The iconic McGee Roadster will be well kept for future generations
Avid car collector, racer, and ’32 Ford aficionado Bruce Meyer has donated the legendary McGee roadster to the Petersen Automotive Museum. Going forward, it will continue to be shared with hot rod fans of all ages.
The ’32 Ford roadster, originally made famous by University of Southern California student and football player Bob McGee, was the first street car to grace the cover of Hot Rod magazine. It was photographed with McGee cruising by the USC campus, which is today less than 8 miles from the Petersen, for the October 1948 cover. We visited the car, and Meyer, in the Petersen Automotive Museum Vault (Presented by Hagerty) to learn why this historic hot rod is deserving of preservation for future generations.
“I’m old enough to remember when it was on the cover of Hot Rod magazine,” he told us. “It’s always been a favorite of mine.” Meyer was just a kid in 1948, but the car stuck with him.
“There were a lot of firsts on this car,” he said, pointing to the spreader bar on the front of the frame that comes to a subtle V-shape. The hidden door hinges and three-piece louvered hood (that eliminated the center hinge) were also significant innovations.
The car was customized by Valley Custom Shop in Burbank, California, which was owned and operated by Neil Emory and Clayton Jensen. The shop’s trademark was its peaked grille shells, of which the McGee roadster showcases a textbook example. Other custom touches on the body include an extended decklid and ’48 Pontiac taillights.
“This is the iconic ’32 Ford California highboy,” Meyer explained, admiring the car’s stance. The low ride height comes from the Z’ed chassis. There’s more custom work inside the car, as it features a custom dash and 1940 Ford steering column featuring a column shift.
Meyer bought the McGee roadster in the early ’90s from Dick Stritchfield, who purchased it from McGee. At that time the car had a Chevy V-8 and a wild exhaust, modified for use in various TV and movie productions. Meyer wanted to return the car to the state it was in when it appeared the October ’48 Hot Rod cover and, lucky for him, illustrator Rex Burnette had drawn a cutaway of the car in that issue’s feature story. The detailed drawing showed the setup under the hood, plus brake line routing, and just about everything necessary for Pete Chapouris and the crew at SoCal Speed Shop needed to install and plumb the Ford flathead V-8 to the original build spec.
“[Chapouris] was a great craftsman,” said Meyer.
Stritchfield had kept the car’s foundation well preserved, leaving the roadster’s original chassis and body in excellent condition when Meyer took ownership. The door gaps are amazingly straight and the door shuts nicely. Even the bronze Federal-Mogul Thermo-Flow heads, which run without a water pump, appear today as they were on the car 75 years ago.
Meyer particularly loved the McGee roadster’s removable top, which had to be recreated. “We really worked to get this exactly like the top that was on it,” Meyer said, crediting interior guru Sid Shavers.
After about 30 years owning the car, Meyer decided to donate the car to the Petersen Automotive Museum. The roadster has previously been displayed there, either in the Vault or on the show floor along other venerated hot rods, most recently on the museum’s second floor.
“I have an estate plan. . . this is part of it, to give it to the Petersen,” Meyer said. “I thought, ‘why am I waiting?’ I’m 82 years old, I’d rather give it with a warm hand, rather than a dead cold hand when I’m not around to enjoy it. I’m enjoying the benefits of gifting it. I know it will be kept in a good place.”
Of course, Meyer will still get to see the car at the museum, where he is a frequent visitor, and he still has plenty of other ’32 Fords to experience. His favorite to drive is the Doane Spencer roadster.
If you’d like to see the legendary McGee roadster in person, you’ll know where it’ll be. You can get tickets to the Petersen Museum here, and if you don’t see it on display upstairs, go take a peek into the Vault. You won’t be disappointed.