Winfield Rod & Custom

Brian Konoske

The Jade Idol, as the car was called, put Winfield on the national map. Sectioned four inches, with canted quad headlights, rear quarter panels grafted from a '57 Chrysler New Yorker, and an elegant scratch-built grille that was repeated at the rear, the Idol had a sharklike presence that represented a new direction in customs. Soon after came the Solar Scene, which was Winfield's unique reinterpretation of the '49 through '51 Mercury customs -- the lead sleds that are his specialty ("Mercs & More!" is the legend painted on one of his garages).

As I hunt for Winfield, I poke my head inside an open doorway, and there, gleaming like a jewel in a display case, I find the butterscotch-fading-into-ice-cream '61 Cad known as Maybellene. The car is so implausibly low and improbably long that it appears to be oozing up from the floor. It's a custom in the modern idiom, full of over-the-top touches like a steering wheel milled, sanded, ground, and polished out of a block of Lucite. But it also benefits from the subtle mods that characterize a Winfield custom-a roof straight off a '60 Cadillac sedan, for example, and extended upper and lower fins reshaped to maintain a sense of proportion and continuity. Somehow, the car manages to be both dazzling and restrained at the same time. "As soon as you see one of Windy's cars, you know who built it," says Blackie Gejeian, a hot-rod legend who single-handedly ran the Fresno Autorama for half a century. "Same thing with one of his paint jobs. Nobody fades paint like Windy Winfield."

Unfortunately, just as Winfield was peaking, custom cars were falling out of favor. So he created several show cars for the high-profile Ford Custom Car Caravan. Then he designed popular three-in-one scale-model kits for AMT and a bunch of cars for television (Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Dean Martin Show) and movies (Sleeper, Back to the Future, The Last Starfighter). But customs remained out of fashion and all but forgotten until the late '70s, when Winfield was invited to be a guest at a show back east. "I told them, 'Naw, it's dead,' " he recalls. "Then, the next year, they called me again and said, 'We'll give you a ticket for you and your wife.' So I jumped right back in it."

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