1924 Miller 122/183 Convertible Speed Record CarSOLD

RM Auctions - Monterey Sports & Classic Car Auction - August 16-18

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Estimate: $650,000-$850,000 US

Offered Without Reserve

AUCTION RESULTS: Lot was Sold at a price of $495,000

120bhp 120.1 cu. in. dual overhead camshaft inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission with reverse, live axle suspension with semi-elliptical leaf springs, driveshaft-mounted drum brake. Wheelbase: 94"

For 1923 the Triple AAA racing sanctioning body administered a new 2 liter 122 cubic inch displacement formula. Harry A Miller & Co. complied with a revolutionary single seat masterpiece of a race car. These were to become the first ever series built race car. Each car required well over two thousand parts, each individually drawn and produced at his factory located just south of downtown Los Angeles where they were assembled into a lithe, powerful, wheeled weapon which was used to dominate Board Track racing and set numerous records, some of which remained unbroken for two decades. Early in 1924 Tommy Milton was at the top of his game, a speedway daredevil known from coast to coast. In April of 1920 he had set the American Land Speed record at Daytona Beach Florida. In May he placed third in the Indianapolis 500. In 1921 he won the Indianapolis 500 and also the National Driving Championship. 1922 brought numerous victories at major board track events including several at Beverly Hills. He was again victorious at the 1923 Indy 500 driving a 122 Miller sponsored by Harry Stutz. Flush with success he arrived at Miller ’ s speed emporium to order a one-off 122-style car to be built for a specific purpose-speed record runs. The chassis would be set up to allow either a Miller 183 eight or a Miller 122 eight to be mounted between the rails with the ability to change from one engine to the other quickly. Factory drawings referred to this car as the “ 183 Convertible ” and that somewhat misleading title became its name. Milton wanted the car to be aerodynamically as slippery as possible, so the wheel brakes were taken out of the airstream and replaced by a lever operated externally, contacting brake band operating around a drum placed on the transmission output shaft.

Back in 1920 Milton had been the impetus behind the creation of the first Miller 183 straight eight engine. Barney Oldfield borrowed $5,000.00 from Henry Ford and gave it to Harry Miller on Milton ’ s behalf. Miller had been reluctant to move forward on Milton ’ s idea for a French ballot top-end blended to a Duesenberg bottom-end but money talked and the project was undertaken. The result of this collaboration, involving Milton, Miller and Leo Goossen, led to the foundation of the Miller engine dynasty. After some development design changes and reconfigured cam profiles, the engine came into its own and was a force to be reckoned with, dominating the 1922 racing season. The 183 was the model for every variation of the Miller engine to come including Offenhauser, Meyer Drake and Drake right up to the end of the line in 1978. The 183 was rendered obsolete for racing at tracks governed by the new 122 Formula rules for 1923, however Milton knew it was still a capable powerful well-developed engine. One of the unique features of the 183 engine was that it could be built with the cylinder blocks having either left side or right side exhaust discharge. The 183 engine Milton selected for the convertible had the exhaust on the left side, likely one of the engines out of one of the two Leach Specials or even possibly salvaged from the wrecked Baby Chevrolet/Durant Special that had claimed driver Roscoe Sarles life at the Kansas City track in 1922. All of the 122 single-seat style cars had the exhaust going down the right side of the car with the steering apparatus on the left. The one and only exception being Milton's 183 Convertible, the left side exhaust, right side steering makes it instantly recognizable. The steering gear was likely sourced from a unit designed for the late 1922 Durant Specials. The 122 cubic inch Eight would have required little modification to reverse the cylinder blocks in order to put the exhaust system on the left side. The completed car was taken to Muroc Dry Lake located in the Mojave Desert. The date was April 4th, 1924. Milton, Miller and crew prepared the car and the AAA was there set up and ready to time and record Milton ’ s runs. To put things in perspective, at this time the American Land Speed Record was held by Milton at 156.03. Kenelm Lee Guinness held the European land speed record at 133.75 mph. To set these records, Milton used a dual engine Duesenberg displacing 10-liters, Guinness used a SOHC V12-powered Sunbeam displacing 18.3-liters, behemoths both. The results of the day were astounding; with the 3-liter 183 engine in place, Milton went 151.26 mph, less than 5 mph short of his own land speed record. Milton had now gone 17 mph faster than any European. On the same day the engines were swapped in the chassis and Milton made 141.17 with the 2-liter 122, an equally incredible result. Milton must have felt secure that he had accomplished his goals for the Convertible; he returned to competition using one of his conventional Miller ’ s 122s. An article that appeared in the June 13th 1924 issue of the L.A. Times reported that the car was laying idle. Ralph DePalma, who had tried the car at Ascot, wired Milton for a price. DePalma was photographed in the car along with two Hollywood starlets but it is unknown if any money had changed hands at this time. Noted Miller historian Jim O ’ Keefe believes Norm Batten drove the car at some of the AAA Eastern Fairground Races while it was still owned by Milton.

In 1926 and 1927 Jimmy Gleason was successfully driving the car with numerous 1st and 2nd place finishes at Langhorne, PA and Laurel, MD. It is almost certainly fact that it was during Gleason ’ s stewardship that the chassis wheelbase was shortened from 100 ” to 94 ” . This modification would have greatly aided the handling on the shorter dirt tracks where it was now competing. After Gleason ’ s stewardship the car vanished. It is likely we will never know the full story of its survival during a time of destruction of nearly every other Miller race car. Its full story seems lost to time. The late Tiny Gould, an antique and classic car dealer from Pennsylvania, was assembling a collection of old race cars and sometime in the late 1960s, in the back of an auto repair garage somewhere in Philadelphia, he located two old race cars. One was engineless and the other was Hal powered and complete. Gould really wanted the Hal but had to take both cars to close the deal. When he discovered he had purchased a Miller, he attempted to identify it and believed it was one of Frank Lockhart ’ s 91 cars. This is understandable as Miller knowledge was all but gone and forgotten and current interest and research had really only just begun. After some time, Tiny Gould sold his race car collection at the Pocono Raceway in 1975 and it was here that against some rather spirited competition Dave Uihlein managed to get the last bid in. Under Uihlein ’ s ownership it was correctly identified as a 122 and specifically as Milton ’ s Convertible. An original 122 Miller engine was located and installed and the car was cosmetically refurbished. The unique right hand steering gear was lost at some point and replaced by a Schroeder unit. The now viable Miller has proved itself both on the track regularly and as an immensely popular car to be viewed in the pits at the Annual Miller Meet held at the Milwaukee Mile Race Track. Harry Miller is grossly underappreciated. The public never got to know him. The fact that he never produced a developed series built road car kept his name familiar only to racing aficionados. Miller ’ s race cars were built for tracks with long straight-aways and sweeping banked left hand turns, not twisty undulating road courses. This made them unsuitable for present day vintage races where Bugattis, E.R.A.s, Maseratis, and Alfa-Romeos command attention. Yet Harry Miller ’ s race cars were aesthetic masterpieces of engineering that exceeded or rivaled anything worldwide. The availability of a car like this will never be repeated. Nearly every other single seat rear drive Miller is gone, wrecked, parted out, modified and reconfigured into oblivion or worse. This occasion represents a rare chance to own a true survivor, built during Harry Miller ’ s Golden Age and every bit reflective of its magnificence. Whether one would choose to leave the Miller as presented or submit it for a restoration utilizing the now available wealth of information that has been rediscovered during the last decades is your decision. Either way one can be assured that ownership of the 183 Convertible will deem you the custodian of a matchless American racing icon.

Please note that this vehicle is a race car and therefore offered on a Bill of Sale

Reference Number 10218

as of 6/6/2007

Car 1924 Miller 122/183 Convertible Speed Record Car
Exterior / Interior Color      Black 
Configuration Central Steering 
Transmission Manual Shift 
Options Exterior: Wire wheels 
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