America is a car culture. It was raised on the road, whether on family road trips to see relatives or through commerce that shuttled from city to city on trucks. The Car of the Week takes a look at one of those vehicles as a way to not only look back at automotive changes but the history that created them.
The Indianapolis Speedway museum loaned six racers to LeMay: America’s Car Museum for the Tacoma car museum’s grand unveiling this summer. One of those gems among gems was the rear-engine 1938 Gulf Miller, the last car designed by the legendary Harry Miller. Following the first appearance by a rear-engine car at Indianapolis in 1937, the Gulf Oil Co. commissioned Miller to build three cars to include the latest innovations. And he delivered. His cars not only looked futuristic, they were generations beyond other cars of the day. The racers featured four-wheel drive and a six-cylinder supercharged Miller engine that was tilted at an angle. Delivered too late for the 1938 season, the cars took to the track the following year. Only driver George Bailey managed to qualify in sixth place, making it the first rear-engine car ever in the Indy 500 race-day line-up. But the day would not end well. The car dropped out after 47 laps due to engine troubles. Originally intended to run on pumped gasoline, the car featured side-mounted pontoon tanks, which proved to be very dangerous and prone to fires. Bailey would later die when his car’s side-mounted fuel tanks caught fire following a crash the following year. The tanks were refitted into the main frame of the car in 1941.