Original Source Documents:
Contributor: Bill Spear
Ch. 73 “The Miller Dynasty” - Mark Dees
The only real piece of work was given to this association by Roy S Evans of Miami Beach who, as we’ve mentioned was seeking to resuscitate the defunct American Austin, a sporty version of the Austin Seven built under license in Butler, Pennsylvania. The American public had considered the Austin a joke or a toy. However, Evans had made a fair amount of money buying, rebuilding, and selling Austins in the resort areas of Florida to people who fancied them as cute summer runabouts and yacht tenders. He had helped to keep the Willys-Overland company of Toledo afloat during the Depression and thought he could do as much for Austin. He considered that a market existed for small cars if their reliability could be improved and their price kept very low. He retained Miller to design an engine and Hibbard to style new bodies for an improved American Austin named the American Bantam. Both men were put on the board of Evans’ new company. They formed a firm of their own called Miller-Hibbard, Inc., and moved to Butler hoping that the Evans job would furnish the wherewithal to launch their own manufacturing venture. Miller took with him Ev Stevenson, Ernie Weil, “Heine” Kramer, Frank Luger, and some of the other hands from the Brown shops, together with the drawings and patterns for the aero engines. As we know, Brown’s response was to slap Miller with a lawsuit.
With his attorney fending off Brown, Miller put his men to work on the Wilson V-12. Stevenson was directed in the design of a 71.3 CID single-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine for Evans. It had a bore of 2.75 in. and a stroke of 3 in., and it was to scale some 170 lbs. Anticipated power output was 50 bhp at 4500 rpm, increased to over 75 bhp at 5500 with the addition of an optional supercharger. Meanwhile, Hibbard worked away at a series of handsome bodies for what was to be the new American Bantam. What Miller and Hibbard hadn’t realized, however, was that Evans was a salesman, not a production man, and that he had some naďve notions about what it would take to produce the Miller-Hibbard proposal. When the two men presented their work to him in early 1937, Evans was very pleased. When Miller and Hibbard followed up with their estimate for the necessary tooling and machinery, Evans flew into a rage and fired them both on the spot, crying “The tooling we’ve got built the Austin and by God, it will build the Bantam.”
Miller was permitted to rent space in the plant for such work as he had, and Tom Hibbard, having exhausted all prospects of financing sports car construction, moved on to richer pastures. He wound up creating new Fords rather than converting them , as he eventually became head of styling for that great company. Evans hired Henry Hazzard from International Harvester to redesign the old 45 CID side valve Austin engine to get around the British company’s patents, and he called in the original Austin body designer, Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, to effect a rather decent facelifting for the Bantam line. The American Bantam of 1938-40 was a limited success, which it must be admitted might not have been the case if it had appeared as the fine but considerably more expensive little sports car Miller and Hibbard had envisioned. After 6700 Bantams were produced Evans was still in the hole and was able to save his investment of time and money only because in 1940 he turned Bantam engineers and facilities to the design and manufacture of a four-wheel-drive miltiary vehicle later known to all the world as the Jeep. Which brings us to an interesting anecdote:
We wouldn’t denigrate the accolades
bestowed on Karl Probst, who designed the Jeep in large part, nor Harold Crist,
an ex-Dusenberg mechanic who was Bantam’s factory manager during the Jeep
episode, nor Evans himself, who pushed the program from start to finish.
Nevertheless, Eddie Offutt, who rejoined Miller in Butler in June, 1937, states
that when he arrived Harry was driving around the plant in a small
four-wheel-drive military prototype of his own construction, some three full
years before the Bantam prototype was submitted for Army tests. Make of that
what you will….