In December 1949, Gene entered a roadster in the first Modesto auto show, where it scored a First Place trophy. Prior to that, he had attended the first-ever Hot Rod Exposition in Los Angeles as a spectator. There he met Blackie Gejeian and Robert E. Petersen, who was selling his new magazine, Hot Rod. Gene arranged to distribute Hot Rod in his area (partially to get it free for himself), and from its advertisements he ordered speed parts wholesale from SO-CAL Speed Shop.
In mid-1951, Gene entered and raced The Thing? at the first Bonneville Nationals. He continued racing-and winning-at the drags too, but by late 1953, he got married and gave up racing.
Not customizing, though. His talents landed him on the cover of Rod & Custom in June 1953, and in many how-to articles in countless magazines to follow. Gene's reputation as an excellent painter was bolstered by the development of his blended-fade paint jobs. First done on motorcycle tanks and fenders, Winfield's fades became legendary.
One of the first cars to fully utilize a top-to-bottom fade job remains one of Winfield's most recognizable customs-the Jade Idol '56 Mercury. Built in 1959 for Leroy Kremmerer, the Jade Idol's innovative paint faded from pearl white to candy green to a dark jade hue. The paint was stunning, as was the custom metalwork beneath, which included a 4-inch section, '57 Chrysler rear quarters, and canted quad headlights, all integrated into a clean, homogenous design. The Jade Idol and its 1960 Car Craft feature helped thrust Gene onto the national scene. He was inducted into the National Roadster Show's Hall of Fame, and took the car on a nationwide tour. By this time, Gene had opened a new shop, American Originals, but remained in Modesto.
A succession of highly modified show rods followed, including one that was "as modern as tomorrow"-the Reactor, designed by Ben Delphia. Besides making a big splash in the show realm, the car was also used in several TV shows, including "Bewitched" and "Batman" (it was Catwoman's Kitty Car). The Solar Scene '50 Merc was soon debuted, but it flipped on its trailer while being towed to a Midwest car show (the same fate befell the Jade Idol, but it was repaired, while the Solar Scene was lost for good). Gene also developed the Piranha, a Corvair-powered vehicle he wanted to mass produce. Only a few were made, one of which was used in "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." TV show.
In the mid-'60s, Gene moved to Phoenix, Arizona, at the behest of model car company AMT, which wanted him to build and design fullscale cars. Work there included the construction of many film and TV cars, and even a few spacecraft for the original "Star Trek" series. AMT closed its Arizona shop in 1969 and moved to Santa Monica, California. So the next year Gene opened Winfield Special Projects in North Hollywood, just a few miles from other celebrity customizers Dean Jeffries and George Barris. Being located near the hub of the movie industry kept Gene busy for the next few years, and in 1978 he moved to Canoga Park and opened Winfield Rod & Custom Construction.