Remember those special days in school, when everyone crammed into buses to take a field trip perhaps to a museum or a concert? Learning new things this way was easy. You were on vacation from the boring classroom and discovering new things about the world around you. Maybe you met grownups who were excited about work and enjoying their jobs, like energetic kids in adult bodies happy in their careers.
Last September, CCT's shop tour of Hilborn Fuel Injection Engineering was like taking a field trip. Like Merlin the Magician in Camelot, Hilborn's founder, Stu Hilborn, is a youthful 87, and his life's work has him growing younger by the day. Aside from going golfing every Thursday, Stu can be found during work days at play in his shop in Aliso Viejo, California, helping to keep the vintage appeal and high performance of Hilborn Fuel Injection Engineering powering race cars, muscle machines, and hot rods into the next millennium. Stu has been in the business of instantaneous, reliable fuel-throttle response for over 54 years.
Born in Sylvan Lake, Canada, in 1917, Stu Hilborn was eight when his family moved to Pasadena, then settled in the La Brea/Washington Street area of Los Angeles. After graduating from L.A. City College in chemistry, Stu landed a job with the General Paint Company as a paint chemist. A friend introduced him to dry lakes racing at Muroc Lake in the late 1930s. One visit to Muroc, and he was hooked. Duesenberg racer Eddie Miller Sr. lived nearby and Stu and Eddie Miller Jr. became fast friends. Recognizing what a rabid interest Stu had in racing, Eddie Sr. mentored Stu in both the nuances of piloting a racecar and building engines, modified chassis, and fast cars.
Eddie Sr. had created an innovative intake manifold with four large single-barrel Stromberg carbs, each feeding two cylinders of the Ford flathead V-8 that powered Stu's dry lakes streamliner. With the racecar, Stu went as fast as 146 mph in 1947. One of his problems was running methanol through the pot-metal carburetors. The fuel corroded the cheap metal, clogging the carbs' jets, thus starving the engine of fuel. Also, the carbs weren't able to distribute an equal air/fuel mix to each cylinder.
Stu enlisted and served in WWII. While he was away, he contemplated how he might craft a fuel-injection system that might evenly distribute fuel and air to each cylinder. Being timed injection systems, other fuel-injection units of the era didn't work reliably, since they were turning off the flow of fuel with each revolution of the camshaft. Stu sought to flow fuel and air continuously to each cylinder. By chamfering the fuel-injection nozzles like an ice-cream cone, Stu overcame his biggest obstacle, an even rate of fuel and air to each cylinder.
Despite skepticism from his peers, Mr. Hilborn displayed his untested prototype at a SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) SEMA-like hot-rod show, which commemorated the first 10 years of hot rodding (1938-1948). Later in 1948, Stu's first test of the fuel-injection system was a complete success. His streamliner fired on the first attempt and attained a speed of 120 mph at Muroc, before shutdown. His test was held on the deserted lake and Stu didn't wish to tempt fate without an ambulance on hand. On July 18 that year, friend and fellow SCTA member Howie Wilson drove the Hilborn fuel-injected streamliner to the highest speed ever achieved at the lakes, an astounding 150 mph. This was a Miller Sr. V-8 powered and Miller Jr. body and chassis creation.