It is hard to cover in only a few paragraphs 70 years of innovation, talent and craftsmanship that Gene Winfield has been associated with in the automotive world. He is one of the original California Customizers that started trends that would eventually cross the globe. Gene built his first roadster in Modesto, California while in high school during World War II and hasn’t stopped since. He opened Windys custom shop in 1946. He has raced cars on the streets, dry lakes and the earliest drag strips of the country. Gene and his car club attended and also hosted some of the first hotrod shows. In 1950 while in the Army he went to Japan. While he was there he built and raced a 41 Ford. After his return from the service in 1951 Gene opened Winfields custom shop in Modesto where he worked on projects like Rod & Customs dream truck. Over the years he has also contributed to articles in many rodding publications and even wrote a Q&A article for Car Kulture Deluxe. By 1960 Genes work was getting national recognition, most notably for his custom paint jobs. His eye for shades and hues led to the development of the first fully blended paint job. His canvas was the radically customized 57 Mercury dubbed the Jade Idol. It was quickly followed by another custom Mercury called the Solar Scene, a 1950 with electrically operated seats that swiveled out to greet the occupants. A couple of other famous Winfield cars are the Strip Star and the Reactor, both of which featured futuristic designs and handmade aluminum bodies. Both of these cars are animated with remote control devices and gadgets. These cars have won many prestigious awards at national car shows.
Gene applied his body work talents to 3 roadsters that each won the 9 foot tall “America’s most beautiful roadster” award in 1955, 63,and again in 64. By 1962 his notoriety had brought himself and several other builders to the attention Detroit. Ford offered each customizer a new product to restyle. The “Ford custom car caravan” hit the show circuit in hopes of capturing the youth market. Four years later Gene was asked to run AMTs (a model car company) speed and custom division in Phoenix, Arizona. There they would develop full size show cars and accessories. One such creation was a plastic bodied car called the Piranha.
AMT built specialty vehicles for TV shows, feature films and movies. Some of Genes creations were the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart gadget cars, the Galileo shuttlecraft from the original Star Trek series, a 31 chevy that converted to the NEW 1967 Camaro in under a minute for the Dean Martin show, a new Impala split front to rear for a Chevrolet commercial and he has also frozen a car in a block of ice for an oil company. Some of the movies and TV shows that feature his work are Ironside,
Bewitched, Robocop, The Wraith, Magnum Force, Back to the Future II and the list goes on. In some of his spare time Gene had done stunt work for tire companies. Some of Genes larger projects include 6 cars for Woddie Allens Sleeper and a monumental 25 cars for Blade Runner featuring Harrison Ford. Some of those cars had to be specially equipped with hydraulics to retract the wheels for a flying mode. One of
them he recently restored for Paul Allen’s Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, Washington. He is also currently working with the World of Wheels series chopping tops during the shows. Last year Gene chopped 17 cars total of which 10 were done during the car shows.
In the mid-eighties custom cars were on the rise again. Gene found himself with customers wanting to get their Mercury’s chopped, sectioned and frenched again. He saw a need for repair to these old cars. He then developed a line of steel and fiberglass parts for Fords and Mercury’s to include complete 49-51 glass bodies. The glass bodies have built in features like frenched headlights and already chopped roofs. Aside from custom work and fiberglass business Gene finds time to attend many car shows and events around the world each year and even found the time to recreate his old race car “The Thing” which
he races at Bonneville and El Mirage dry lake beds. Some of Genes newer creations include Maybellene, a 61 Cadillac with a Northstar engine and the Pacifica, a 63 Econoline pick up with a 5.0 mustang engine. Both vehicles feature air ride suspensions and are sporting some of Winfield’s finest signature paint jobs.
Gene has won too many awards and honors to mention but some of his best are as follows:
Oakland/Grand National Roadster Show hall of fame
Darryl Starbird’s national Rod & Custom Hall of fame
Kustom Kemps of America (KKOA) hall of fame
San Francisco Rod & Custom hall of fame
Michigan Rod & Custom hall of fame
San Bernardino Route 66 hall of fame
Detroit Autorama Builder of the year
NHRA’s lifetime achievement award “The Wally”
Grand Marshal for Modesto’s American Graffiti week
Some of Genes more recent TV work includes 2 interviews on Hot Rod TV, an interview with Dennis Cage from My Classic Car, the Old School Chevy and Insane 54 for Monster Garage, painted a Cadillac for Billy Gibbons (ZZTop) on TLC’s show Rides, demonstrated fabrication and painting techniques on Travel Channel’s Riding with Rossi and History channels Boys Toys Custom Cars where he also chopped a top, and 3 full size wind up cars for a Mobil oil commercial. With all that Gene is also in negotiations for his own TV show. If that isn’t enough, Gene travels the world teaching workshops on metal fabrication to pass his experience of customizing on to future generations. When asked about current projects, a twinkle of his eye and his trademark smile was all we were able to get out of him. When asked about his age he responded the same way. No matter what, he is still going strong and shown no signs of slowing down.
To be continued…
Wrritten by John Stiff and Jimmy Severino