The McGee Roadster is the hot rod of hot rods. The ideal. The quintessential trend-setter. It’s also the latest subject of Up Close, the Historic Vehicle Association’s text-based, story-telling video series about vehicles in the National Historic Vehicle Register.
The iconic 1932 Ford custom got its nickname as the McGee Roadster after its owner, Bob McGee, caught the hot rodding fever after he was discharged from the Army at the conclusion of World War II. McGee’s build included swapping in a 1934 Ford flathead V-8 engine and adding speed parts like a Burns dual carburetor intake manifold and Federal Mogul finned copper cylinder heads.
McGee also dropped the front axle and notched the rear frame to lower the car. Once that was done, he removed the fenders, created a custom louvered three-piece hood, smoothed and peaked the grill shell, and built a V-style spreader bar. To further smooth the roadster’s profile, he then added hidden door hinges and shaved the door handles. Onto the lowered, sleek body he bolted front wheels from a 1940 Ford and rear wheels from a Lincoln-Zephyr, modifying and extending the decklid as well. Inside he installed unique upholstery and a one-of-a-kind dash, and used a column shift instead of the factory floor shift.
The car served as McGee’s daily driver for years, and he also raced it often. In 1947, it topped out at 112.21 mph at Harper’s Dry Lake in California. The roadster still has a Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) timing plaque attached to the dashboard.
Early on, the McGee Roadster was chosen as the poster child for the “Green Cross for Safety” campaign, helping to remove the negative stigma surrounding hot rodding. It was featured on the cover of Hot Rod in the October 1948, the magazine’s first year in print.
The car’s ownership and appearance changed several times through the years. It was one of the first to receive a true metalflake paint job in the early ’60s, and in 1971 owner Dick Scritchfield drove the roadster to a speed of 167.212 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats, setting a class record that stood for eight years. It is now owned by Bruce Meyer, who restored it to McGee’s original specs.
The McGee Roadster has appeared on television (Happy Days) and in movies (like Van Nuys Blvd.—yes, the same movie with the infamous Wild Cherry van). It has been shown at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the Grand National Roadster Show and is regularly displayed at the Petersen Automotive Museum. In 2014, the United States Postal Service selected the Ford as one of the first two hot rods ever featured on a commemorative stamp.
In 2018, the McGee Roadster became the 16th car added to the National Historic Vehicle Register.
Keep watching the HVA’s Up Close series, as new videos are released every Wednesday. We’ll keep you posted about new episodes, and you can also stay in the loop by following the HVA on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.