American Harry Miller was granted a US patent for a race-car design that introduced many features incorporated into race cars in the following decades

Tuesday 4th May 1920

American Harry Miller was granted a US patent for a race-car design that introduced many features incorporated into race cars in the following decades. Among Miller’s countless patented breakthroughs were aluminium pistons and engine blocks, off-beat carburettors, inter-cooled superchargers, and practical front-wheel drive. Born to German immigrants in Menomonie, Wisconsin, in 1876, Harry Miller shunned his father’s encouragement to become a painter and chose instead a career in engineering. He dropped out of high school at the age of 15 to work in a local machine shop. A gifted tinkerer, Miller invented for the joy of it. He built what is said to have been the first motorcycle ever made in the United States by hooking up a one-cylinder engine to his bicycle. In the mid-1890s, Miller built the country’s first outboard motor, a four-cylinder engine that he clamped to his rowboat. Miller never sought a patent for either invention. Miller left Wisconsin, in 1897, for Los Angeles, where he opened a machine shop. In 1905, he built his first car. His major breakthrough came in 1916, when he designed a race car for famed racer Barney Oldfield. His product, the Golden Submarine, was the fastest race car of its time. The Submarine made Oldfield the dominant force in the unregulated match races of the period. Having gained great recognition with the Golden Submarine, Miller directed his energy toward creating better race cars. He was the first man to concentrate exclusively on building race cars for sale. By the late 1920s, Miller was designing and building precision-tuned race cars and selling them for the exorbitant price of $15,000. Miller’s ultimate achievement was the Miller 91, which he built for the 1926 Indy 500. The Miller 91 produced a minimum of 230hp at 7,000rpm, and it could be boosted to 300hp at 8,500rpm. At 3.3hp per cubic inch, Miller’s car compares remarkably with today’s super-charged Indy cars, which produce 4.5hp per cubic inch. Take into account that Miller’s materials were limited–gaskets and lubricants were primitive, aluminum and chrom-moly steel rare, welding unreliable, and fuel capable of only meagre compression ratios–and you see just what kind of genius Harry Miller was. With the benefits of modern technology, Miller’s original 1926 racing engine would eventually produce over three times its original horsepower. His design remained competitive for nearly five decades. In 1992, one of Miller’s 1500 cc race cars was purchased by the Smithsonian Institution, which displays the car alongside the last century’s greatest engineering miracles.

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