Legendary Custom Car Builder
Gene Winfield has been working on cars for over 60 years, and has established himself and one of the premier customizers and car builders in the world. His ideas and painting techniques have permanently influenced the way custom cars are built today, and will be in the future.
Starting in the late 40's, Winfield opened his own shop, hot rodding Ford flatheads and doing custom bodywork for friends and customers. He taught himself to weld and paint, and soon developed a great reputation due to his innovative styling ideas and quality of work.
Gene's next landmark car was the "Solar Scene." This radical 1950 Mercury was chopped, channeled, and stripped of all trim and emblems. Quad headlights were molded into the front fenders and new wheel well openings were created and accented by stainless steel. New front and rear valances were formed and flat, chrome bumpers were added. A roof vent was cut in just above the rear window and stainless steel trim was recessed into the roof and down the trunk lid. A fully chromed Pontiac engine was installed into a white painted engine compartment to help show it off. The car was finished off with a flawless, candy orange paint job with red highlights around the new wheel wells. The car was well received and ushered in a new benchmark for customizing in the 60's.
Meanwhile, Detroit automakers were closely watching the work that Winfield and other customizers were doing in the 1960's. After a few failed attempts by their own styling studios, Detroit turned to craftsmen like Winfield, George Barris, Dean Jeffries, Bill Cushenbery, Darryl Starbird, and the Alexander Brothers to add their custom touches to factory cars. From this, the "Ford Custom Car Caravan" was born. Ford, and later Mercury, offered new cars to these artists to add their new, custom ideas. During this time, Winfield customized a Falcon, an LTD, and Econoline van for Ford, and a Comet convertible for Mercury.
Another radical custom created by Gene was the "Strip Star." This car was to be a racing show car. It featured an asymmetric styled, hand-formed aluminum body, powered by the new Ford 427 engine, with an enclosed driver's compartment and open-air seating for the passenger. The car featured a full-length belly pan and ran 127 miles per hour at the Bonneville Salt Flats just prior to completion for the show circuit.
Shortly after the "Strip Star" was introduced, Winfield debuted another landmark custom called the "Autorama Special", which we now know as the "Reactor." Based on a front wheel drive Citroen chassis, this wild beauty was powered by a chromed, Corvair engine and had fully independent air/oil suspension. The hand-formed, aluminum body featured an electric opening hood, doors, and roof. The paint was an amazing green metallic.
With so much public interest in his new "Reactor," Winfield decided to take the car to Hollywood and show it around the various movie lots and offer the car to the studios for future shows or advertising. The car was a hit and many of the current stars had their picture take with the car. Eventually this led to TV spots for the car in "Star Trek", "Batman", and a featured role in "Bewitched." Soon Hollywood would be calling on Winfield to build cars specifically for their shows.
During this same period of time, plastic model car companies were also working with custom car builders to promote their products. Revell hired Ed Roth and modeled many of his cars, Monogram hired Darryl Starbird and produced his work, and AMT contracted with Barris, the Alexander Brothers, and Winfield to provide custom ideas for the "3 in 1" kits.
Eventually, AMT decided to get into the real car business and called upon Winfield to head up their new venture, the AMT Speed & Custom Shop in Phoenix, Arizona. Part of their plan was to use Winfield's connections in Hollywood to promote the business and then build model kits of the TV & movie cars. They also had plans for a new, limited production car called the "Piranha." Winfield accepted the job and moved from Modesto, CA to Phoenix in 1966.
In the Phoenix shop, the AMT Dragster and "Man from U.N.C.L.E" car were born, plus the short-lived street Piranha. Other Winfield creations soon appeared on TV in "The HERO", "Get Smart", and "T.H.E. Cat." The "Star Trek" shuttlecraft, the Dean Martin "Jeckle & Hyde" Camaro, and other TV cars were also created there before AMT decided to close the shop in 1970 due to sagging model kit sales.
Winfield reopened his own shop back in California and promptly got involved with providing cars and devices used in TV commercials. His customers included Goodyear, Prestone, and Sunoco.
Soon, Hollywood would come calling again. Gene was asked to build some special, futuristic cars for the Woody Allen sci-fi spoof "Sleeper." His biggest challenge came when he was asked to build 25 different hi-tech vehicles for the groundbreaking film "Blade Runner." Soon, he was providing cars for other great films like "Robocop", "The Wraith", and "The Last Starfighter", and "Back to the Future II."
Today, Gene Winfield is as busy as ever. He puts in a full days work, every day chopping tops, painting customer cars, making public appearances, and producing his own line of fiberglass custom '49 - '51 Mercury bodies and cars. Winfield latest creation, a customized 1961 Cadillac called Maybellene, has again established Gene as a force to be reckoned with in the 2000's.