The ex-George Bailey
1935 MILLER-FORD 2 MAN INDIANAPOLIS RACE CAR
Chassis No. 5
White and red with red leather seats and red wheels
Engine: flathead V8, four single Stromberg carburetors, 220ci, c150bhp at 5,000rpm; Gearbox: two forward speed transaxle; Suspension: front and rear, independent with long-short parallel wishbones and quarter-elliptical leaf springs; Brakes: four wheel mechanically-actuated drums. Left hand drive.
The artistry and creativity of Harry Miller is legendary. He never made a car, an engine or a simple bracket that wasn't elegant. His creations were often multi-functional, saving weight, materials, wind resistance and reducing the number of things that could go wrong. Which was a good thing, because Miller usually lost interest in his projects as soon as they began to take shape and had little time for development.
The things that Miller created were so satisfying in their form and intriguing in their function that legions of talented racers were more than willing to accept Harry's mercurial attention. One who was not, however, was Henry Ford and Henry's impatience cut short the history of one of the most elegant, creative and promising projects in Harry Miller's storied career, the 1935 Miller-Ford Indy cars.
The early Thirties were the "junk formula" years at the Speedway as the Triple A Contest Board attempted to appeal to manufacturers to support the 500. The fertile mind of Harry Miller spied an opportunity for a stock block powered front wheel drive chassis of exceptional roadholding and minimal aerodynamic resistance, a low frontal-area streamlined missile that would maximize the speed potential of an anemic stock block engine and cling to the bricks so well it could run flat-out for the whole 2½ mile lap. He described his concept to a kindred soul, super-salesman Preston Tucker, and Tucker took upon himself the task of finding a manufacturer with the resources to fund the project.
Eventually Tucker convinced Edsel Ford that Miller's race car project would bring fame and glory to the then-new Ford V8, helped in no small part by laying Miller's reputation on the line with a promise to construct ten front wheel drive Ford V8-powered cars in time for the 1935 Indy 500. Tucker committed Miller to this unprecedented spurt of race car building in January 1935, only seventy nine days before the cars were to be delivered and raced at the Speedway.
The Miller-Ford project would have been a huge undertaking if the cars Miller proposed building had been conventional, but they were anything but conventional and it took all of Harry Miller's not inconsiderable skill, creativity, charm and perseverance to live up to Tucker's commitment. It also took a gathering of his most able, talented and committed crew. Everett Stevenson prepared the working drawings. Benny Hill came from L.A. to assist him, along with Emil Deidt to fabricate the bodywork and Ernie Weil to manage the machine shop.
The cars Miller conceived and Stevenson designed were a revelation, both among American racers of the era and their European contemporaries. Low and sleek, they were built on a rigid frame that used two modified C-section siderails with curved lower flanges that curled under to join the floorpan. The rails were joined by four 2½" diameter tubular crossmembers. Both front and rear suspensions utilized wide base double wishbones with shorter upper wishbones cast from dural alloy. The upper wishbone acted as a shroud for the entire suspension and the front wheel driveshafts to make a clean, low drag aerodynamic shape. Springing was by Miller's favorite quarter-elliptical leaf springs. At the front the differential housing casting included the inner suspension mounts, a technique pioneered here by Miller which is still utilized in racing car design today. When assembled, Miller's wishbones are so tightly spaced vertically that they appear to be a single airfoil-shaped piece, giving no clue to the elegant complexity they hide. It is one of the triumphs of automobile design in the Thirties, a functional and effective solution to a complex handling and driving problem that also looks, in true Harry Miller fashion, beautiful, clean and almost effortless in its simplicity.
The drive system followed Miller's proven layout but utilized standard Ford gears in an amazingly compact and efficient housing. Engines were built by Ford based on the 221 cubic inch flathead with ported intake and exhaust passages and utilizing special pistons, aluminum heads, racing cams, magneto ignition and a single high output water pump. Most were fitted with aluminum intake manifolds with four carburetors and made about 150 horsepower at 5,000 rpm.
All this mechanical artistry was complemented by one of the most beautiful 2-seat bodies ever to grace a car at Indianapolis featuring a grille that emulated the look of the '35 Fords. Long, low and slim, with tapered tails, Emil Deidt's consummate skills were never, before or since, employed to greater effect. The riding mechanic nestled low on the right while the driver's side was cut deeply down to accommodate the favored driving style of the day where the driver leaned down and to the left to get a clear field of view in the turns. Among the cars of the day the Miller-Fords were a dramatic evolutionary leap.
Brakes were standard Ford mechanically-operated drums on all four wheels. Inside the cockpit an array of Stewart-Warner gauges filled the aluminum instrument panel. Some of the Miller-Fords had 160 mph speedometers in place of tachs, an innovation not inappropriate to the high gear-only Speedway. The steering wheels were Ford's new "banjo-spoke" design and they controlled an unorthodox but effective epicyclic-geared steering box of Miller's design.
The first of the Miller-Fords to be completed, George Bailey's car made its press debut at Indy on May 15. The others were still being completed in Detroit and were delivered, usually unpainted and often without their engines, directly to the Speedway in the days leading up to the Memorial Day classic. Their flaw quickly revealed itself. The steering gearbox was mounted directly to the left side exhaust manifold. It heated up quickly, cooked off its lubricant and the internal gears expanded until they seized. All sorts of expedient race track fixes were thrown at the problem but none were effective. Lack of development time before the race would be the Miller-Fords' undoing.
Of the eight cars reportedly completed before the race only five made qualifying attempts and four made the show. Fastest was Ted Horn in his rookie appearance at the Speedway who qualified 26th, among the stock-block entries only slower than Frank Brisko's Studebaker. Johnny Seymour was in 27th starting position, George Bailey was 29th and Bob Sall squeaked into the field 33rd and last. The Miller-Fords, while not the fastest cars in the field, proved capable of doing exactly what Harry Miller had predicted. Their fully independent suspension gripped the bricks better than any of their competitors, enabling the drivers to use all the flathead V8s' power all the way around the Brickyard.
In the race Sall's steering failed first, on lap 47. Bailey's followed on lap 65 and Seymour dropped out only 6 laps later. Horn, whose prototype steering box had steel instead of bronze gears, hammered on, wrestling with tighter and tighter steering until he could barely turn the car. He pitted on lap 145 and, without cool air passing through the engine compartment, the steering locked up tight, forcing an end to his valiant effort.
Back in Detroit Henry Ford was understandably livid and eventually ordered all the Miller-Fords stored. This might be the end of their story, except that their Miller reputation and brilliant design kept racers knocking at Mr. Ford's door and he (or someone at Ford) finally relented. The later history of the Miller-Fords reveals just how sound and effective their design was, and the quality, skill and craftsmanship that Miller's small crew in Detroit lavished upon their construction. Several Offenhauser-Miller engines replaced the Ford V8s and they achieved creditable results at Indy. One went on to provide the platform for the first Novi and others were the basis of Lou Fageol's Twin Coach Special.
Remarkably, the Granatelli brothers entered a Mercury flathead powered Miller-Ford at Indy in 1946 and 1947, making the show and running well until late race failures (not to the steering) sidelined it both years. It still wore its Emil Deidt-built '35 Ford style grille.
This is Number 5, the ex-George Bailey car, which the current enthusiast owner purchased in 1997, ran for two years and then had restored by arch-exponent of such cars, Jim Stranberg of High Mountain Classics. The result is that the car is in perfect condition cosmetically and mechanically. The car was shown at Pebble Beach in 1999 in the Open Wheel Race Cars class where it collected a 3rd place award. We believe that it was also driven by Herb Ardinger (Lew Welch entrant) to 6th place at Indy in 1938 and then by Cliff Bergere (again a Lew Welch entry) to 3rd in 1939; Danny Kladis has confirmed that he drove the car for Grancor in 1946, finishing 23rd.
The Miller-Fords are outstanding examples of the creativity and artistry of Harry Miller where form followed function to achieve a rare and special combination of performance and beauty. The story of the Miller-Fords and their three colorful protagonists, Harry Miller, Preston Tucker and Henry Ford, is as unique as their design and construction.
This racing car would be a great addition to any serious motor car collection.