Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Stu Hilborn Pioneer of Fuel Injection Dies at 96

It's hard to hear the news that such an icon in the world of classic cars has passed away. Stu Hilborn has done more for performance and power than most others in our industry.

Stu Hilborn (credit: Hilborn Fuel Injection)

When many people think of "fuel injection", they think of modern fuel injected engines. When a classic car or muscle car buff thinks of fuel injection, they're probably thinking Hilborn Fuel Injectors! There's nothing else like them! And the father of fuel injection was Stu Hilborn. That legend died Monday morning at the age of 96.

I've come to know the virtues of Hilborn Fuel Injection through my work at Motorheads Performance. Guy Algar, my business partner and Shop Manager, is a huge fan of the constant flow mechanical fuel injector that was created and built by Stuart Hilborn.

Many of the younger hot rodders know nothing of how their performance cars got their start. It seems as if "Hot Rod Heaven" is getting mighty full lately. Hilborn is an icon whose legacy will live forever. I doubt if there was a name more singularly associated with high performance than Hilborn. Hilborn Fuel Injection was absolutely everywhere in the 1970's from the race track right down to the hot rodders on the street. It was usually the first words admiringly whispered when a hot rod or racer appeared with his injection system. And, it was certainly at the top of the "wanted" list that every hot rodder or racer dreamed of. It was simply the pinnacle of performance.

Hilborn was born in October 1917 in Calgary, Alberta, the son of a migrant worker. He moved to Southern California as a child. His introduction to hot rodding came in 1938, when he joined some friends on a trip to the Southern California dry lakes to watch the speed trials there. He is reported to have said, “There were fellows up there with no tools or mechanical schooling who were making twice the horsepower that Detroit was putting out.”

After decided to build a flathead V-8-powered Model A, Hilborn discovered he knew little about how to actually build the car he wanted. A neighbor and good friend Eddie Miller, who was a former Indianapolis 500 driver, was a mentor to Hilborn and gave him a lot of practical "hands-on" knowledge. Driven to finish his V-8 project and wanting to learn more, Hilborn enrolled in college, studying the equivalent of modern mechanical engineering courses of math, chemistry, and physics.

Hilborn knew he needed an alternative to the carburetors the hot rodders were using back in the 1940's. He had identified the carburetors as a major choking point in the delivery of fuel to the engine. Hilborn applied his knowledge of physics and specifically of fluid dynamics to calculate the necessary pump size to get precise amounts of fuel to each cylinder. Taking a surplus aircraft fuel pump and using a homemade system of nozzles, he built and tuned his first fuel-injection setup. Hilborn proved it's effectiveness in 1948 by becoming the first hot rodder to break 150 MPH at the dry lakes.

Hilborn’s extraordinarily successful business, Hilborn Fuel Injection, was created and remains the leader in the field of fuel injection today. As a new wave of technology emerged with electronic fuel injection, Hilborn Fuel Injection expanded into EFI offering quality manifolds and complete systems with the same performance that had made Hilborn constant flow mechanical injectors so famous. While old-school hot rodders still prefer the still competitive Hilborn mechanical injectors, the new breed of EFI injectors have become the choice of the new-school hot rodders.

Stuart Hilborn's death was announced on Hilborn Fuel Injection’s Facebook page. He is survived by Ginny, his wife of 60 years, his daughter, Edris, his son, Duane, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. As of this writing, no funeral or memorial plans have been announced.



Andrea L. Algar is co-owner of a classic car performance and restoration design shop in Leesville, Texas. Motorheads Performance specializes in repairs, maintenance, performance upgrades and restorative work on cars and trucks from the 1920’s through 1970’s. Her husband Guy L. Algar is a Mechanical Engineer with over 25 years experience. He holds 5 ASE Certifications from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and has been working on old cars and trucks for over 37 years. Together they share their passion for old cars and trucks with other enthusiasts from around the country.