Born into a German family in Melbourne, but raised in New Zealand, Gillitzer studied mechanical engineering at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology before joining Volkswagen Australia. Wanting to travel, and speaking German, he was able to find a job with Mercedes-Benz in Europe, thanks largely to connections his father enjoyed. He spent three years in Stuttgart, working on prototypes in the Mercedes-Benz experimental department. The urge to travel took over again and he moved to the United States where he applied to join several of the big automotive companies in Detroit, being accepted by the Engineering Department of Pontiac where he worked on chassis design and advanced engine research under Pontiac's boss at the time John Delorean. After three years he decided to head back to Australia and joined General Motor's Australian offshoot Holden. After a couple of years he jumped ship to join Holden's chief rival Ford Australia.The move to Ford was to enable him to take on a managerial role in product planning and for three years he worked in Australia before being sent to Ford worldwide headquarters at Dearborn, Michigan for a year. When he returned to Australia he moved up the ladder and by 1979 was car and light truck marketing manager for Ford Australia. He went on to become project manager of the Ford Capri program before being assigned to Ford's important motorsport program in Australia.In mid-1994 he was given the chance to become head of Ford's European Motorsport program, replacing Steve Parker. Through Cosworth Engineering, Ford supplied engines to a number of F1 constructors, with Benetton as its main works team. At the time, Benetton was about to dump Ford and join Renault. Gillitzer tried to do a deal with Jordan but delays in decision-making in Detroit left Ford with Sauber as the only choice for a works team.The Sauber-Ford performed quite well in 1995, but it was not sensational and by the end of the year Jackie Stewart had convinced Ford's top management to support his efforts in 1997. Gillitzer was replaced, left the Ford Motor Company and returned to Australia where he began working as a consultant to the automotive industry in Asia.