1928 MILLER 91 REAR DRIVE RACING CAR RECREATION - THE MAJESTIC SPECIAL
Green with green frame and wheels, brown seat
Engine: straight eight cylinder, dual overhead camshaft, 91ci., supercharged, c150bhp at 7,000rpm; Gearbox: three-speed manual; Suspension: semi-elliptic springs front and rear; Wheelbase: 100 inches; Brakes: four wheel hydraulic. Single seat racing car.
For 1926, the regulations covering grand prix further reduced the allowable engine size to one and one half liters, or 91 cubic inches for supercharged engines. The Indianapolis race adhered to these rules and the cars produced in Harry Miller's shop for the new formula represent, in the opinion of many historians, the pinnacle of American racing car design.
According to the late Mark Dees' Miller records, seven of the rear drive 91s were built during the 1926-1929 period. Miller was also building the fabulous front drive racers during this period, but they were only suitable for use at Indianapolis and on the board tracks and those wanting to compete on dirt tracks opted for the conventional rear drive layout. The 91 inch engine was similar in appearance to previous Miller straight eights, with every component reduced in size and weight to the absolute minimum. It retained the barrel crankcase with two blocks of four cylinders, integral heads with two valves per cylinder, and dual overhead camshafts. Dees' definitive history, The Miller Dynasty, states that the first six cars were constructed directly from Leo Goossen's drawings without first building a prototype - an indication of the respect that Miller had for his designer's ability to get things right the first time. Like all Millers, the 91s were exquisitely finished and the price for a rear drive Miller 91 was a steep $10,000.
The Miller 91s were the dominant speedway racers of their time, and the incredible performance of the tiny engine is illustrated by Frank Lockhart's one lap record of over 147 mph on Atlantic City's mile and a half board track in 1927. Lockhart took the same car to Muroc Dry Lake that year and averaged nearly 165 mph for the flying mile, with a one way run at over 170. This would be fast for a 91 cubic inch car today, let alone over seventy years ago when the absolute land speed record stood at 203 mph.
The car offered here is a re-creation of the final Miller 91 of the first six rear drive cars built. Bought by Charles Haase, the car first saw action in 1927 with Al Melcher at the wheel. Melcher ran the car on the boards at Culver City and Altoona with mediocre results, and had the supercharger fail at Indianapolis, dropping out at three quarter distance. In 1928 the driving chores were turned over to Lou Moore, who finished second in the red painted Miller at the Indianapolis 500. In 1929 the Haase Indianapolis entry was sponsored by The Majestic Radio Corporation and painted a beautiful green. It is interesting to note that green was not yet considered an unlucky color in American oval racing circles, but from the 1930s until the British invasion thirty years later, green cars would be avoided like the plague at Indianapolis. Moore gave the car a great ride, dueling for the lead until just two laps from the finish when a connecting rod broke. Moore did win a couple of board track events with the car that year, but it was badly damaged at the Los Angeles Auto Show that winter when the tent housing the cars on display caught fire. By 1932, the Miller was in the hands of Chet Gardner, who ran in West Coast events and took the AAA Midwestern Championship in 1933. The car changed appearance considerably as time passed. Wearing a two man body and unrecognizable as the slimly elegant Miller of the 1920s, the car competed in both Vanderbilt Cup races on Long Island in 1936-1937 without success. Gardner did win a 100 miler at Milwaukee the following year, but was killed at Flemington when he rolled the Miller in an attempt to miss a child who had run onto the track.
Gardner's death ended the career of the Haase-Gardner Miller 91 until Bob Sutherland's research determined that a Miller 91 engine in his possession had come from that car. From that engine, an original gearbox, back axle, and several other genuine parts, a new chassis and body was created and finished in the lovely colors of the 1929 Majestic Special. At the 1993 Monterey Historic Races, with Miller as the featured marque, Sutherland was awarded the prestigious Monterey Cup for the car judged to have excelled in both performance and presentation. The engine, which has been running in the last twelve months but is presently disassembled, is complete but for a set of pistons. The Majestic Special was a favorite of Bob's, and he exercised the car in many vintage events, especially enjoying the opportunity of running on the Milwaukee Mile at the annual Miller gathering, where the track racer could perform on the stage where the original had run in earnest over a half century before.