Estate sales can recirculate heretofore unobtainable cars, which-absent their owners’ passing-would have remained tucked away indefinitely
Harry Miller’s name may not ring a bell as loudly as Ettore Bugatti’s, but Bugatti acquired Miller race cars to study before producing his first dual overhead camshaft engine in the Type 50 of 1930.
New Indianapolis 500 competition rules for 1923 limited engine displacement to two liters and eliminated the riding mechanic, so Miller designer Leo Goossen gave working drawings of the Model 122 to shop foreman Fred Offenhauser, who had been with Miller since 1915.
With the exception of wheels, tires, ignition parts, gauges, and a few other items, every part was produced on the premises. Miller required that parts be simple, lightweight, and sculptural, and the creation of these “simple” parts required tremendous skill and patience.
The engine design was straightforward. The architecture of the successful 183 was retained but scaled down. The cylinder head was cast integrally with the blocks, of which there were two, each with four cylinders. These were mounted on a barrel-type aluminum crankcase, with a five-bearing crankshaft.
The car was purposely narrow, while the chassis can be described as automotive jewelry. The fit was to the highest standards, finishes included gun bluing, and all the castings were hand-scraped, with a near-polished finish.
A total of seven 122s were completed before the 1923 Indianapolis 500 race, and Cliff Durant, the wealthy son of GM founder William Crapo Durant, purchased five. A credible driver in his own right, Cliff was Miller’s chief patron during this Golden Era. Joe MacPherson’s car was one of the five purchased by Durant.
Its racing career began with a fourth-place finish at Indianapolis, driven by Eddie Hearne, who followed with two firsts, three seconds, and a fifth at board track races. In 1924, Hearne had fuel problems at Indy and finished 19th.
In February of 1925, Stuart Wilkinson crashed the Miller 122 at Culver City Board Track. During the rebuild, it was updated with a supercharger, and Earl Cooper took over as driver for the remainder of the year.
Cooper started fourth in the Indianapolis 500 and ran well, taking the lead from Ralph Hepburn on the 121st lap. On the 124th lap, however, he hit the wall on the southwest turn and finished 17th at an average speed of 110.487 miles per hour. Cooper ran eight board track races that year, gaining two third place finishes in 250-mile events.
The Miller 122’s career wound down in 1926. With its engine displacement reduced to the newly mandated 1.5-liter (91-ci) formula, the car participated in four board track events early in the year but engine damage kept it out of the Indy 500.
The Miller next appeared in September of 1928, when Bill Albertson of Penn Yan, New York, bought the car and finished sixth in a 100-mile race at the Atlantic City board track.
For the 1929 Indianapolis 500, Albertson’s Miller 122 was driven by Frank Farmer. Farmer started 26th and ran as high as sixth, but his supercharger broke on lap 140. Later that year, Albertson won at Lehighton and Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.
The highpoint of the car’s 1930 season was Albertson’s winning of a 100-mile race at Toledo, Ohio. But his luck ran out on August 16 and he was killed during a race in Middletown, New York. Albertson’s widow sold the car to Horace Shaw, and in 1932, Shaw’s driver Malcolm Fox scored three second-place dirt track finishes.
Photos of the car taken in the mid- to late-1930s indicate that it was a “Reddy’s Special” with Joe Silvia driving, but no competition record has been found.
In the 1940s, a man named Schwartz acquired the Miller, then sold it to Edmund Dunn in the 1950s. Dunn sold it to Massachusetts collector Edgar Roy in the 1960s. In 1968, Carl Bross of Michigan acquired the car but had an inaccurate body built. Upon Bross’s death the car was sold to Anthony Bamford in England, where it remained until bought by race car collector Bob Sutherland. His collection was dispersed on his death, and the Miller was bought by Joe MacPherson. A remarkable survivor, it retained its original frame rails, front end, rear axle, engine, transmission, steering components, brakes, and even pedals.
In his approach to the restoration of the 1923 122, MacPherson decided to replicate its appearance in supercharged form, as driven by Earl Cooper in the 1925 Indianapolis 500.
As presented, this Miller 122 Supercharged race car can rightfully take a place of honor in the most sophisticated of car collections. It has incredible racing history, known lineage, and an amazing tale of survival.