Imagine owning a car for many years, having some of the best times of your life with it, and then taking it off the road for a long-term revamp. Sound like a familiar scenario? Well, now imagine jokingly asking one of the world's top customizers to fly to England to paint it for you...and he says yes!
For Dave Wright, the unimaginable came true when paint and customizing legend Gene Winfield agreed to work on his '59 Chevrolet El Camino, a vehicle that 40-year-old Dave, from Poole in Dorset, England, has owned since 1991. The once black 'n' flamed pickup had been off the road for many years and thoughts were just turning to its renovation when he met up with Gene at a car show in California and popped the question on the spur of the moment. Shocked, surprised, and delighted can't even begin to describe Dave's reaction when Gene agreed to get involved with the project, and things moved so swiftly after that, he still can't actually believe his luck!
It was already clear that Gene was a special kinda guy; he wouldn't have stayed at the top of his game for more than 60 years if he wasn't. The second Dave and his wife, Sue, collected the legendary California customizer from Heathrow Airport back in the spring of 2007, his charm, enthusiasm, and sheer zest for life shone through. Not one to let a tedious flight from L.A. to London get him down, the then 79-year-old refused the chance to rest and insisted they head straight to Elite Paint and Panel in Nether Wallop, Hampshire, where the El Camino was sitting, ready to go.
The Chevy had already been prepped and primed by the couple and paint shop owner, Martin Harper, and the roof finished in gold metalflake to save time. However, the rest of the work was solely in Gene's hands. He and Dave had already discussed color schemes with a keen emphasis on the fully blended, fadeaway effect that had become Gene's signature back in the 1950s and '60s.
Dave had amassed most of the various House of Kolor primers, basecoats, candies, and clearcoats required. For his own part, Gene had brought with him his "travelling" working gear, including a couple of his own paint blends and four spray guns. Among these impeccably looked-after tools were a Binks 7 "fun gun" and two gravity-feed guns-the larger for color and clear, and the smaller for blending and striping. He also carried a DeVilbiss, which he said was just "along for the ride." Also in his suitcase was his "lucky" pair of sneakers. With layers of paint and clear from countless automotive creations ingrained in the soles, you can only imagine the stories those trusty shoes could tell!
Watching Gene mix paint was fascinating. It was old hat to him and nothing was measured out (not recommended-Ed.), and it was all done on instinct and years of experience. "It's like the old Brylcreem adverts said: 'A little dab will do!'" he chuckled. The result was always spot-on. If seeing the custom king mixing color was a treat, witnessing him apply it to metal was an inspiration. He worked with extreme speed and intensity, and unlike many painters, rarely released the trigger at the end of a sweep. He leaped around like a man one quarter his age, throwing himself on to the floor regularly to get the perfect low angles.
Working well into the night on each of the three days he spent on the El Camino, Gene's energy and enthusiasm left those around him utterly exhausted. As he built up the fadeaway effect using darker and lighter tones to accentuate the body lines, the already wild styling of Chevrolet's most outrageous pickup began to look like a million bucks. Nothing could faze a painter of his caliber, even when a chemical reaction on one panel caused areas of the paint to split. He simply took the problem in stride and fixed it without a fuss.
With a steady flow of willing helpers and intrigued onlookers on hand, Gene put on a stunning show. Always quick with a witticism or anecdote, but still a modest, unassuming yet natural charmer, he proved to be a true entertainer as well as a master of his craft. The finished paint job is nothing short of stunning, and in the ultimate accolade, a delighted Dave asked Gene's permission to call the El Camino the Golden Idol. This is in tribute to possibly the most famous Winfield creation, a '56 Mercury custom called the Jade Idol. There were genuine tears all around when the Wrights finally delivered the man safely back to Heathrow only five days after he had arrived. For all of those Brits who had met Gene and watched him work, it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Gene arrived at the paint shop fresh from Heathrow Airport, and immediately got into his w
Here's a mountain of ingredients from House of Kolor that Gene will use to cook up a perio
Gene couldn't do any of this without a small arsenal of paint guns. Most painters will hav