Winfield's Custom Shop Trip 2005

 In May 2005, I was finally able to make the 2,000 mile trip to Mojave, California to meet legendary customizer Gene Winfield, who was in charge of the Piranha project for AMT.  I was fortunate to arrange to meet with him shortly after his return from a car show in Finland.  I was on my way to the San Francisco area to deliver a car to my daughter who had recently moved there.  Mojave is located east of Los Angeles, near Edwards Air Force Base.

When I drove up to the shop that warm day,  Mr. Winfield was outside, taking measurements of a car that would soon be painted and restored.  I introduced myself and was welcomed with a smile and a firm handshake.  We chatted outside for a while and looked at some of the cars in the lot (including my daughter's Ford ZX2) before heading for his office.  I had prepared a binder full of Piranha and CRV materials I have collected, hoping he could shed some light on some of the many questions I have about the cars.

Customizer Gene Winfield stands next to one of his movie cars, the SUX2000, which he created for the movie "Robocop."  The boxy, silver car next to it is a street sedan used in the movie "Blade Runner."  That car has since been painted and restored, and now resides in a museum.

The walls of his small office were decorated with photos of his and other builder's cars.  Winfield paged through my CRV/Piranha binder making interesting comments and pointing out people by name that had worked on his project at the AMT Custom & Speed Shop in Phoenix, AZ.  These included the Piranha Dragster, UNCLE car, street Piranhas, and other specialty cars & craft, commissioned by AMT.  I had several pieces Gene had never seen and fortunately had duplicates of to share.

CRV/Piranha website owner, Nick Whitlow, checks out one of the many custom cars in a garage at Gene Winfield's Custom Shop in Mojave, California.  Note the picture of his famous "Jade Idol" on Winfield's shirt.

During the time we were in Winfield's office, he received a lot of phone calls.  One call was for a quote on parts, another for an estimate for some custom work, and another call from a media person looking for an interview.  I imagine he gets a ton of calls everyday from fans and the media.  However, he used the same pleasant tone with everyone.  I felt very honored to get to spend time with this guy whose cars I admired in hot rod magazines as a boy during the early 60's & 70's.  After about an hour, Winfield invited me to his home, located behind the shop, to look through his photo archives for more photos of the Piranhas they had built.

Some of the many customer cars at Winfield's Custom Shop in Mojave, California. Custom '49 & '50 Mercury's are one of Gene's specialties.

We walked the short distance to Gene's home and into his dining room.  On the walls and around the rest of his house were trophies and photos of cars and events that Winfield had been involved in over the years.  After a few minutes in another room, Winfield returned with a file marked "UNCLE Car."  Inside were over a hundred photos of the car being built and parts, like the working flamethrowers, being tested and installed.  We also looked at photos of many of his other custom creations.  Then, out of the blue, he autographed a rare photo of his "Reactor" and handed me a priceless souvenir.  We spent another hour looking through photos and sharing stories of the "good old days."

Winfield shows off his wall of awards, autographs, and keepsakes in his home behind his Custom Shop.  The picture at the very top is an early artist's rendering of the UNCLE car with a completely different rear end treatment.

Later, Mr. Winfield took me for a short tour of his shop.  I asked about his show winning customs, the "Strip Star" and the "Reactor."  The "Strip Star" was in storage just a few steps away, but the "Reactor" was in a cargo carrier on it's way back from Finland.  We made our way over to a buiding where the "Strip Star" was stored.  I had recently seen it in the "Monster Garage" episode that featured Winfield and some of his fellow "old school" customizers, but it was a real treat to see it and actually touch the car, even in the confines of a shed.

These are some of the cars (and trucks) being customized at Winfield's Custom Shop in Mojave, California.

The 2-1/2 hour visit went by very quickly, but I didn't want to wear out my welcome.  I thanked my gracious host for the tour and wealth of information that he had shared.  I hope to be able to stop by and visit again someday and see what new wonders this ultimate car builder has come up with next. Thanks Gene!

The photo above, which has never been published before, was provided by Gene Winfield for exclusive use on this website.  A  worker puts some of the finishing touches on the UNCLE car in Winfield's shop in Phoenix, AZ, just prior to delivery to the TV studio.

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