Gordon Howard Gilbert was born to Marvin Lane and Orie Marie (Downey) in Wabash, Ind. May 12, 1921. He died Feb. 4, 2008.
The family moved from Indiana to Whittier, Calif., in 1925. Although his father was a leading building contractor in Whittier, Mr. Gilbert became interested in mechanics early on; building his first car at the age of 14. During the war, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, hoping for an assignment as aircraft mechanic, but instead was deployed to Camp Edwards in Cape Cod as a meteorologist.
Following the war, he went to work in Whittier as an auto mechanic and started his own shop in 1950. At the same time he became involved in auto racing, building and working on engines and cars. He moved up quickly in local Midget and Sprint car racing and participated in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in 1947.
On April 21, 1951, Howard was married to Rosalye May Taylor. He continued living and working in Whittier as their family grew to include three children. He became an official for the United States Auto Club and oversaw activities such as the Mobil Economy Run and Bonneville Speed Trials for two decades. He also continued in racing, working with the crews of top contenders. During the first ten years at Indy, he participated in a second place and two first-place finishes.
In 1957, he partnered with George Salih to build a radically new Indy roadster in their Whittier shop and garage. Sam Hanks drove the car to a win in 1957 and Jimmy Bryan drove the same car to a second consecutive win in 1958.
Mr. Gilbert sold his auto repair shop and became an independently sponsored car builder in the 1960s. His most significant victory was the 1969 Jimmy Bryan 150 Phoenix race where George Follmer drove the stock block Gilbert Cheetah to first place. From 1970 to 1990 Howard teamed up with A.J. Foyt to build racing engines in Houston, Texas, and enjoyed another first-place finish at Indy in 1977.
The Gilberts retired to Payson, Ariz. in 1991 where they built their retirement dream home. Here they enjoyed an active retirement with family, friends, and many personal projects.
He is survived by two children, Hal, with his wife Karen, in Long Beach, Calif., and Linda, with her husband Frank Thomson, in Seattle, Wash. He is also leaves behind six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He will be greatly missed by family and friends in Southern California and Arizona, and auto racing associates across the country.
Services were held at Messinger Payson Funeral Home Feb. 7, 2008. There will be another service at 1 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 9, 2008, at Rose Hills Memorial Park, Whittier, Calif.