1956 Mercury designed and restyled by Gene Winfield of Winfield's Custom Shop for Leroy Kemmerer of Castro Valley, California. The Jade Idol was the car that helped Gene gain national recognition as a Kustom car builder. Leroy bought the brand new Mercury two-door hardtop in 1956 and used it as a daily driver until 1958. In 1958 he decided it was time to restyle the car, so he drove it to a guy in Modesto named Gene Winfield. Leroy had no idea about how he wanted his car, so he left everything up to Gene. Gene told him that he could build the car for the proposed price of $15,000 on the condition that Leroy let him use the car for one year on the show circuit. One year, and $16,500 later the build was completed. Gene ended up spending $1,500 of his own money in order to finish the car.
Gene Sectioned the car 4 inches. The front end featured handmade fenders rolled in aluminum. The fenders were fit with quad Lucas headlights. The unusual headlight rings were taken from 1959 Chrysler Crown Imperial hubcaps. The front end also featured a frenched rectangular bar grille with stainless inserts, rubber tipped nerfs, 1957 Dodge fender flares and a rolled pan. The rear fenders were 1957 Chrysler New Yorker quarter panels that were grafted to the original body. Red lenses made from Lucite plastic were added to the fenders. The rear grille received a treatment similar to the front. The bumpers which hang below the front and rear valance were bars covered with a single aluminum extrusion and rubber insert taken from a Porsche 356. The trunk was smoothed and reshaped.
Inside, the stock dash was removed and a padded unit installed. A TV set was integrated into the dashboard. The instruments were located in the steering column hub. Gene built this using a steering column from an Edsel because the wiring for the Edsel's wheel-center push-button shift selector allowed him to place the speedometer at the center of the steering wheel. Cocktail chairs were mounted on swivel set-up. The upholstery was done in pleated white Naugahyde and green velvet.
The stock engine was kept, but hopped up. Enhancing paintwork and chrome trim gave the car valuable extra points at car shows. The engine was hooked to a T-Bird automatic transmission with a floor shifter.
Gene himself did the wild blended candy paint job on the Jade Idol. Once completed Gene sent the car on a tour. The car won prizes everywhere it was shown, sometimes for best custom, best paint, best interior, best engineering, sweepstakes or best of show. After a year Leroy finally got his car back, and he could finally enjoy his ride. On his first trip he was stopped by a policeman that gave him 14 citations for various infractions. The policeman told him that the car was too low, that it didn't have reflectors in the taillights, that it didn't have a license plate, and so on. Leroy fixed them all so that he could use the car without too much hassle from Johnny Law. Leroy kept the car for a few years, before he decided to sell it because it because it was impractical and he lost interest in it. Leroy sold the car for a few hundred dollars.
The Jade Idol was first shown on the West Coast. After that it was sent to the East for shows there. On the way back to California after a show in Missouri, the trailer that hauled the car flipped and the car landed on its roof. The roof and the rear quarter panel were damaged in the flip over. The car was brought back to Winfield who stripped the car, welded on a new roof, fixed other body damage and repainted the car. The restored version of the car was done without the chrome strips on the roof.
After touring the show scene for several years, the car fell into disrepair as it changed hands many times. In 1979 Rod Powell discovered what was left of the car in a body shop that didn't have a clue as to what it was. The body was off the frame, and it was going to be put on a Corvette chassis. The body was just an empty shell in bare metal and very rusty. The shop were getting ready to radius the wheel wells for bigger wheels and tires. The original frame was under a pile of scrap metal at another shop. The best thing about the deal was they had all of the loose parts and trim boxed up and stored. Rod convinced Jerry Rehn to buy the car and do as authentic a restoration as he could. Jerry bought the car, and disassembled it in order to restore it back to its former glory. Ted Mitchell helped Jerry restore the car. Rod Powell did the paint job on the car. Jerry also decided to swap the reversed chrome rims with wire wheels. The interior was upholstered by Rocky DeMateo.
In the early eighties Jerry sold the car to Bob Page. Bob modified the car improving the brakes and making a few other changes. The car was also repainted in a light pearl mint green color with subtle shading.
In 1987 John D'Agostino traded his show car the Royal Tahitian for the Jade Idol. The deal was done right after the awards ceremony at the 1987 Sacramento Autorama. John's plan was to have Gene Winfield redo the car exactly like it was when he originally built it. To busy building his own cars John never got around restoring the Jade Idol and the car was sold to Billy Belmont of Belmont Rod and Custom in Dedham, Massachusetts. Billy restored the car and still owns it today.
The Legendary Custom Cars and Hot Rods of Gene Winfield
The Jalopy Journal - Rod Powell Classic Customs and Lead Sleds by Bo Bertilsson
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