If you had to pick one car as the quintessential hot rod, the McGee/Scritchfield Roadster would be as good a choice as any. It’s one of the most legendary, historic, and iconic hot rods in the history of the hobby, and it’s a car that lived numerous lives.
This documentary, by the Historic Vehicle Association’s ThisCarMattersFilms, traces the history of the McGee/Scritchfield roadster and does it in the context of the history of hot rodding. Hot rods got their start before World War II, but they really took off after the war, when GIs returned home with a taste for adventure, some money in their pockets, and experience with mechanical equipment.
The choice of the hot rodder was the 1932 Ford, which was the first affordable car offered with a V-8, the venerable flathead. The car had style, too, and it looked good with the fenders on or off.
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One of those ’32s was a car purchased by USC football player Bob McGee, a returning veteran who modified his car with a style that would pass the test of time. He did some of the work on his own and worked with shops to do the rest. McGee removed the fenders, making it a highboy, and notched the frame in back to get just the right stance. He added louvers to the hood; removed the door handles, hinges, latches, and radiator cap; Vee’d the front spreader bar; and performed other mods that made the car cleaner and smoother. Under the hood, the modified flathead V-8 got Federal Mogul copper heads and a Burns intake. It was the first Deuce highboy to appear on the cover of Hot Rod magazine in the October 1948 issue.
If the car never did anything else, it would be an icon.
McGee sold the car in 1955 to Dick Hirschberg, who painted it yellow and installed a Corvette V-8, making it one of the first hot rods with a small-block Chevy V-8. A year later, Hirschberg traded it to Dick Scritchfield for a 1948 Lincoln Continental, and it started a new life that represents another important part of hot rod history. Scritchfield was an NHRA employee, and he used it to run at Bonneville. He installed a tunnel-ram-fed 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet V-8, applied one of the first metalflake paint jobs, and ran 167.21 mph at Bonneville, setting a C/Roadster record that would last for nine years.
While owned by Scritchfield, the car appeared in the movies “Hot Rod Gang” and “Van Nuys Blvd,” as well as the television shows “The Lawrence Welk Show,” “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” “The Real McCoys,” “Happy Days,” and “Fantasy Island.”
The car is now owned by noted hot rod collector Bruce Meyer, who had the So-Cal Speed Shop restore it back to the way it looked when McGee first built it back in the late 1940s.
The McGee/Scritchfield roadster helped set the trends for hot rod styling in its early days, became a true performer later on, and represented hot rods in Hollywood for more than 20 years. It became part of the National Historic Vehicle Register this past April, and is so famous that it was even immortalized on a postage stamp. Yeah, it’s the quintessential hot rod.