Miller ‘FD’ (1924)

by Michael Ferner

Following up the lead set by Mark Dees again, here’s my interpretation of the front-drive Miller chassis histories:


the 1924 Durant/Durant unpainted? #2 car

Allegedly Chassis Nr. 1 – Originally built for Jimmy Murphy, the project was taken to completion by sponsor/driver Cliff Durant, who qualified for two or three events but apparently never actually accomplished a race start (also #26 in ‘25). Dave Lewis and Bennie Hill then took the epoch-making 2nd place finish at Indy (blue #1), but after a few more starts by Lewis (#24 in ‘25 and #7 in ‘26) and a possible match race appearance by Earl Cooper (#5?) the car was stored away in early 1926. It reappeared in 1927, owned and driven by Frank Elliott (red #5, with relief by Fred Frame), and then again two years later, driven by Henry Turgeon for Carl Ricketts (red? #56). For 1930, Ricketts had the car “widened” for the new two-man-car era (orange & silver #19), and in this form it ran at Indianapolis for several more years (red #17 in ‘31, sold to Rick Decker and white #61 in ‘33, white #45 in ‘34, then possibly #59 in ‘36, #44 in ‘38, #52 in ‘39, #44 in ‘47 and #94 in 1949!). By the time of its last appearance, it was reputedly owned by George B. Weaver, who is said to have sold it to the IMS museum.


the 1925 Miller/Hill unpainted #21? car

Allegedly Chassis Nr. 2 – The only Miller ’FD’ built with outboard front brakes, the car was withdrawn from the 1925 Indy 500 and, reputedly, sold to Packard’s R & D department. It also reappeared racing in 1927, now owned by Reed & Mulligan (#33), and driven by Bruce Miller, Dutch Baumann, Sam Ross, Howard Taylor (who achieved the rare feat of winning a – poorly supported – dirt track race in it before crashing fatally) and Bert Karnatz over the next three years (red & black #38 in ‘28, red & white #27 in ‘29), after which it was rebuilt into a two-seater by Dave Evans. In 1930 it was sponsored by Indiana car dealers Jones & Maley (cream #24), leading Dees to suggest that racing people Milt Jones and Henry Maley were involved with the car when, in reality, they weren’t. Frank Brisko acquired it later that year (#16), raced it for several seasons (white & red #16 in ‘31, cream & red #32 in ‘32 and ‘33, maroon & silver #24 in ‘37) and eventually rebuilt it into a single-seater again (red & white #26 in ‘38), which ran with a 6-cylinder Brisko engine and further modifications at Indy until 1946 (grey & gold #29 in ‘39, red & white #16 in ‘40, red & silver #8 in ‘41, maroon & white #15 in ‘46). By this time, it was fitted with a streamlined “Maserati-style” body and provided no visual hints to its origin. Said to have been found and bought by Dave Uihlein some time in the eighties (?), and restored to its original spec.


the 1926 Miller/Lewis red & white #1 car

Allegedly Chassis Nr. 3 – Dave Lewis drove this car during its first two seasons (with a little help from Earl Cooper), and became the first driver ever to win a ‘proper’ motor race in a front-drive racing car on June 12 in 1926 at Altoona Speedway in Pennsylvania (as #7, colours reversed in ‘27 but still #7). Hollywood stuntman Cliff Bergere purchased the car in late 1927 (cream? #24) and drove it for two seasons (red & white #21 and #24 in ‘28, red & silver #25 in ‘29), with relief by Peter Kreis on occasion. Apparently, it was then purchased by Bill White, who had it rebuilt into a two-man car but didn’t enter it in any races before loaning it to Roscoe Dunning in 1933, who probably purchased it subsequently. Dunning fitted a De Soto engine and put Mauri Rose (#39) into the car, but the tie rod failed on the very last lap of qualifying and it never started. The following year, it was #44 and wrecked by Babe Stapp. Subsequent history unclear.


the 1926 Miller/Cooper green #5 car

Allegedly Chassis Nr. 4 – Earl Cooper drove this car in 1926 and eventually purchased it, to run it alongside his fleet of three Cooper front-drive racing cars that were, essentially, Miller copies. Jules Ellingboe wrecked the car in its only 1927 appearance (yellow & black #18), and all signs point to it being sold to and rebuilt by Red Shafer, racing driver and fledgling racing car manufacturer from Iowa. Babe Stapp (gold, black & white #7), Ralph Hepburn, Russ Snowberger and Cliff Woodbury drove the car besides Shafer himself (black & silver #27 and #17 in ‘29), who sold it in 1929 to the English division of the French car manufacturer Derby, to become the famous Derby-Miller record car. Gwenda Stewart took many records over the next six years, after which the car disappeared for a time. Last seen late forties in Belfast, with Bobby Baird???


the 1926 Duray/Duray black & white #12 car

Allegedly Chassis Nr. 6 – Leon Duray purchased this car late in the year, winning the season finale and then the 1927 opener to boot! He drove the car (unchanged in ‘27, black & white #4 in ‘28, violet & yellow #21 in ‘29), with occasional relief stints by Cliff Bergere and Ralph Hepburn, until setting sail for France in the summer of 1929 where, interestingly, he apparently used his other car for record attempts at Montlhéry. In September, he is said to have used this one in the 1.5-litre heat of the Monza GP (#20), where he retired, before selling it to Ettore Bugatti. “Discovered” in early fifties, the car was bought by Griff Borgeson and returned “home” in 1959. Reputedly the one resting in the IMS museum today, restored by its staff, it held both the IMS lap record and the closed-course world record for several years.


the 1926 Kreis/Kreis red & cream?? #15 car

Allegedly Chassis Nr. 5 – Only used in three races late in 1926, indications are that the car was dismantled and rebuilt as the thoroughly modified 1927 ‘Detroit-Miller’ (grey & silver #6, black, red & white #5 in ‘28, black & white #4 in ‘29), driven by its co-instigators Tommy Milton, Cliff Durant and Cornelius van Ranst, as well as Leon Duray, Ralph Hepburn, Bob McDonogh and Pete Kreis again. Despite its litany of drivers, it only ever ran in three races, and finished only once (in 8th). Purchased by Harry Hartz, it was rebuilt into the Miller-Hartz ‘Mk II’ in 1932 (grey & blue #34), and promptly won the Indy 500 with Fred Frame driving. It was #12 in ‘33, #14 in ‘34, then a gaudy blue, yellow & red #19 in ‘35 before returning to its grey & blue scheme as #22 in ‘36 and #3 in ‘37. Besides Frame, it was driven by Russ Snowberger, Kreis again (who ironically died at its wheel), Frank Brisko and Ted Horn, and collected second and third place Indy finishes with the latter before it received a new body and rear suspension in 1938 (grey & blue #2), finishing fourth. Thereafter, it was driven with less success by Herb Ardinger (grey & blue #9), Brisko again and Mel Hansen (grey & blue #31) until 1940. After the war, Robert McManus owned it and ran it as a cream & blue #42 and #28 for Tony Bettenhausen (1946) and Roland Free (1947), before it was retired and acquired by the IMS museum as one of its original exhibits. Still retained!?


the 1927 Hartz/Hartz grey & blue #1 car

Allegedly Chassis Nr. 8 (or 7?) – Harry Hartz had this car built to defend his National crown, but it was late in getting ready, and proved troublesome in competition. In October, he crashed badly at Salem and received injuries that virtually ended his brilliant driving career. The car is said to have burned to cinder.


the 1927 de Paolo/de Paolo yellow & black #3 car

Allegedly Chassis Nr. 7 (or 8?) – Pete de Paolo got off to a bad start with his new car, but after two retirements and quite a few modifications he won enough to be crowned National Champion for a second time, the first driver to live to see this feat accomplished, and the first driver to win the title (mostly) on a front-drive machine. Sadly, he was rather badly injured in a practice crash at the Brickyard the following year (yellow & black #1), and the car was subsequently driven by Wilbur Shaw, Bob McDonogh and Cliff Woodbury (blue & white #5 in ‘29). It changed ownership from de Paolo to a man named Dodds, thence to Harry Hartz who planned to make his racing comeback with the sister car to the one he had crashed in, but ran out of time before the formula change. Undeterred, he rebuilt the car into the Miller-Hartz ‘Mk I’, the fastest two-man car for the first three years of the “junk formula” (grey & blue #4, #1 and #5, respectively), with Billy Arnold driving. Fred Frame purchased the car in 1933, and put Pete Kreis into it (blue #2), then drove it himself the following year (#34), and gave it to Chet Miller in ‘35 (blue #34). Miller continued to drive the car for its new owner Mike Boyle 1936-39 (white & red #18, silver & red #7, and maroon #3 for the final two years with Offy power), crashing badly in its last appearance. According to a 1948 interview with the car’s chief mechanic at the time, it was subsequently scrapped. In 2003, a “restoration” of the de Paolo car appeared in Historic Racing Car circles, but it is extremely doubtful it contains any original parts.


the 1928 Boyle/Woodbury white, red & blue #10 car

Team leader Cliff Woodbury’s regular car, it was driven by Fred Comer in October at Salem when he crashed fatally. Repaired, Pete de Paolo drove it at Indy in ‘29 (white, red & blue #37), then Woodbury crashed it at Altoona in the Keech fatal wreck, injuring himself to such an extent that he quit racing. The car was repaired once again, and Wilbur Shaw and Deacon Litz drove it in the second Altoona event that year. Apparently, it was this car (but possibly ’2825’!!) that was used for record runs in 1930, and eventually broken up to build the 1932 Boyle two-man car. It was white, red & blue with #48 that year (Wes Crawford driving), #45 in ‘33 (Babe Stapp), #7, #1 and #2 in 1934-36 (Bill Cummings) and a silver & red #16 in ‘37 (Cummings and Chet Miller), changing from an enlarged Duesenberg 91 engine over a big-block Miller Marine to a 255 Offy, and being very competitive in almost all of its guises. It was apparently again broken up in 1938, and rebuilt into a new single-seater with a Miller “big 8’ engine for Cummings (maroon & silver #7), then Ted Horn in 1939/40 (maroon #4 and #3, respectively) and Chet Miller in ‘41 (maroon & cream #41). Fitted with an Offy, and loaned to Jimmy Jackson for the 1946 and ‘47 Indy 500s (green & gold #61 and #7, respectively), it was eventually sold to Tom Sarafoff of Terre Haute (IN) on the back of five consecutive top six finishes at Indy, yet Sarafoff failed to get the car onto the grid in four tries (#10 in ‘48, #65 in ‘49, #66 in ‘50 and #61 in ‘51). Said to be “in a private collection in Indiana” (Dees 1981/94).


the 1928 Miller/Hepburn navy & white #16 car

Allegedly Chassis Nr. 11 – Equipped with a lot of extra hardware, this car was supposed to be the “final answer” in front-drive racing car design, but it wasn’t especially fast, and terribly unreliable. Ralph Hepburn remained its only driver in US competition, even after it was bought by Leon Duray following the Los Angeles Auto Show fire in early ‘29, probably as a bargain, and shed of most of its special hardware (violet & yellow #18). Apparently, it was this car that Duray used in Montlhéry, and possibly Arpajon, for record runs, and then at the Monza GP in the 3-litre heat (#40), where he fought a brilliant battle with Varzi and Brilli-Peri on P2 Alfas, and Borzacchini on a Maserati 26B. Unfortunately, the hard-pressed Miller broke under the strain, but one would love to have seen a well-prepared ’122’ rear-drive take the fight to the Europeans, even on the combined oval/road course! This car, like’2612-Y’, was purchased by Bugatti and returned to America by Griff Borgeson three decades later, reputedly the one in the Smithsonian today (via LA County Museum, Borgeson, Bill Harrah and Bob Rubin).


the 1928 Boyle/Comer white, red & blue #25 car

Fred Comer and Cliff Woodbury drove the car in 1928, and Woodbury won the season finale with it, then took pole at Indy the following year (white, red & blue #8). Damaged in a fourth-lap crash, it was the first one out of the competition and apparently put aside for many years, but possible confusion with ’2810’ here!! Indications are that the remains of the car were eventually bought by Russ Snowberger to build his 1937 Packard-powered two-man car (blue & silver #12). It had a Miller or Offy 255 the following four years (tan #14, brown #21, navy #19 and #42, respectively), but never finished a race. After the war, it was in the colours of its new owner Lou Rassey (orange & black), but it retired again both in 1946 (#31 Henry Banks) and with a “new” V16 Miller engine in ‘47 (#24 Shorty Cantlon), unfortunately killing its driver in the latter year. It was possibly rebuilt and run as #38 by Dick Cott in 1948, but the trail runs finally cold after that.

* Alleged chassis numbers come from Mark Dees, The Miller Dynasty (2nd ed.), but he offers no explanation or back-up, and in any event manages to contradict himself, so they are offered here with advised caution!


Last updated by Michael Ferner on 11 Jul 2012.

All text is copyright Michael Ferner 2012 - 2024.