Reverse Engineering

Tony Valainis

The engine was an afterthought.

Bill Castle was doing some work on a Bugatti Type 46 for a friend's widow, and the motor was rusting against a wall. Castle didn't know anything about it except that it was a straight-eight Miller of uncertain provenance, but that alone meant it deserved a reprieve from the junk pile. So he made the widow a modest offer, carted off the engine, and stashed it in his basement. And there it sat for decades, like a forgotten artifact in a museum that nobody visits, until Castle focused his attention on it in 2004.

"I didn't have anything else to do at the time," he recalls. "So I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have a transmission?' After that was done, I thought, 'That was so easy. Let's do some more.' At the time, I had the engine on a three-wheel engine stand. So I said to myself, 'Why not build a four-wheel stand instead?'" This is Castle's wry way of explaining that he decided to fabricate an entire race car around the orphaned engine. Not just a showpiece, mind you, but a fully functional, dead-nuts re-creation of the Milton Durant Special that raced in the Indianapolis 500 in 1922 and established the direction that open-wheel racing in America would take for the next half century.

Castle is telling me all this in his customarily matter-of-fact manner while we sit in his garage next to the finished car, an aluminum bullet of breathtaking beauty. The engine is fully exposed, and the delicately finned case, slender pair of cam towers, quartet of carburetors, and artfully crafted exhaust manifold make it look like a piece of industrial art. Being of good Midwestern stock, Castle is prone to almost comical understatement, so he downplays the enormity of the challenges that faced him when he re-created--or "duplicated," as he puts it -- the Miller. But make no mistake: this was the kind of project undertaken only by a genius or a fool.

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