My Car Quest

November 16, 2018

Who Was George Tilp? – Part One

by Mike –

The world is indeed a small place and the Internet can make it seem even smaller. I publish an article (and an advertisement) about the custom Offenhauser Engine S/N 165 commissioned by George Tilp, a wealthy race car owner in New Jersey in the 1950s. Shortly thereafter I am contacted by Geoffrey Horton, George Tilp’s nephew who knows quite a lot about his Uncle George and his racing activities.

As you will read George Tilp was instrumental in helping launch the career of one of the greatest American racing drivers of all time, Phil Hill.

Phil Hill and Ferrari 750S Monza #0498M

Phil Hill and Ferrari 750S Monza #0498M (owned by George Tilp)

Text by Geoffrey Horton

George Tilp was born in Brooklyn, New York on August 26th, 1912. He was the first son of an Austrian father and Danish mother. As a boy, George had a strong work ethic and he was eager to live up to his father’s expectations, so he delivered newspapers and did odd jobs in the neighborhood.

The Tilp family moved to New Jersey after the birth of a daughter in 1914. Another son arrived in 1919. George’s father, J.G. Tilp was a first-class journeyman toolmaker who soon started his own company – making molds for the emerging plastics industry in Newark, New Jersey. At the urging of some of his customers and friends, he also started a metal-stamping business.

George was an outstanding student in high school where he concentrated on chemistry. His father tried to discourage George’s fondness for chemistry in favor of mechanical engineering, and he finally convinced George to become an apprentice toolmaker.

George preferred to work for a company other than his father’s, but in 1936 when the stamping division of his father’s company showed signs of neglect, George assumed leadership of that operation and developed what became the premier metal stamping and deep draw company in the Northeastern United States.

From 1941 to 1945, George’s customers were major contributors to the war effort. After the war, the company’s reputation attracted the attention of many major manufacturers in the U.S., and George’s customers soon ranged from small appliance suppliers to jewelry manufacturers.

Before his marriage in 1938, George was building a modified Ford Model A for oval racing on local dirt tracks. As is often the case, this project was abandoned to concentrate on bringing up a family.

The racing “bug” resurfaced in 1950 when George bought a Jaguar XK120 Drop Head Coupe (DHC). He took full advantage of the power and performance of this car by earning a well-deserved speeding citation for traveling at 120 mph on a local turnpike.

After meeting Walter Hansgen, the local Jaguar dealer who later became a noted international racer, George decided to enter his “Jag” in events sponsored by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). Family concerns for his safety soon made it difficult for George to personally drive his car in races, so Hansgen shared the task of driving with a local up-and-coming driver named Randy Pearsall. They had some success, but George wanted more.

In 1952, George bought an Aston Martin DB2-4, and he assigned Hansgen to be its driver. Their success was uneventful in sprint races because of limited power – the Aston was an endurance car.

George decided the car needed more power, so he fitted it with an American Offenhauser 3-liter engine. This gave the car plenty of power and torque, and initially it did quite well, but the Weber carburetors that were added during the engine exchange had a tendency to self-destruct from vibration.

Aston Martin DB2 with custom Offenhauser engine

Aston Martin DB2 with custom Offenhauser engine (photo supplied by Ron Kellogg)

Aston Martin DB2 with custom Offenhauser engine

Aston Martin DB2 with custom Offenhauser engine (photo supplied by Ron Kellogg)

So, the “Offy” engine was removed and put on a shelf. In 1955, George bought a Ferrari 750S Monza #0498M from Ferrari’s East Coast distributor, Luigi Chinetti. As with most racing Ferraris at the time, this particular Monza had already been raced a few times by the factory team. So upon delivery, George totally disassembled and rebuilt the entire car.

The first race for George’s Monza was in Beverly Massachusetts. Luigi Chinetti had suggested that a promising young driver from California pilot the car. So it came to pass that at 10PM one evening in Short Hills New Jersey, George responded to a knock at his front door. Standing in front of him was a dark-haired, 27 year-old fellow by the name of Phil Hill. This meeting heralded the beginning of a 30 year friendship.

At the inaugural SCCA event on the Beverly Municipal Airport racecourse, they won in a display of dominance. George and Phil went on to win all the U.S. races they entered that year. In addition, they scored a significant victory at a major race event in Portugal.

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.

Part two is here.
 

 

This was originally posted in January 2014.

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

Comments

  1. Georgeg20 says:

    Mike, thanks to you and Mr. Horton for a wonderful read and a great way to start the day!

  2. Michael Lucas says:

    I worked at J.G.Tilp in 1961 to 1965-6 and remember meeting Phil Hill next door at Tilp Industries. Also remember working with Geoffrey for a short time. They were great times and glad I met so many of the Tilp family.
    Lord Bless.

  3. Rusty Hansgen says:

    Walt Hansgen drove this car at Cumberland, MD in 1955. Does anybody have a picture of Walt driving the car?

  4. Thank you so much for this great article. I’ve stumbled upon it while researching the history of the 1939 Packard Twelve Brunn Touring Cabriolet that we recently acquired. The car used to belong to George Tilp, and this story adds a wonderful layer of interest to the history file. Thank you for the efforts it took to compile this story.

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