It’s an overcast day here in Los Angeles, which seems sadly fitting. In the early hours of this morning, we lost a quiet gentleman, and I can’t help feeling the sun has chosen not to shine as a mark of respect.
Drino Miller was born in 1941. A Los Angeles native, who ventured up to Monterey in Northern California for Junior College at a time when the area was known for its rural charm rather than a valley of silicon. His fascination with engines appeared at an early age; purchasing his first car before the age of eleven, determined to understand how it worked. This passing phase never completely disappeared; and by the time he reached his late teens, Drino was exploring the South Pacific with his brother, following a year spent in Tahiti working on a not so large yacht they intended to sail back to California.
Returning back to Newport Beach, Drino continued to work with boats until he decided it was time to finish school.
A remarkably clever man, who never forced his opinions on others. Drino was well-read & well-traveled, with a wealth of knowledge and information. His educational background reflecting all of those attributes as he first studied Political Science at UCLA, and once he’d graduated then turned to Law School. Despite his intellectual interests, he combined his love of vehicles and travelling whenever possible; exploring such areas as Baja when there was a break in the educational action. The terrain was grueling and regarded as motorcycle, rather than car friendly. However, in 1967, the off-road racer Ed Pearlman invited Drino to join him in the attempt to set a new speed record through Baja. Although the plan to beat any records was thwarted, their experience set wheels in motion for what was to become the Baja 1000.
Drino’s involvement with Pearlman led to a meeting with Vic Hickey; a designer at GM who was to become synonymous with such iconic vehicles as the Chevy Blazer and Humvee. This was 1967 however, and Hickey in the early stages of developing his future. He offered Drino a job, to join the GM team as they started development of the first purpose built off-road racing vehicle. A temporary blip on the horizon, when General Motors decided not to move forward with the project – however Hickey managed to obtain private funding and immediately called Drino to rejoin his team. The result of their partnership was to become known as the infamous Baja Boot.
Drino’s involvement with this new approach to off-roading sparked more of his own ideas for designs, and was to be the beginning of a remarkable career. He also met world class motorcycle racer, Bud Ekins; and the two men enjoyed a friendship that lasted until we watch Bud ride off into the sunset in 2007.
Drino was an engineer, an enthusiast and a racer. That combination ensured he both continued his development, and tested his theories off-road. By 1970’s he not only entered the Baja 1000, but earned overall victories in that race as well as Baja 500 and Mint 400. This passion for success expanded into his own business, Miller-Havens Enterprises. Working with another engineer, Stanford Haven; they specialized in engine, transmission and conversion kits for Baja Bugs (the Boot being a based on the VW Beetle). Their idea was clearly successful, as it spawned a number of other companies offering similar kits for other cars. The off-road market has continued to grow and develop, without question owing a great deal of thanks to Drino’s early imagination and determination.
In less than a decade, Drino’s business & expertise had expanded to include sports cars and midgets; as he worked towards his plan to build Indy Cars. By the mid 80’s, it became apparent to his peers that Drino had as much talent with people as vehicles; and based on his success at Le Mans and Indianapolis 500 he was invited by Andial, the high performance Porsche tuners, to join their sports car program. From Germany to Japan, joining the team at Toyota to manage their TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Program. Here, Drino joined forces with Dan Gurney; supporting his race wins in the four main categories of motorsports – Grand Prix, Indy, NASCAR & Sports Car.
Leaving Toyota in 1996, Drino focused his attention back towards motorcycles, working with ProCircuit to develop engine parts, and support a number of successful riders. It also gave him more time to enjoy the other aspects of his life – exploring Europe with his wife, Lisa; heading over to Ireland with Bud to explore the delights of the Irish Rally, racing in a more gentlemanly style.
So, why am I sharing this story with you? Because Drino was always so humble about his experiences, knowledge and success; and because I was lucky enough to consider him a friend. Sadly, the more recent times we spent together were overshadowed with his illness; but both he and Lisa shared enthusiasm and support for my small attempts to contribute to automotive history with the Egg. Hanging with Drino and Bud, listening to them recount their stories and adventures? Truly special memories indeed.
DRINO MILLER July 30, 1941 – March 4, 2014