People Places & Racing News

SEMA Heritage: Gene Winfield

SEMA News—April 2012

By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Source Interlink Media Archives

Big Year

  Gene Winfield, Automobile Events, Automobile History, Auto Body Business, Offroad Business
Gene Winfield was having a big year in 1963 when Petersen Publishing Company photographer Eric Rickman took this photo at Winfield’s car customizing shop in Modesto, California. Rickman was chronicling the progress of several cars being prepped for land speed record attempts at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and he captured Winfield as he was laying out “a super streamlined street roadster over an early Ford frame and running gear.”

That Bonneville story ran in the August 1963 issue of Hot Rod magazine, and it was one of two stories in that issue in which Winfield appeared. A few pages later, you can see him with a body hammer and dolly shaping aluminum panels for Tex Smith’s XR-6 roadster. The unusual-looking hot rod, “developed to investigate the uses of modern ideas in hot rod design,” as Smith described it, would win the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) trophy that year at the Oakland Roadster Show. Winfield’s bodywork and skill with pearl paint also helped Don Tognotti win the AMBR trophy a year later with his “King T” roadster.

Like so many hot rodding pioneers, Winfield started messing with cars by racing them on dragstrips and the dry lakes. Following a stint in the Navy, he began customizing cars in the mid ‘40s after first teaching himself how to weld and work with lead. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Winfield experimented with unusual—and sometimes radical—combinations of candy and pearl paint colors. Those pioneering efforts in blended paint jobs were showcased on several Winfield-built cars, including two notable custom Mercurys called the Jade Idol and Solar Scene.

Winfield’s bodyworking talents and eye for design would take him from Ford’s Custom Car Caravan in Detroit to the AMT Model Company in Phoenix and then to Hollywood, where he built TV and movie cars for Star Trek, Blade Runner, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and other features. He has gone back to Bonneville, taught metalworking classes to pass on his techniques to a new generation of builders and still today reshapes and customizes cars. He’s not quite as busy as he was when he appeared in Hot Rod in 1963, but close.