This past week my friend, Evan Gamblin, sent to me some pictures of Bugatti cars and engines as a followup to some of the recent posts that I have made about the Bugatti Type 55 cars. The image below shows a Bugatti Type 55 roadster. A very similar Type 55 roadster is in the background of the photo of the Bugatti Type 55 coupe that I recently posted on this website.
Bugatti Type 55 Roadster
As I have previously noted the Bugatti Type 55 cars were based on the Type 51 Grand Prix cars. Evan also sent me a picture of a Type 51 below.
Bugatti Type 51
In researching the Type 51, I came across an interesting connection between the Bugatti engines and the engines that American Harry Miller made that dominated the Indianapolis 500 in the 1920s and 1930s. The connection between the two was Leon Duray, the adopted name of George Stewart, who as Leon Duray was on the front row of the Indianapolis 500 for 5 consecutive years. In 1928, he set a qualifying speed in a Miller racer that stood for 6 years.
Harry Miller And His Engine
As the depression began in the USA, the rule-makers for the Indianapolis 500 opened the door to the so-called “junk formula” era in order to reduce the costs of car racing at that time. In 1930 the race specifications increased the engine size from 91 cubic inches (1.5 litres) to 366 cubic inches (6 litres). The larger engine size meant that racers could use engine blocks from normal road cars available in junk yards to develop the needed horsepower. Highly tuned smaller engines like Miller’s 91 cubic inch engines were no longer needed and this reduced the cost of the race cars from about $25,000 to $5,000.
1927 Miller Racer Seen At Lime Rock 2016
Leon Duray saw that he would have limited success in America with his race cars in their current configuration so he took two Miller race cars to Europe. The cars eventually broke down and Duray had to sell the cars to get first class passage back to the USA. In addition to passage costs, Leon Duray exchanged his two Millers to Ettore Bugatti for three unsold stock Type 43 Grand Sport cars.
Frank Lockhart Won The 1926 Indianapolis 500 In A Miller Race Car
Bugatti then dismantled the Miller engines to get all of the dimensions, do the reverse engineering, and then re-assembled the engines finding they got 50 more horsepower than the best Bugatti engine produced. Bugatti was able to fabricate a new head design based on the Miller design that could be fitted to a Bugatti Type 35B engine crankcase. The result was the engine used in the Type 51 race cars. If you look at the Miller engine above and the Bugatti engines, then you can see the similarities.
Louis Meyer Won The 1928 Indianapolis 500 In A Miller Race Car
Besides having innovative engines, Harry Miller also built some of the early front-wheel drive race cars. A cut-away drawing of a front-wheel drive Miller race car is shown below. This image came from a good book, “City of Speed” by Joe Scalzo which has resulted in the book seam that runs down the image. I regret the seam, but I liked the image.
Cut-Away Drawing Of A Front-Wheel Drive Miller Race Car
Miller cars continued to be raced at the Indianapolis 500 under the “junk formula”, but substantial modifications were needed. The Carlos Demand image below shows the front-wheel drive Miller-Hartz race car driven by Billy Arnold to victory in the 1930 Indianapolis 500. The car used a widened Miller chassis to accommodate a riding mechanic (another new rule) and a bored out Miller 122 cubic inch (2.0 litre) engine.
Carlos Demand Drawing Of A Miller-Hartz In The 1930 Indianapolis 500
Miller made another foray into Indianapolis in 1935 when he was behind the entry of 10 Ford flathead V8 engines, known as Miller-Fords that were inspired by Preston Tucker and paid for by Henry Ford. But that’s another story. Miller soon lost his fortune and died penniless in 1943. One of Miller’s draftsmen, Fred Offenhauser, went on to become a very successful engine designer in his own right.
If you have any comments or questions about this post, then please leave a comment below or you can send me a private email message at the following address: shanna12 at comcast dot net