Archive for the ‘Obscurities’ Category

Who said Webbo and Sebbo can’t play nicely in the sandpit together?…

Cheesey Australian Grand Prix promotional shoot prior to the 2010 Albert Park weekend taken at St Kilda Beach close by.

Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel had a few territorial disputes along the way didn’t they?, it did get a bit nutty I spose but I’ve always liked a lack of team orders- or drivers obeying them anyway!

At Albert Park in 2010 the pair qualified their Red Bull RB6 Renault’s 1-2 with Seb in front, he failed to finish with brake problems whilst Mark gave Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren a tap up the bum late in the race ruining a podium for both.

Jenson Button’s McLaren MP4-25 Mercedes won from Robert Kubica, Renault R30 and Felipe Massa in a Ferrari F10.

Credits

Getty Images- Peter Fox

Tailpiece

Finito

 

 

(G Morris)

Ralph Morris about to leave the line in his 1937 Riley Sprite, Bacchus Marsh, Victoria 19 September 1937. He won the half-mile sprint with a time of 22 4/5 seconds…

The event is being conducted on the road between Bacchus Marsh and Gisborne. Bacchus Marsh is 60 Km to Melbourne’s west on the Western Highway- the road to Adelaide and beyond.

The TT Sprites were a series of cars built to take part in the Tourist Trophy races run in the UK in the mid thirties, it is thought that as many as 10-12 were built, with a variety of engines- 12/4, 15/6 and at least one with a six-cylinder engine.

The chassis was either the 22T or 44T. The 12/4 engine was an undersquare 1496 cc 4 cylinder unit fed by two SU carbs and gave 61 bhp @ 5500 rpm. A 4 speed pre-selector gearbox was used and semi-elliptic solid axle suspension front and rear. Top speed was quoted as 88 mph.

The Melbourne ‘Argus’ announced the arrival of the first Sprite in Australia in its 4 May 1937 issue, has to be this chassis surely?

Rileys were popular light sporting cars in Australia, the ‘lineup’ from front to rear above are ’37 Kestrel, probably a ’34 Sedan and a 1931/2 Australian bodied Riley 9 Coupe.

The photo below is of the same group of cars- the car in the centre is the Kestrel owned by Club President Norman Horton who is doubtless at the wheel, he was second with a time of 26 3/5 seconds. Ralph Morris is standing next to the car. To the far left is the front of the Imp and to the right the Riley 9.

(G Morris)

Click on this link for an excellent website on Rileys in Australia, it is amazing just how many of these light, sporting and robust cars came to Oz.

http://www.phil.soden.com.au/ria.html

I am also intrigued to know the whereabouts of any of the cars featured.

Photo Credit…

G Morris

Finito…

 

Nice bit of promotional artwork, I wonder what car is being characterised though?…

The image is a crop from a London Midland & Scottish Railway poster to promote the Crystal Palace 21 May 1938 meeting. The Sydenham Trophy, the car feature event of the day, was won by the John HT Smith, MG at an average speed of 52 mph.

It seems possible the inspiration is the Alfa Romeo 308C, although the bodywork is not an exact fit, mind you maybe its a stylised Mercedes W125 or an Alfa 8C-35 or perhaps something else?

(forix.com)

The image above is of Manfred Von Brauchitsch taking some air on the Melbourne Rise during the October 2 1937 Donington Grand Prix weekend.

Bernd Rosemeyer won in an Auto Union B Type from the Mercedes W125’s of Von Brauchitsch and Rudy Caracciola, perhaps the artist, a ‘Mr Light’ attended the weekend with his art an impressionist interpretation of the car, but in red?

(Getty)

Mechanics attend to one of the W125’s in an unidentified paddock. Click here for an article about this great car;

https://primotipo.com/2015/08/11/mercedes-benz-w125-1937s-dominant-gp-car-and-rudy-uhlenhaut/

How about the Alfa 308 or 308C then?

Four of these Colombo engineered cars, with independent front suspension and 2991 cc versions of Vittorio Jano’s long-lived straight-8 were built and first raced by Tazio Nuvolari at Pau in 1938. A leaking fuel saddle-tank caused the accident which was the catalyst for the great Mantuan to leave Alfa.

(unattributed)

Raymond Sommer, above Alfa Romeo 308C during the July 1939 French Grand Prix.

Sommer and Chinetti in two of the machines were fifth and eighth. The race was won by Herman Muller from George Meier, both aboard 3 litre V12 Auto Union Type D’s- third was a Talbot MD 4.5 litre straight-6, the driver Rene Le Begue.

It is possible Mr Light used these cars as inspiration but the two vents either side of the radiator aperture are missing.

(unattributed)

Qsqui Jarillo advises ‘The photo was taken in Buenos Aires city in 1949 and is probably the car being moved in front of the Automobile Club of Argentina building. In the background is the ‘Bosque de Palermo’ park, the place where pre-F1 age Grand Prix cars were raced.’

‘The car is the 1938 Alfa Romeo 308 Tipo C, chassis number 50017, engine 80017 and raced by local driver Oscar Galvez, now displayed in the Fangio Museum.’

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Etcetera: 1938 Sydenham Trophy…

Credit…

Light, Fox Photos, forix.com, ‘Alfa Romeo’ in kolumbus.f1

Tailpiece: Alfa Romeo 8C-35 perhaps?…

Light’s car could be I guess, the Alfa 8C-35- the donor chassis for the four Alfa 308C’s were ‘old 8C-35/12-C36 tubular chassis used with only minor updates’.

The car above is the Hans Ruesch Alfa Romeo 8C-35 cruising through the Brooklands paddock past the Clubhouse and about to be tested by wealthy Australian John Snow in 1938.

John Medley in ‘John Snow: Classic Motor Racer’ wrote that after the Brooklands test Snow hired the car for meetings at Crystal Palace, Donington, Brooklands and Cork. Unfortunately the car, with Buddy Featherstonhaugh at the wheel crashed badly during practice at Donington and was then sent back to the factory for repair.

In a sidebar of Australian motor racing history Snow brought another of Ruesch’s cars to Australia, the Alfa P3/2900 Tipo B #5002 which he sold to his friend Jack Saywell.

It’s possible Mr Light saw the 3822 cc car in the UK and liked it so much he used it as a base for his poster? The 8C-35 was Alfa’s post Tipo B response to the Silver Arrows onslaught.

(unattributed)

Hans Ruesch in his Alfa Romeo 8C-35 during the 1937 Monaco Grand Prix.

He was seventh, five laps adrift of the three W125’s at the head of the field raced by Von Brauchitsch, Caracciola and Christian Kautz. Three of the four 8C-35’s contested the event and finished line astern from sixth to eighth places- Giuseppe Farina, Sommer and Ruesch, ‘best of the rest’ behind five German cars…

Finito…

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Jack Brabham looking very comfy in his Brabham BT20 Repco with ‘lightweight’ head-cam attached during practice at Watkins Glen in 1966…

When looking at this shot it’s amazing to reflect on such equipment, every man and his dog have ‘GoPros’ to capture their sporting triumphs these days whatever they might be.

What Jack was up to is interesting, and not covered in the MotorSport report of the race. ‘Grand Prix’ was released on 21 December 1966, the date of this footage is the Watkins Glen weekend of October 1/2 that year.

Given James Garner’s presence is this some late footage for the classic which would have been in the final production stages or some other sort of promotional activity?

I’m interested to know from you ‘Grand Prix’ anoraks or any of you who were there.

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Brabham, Bandini and Surtees at the start. Brabham BT20 Repco, Ferrari 312 and Cooper T81 Maserati respectively (Upitis)

Jacks car is not his regular 1966 mount, the one-off 1965 BT19 chassis but rather a BT20, the 1966 F1 design raced by Denny throughout the year.

Brabham put the Repco V8 engined car on pole, a good effort as he was experimenting with both Lucas and Bosch ignition systems during practice which hampered him putting sequences of quick laps together.

He led the race convincingly until a cam follower broke, jamming the camshaft and breaking its drive chain. Jim Clark lead from that point, lap 55 in the Lotus 43 BRM. The engine of Jim’s car, BRM’s spare, was still being fitted and finessed right up to the start of the race.

It was a famous win, the H16’s only victory and ironic that the complex, heavy, powerful lump was in the back of a Lotus rather than the BRM chassis the Bourne boys had laboured so long and hard to perfect. Tony Rudd’s mob deserved the win more than Chapman’s but that’s motor racing! Cooper Maserati were second and third, Rindt in front of Surtees after the 1964 World Champs T81 tangled with Peter Arundell’s Lotus 33 Climax early in the race.

Click here for an article on the Lotus 43; https://primotipo.com/2015/02/17/jim-clark-taking-a-deep-breath-lotus-43-brm/

Clark heads to the dummy grid whilst Richie Ginther walks behin- #5 is the nose of Jack’s car

Credits…

Alvis Upitis

Tailpiece: Jack being plumbed for the camera before the off, the new World Champ has everything to smile about…

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Finito…

 

Fantastic cover of Australian Motor Manual’s Yearbook Number 2, 1952…

An article inside features the Autocrat Special, a Ford flathead V8 engined racer which ace engineer/body builder Terry Cornelius advises was bought by his father, Arthur, from Ken Cox in Benalla, Victoria, and raced at Wahgunyah and other ‘outlaw’ (non CAMS certified) tracks until it was sold to a couple of fellas near Albury and never seen again.

Before Arthur took possession of the machine it had passed through the hands of the Stilo brothers and was fitted with a Holden ‘Grey’ six bolted to a Lancia four speed ‘box.

As the page above indicates the car was originally built for Jim Skinner, the chassis made by Melbourne’s Eddie Thomas of ‘Speed Shop’ fame with motive power originally a by way of a Willys Jeep engine which was later replaced by a Ford 60 V8.

See the ‘Border Morning Mail’ article and images of the 1 November 1959 dirt circuit meeting at Hume Weir below.

(C McQuillen)

I had completed the article as above but not uploaded it when Adelaide enthusiast Dean Donovan posted both the magazine cover online and some photos of cars featured in the magazine, including the ‘TS Special’, a superb Australian Special i shared garage space with at Phillip Island in March.

Charlie Mitchell in the TS Special GMC at Phillip Island, he is heading up the rise before the drop into MG (M Williams)

Whilst originally built by the Styles Brothers in Western Australia- Rod Styles was an instructor at the old Carlisle Technical College in Perth, for Syd Taylor and now owned by Sandgroper Charlie Mitchell- it resides in Victoria for the first time in its long life spent in the west. Pat Ryan’s bus depot houses the car with Charlie making regular trips east to race it.

TS Special with original body and Dodge powered, probably Syd Taylor at the wheel (Motor Manual)

Noted West Australian racing historian Ken Devine advises that the car was rebuilt in 1952 taking on the appearance it has now, Ken’s photo below is of Taylor on the Bunbury ‘Round The Houses’ road course in 1960. I wrote an article about Bunbury a while back;

https://primotipo.com/2017/03/23/bunbury-flying-50-allan-tomlinson-ferrari-500-et-al/

The TS Special is now fitted with a highly modified 6 cylinder GMC truck engine- I was speaking to the car’s young engine builder at the Island, I wish I had taken notes!, it has a steel crank, roller cam and highly modified cylinder head. Mitchell and his offsider prepare the car beautifully, and Charlie, who has owned it for some years, drives it very well.

Credits…

Leon Sims, Terry Cornelius Collection, Chris McQuillen, Dean Donovan, Ken Devine, Max Williams

Finito…

Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila blast through a French vineyard in their VW Polo R WRC during the October 2013 Rallye de France…

They are in the Heiligenstein, Alsace area of Eastern France.

Photographer Patrick Hertzog has brilliantly framed his shot to capture the drone in the foreround to give it that ‘Out Of This World’ factor!

Rally Australia, Coffs Harbour, November 2016, the Ogier/Julien Ingrassia Polo R WRC on day 1. The pair won the event and again in 2013, 2014 and 2015 with the Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger winners in another Polo R WRC in 2016 (M Bettiol)

VW first contested the WRC to the ‘second generation’ of World Rally Car rules in 2013 although the Polo WRC was launched in May 2011 and tested extensively for eighteen months by Carlos Sainz, Sebastien Ogier and VW’s test and development driver Dieter Depping evolving a very quick, reliable package before it was blooded in battle.

The four wheel drive 1.6 litre, DOHC, turbocharged four cylinder engined car developed circa 318 bhp @ 6250 rpm through its regulation 33mm air restrictor finally made its competition debut at the 2013 Monte Carlo Rally where Ogier was second.

He won in Sweden, Mexico, Portugal, Sardinia, Finland, Australia, and in France- he took the title from Thierry Neuville in the event pictured in this articles opening shot. He was also victorious late in the year in Spain and Great Britain, taking the first of four titles on the trot in the car in 2013.

(P Hertzog)

 

Hi-res version of the opening shot- same pair above on the hop (P Hertzog)

Ogier won again in 2014 and entered 2015 with a second generation Polo R WRC, changes comprised a new VW 6 speed sequential manual ‘box with front and rear multi-plate slippery diffs, revised hydraulics system, larger rear wing and a big decrease in weight.

The cars were again dominant in 2015 and 2016, Ogier winning in both years thereby becoming one of four drivers to win four championships, the others are Juha Kankkunen, Tommi Makinen and Sebastian Loeb.

VW developed a new car to meet the changed technical regulations which commenced for 2017 but withdrew from the sport in November 2016.

The Polo R WRC CV includes winning 43 of the 53 rallies it entered and four consecutive WRC’s for drivers and manufacturers- not bad.

J-P Clatot/AFP/Getty)

VW Polo R WRC competition debut in the 2013 Monte Carlo Rally- photos above and below.

Ogier and are Ingrassia are shown on stage 3, Col de la Fayolle, between Le Moulinon and Antraigues.

Seb Loeb/Daniel Elena won the event in a Citroen DS3 WRC by two seconds from Ogier/Ingrassia with another Citroen DS3 third crewed by the Daniel Sordo/Carlos del Barrio combination.

Ogier/Ingrassia took the first Polo WRC win a month later in Rally Sweden.

(Getty)

Credits…

Patrick Hertzog, Massimo Bettiol, Jean-Pierre Clatot

Tailpiece…

Rally Championship of Spain, Rally Catalunya, Salou, October 2016. Anders Mikkelsen and Anders Jaeger, VW Polo R WRC- the Ogier/Ingrassia combination won with Mikkelsen unplaced (M Bettiol)

Finito…

Whilst Clarence La Tourette’s superb cutaway drawing is dated 1938 I think the car shown- with intercooler and underbody oil cooler but devoid of its sidepod fuel tanks is drawn to 1941 or later specifications (Clarence La Tourette)

Harry Miller’s stunning, brilliant, innovative, Gulf Miller mid-engined, four-wheel drive Indianapolis racer…

By 1938 this prodigiously talented of engineering aesthetes greatest days of motor racing and commercial success were behind him.

He was bankrupted in 1933 and left his native California for New York where there remained plenty of opportunities for Miller to deploy his talents, the scale of which had taken on almost mythical proportions.

For those unfamiliar with the American, one of the greatest race design engineers of the twentieth century, click on this link for a brief, concise summary of Harry’s life- important context for this article. http://milleroffy.com/Racing%20History.htm

Lee Oldfield with his self constructed Marmon engined car at Indy in 1937. Said to be ‘rough or agricultural’ this car is worthy of an article on its own given its historical Indy significance (IMS)

Miller was not the first to build and race a mid-engined machine at Indianapolis, that honour went to Lee Oldfield who built and attempted to qualify a 6 litre Marmon V16 engined, self constructed car in 1937. It featured all independent suspension and inboard mounted drum brakes in its specification.

Oldfield, no relation to Barney, a racer/engineer/businessman was entered by the Duesenberg brothers in one of their cars, a Mason, in 1912, the car failed to qualify after engine problems. He later found fame in aviation as the founder of Labeco, a company formed to work on aviation engines, the firm still exists today as Renk Labeco. The Oldfield Marmon is beyond the scope of this piece, an interesting story for another time perhaps.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves, there was a radical front engined rear drive four cylinder Miller Gulf before the even more edgy mid-engined six cylinder Miller Gulf.

In 1937 Ira Vail, years before Miller’s first client for a straight-8 engine, commissioned him to design and build two new four-cylinder cars to compete against the pre-World War 1 technology which still prevailed at Indy.

Shortly after his design process had commenced- Harry had a design ‘in stock’- he had Everett Stevenson draw a lightweight twin-cam aluminium, two valve four cylinder engine of 255 cid circa 1933, which, with a 0.125 inch overbore was teased to 270 CID. The engines used Coffman cartridge style starters typical of the type used on aircraft where an exploding blank shell drove a piston, which in turn engaged a screw thread to turn the engine over.

The Gulf Miller four had plenty of Miller’s advanced thinking, with a split crankcase and wet cylinder liners, but was an update of a design he had worked up prior to his 1933 bankruptcy

Miller, by then 61 years of age and suffering from diabetes launched into the last great couple of designs of his career.

From 1938 the Indy 500 was to be run under the Grand Prix formula laid down by the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR, the forerunner of the FIA) specifying engine limits of 3 litres supercharged and 4.5 litres unsupercharged or 183.06 and 274.59 cubic inches of displacement.

By definition this marked the return of single-seat racers which removed the inherent danger of riding mechanics. Additionally, any type of fuel could be used, the supply of which was unlimited, this encouraged the use of supercharged engines fed by alcohol fuel.

The 95 inch wheelbase chassis of Ira’s cars was of the ladder or girder type of the period, but different in that it used deep, rolled steel side members which were intended to be very stiff.

‘Teardrop’ side fuel tanks were fitted to either side of the car to locate the fuel mass centrally, additionally they were interconnected so that the cars weight distribution would remain in equilibrium regardless of fuel load.

The engine and clutch were at the front of the car, the four speed transaxle, which used Cord 810 gearsets and final drive was at the rear.

The suspension was independent on all four wheels, a refinement of the Miller-Ford type he used in 1935. The hydraulic shocks were driver adjustable. In another Miller first the car was fitted with disc brakes on all four wheels. Not of the type we know mind you but rather a design based on an entirely different principle, that of the disc clutch and its pressure plate.

Further innovation extended to the radiators which resisted a traditional core but rather comprised a ‘trellis type’ of arrangement of chromed plated copper pipe tubing which was deployed around the cars nose and sides.

At this point, as the construction of the two cars was progressing, but it is not clear exactly when in early 1938, the direction of the project changed completely.

Harry Miller’s son Ted told Griff Borgeson, the famous journalist researching one of his books, that Harry visited Colonel Drake of Gulf Oil a couple of years before Vail’s project was acquired by Gulf.

Borgeson ‘The story goes that the construction of these two cars was just getting nicely underway when the son of Gulf’s board chairman…dropped in at Miller’s shop, and the rest is history.’

’Ira Vail was bought out and the entire project was moved to the headquarters of Gulf R&D at Harmarville, a suburb of Pittsburgh. As work continued on the fours, a program was launched immediately for the design and construction of a team of much more ambitious four-wheel-drive, rear engine Gulf sixes. They too, would run exclusively on 81 octane Gulf No Nox gas.’

The first four cylinder front-engined Miller-Gulfs (above) had the radiator tubing on the nose of the car ‘presenting an avant garde streamlined visage’ wrote Borgeson. ‘The Gulf cars used Miller-Ford type suspension as well as disc brakes, which at least were beautifully ornamental’ (Borgeson)

Before dealing with the mid-engined Gulf Millers sixes lets look at how the fours fared at Indy in 1938.

When the cars were launched to the press in April 1937 Miller predicted speeds of 126 mph, 2 mph faster than the current Indy record. In early tests at Langhorne the engines overheated and the brittle radiator tubing broke, by the time the cars appeared at Indy the radiators were small square conventional fittings mounted either side of the cars front body section.

Front engined Gulf four with ‘the intermediate type external radiator core. This radiator development also proved to be inadequate’, car very high. Driver is Bill Winn, note IFS suspension fairings, date and circuit not recorded (Borgeson)

1924 Indy winner LL ‘Slim’ Corum had been away from racing for three years but was engaged by Miller as a mechanic to assist driver Billy Winn with the new design. During early Indy tests on 21 April 1938 Winn escaped injury when the car stopped in the pit area with an engine ablaze.

Winn tried both cars on the last day of time trials but abandoned both ten mile runs due to lack of speed, the cars were two of thirteen non-qualifiers that year- poor Bill Winn died three months later during the ‘Governors Sweepstakes’ at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

The Gulf fours story from 1939 is told at the end of this article.

One of the Millers in 1938. Dumpy little jigger- note the IFS, and aero section side pontoon tanks which made a whole lot of sense in terms of weight distribution, from a safety perspective not so much. Whenever I research articles on Speedway Racing of the day it reminds me just how many fellas died on the boards, dirt and bricks (IMS)

Miller’s response to the opportunities of the new rules, with Gulf financial muscle was to embark on design and construction of a mid-engined, four-wheel drive, all-independent suspension car…

To this chassis he fitted a canted, short-stroke- said to be the very first oversquare engine, with a 3 inch bore and 3.125 inch stroke, supercharged, 3-litre, in-line six cylinder engine, a type he had not designed before.

In typical Miller style the engine was cast as one piece in aluminium- a finned cylinder block casting with integral head with housings for the twin overhead camshafts and dry sump made of magnesium. Fed by two carburettors, the supercharger used pressures of 18 pounds per square inch.

The fuel mass was located centrally in side fuel tanks and the car was fitted with disc brakes on all four wheels, as per the Ira Vail car.

Lets remember the year is 1938 folks, it was a truly avant-garde, complex, ambitious motorcar which makes the 1938 Auto Union Type D look mundane in terms of specification!

Harry’s cars were generally exquisite to look at in terms of their individual componentry and the sum of their parts- the completed machine, contrary to that normal state, was the ‘fugly-sister’ of the Miller litter, not that ugliness is necessarily a barrier to on-track success.

If the pre-war Auto Unions set the mid-engined paradigm- they did in that Coopers followed their lead post-war, John Cooper’s first cars featured the AU cocktail of ladder frame chassis, mid-mounted engine with gearbox behind, all independent suspension and drum brakes all around- Harry Miller, predictably, took an original approach.

Focus on the top drawing as to how things work. Drive goes forward to the gearbox at the front of the car via the lower driveshaft and to the front wheels- and to the rear along the top ‘shaft. The rear diff is aft of the engine with the supercharger behind it. The tube from the ‘charger attaches to the intercooler. You can see the top leaf spring of the rear suspension. Fuel tanks drawn are early pontoons (JF Drake)

The chassis was the ladder or girder type of the period, but different in that it used deep, rolled steel side members which were intended to be very stiff. The suspension was independent, a refinement of the Miller-Ford type.

The Miller 3 litre engines flywheel and clutch faced the driver, rather than the rear of the car with the four speed manual gearbox mounted at the front of the car aft of the radiator and oil tank. The large supercharger was located at the very rear of the machine rather than more directly connected to the six-cylinder DOHC, 2 valve motor. The full length ‘majestic pipe-organ’ full length exhaust was replaced from 1939 with short ‘machine gun’ stub pipes.

As the engine was developed to produce more power- and given the Gulf mandated use of its ‘pump petrol’ for marketing purposes- a large intercooler was fitted to the left engine cover from 1939.

‘Teardrop’ side fuel tanks were fitted to both sides of the car to locate the fuel mass centrally, as was the case with the four cylinder car. To shelter the driver the bodywork was high, the seating position similarly high to clear the driveshafts which ran fore and aft.

The car was heavy for all of the obvious reasons in terms of its 4WD componentry relative to a conventional two wheel driven car.

‘Continuing his experiments with engine cooling, he tried a new type of surface radiator on each side of the little cabin which occupied the place of an engine hood.’

‘There was a distinct aircraft feel to the car as a whole, which may have been a clue to Miller’s longer-range interests. The car was rushed to some semblance of completion in time to command the fascinated attention of the automotive world on the occasion of the Indy 500 in 1938’ Borgeson wrote.

Ralph Hepburn, Indy 1938, love the original ‘orchestral’ exhaust system, I wonder how effective it was. Rear diff is aft of the engine with supercharged behind it- engine fed by 2 carbs (IMS)

The car was not finished with sufficient time to be adequately tested and developed and therefore somewhat predictably, both drivers, George Bailey and Ralph Hepburn, failed to qualify due to cooling and fuel delivery problems for the 1938 Indy race.

The 1938 rule changes adopted, that is their liberalisation, brought forth other exotic cars in addition to Harry’s- Louis Meyer’s Winfield supercharged Maserati 6, Jimmy Snyder’s and Ron Householder’s Sparks Little 6’s being examples.

The race had a silver lining for Miller personally though- Floyd Roberts won the event in an utterly conventional four-cylinder Miller 270 beating Wilbur Shaw, Shaw Offy, 3 laps behind Roberts, and Chet Miller aboard a Summers Offy to the flag!

Floyd Roberts, winner of Indy 1938 in a conventional 4 cylinder DOHC Miller 270 (IMS)

Miller convinced Gulf Oil to stay the course and refined the car, three were entered for the 1939 race, they were driven by George Barringer, Zeke Meyer and George Bailey.

The car was radically redesigned, the Rootes blower replaced by a Miller centrifugal supercharger with an impeller which had working surfaces on both sides instead of only one. It delivered double the charge to a beautiful new alloy intercooler.

New cylinder heads with individual inlet ports were made and the distinctive exhaust extractor system was replaced with long, curved, individual vertical pipes. A conventional radiator core was used as well as bodywork changes.

Gulf still didn’t assist the competitiveness of the package by insisting upon the use of their street petrol- the six-cylinder engines produced circa 245hp whilst Miller’s old DOHC fours – now in the hands of Fred Offenhauser, who had acquired the commercial rights to the design, produced 300hp using the usual Indy alcohol-based cocktail fuel.

The team were better prepared than the year before though, MotorSport reported that ‘Miller…has been ready in good time with his cars, one of which was the first to try out the new asphalt paving on the back stretch. George Bailey was the driver, and he was timed to do 118 mph, at which speed he reported that the throttle was only half depressed. Ralph Hepburn has been out and about in one of the cars.’

Barringer, 1939 surrounded by Gulf Oil officials, nice intercooler detail, note heat shield between ‘cooler and stub exhausts (unattributed)

 

George Bailey at Indy in 1939, great shot of the aero section pontoon fuel tanks, intercooler added from that year and stub exhausts (IMS)

During qualifying on 19 May Barringer’s car dropped a cylinder, he was out of the field. He later qualified the Bill White Spl Offy fifteenth, finishing sixth.

A day later Johnny Seymour hit the turn 4 wall during practice, the car burst into flames and was destroyed, Seymour sustained severe burns but lived. George Bailey qualified his machine, and as a result became the driver of the first mid-engined car to qualify for Indy. The frightening accident to Seymour led to Zeke Meyer’s decision to withdraw from the race. Bailey qualified an encouraging eighth, but lasted only 47 laps, retiring with valve failure.

Things went from bad to worse the following year, 1940, when Harry returned with three rebuilt Gulf-Millers ‘in tip-top shape’.

George Bailey wasn’t so lucky this time, his Miller was involved in a similar accident to Seymour’s the year before. On 7 May Bailey was practicing the car, initially he completed 15 laps before returning to the pits.

After some adjustments he went back out and by the end of the fourth lap was up to 128.5 mph, as he entered turn 2 he either got up into the marbles or his engine seized, locking all four wheels.

Whatever the cause, the car started to slide sideways, as he fought to correct the car the Miller shot into the inside rail, his left-side fuel tank was then punctured and exploded. The unfolding disaster worsened when the car spun and the right side tank was hit and it too exploded.

Drenched in fuel and alight, the plucky, terrified driver jumped out of the car and ran towards speedway photographer Eddie Hoff who did his best to beat out the flames. The poor man fell three times on his journey, he had a fractured hip and leg injuries. The end to this grisly accident was his death 45 minutes later from third-degree burns.

Bailey, born in Cleveland in 1902, parlayed a job as a test driver with the Hudson Motor Company eventually to competing in the Indy 500- he raced five times without finishing, his best result was twelfth in a Barbasol in 1938 after missing the qualifying cut in his Miller.

The two other Millers, upon the ‘suggestion’ of the officials to the team were withdrawn from the race.

One of the cars as substantially modified for the 1941 race. Still retains the Miller drivetrain and general layout ‘but had drastically reduced frames, bodies and suspensions- all for the worse other than safety’. Fuel contained within chassis frame rails- oil cooler under the car removed after 1941 due to its vulnerability (vanderbiltcupraces.com)

For the 1941 Indy 500 the cars were further modified as a result of rule changes which banned the side tanks, major factors in the Barringer and Bailey accidents.

The two surviving cars now carried boxed steel side sections in which the fuel tanks were housed and cushioned- the bodies were again reworked.

MotorSport in an article (published in July 1941 about the annual classic) its reporter writing in May said that ‘New or redesigned cars which will attract the interest of the railbirds this year are led by the four-wheel drive, rear motor ‘guinea pigs’ which the old master Harry Miller designed three years ago, but have just been brought to a point of perfection.’

‘Now handled by the expert mechanic, Eddie Offutt, the cars were given exhaustive tests in Utah this summer, with one of them chalking up an official 500 mile record (AIACR International Class D) average of better than 143 mph.’

In April 1941 the MotorSport reporter observed that ‘Offutt had…been experimenting with (the cars) during the last two years earned its spurs on the salt beds of Bonneville, Utah, when it ran the full 500 miles, under official sanction and timing, at an average of 143 mph.’

‘The late Floyd Roberts set the existing 500 mile record at Indianapolis in 1938 when he completed the distance at an average of 172 mph, and although Indianapolis is a far more difficult course than the ring-around-the rosy- course over which the Offutt car ran, a 143 mph car is a definite challenger, particularly when it has a sister car just as capable.’

The point to be taken from the above is that the cars were fast- and reliable it seemed.

With Barringer and Al Miller (no relation to Harry) driving, the cars were fourteenth and fifteenth on the grid. Both crews were optimistic about their chances with Barringer having a qualifying speed of over 122 mph, but things were again to take a turn for the worse, the Gulf Millers and flames seemed to be an ongoing curse.

(E Hitze)

‘There seemed to be a strange foreboding at the Brickyard early in the day of the 1941 500. Maybe it was due to the cold drizzle that met incoming fans the night before or maybe it was the national worry about Hitler’s action in Europe.’

‘In any case, just as lines formed at the ticket booths, a huge fire swept through the garages. Apparently fumes from fuel in George Barringer’s car were ignited by a welding torch being used in the next stall. Fire trucks were unable to access the inferno quickly because of the huge crowds, and half of one of the two garage structures was completely destroyed.’

The event, down two cars, started an hour late, and Mauri Rose eventually won the show’ wrote Terry Reed.

Barringers cars remains after the 1941 race day dawn fire. At this point only 1 of the 4 cars built remained- Al Miller’s ’41 car. Shot does show the substantial bulkhead in front of the driver (IMS)

In the Miller garage, at about 3 am Barringer was filling his cars fuel tanks when the fumes of the fuel were ignited by a welder in an adjacent pit-Barringer’s was destroyed.

Al Miller’s No.12 car was salvaged by Barringer and helped onto the grid, but after multiple ignition problems its engine either seized, or its transmission failed after a mere 22 laps.

With that, Gulf tired of the partnership with Miller, a great deal of time, effort and money had been spent for little in the way of commercial return. There was also a war to be fought of course.

In a desperately sad, final stage of his life, Harry separated from his wife, moved to Indianapolis and then on to Detroit where he died of a heart attack whilst living in very modest circumstances on 3 May 1943 aged 65.

Al Miller’s car in the pits Indy 1941, 28th after transmission failure on lap 22 (IMS)

The post-conflict postscript of these trail-blazing amazing racing cars were Indy performances in 1946, ’47 and ’48…

By the start of the War only one of the four cars built still existed. One each were destroyed in Indy accidents in 1939 and 1940. George Barringer’s became a corn-chip in the Indy garage fire on the dawn of the 1941 race which left the car raced that year by Al Miller as the only remaining Miller RE 4WD chassis, it was owned by Gulf Oil.

During the 1939-45 conflict George Barringer and his family lived in a home in Indianapolis, Barringer worked nearby in a war related machinery plant.

Born in 1906 in Wichita Falls, Texas, his father was a blacksmith, as a young kid George picked up lots of mechanical skills.

He started racing in Texas circa 1925, little is known about his early racing albeit he appears in newspapers in 1928 as an owner in a Texas AAA race and was a successful driver in what were probably outlaw races. By 1933 he had enough experience to win an Indy ride, his finishes include sixth in 1939 and eighth in 1936. He first drove for Miller in 1941 as we have covered.

His son, Bill Barringer recalled an amazing phone call during the War’s latter stages- ‘In the winter of 1945 Dad got an evening phone call at home, he seemed very excited and after hanging up said to Mom “We just bought a racecar”. Mom was not too happy!’

’The next evening in the wee hours of the morning, during a snowstorm, a truck arrived from Gulf headquarters in Pittsburgh with the un-numbered last remaining Gulf Miller RE 4WD- the driver only said “Heres your racecar”.

Soon after they towed it to George’s garage in Indianapolis.

Barringer aboard his Miller in the garage area, mid May 1946 Indy (IMS)

 

Barringer qualifying in 1946, too good an evocative photo not to use (IMS)

 

Barringer, Indy 1946 (IMS)

Barringer, who did far more miles in the cars than anyone else must have been a ‘true-believer’ in the concept.

In the Preston Tucker sponsored Miller he finished twenty-fourth in the 1946 Indy having retired on lap 27 with a broken gear from grid slot 24.

George Barringer only raced on one other occasion in 1946, at the ill-fated Lakewood Speedway 100 miler in Atlanta on Labor Day.

There, driving an ancient two-man car that Wilbur Shaw used to win the 1937 Indy, he, together with 1946 Indy winner George Robson collided with the slower car of Billy Devore- they simply did not see Devore through the thick dust which characterised the track. The awful accident cost Barringer and Robson their lives- one which could have been averted had Devore been black-flagged for going too slowly or had the dust been controlled.

With continued sponsorship from Tucker, Barringer’s wife ran the car for Al Miller in 1947, he qualified nineteenth and DNF’d with magneto failure.

Immediately after the race Velma Barringer sold the car to Tucker who ran Miller again in 1948, that year he missed the qualifying cut.

In 1951 the Preston Tucker owned car developed an incurable crack in the last remaining block and was off to the Indy Motor Museum, where, no doubt, many of you have seen it.

Bibliography…

milleroffy.com, ‘Miller’ Griffith Borgeson, ‘The Rear Engined Revolution’ Mattijs Diepraam in forix.autosport.com, MotorSport June 1939, July 1941, vanderbiltcupraces.com, Clamshack on Flickr, Article by Brian Laban in The Telegraph June 2014, ‘Indy: The Race and Ritual of The Indianapolis 500’ Terry Reed, indymotorspeedway.com, article by Don Radbruch on georgebarringer.com. ‘The Forgotten 500 Champion-LL Corum’ Kevin Triplett

Al Miller, 1947

Photo Credits…

Clarence La Tourette, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ed Hitze, American Hot Rod Foundation, Pinterest-unattributed, James F Drake

Etcetera…

1938

Rutherford with Harry Miller (IMS)

 

Harry warming up the car before the 1938 race. Rootes type supercharger and churns of Gulf ‘No Nox’ clear to see (Borgeson)

 

Rutherford (IMS)

1939

The wreck of Johnny Seymour’s Miller after his 1939 qualifying crash (IMS)

1947

Al Miller, Indy practice in 1947, DNF after 33 laps (IMS)

 

Gulf Miller Fours…

After failing to qualify for the 1938 500 both cars were extensively rebuilt.

The pontoon style fuel tanks went and were replaced by a single tank mounted high in the tail and the noses changed to conventional front radiators. After testing at the Altoona Pennsylvania dirt track the cars were not entered at Indy in 1939 and later sold to Preston Tucker.

He didn’t race them but used the engines in a failed high-speed landing craft project.

‘Years later the rolling chassis were reportedly found in a Chicago basement and after multiple sales and trades, one of the cars was rebuilt with a Miller ML-510 engine development of the original 255 cubic inch engine’ Kevin Triplett wrote.

(Gulf)

The photograph above is a period Gulf press shot of the two cars after the rebuild described above.

It is a shame they weren’t practiced at Indy in 1939 if only as a fall-back position to their advanced but moody and accident prone six-cylinder brothers. Attractive cars if still with a tall stance.

Tailpiece…

We started the article with an old cutaway, so why not finish it with a modern one, by Mr Ouchi?

The image troubled me though, not the engineering detail but the number, sponsor and colour scheme, I couldn’t make sense of it so decided not to use it. But then by a stroke of Google luck, ‘Clamshack’ on Flickr provided the answer and the narrative from Bill Barringer above as well.

‘The xray illustration is probably taken from the last remaining Gulf Miller RE 4WD…in the IMS Museum…The museum car has a combination livery (why I don’t know) of Al Millers #12 from his running at the 1941 Indy 500 and the signage ‘Preston Tucker Special’ from Al Miller’s run in 1947. I don’t know where the colour is derived from, the 1941 car shows a lighter blue and the 1946 a reddish colour…’

So there you have it. What to make of the cars though?

By 1935 Gulf Oil had assets of more than $US430 million with annual production of more than 63 million barrels of crude oil. Despite that, no amount of money, laboratory, engineering time and expertise, ‘Gulfpride’ Oil and ‘No-Nox’ ethyl gasoline could get Harry’s wild, edgy combination of a mid-engine, four-wheel drive, independently suspended, ‘disc braked’ racer to survive 500 miles at Indianapolis.

What an extraordinary motorcar, one which pointed the way to the future- it promised so much, delivered so little but deserved so much more?…

Finito…