My Car Quest

October 19, 2018

Who Was George Tilp? – A Big Phil Hill Supporter – Part Two

by Mike –

Geoffrey Horton told me that his uncle, George Tilp, would bring his old race cars to his farm in New Jersey and let family members drive them around the farm.

Below is a photo of 12 year old Geoffrey Horton doing just that in 1960. He is behind the wheel of the Offenhauser powered Ferrari Mondial Hot Rod!

Notice the fuel injection system sticking out the top of the engine bay. Also notice in a later photo that the Offy was turned at a 45-degree angle to fit in the Ferrari.

The marking on the front (VI-I) were markings that Peter Tilp, George’s son, had the honor of choosing for each race car after it retired. Geoffrey Horton does not know what this marking means.

Geoffrey Horton in George Tilp's Ferrari Mondial

The Author, Geoffrey Horton, In Tilp’s Ferrari Mondial – 1960 (photo supplied by Geoffrey Horton)

Who Was George Tilp? – Part One is here.

Text by Geoffrey Horton

Mercedes 300SL

In 1955, George bought a 300SL Mercedes equipped with Rudge wheels (and probably, an aluminum body) which was later sold to Jim Hall of Chaparral fame. Based on his reputation earned racing the Ferrari, George was approached by Mercedes Benz to assist in the unofficial factory effort to race 300SLs in SCCA events.

George had also became friendly with the notable race driver Paul O’Shea, so a special Mercedes factory car was prepared for George and Paul to enter in SCCA events, and the Tilp/O’Shea team went on to unparalleled success. In addition, George supplied facilities and expertise at his New Jersey factory for the maintenance of several other 300SL cars raced by other competitors in the area.

George’s support facility housed full-time Mercedes factory mechanics who participated in an “unofficial capacity”. At any given time, there were as many as six 300SL race cars being serviced by top-notch factory race mechanics on George’s premises. Owners would pick up their fully prepared vehicles before each race and return them thereafter for expert repairs and tuning in preparation for the next event.

When the legendary 300SL roadster was introduced in 1957, George and Paul O’Shea were given the responsibility to race the first examples. Two cars and a container of spare parts were delivered to George. Two Mercedes Benz race mechanics accompanied the cars: Erwin Strupp and Karl Bunz . Both were topflight Mercedes experts who had played important roles in the glory days of Mercedes racing in the late 1930’s.

Mercedes hand-built race cars

These cars appeared to be slightly modified street cars. They were, in fact, hand-built race cars based on highly specialized components. The chassis and bodies were reportedly aluminum or alloy steel. To this day, some automotive historians contend that the bodies were actually made of magnesium. No doubt, the debate over the true body materials will continue forever.

In the beginning, the plan was to make a modest display by racing only one of the special Mercedes cars in each event. After a few races, there was an incident at a race in Texas in which the car was damaged. The next race was to be held in California just one week later. The damaged car was returned to New Jersey and at the same time, the back-up car was sent to California.

No one outside of the Mercedes team could understand how the car was repaired so perfectly in such a short time, but it soon became apparent that the Mercedes team had twin race cars. That year, the team easily won the SCCA National Championship – with wins throughout North America. To this day, speculation and folklore exists as to the whereabouts of those two spectacular 300SL roadsters.

In fact, after winning the SCCA Championship, they were both sent to the Studebaker offices in South Bend, Indiana. They were then shipped back to the factory in Germany where they were destroyed. The Mercedes engineers had determined that the 300SL alloy bodies were subject to deterioration and should be scrapped.

Ferrari V12-335 Sport Driven by Phil Hill

George’s stable of successful race cars was not limited to cars made by Mercedes. In 1957, George also purchased a Ferrari V12-335 Sport (Chassis #0700) and this car also enjoyed multiple wins that season – with none other than Phil Hill at the wheel.

When the Mercedes factory loaned a 300SLR to the Ford Museum in Michigan in 1958, it was first delivered to George’s factory in New Jersey. The Chief of Motorsport at Mercedes Benz, Rudolph Uhlenhaut, personally came to New Jersey to accompany the car to the museum and spent time with George. The two became warm friends.

When the car appeared at his factory, George asked the mechanics if the car was roadworthy, and they replied it was indeed fit to run. They started it, and George drove it on public roads around the town at a high rate of speed. That same weekend, Paul O’Shea took Peter Tilp (George’s 17 year-old son) on a thrilling ride in the 300SLR through the streets of Short Hills – running straight exhaust pipes. Peter laughingly commented in later years:

“I can’t believe we didn’t get pulled over for a speeding ticket! Then again, no police car could have caught us!”

What to do with the Offenhauser engine?

George had long pondered what to do with the Offenhauser engine that had proven to be unreliable in the Aston Martin years earlier due to its inherent harmonic vibration problems. The answer came to him when he discovered a Ferrari Mondial for sale at Luigi Chinetti’s. The Mondial, previously owned by Porferio Rubirosa, had a blown engine.

George purchased the car without the engine and proceeded to install the Offenhauser power plant. Some machinery was moved in his factory to make room for the car just a few steps from his office.

Ferrari Hot Rod

He supervised the modifications and installation with hands-on enthusiasm. George had designed a Bosch direct fuel injection system in 1959 based on the MB 300SL, so he modified a unit donated by Mercedes and installed it on the “Offy” engine. The height of the Offenhauser meant it was necessary to lay it on a 45-degree angle to keep the Mondial hood profile as originally designed. Upon completion, the innovative Italian/American/German Hot Rod was tested extensively at the family airstrip near their summer home in northern New Jersey.

Offenhauser Engine In A Ferrari Mondial

Offenhauser Engine In Tilp’s Ferrari Mondial

The car was entered in only one Sports Car Club of America race, which took place in Vineland, New Jersey. Veteran racer, Charlie Kolb, served as driver. It was indisputably the fastest and loudest car at the event, but failed to finish the race due to minor clutch problems.

A local race promoter heard about the “Hot Rod Ferrari” and asked George to bring it to Trenton Speedway in New Jersey for an upcoming “Formula Libre” race early in 1958. At that time, famed British Formula One driver Peter Collins was in the US, and he agreed to test the car for its race potential. Unfortunately, the one-mile track was a high-banked, counter-clockwise oval.

As such, the constant “G” forces encountered by consistently turning the car to the left caused the engine oil to flow away from the oil pickup, which caused loss of oil pressure. They tried running the track clockwise and the problem disappeared. They ran some competitive laps, but realized the oil pick up couldn’t be changed in time for the race.

After a few years of non-use, the engine was removed and the Mondial was sold back to Chinetti. Ten years later, the Offenhauser engine was sent to Phil Hill’s restoration shop in California for an internal rebuild and external restoration. It was returned to George’s factory in New Jersey for display in his nephew’s office.

Offenhauser Engine

Tilp’s Offenhauser Engine Today In Ron Kellogg’s Collection (photo by Mike Gulett)

Racing organization and logistics

George was also an innovator in racing organization and logistics. He was one of the first to transport equipment and cars in a large tractor-trailer equipped with a 120 volt generator when other race teams were still using open trailers and pickup trucks. On the roof of his trailer, George built an observation platform from which his friends could watch the races. He also utilized a big Buick station wagon pulling an Airstream trailer that served as a comfortable trackside lounge.

In addition to his race cars, George also had a small collection of Classic cars including Cadillac’s, Packard’s, and a beautiful 1937 Mercedes 380K restored by the Mercedes factory. He also owned the first 300SEL 6.3, which was imported to the US by special arrangement.

George’s personal racing career

George raced only once. Montgomery National Championship Races, Montgomery Airport, August 17, 1957. Paul O’Shea was driving a 300SL roadster and George decided to enter a coupe in another race. He chose one of the factory prepared cars from the garage at Adam Stamping and qualified second or third on the grid. At the start he went immediately into the lead and never relinquished it.

His competition was other 300SL’s driven by more experienced racers as well as other cars. The added performance and power of the Gullwing was no match for the other drivers. He was cheered at the finish line and stated “I just retired” – an undefeated racing career.

George Tilp died in March, 1979 after a suffering a few months from liver cancer. George’s son, Peter Tilp passed away in early 2012. With Peter’s passing, all of the 16mm films, extensive picture library and race trophies he had inherited from his father were lost. Peter had placed them in storage and he had never revealed their location.

Bobby Tilp’s (George’s brother) 16mm film shows the rebuilding of the 750 Monza S #0498M and its subsequent appearance in the first event at the new Elkhart Lake “Road America” race course on Sept 11, 1955. The film also shows Phil Hill and Paul O’Shea driving to victories in their SCCA races in cars entered by George Tilp. Hill can be seen driving the Ferrari, and Paul is seen driving the silver 300SL Gullwing #143, fondly known as “Red” because of its distinctive interior color.

My thanks to:

John Abruzzo, (a cousin) for putting family history into words that creates a colorful rich story.

John Shultz (track historian, Elkhart Lake-Road America) for proofing this writing and encouraging me to make this biography as accurate as possible.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

 

 

This was originally posted in January 2014.

Summary
Who Was George Tilp? – A Big Phil Hill Supporter - Part Two
Article Name
Who Was George Tilp? – A Big Phil Hill Supporter - Part Two
Description
The life summary of George Tilp, a race car owner who helped Phil Hill get his start driving race cars.
Author

Comments

  1. Well, where do you start on this one? So many facts, so much of interest, what a great story, what a
    great period.
    Would like to know if anyone has an update on the “missing” library and the car collection and maybe getting the 16mm film on to You Tube or??
    Is there a more extensive history anywhere on George Tilp, I would really like to get more him and the period?
    Thanks for bringing this to my attention.
    CJ

  2. Antoine Prunet says:

    Mike,

    1. The 500 Mondial, ex-Rubirosa, ex-Pauley is 0464MD
    2. It used to be be with Mr. Ulrich in Switzerland from 1963 until around 1993 when he sold it to Mr. Siemes in Germany, apparently it’s present owner.

    Best regards,
    Antoine Prunet

  3. steve snyder says:

    With reference to the oil pick-up situation with the Offy engine at the “Formula Libre” event in 1958, reminds me of a similar situation with Mario Andretti’s car at the inaugural Indy race at Mr. Fuji speedway, Japan in the fall of 1966. Even though the organizers reversed the course direction, there was still a right hand turn that repeatedly knocked out Mario’s engine bearings. I recall the team was on the telephone trying all over Japan for replacement bearings, of no avail. I believe Graham Hill, whose car had oil pick-ups on both sides of the crankcase, won the race. Since that was over 45 years ago, I can be corrected on this. But I was one of the few English speakers there and was listening carefully.

    • Oil starvation is an understandable issue, especially with a dry sump if not given multi stage pumps and pickups, and if the accumulator tank is not properly tested in racing conditions. Some of the pickups are always sucking air and the accumulator has to de-aerate the oil before returning it to the engine. The Cunningham C6 at LeMans was apparently afflicted with no such issue as it lasted many hours, although poor grade fuel and some transmission or clutch issue eventually shortened its race.

  4. John Donlan says:

    I used to work for Adams Industries, the stamping plant owned by George Tilp, back in 1976. My sole duties were taking care of George’s garage full of vintage automobiles and a restored Pullman Car named “Lotus Club” out on a stretch of track on the front lawn of the factory. I remember driving George’s 300 SEL — that thing was a rocket on wheels! He explained to me that it was the fastest production car made up till that time. His vintage car collection, at that time, consisted of a 1945 Navy Jeep (5000 original miles) which was restored over into an Army Jeep.

    He also had a 1917 Packard Town Car with a twin-six engine (two six cylinder engines hooked to a common crankshaft). This was a car was restored to 99/100 point condition. The only item out of place was the angle of the exhaust pipe (off a few degrees). What a terror it was to start — you had to pump and pump a hand lever near the drive shaft tunnel in order to work up 3 psi. of pressure — which forced the gasoline to flow from the tank in the rear toward the carburetor.

    http://www.conceptcarz.com/view/photo/799262,20773/1917-Packard-Twin-Six_photo.aspx

    There was a 1937 Cadillac Limousine with a V-16 engine (that gave George no end of trouble — the updraft carburetors would suddenly kick out and you found yourself driving on only 8 cylinders!).

    http://www.newcadillacdatabase.org/static/CDB/Dbas_txt/V6srv34.htm

    Then, there was a 1939 Packard with a V-12 engine — beautifully restored, but subject to cylinder head leaks (aluminum head – cast iron block…..not good bed fellows).

    http://www.conceptcarz.com/images/Packard/39_Packard-12-Touring-DV-13-RMSJ_01.jpg

    George also owned a 1966 Cadillac Sedan Deville in very good condition. I don’t believe it was restored — just kept in immaculate shape through the years.

    I remember George, from an employer/employee standpoint as being a stern, but fair man. I could sense in him an inner strength, held in reserve. Personally, I liked him and respected him very much. God bless his soul!

  5. Wallace Wyss says:

    On those Mercedes 300SLs, called SLS, it is my theory that the frames or body or both were magnesium and MB didn’t want that discovered so after the winning season they had them destroyed. Why would they hide that when the first one was run as a prototype and thus didn’t have to be like the production car. Why was magnesium a bad word? LeMans ’55. When that magnesium-bodied Mercedes 300SLR went into the stands the fire crew found out magnesium is a metal that burns and water won’t put the fire out.

  6. Wallace Wyss says:

    A story on a site called Psychoontires says “Despite sending George Tilp two cars, two Mercedes Benz race mechanics, Erwin Strupp and Karl Bunz with a container load of spares, the plan was to run only one car to give the operation the semblance of a privateer effort, however after Paul crashed one car at Thompson Connecticut and turned up six days later with an apparently completely repaired car at Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin the cat was out of the bag that George Tilp had two cars at his disposal for Paul”.

  7. Ron Cummings says:

    The Offy motor lives in Ron Kellogg’s living room in Whittier, California.

    Ron Cummings

  8. I smiled when I read about the vibrations upsetting the carbs. Ferrari’s solution was to bolt the carbs to part of the frame structure, and use flexible intake manifolds. If I recall, this was featured on the 500 Mondial.

    One of the best stories yet on My Car Quest!

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