Many of the cars we feature in the Hot Rods You Should Know Series can be traced back to the very roots of hot rodding. The hot rod we chose for this month, Bob McGee’s 1932 Ford Hi-Boy roadster, is no different. It paved the way in innovation and style for decades of hot rod builds that came after it.
A self-proclaimed car guy, Bob McGee was no stranger to the hot rod scene in 1947, when he built his famous ’32 roadster. Having previously owned a similar car since 1940, McGee had modified and raced his original roadster quite a bit (with some substantial dry-lake runs to boast of) before going off to serve in the U.S. Army during the later years of World War II.
Unfortunately, while McGee was away, the friend entrusted with keeping that roadster managed to wreck the car, forcing McGee to start over with the new roadster build upon his return from finishing his military stint as a Military Police officer in the Philippines. Though an unfortunate situation, it was this turn of events that helped McGee produce one of the most notable hot rods in history to this day.
Looking to build the lowest, yet level, and lightest roadster possible without overly manipulating the body of the car (such as channeling the vehicle), McGee modified the ’32 to run a dropped front axle, front springs with reversed eyes, and a reversed rear spring, on a frame that not only featured boxed frame horns and a V’ed front spreader bar, but also kicked up in the rear quarter for an even more dramatic leveling of the car. Adding even more flair, everything from the front shocks to the drag link were chrome plated. Equipped with hydraulic brakes, a Ford rearend and 16-inch rear tires finished off the rolling chassis.
McGee’s Innovative Roadster
Other innovative modifications to the car included custom body work from Bill Summers, California Metal Shaping, and Whitey Clayton of Clayton Metal Shop.These mode featured items such as a three-piece louvered hood, lengthened rear decklid with a blended lower panel, a peaked and filled grille shell, filled cowl vent, and shaved door handles. The car also featured 1946 Pontiac taillights, hidden door hinges, Mercury hubcaps, and a custom removable top built by Carson Top. The car was painted bright red.
Unusual for hot rods of its day, McGee’s ’32 also had a full interior. The inside was covered with leather upholstery done by Summers, a custom dash fabricated by Clayton, and features like a 1940 Ford steering wheel, and an oversized tachometer similar to those seen in the 1935 Miller-Ford Indy cars.
Under the hood, the roadster featured a unique ported-and-relieved 1934 Ford 21-stud flathead engine bored to 236ci. This engine was fitted with a Pete Bertrand camshaft, twin Stromberg 97 carburetors, a Burns intake, and a Spalding Zephyr-type ignition. Backing the rare Flathead was a Zephyr transmission. Interestingly enough, the engine ran without water pumps or a generator. instead, it used the Federal Mogul bronze heads with thermal-flow cooling, and an extra battery stashed in the trunk.
Federal Mogul Thermal-Flow Heads
The Federal Mogul thermal-flow cylinder heads are the most unusual and one of the rarest cylinder heads ever made for the Ford flathead V8 engine. Made of solid bronze-copper alloy, the heads had no internal water capacity. The engine coolant exited the block out of the three larger holes located at the top of each head (one in the middle and one at either end) and was directed back to the radiator through external water manifolds. The theory was that the bronze-copper alloy would permit maximum combustion temperature (power) and still dissipate sufficient heat to prohibit overheating of the engine.
McGee started the build of this car in May of 1947, and had it finished by August of that same year – incredibly impressive considering the amount of innovative modifications this car possessed for its time.
Being dubbed more of a “pleasure job” than what some saw as the obnoxious bare-bones/ built-to-race hot rod types running around, McGee’s roadster became the cover car of the October 1948 issue of Hot Rod Magazine. In that issue, it was also revealed that McGee’s roadster, along with being incredibly unique, had been dubbed the official “Safety Council Roadster” after the car was part of the Southern California Timing Association’s safety rally. At this rally, roadster owners, including McGee, became part of the National Safety Council after taking a safety pledge.
USC To The Dry Lakes
During the time that McGee owned the car, he drove it quite regularly to and from classes at the University of Southern California, as well as racing it on local dry lake beds. Under McGee’s control, the car laid down a best run of 112.21mph in the B/Roadster class at Harpers Dry Lake.
In 1956, relocating to Hawaii for his job, McGee sold the roadster and Dick Scritchfield, an avid hot rodder and automotive career man, picked it up. An NHRA representative at the time, Scritchfield had a number of contacts in the industry, and shortly upon acquiring the car, he started leasing the car out to B-grade movie producers to use in their movies featuring hot rods. This meant a lot of, and some seemingly random, appearances in movies and TV shows in the late ’50s. In 1957, the car became the logo car for the LA Roadsters car club started by Scritchfield and some fellow roadster-loving friends.
When Scritchfield became part of the Hot Rod Magazine/Car Craft/ Rod & Custom family, he used the car for a number of magazine features, including a special feature on metalflake paint jobs that ran in the February 1961 issue of Hot Rod Magazine. The roadster, which was painted by a friend of Scritchfields using Candy Apple Red paint and silver metalflake, became the first non-experimental metalflake paint job in the automotive industry.
In the following years that Scritchfield owned the car, the roadster not only saw aesthetic changes (the metalflake paint job), it also saw mechanical changes, such as first a 283ci Chevy engine and then a 350ci Chevy engine being swapped into the car. It was with the later Chevy engine that the car laid down a 165mph record at Bonneville in 1970 in the C/Roadster class, and then a new two-way average record of 167.212mph the following year – with full street gear still intact. With these runs, the roadster was given the title of The World’s Fastest Street Roadster, a title the car kept for nine years.
After The Race Career
After Scritchfield owned the car for some 30 years, he sold it and it changed hands a couple more times before being purchased by current owner Bruce Meyer, owner of other notable hot rods like the Doane Spencer ’32 and the Pierson Brothers’ coupe. Upon his purchase of the roadster in 1992, Meyer enlisted the crew of the SO-CAL Speed Shop to fully restore the car to its 1948 Hot Rod Magazine cover specifications, right down to the bright red (non-metalflake) paint job and a set of Federal Mogul heads, which were provided by McGee shortly before his death in 1998.