Burst of American thunder is different from any European thunder I've known. Not necessarily better, just different. It almost always arrives as a great jostling, exhilarating mass. Nine hours after a storm blasted me out of bed at 3am, I'm at Michigan International Speedway in the first Miller automobile to win the Indy 500, the 1923 HCS Special, with its straight-eight exhaust growling down the trembling pipe three inches below my right elbow and bouncing back off the straightaway wall. Thunder indeed.
The sound starts as a deep, throaty bark and builds with the revs to a ripping rumble that shreds the air, surges up your spine and squeezes you within your chest. And I'm thinking, if anyone or anything deserves the credit for giving America its own thunder, it must surely be Harry Arminius Miller and cars like the HCS Special.
You may not be familiar with Miller, or of a generation post-dating treaded racing tires.
But Harry Miller was American motor racing's creative giant, and left an indelible imprint on the nation's car culture. He was an artist and an artisan who believed the machinery inside should be as elegant as the shape outside; he was an innovator and a game-changer who pioneered technologies such as front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive in serious motor sport. He was also the first US designer to series-produce complete, bespoke racing cars; nothing on a Miller was converted road-car equipment, and virtually everything except the block casting and ignition was made in-house.
Harry Miller was in essence the North American Ettore Bugatti and Colin Chapman rolled into one
Published Dec 7th, 2015
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