It is a sunny day in Mexico as Akton Miller and Doug Harrison drive Miller’s so-called Caballo di Hierro (Iron Horse) south to the start of the 1954 Carrera Panamericana Mexico. The Carrera was to be run over November 19-23, a 1,909 mile race which would start at Tuxtla Gutiérrez not far from the border with Guatemala and wind north via the Pan American Highway in seven stages to Cuidad Juárez. This was a true endurance race, a long and incredibly punishing affair run from sea level to over 10,000 feet and at very high speeds. In fact, the winner in 1954, Umberto Maglioli driving a Ferrari 375 Plus, recorded an average speed of 108 mph over the entire distance.
The Caballo di Hierro was a true California hotrod, but designed for racing and high speeds. Miller had used a 1950 Ford frame, a highly modified Oldsmobile V8 and remnants of a 1927 Ford Model T body. The result was a very light car with excellent road holding and the capability to far exceed 100 mph. Miller had some racing experience on Pike’s Peak and the dry lakes of California, so the Carrera sounded like fun. They first took the hotrod to the Carrera in 1953 and finished 14th overall, not bad. With that experience Miller and Harrison surprised everyone in 1954 and came in fifth in the large sports class and seventh overall, defeating many expensive sports racing cars and far more experienced crews. They had no sponsors, other than Hot Road Magazine, and a pick-up crew of friends from California, including a young Peter Coltrin. After the finish, they drove Caballo home.
Three years later with a more sophisticated and powerful Caballo II, they would try their hand at the Mille Miglia.
Ak Miller, born in Denmark, was a founder of the National Hot Road Association. He lived in Whitier, California and, as a youngster, worked in the store owned by the parents of Richard Nixon, often being asked to bring the young Nixon a candy bar. Ak Miller died in 2005 at the age of 84 and his obituary in the Los Angeles Times included a description of a meeting with the President at the White House where Nixon, shaking hands with Miller, said, “Ak, did you bring me a candy bar?”
Photo by Peter Coltrin ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com