For over 3 decades there has been some form of “Gene's” in operation. Back in the late 70’s Gene McKinney was working at Joe Smith Automotive in northeast Atlanta. He was Joe’s first employee in the Early Ford Parts division. Gene quickly built a reputation for being someone who knew what combination of original and aftermarket parts worked best together on an early Ford hot rod. For the next few years Gene would work on and off at Joe’s, working a while for himself or others and then back to Joe’s. While away from Joe Smith’s, Gene had a tendency to chase after more than old parts. Fortunately the statute of limitations has probably passed on most of what Gene was up to back then and he never strayed to far away from buying, selling and trading parts as well as working on cars.
In the 80’s Gene’s moved around a good bit. During one of his stints with Joe’s in the early 80’s Gene opened “Gene’s Hot Rod Repair” in the shop behind Joe’s. He built and repaired cars during the week and worked the car shows and swap meets for Joe’s on the weekends. The first Gene’s t-shirts with the Bonneville Coupe were sold back then with the earliest labeled “Gene’s Hot Rod Repair-Affiliated with Joe Smith Automotive”. Another time Gene went back to the shop adding parts to the repair work and opened “Gene’s Hot Rod Parts and Service”. He turned out some great cars during this time and burned up the roads going to swap meets all over the country. Gene was becoming known nationally for keeping an inventory of original and performance parts as well as rare and hard to find pieces. More and more regular customers came to the annual meets to see what Gene was bringing. He was also a regular at the Salt Flats and in 1986 received the Bonneville Cruise-In Long Distance Award for driving out in the “Nuthin Fancy” 1934 3-window. Rod Action did a couple of articles on the trip and the coupe.
The next 20 years brought lots of growth to the business and a good deal of acclaim to Gene. In 1989 Gene moved to Lithia Springs GA where he opened "Gene’s Hot Rod & Antique Ford Parts". Here the focus was on retail business and allowed a lot more time at home. By 1992 Gene was ready to travel and put the business back on the road again. For the next 3 years you could find the Gene’s display at a car show or swap meet from one end of the country to the other. When at home he still found time to do repair work and build some great 32 – 40 cars and F-100’s. 1995 brought an opportunity to move to his grandmother’s old place back in Tennessee. Gene and his wife Michelle moved up I-75 to Riceville and built a shop with plenty of room for parts and service. As the interest in traditional hot rods started to grow in the 80’s and 90’s it was hard to find someone with Gene’s experience and knowledge to help builders and owners put together a dependable and safe car. Gene was taking calls from and shipping parts all over the world. The internet opened up even more markets and a new and younger generation of hot rodder was introduced to Gene’s. It seemed like there was always one or two flat black Fords from the 30’s sporting red steelies with big and little rubber in the shop. There were also cars featured in magazines including Rod & Custom and Street Rodder and author Peter Vincent put Gene’s Yellow 1932 5-window on the cover of his book “Hot Rod – An American Original”. That’s pretty fitting because if you have ever met Gene you know he is an American Original.
After probably a million miles, thousands of parts and hundreds of cars Gene decided to retire in 2008. Health issues were limiting his ability to travel and work in the shop. Henry and Ann Bennett bought the business and moved it a few miles south to Cleveland TN. The Bennett’s had a lot of fun and made many new friends. In the fall of 2011 Gene’s was purchased and moved to Knoxville where we hope to be in a new building by the end of the year and on the road in early 2012. Oh yea, there is also one more bit of news. Gene is feeling better and has agreed to come on board in an “Advisory Role” as he calls it. Now please understand with Gene that means the advice won’t be limited to old Fords as he will gladly help you with matters pertaining to politics, religion, child rearing, etc…