Miller Golden Submarine: aerodynamics and safety on the track

With the valuable support of Prof. Massimo Grandi's depth of knowledge and illustrative talent

Photo credit: Some images are taken from the book Asi Service "Quando le disegnava il vento" by Massimo Grandi

Genius doesn’t always go hand in hand with a university degree. Harry A. Miller, the man who “shaped” the world of American motor sport with his brilliant technical and aerodynamic inventions, is a case in point. After starting his career very young, as a mechanic, Miller went on to become hugely prominent, described by many as America’s Bugatti. Precisely because he was not specialized in any particular area, he was able to consider every single aspect of a car, to the point of conceiving, for Indianapolis, a racing car with a fully enclosed cockpit. How exactly he reached this point is not clear. We don’t know whether he had seen Count Ricotti’s Alfa Romeo, but the tail of his car certainly recalls the teardrop shape of the “Torpedo” developed in Milan.

Stages in the birth of a concept: Ricotti’s “Torpedo”, application of the teardrop idea to a single-seater, and finally Miller Golden Submarine

His “Golden Submarine”, created for American driver Barney Adfield, boasted excellent rigidity thanks to its entirely steel frame — this was the first US racing car to have this feature —, and it also had a perfect teardrop shape. It is amusing to note how the futuristic tapered rear was combined with a classic front.

The curious combination of a traditional front, closed cockpit, and teardrop-shaped lines

The car made its racing debut in 1917 and competed until 1919, winning 20 races in that time. But it never won at Indy. Nevertheless, it had the great merit of raising awareness of safety considerations: the driver was completely inside the vehicle, which was also built with protective ribs to safeguard him should it overturn.

Miller’s powerful engine built in collaboration with Offenhauser