparently at Middletown (Aug 16); for Vail until 1926, then sold to Charles Ganung (#4-B or Circle-4), for Ganung and others (Freddie Winnai?, Herman Schurch?, Dave Bouley, Frank Farmer?) until ca. 1932; subsequent history unclear.
the 1924 Tarbet/Miller
Possibly originally for Dewitt Brady and driver Allen Mulford in 1924; for Frank Lockhart (#27) and Fred Frame in 1925; for Fred Lecklider (#20), Frame again and Cliff Bergere in 1926; for Frame (#22) and Ted Simpson in 1927; subsequent history unclear.
the 1925 Murphy/Miller #21
Apparently run by Doyle brothers for Murphy estate and drivers Jack Petticord, Red Shafer and/or others in 1925 and ’26; sold to Jack Ross of Washington state in late 1926 and run as “Miller-Olympic Special” #8; to Gus Duray of Oregon (1928) and retained in 1931/’32; subsequent history unclear.
the 1925 Lockhart/Miller #27
New for Frank Lockhart presumably at Abilene (Jul 4); for Lockhart until spring of 1926 and brought to Indy for a Midwestern dirt track campaign, tested at the Speedway and sold (after the ’500’) to Ira Vail (#4); driven by Lockhart, Vail himself, Russ Snowberger, Herman Schurch and/or others until 1932; sold to Milt Marion for Ken Fowler, Marion himself, Snowberger again, Joe Russo, Claude Burton and/or others until about 1935; rebuilt on new frame and with Miller 4-cylinder engine (’220’?) for Marion, George Connor, George and Hal Robson until ca. 1940; subsequent history unclear but apparently unraced until sold to Tom Barbour (2010).
the 1930 de Paolo/Miller #35
New for Lou Moore at Ascot (Nov 9); for Moore and Wilbur Shaw until spring 1931; rebuilt on new frame and with Miller ’220’ engine for Pete’s brother Danny, and driven by Phil Pardee, Stubby Stubblefield, Arvol Brunmier, Bryan Saulpaugh, Chris Vest (?), Howdy Wilcox, Kelly Petillo, Billy Arnold, Les Spangler, Babe Stapp and Shaw again until spring of 1933; sold to Walt Harris for Carl Ryder, Petillo again, Al Gordon, Swede Smyth, George Connor, Harris Insinger, Rex Mays and Mel Kenealy until 1934; subsequent history unclear.
“Al Melcher Miller-Duesenberg”
late 1922, described as a Duesenberg (?) rebuilt “with one of the famous Miller double overhead camshaft valve action” (!?)
“Lew Cody Miller”
early 1924, possibly in fact the Conlin/Miller
“Reginald Lyons Special”
late 1932, possibly a left-hand exhaust Miller ‘S8’ engine in a Duesenberg ’183’ or ‘GP’ chassis with late Durant/Miller radiator shell
“Guy Deulin Miller-Duesenberg”
late 1934, Duesenberg ’183’ or ‘GP’ chassis with Miller ‘S8’ engine, apparently
Last updated by Michael Ferner on 7 Jul 2013.
All text is copyright Michael Ferner 2013 - 2023.