Car customizer still finds job anything but a drag
By Candy Williams
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
As long as he still has projects on his to-do list, Southern California car customizer Gene Winfield has no plans to put the brakes on his career.
Although, at age 84, he says a cardiac condition is forcing him to cut back on his work schedule — from 16 to 18 hours daily “to only 10 to 12.”
Winfield, has created many notable custom vehicles for television and movies. His TV projects includes the “Piranha Dragster” he built from a Chevy Corvair engine and plastic body for “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (1964) and the Galileo shuttlecraft featured in the original “Star Trek” series (1967), which he says recently sold at auction for $64,000.
His custom creations have been featured in more than 20 Hollywood films, including “Blade Runner” (1982), for which he built 25 vehicles in less than six months, “The Last Starfighter” (1984) and “Robocop” (1987). He also made a Fiberglas flying version of the time-traveling DeLorean for “Back to the Future Part II” (1989).
A self-taught welder and painter, he started doing custom bodywork for friends and customers in the late 1940s and still has a custom shop in Mohave, Calif. He says he has several “dream projects” in various stages of completion and doesn't have spare time for hobbies or other interests.
“I don't do anything for enjoyment. I'm too busy,” he says, adding, “Once in a while, I go dancing.”
Winfield will meet with fans and demonstrate his customizing techniques at a “Winfield's All-American Chop Shop” display at the 52nd annual Baierl Subaru World of Wheels Custom Car and Hot Rod Show presented by Millerstown Pic-A-Part this weekend at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The event will feature 300 local and national custom cars, classics, hot rods, trucks, motorcycles and race cars, in addition to exhibits and other celebrity guests.
Show features include a tribute to Batman with three generations of Batmobiles, a “Munsters” display with “Dragula” and Butch Patrick, the actor who portrayed Eddie in the television comedy series; and ZZ Top's Eliminator Coupe, on loan from Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Also featured will be a Steel City Award of Excellence competition, Drag City USA presented by Pittsburgh Raceway Park, a 2013 Builder of the Year Exhibit and Pittsburgh High Scrollers Pinstripe Charity Auction to benefit the Autism Society of Pittsburgh.
There will be workshops and activities for all ages, including a pinstriping seminars for kids with the High Scrollers, Pedal Car Challenge, live music, Artist's Alley with handmade automotive art, a pinball tournament, Meguiar's Car Care Tips and more.
Celebrities scheduled to make appearances include Danielle Colby-Cushman from TV's “American Pickers” and Stefanie Scott, “Lexi” from Disney's “A.N.T. Farm” from 1 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday; and wrestling star Shawn Michaels from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday.
“There's something for everybody. It's not just a car show,” says Michael Tarquinio of Robinson, whose “Second Wind” 1932 Ford will be making its final appearance at World of Wheels as last year's Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year. The Lincoln Zephyr-inspired roadster has a 1957 Oldsmobile motor with six chrome carburetors and rare aluminum heads topped with hard-formed Lincoln valve covers. The retro interior is oxblood leather with German square-weave carpet and many custom features.
Tarquinio was invited to display the car at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in August in Monterey, Calif. It also was displayed at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
Candy Williams is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
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