Parting Shot

Gene Winfield, We All Should Be This Lucky

By Brian Brennan   –   Photography By the Author & Chuck Vranas

I’m going out on a limb, but a sturdy one, that there isn’t a rodder who reads car magazines who hasn’t heard the name Robert Eugene “Gene” Winfield or hasn’t seen his work in magazines. And most likely, if not all, many of us have been to a show and seen the man and his cars.

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Gene has been around for a while, 95 years to be exact, and unlike what many of us will be doing when we see that kind of number, he is still traveling to events, building hot rods and customs, and driving race cars. The fact that he grew up in a healthy lifestyle by not having smoked or drank coffee, soft drinks, or alcohol, could be the secret “speed” ingredient that has keep Winfield so “on top” of his game.

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The pair: “California Gold” (left) is a ’49 Merc chopped 3 inches and is a tribute build to a car Gene built back in 1957, while “California Dreaming” (right) is a ’60 Chevy that rests on a ’68 Caprice chassis and the body is shortened 3 inches.

When one thinks of the influence on our hobby by the earliest custom car builders, names that come to mind are the likes of George Barris (and his brother Sam), Dean Jeffries, Bill Cushenbery, the Alexander brothers, Harry Westergard, Darryl Starbird, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and then there is Gene Winfield.

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Gene’s “Shop Truck,” a ’35 Ford pickup, was debuted in March of 1960 and restored by Hatfield Restorations and now resides at the Galpin Museum under the watchful eye of Dave Shuten.

Gene has been involved with three builds that have gone on to win the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award. No small feat. In the world of car magazines Gene saw one of his earliest builds, a ’46 Ford convertible, appear on the cover of Rod & Custom. Gene can also be seen on the cover with his ’vert as well as a very cool-looking green channeled Deuce roadster compete with a triple-carb Flathead. Other notable builds include the “King T” belonging to Don Tognotti that won the AMBR in 1964. Back in the day, R&C published in 1966 that the “Ala Kart” was the most popular hot rod. The Ala Kart was sent, after it had caught on fire, to AMT’s (the model people) shop in Phoenix where Gene was commissioned to work on their full-scall (1:1) show cars. Arguably one of if not the effort that truly solidified Gene’s prominence in the custom car world occurred in 1959 when the “Jade Idol,” a ’56 Merc two-door hardtop, came onto the scene with its stunning quad-headlight appearance. He is also credited with bringing to popularity the fade paintjob.

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The ’61 Caddy built in 1993 titled “Maybelline” is the classic faded paint scheme (blended Butterscotch topping into Ice Cream and then back) championed by Gene.

Of all of Gene’s likable traits it’s his willingness to smile, shake a hand, and speak with an aspiring or seasoned hot rodder. He is a hot rodder’s hot rodder. For that reason alone, he is at the very top of our list of “The Best Hot Rodder of All Time.” MR

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Gene built the ’32 Ford Brookville roadster body back in 2007 to get into the 200-mph club at Bonneville (still reaching). Powered by a Rates Racing 368 Windsor Ford and the extended front suspension was done by Lil’ John Buttera.
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