Three artisanal cars to be displayed on National Mall

McGee Roadster, Hirohata Merc and Gypsy Rose are iconic customizations

Published: April 25, 2017, 9:30 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 3:10 PM

McGee Roadster

Three historically significant vehicles have taken up residence on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., recognizing three important facets of American motoring history.

The Historic Vehicle Association (HVA), the North American arm of the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA), will be alternatively displaying the McGee Roadster hot rod, the custom Hirohata Merc and the lowrider Gypsy Rose in an illuminated display case on the walkway between the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art.

The three cars have recently been added to the National Historic Vehicle Register, and the display (which runs through May 4, 2017) is part of a partnership between the HVA, the US Department of the Interior, Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) and Library of Congress.

“These cars are iconic examples from the early days of the hot rod, custom and lowrider movements,” said Mark Gessler, President of the HVA and North American Ambassador to FIVA. “They are uniquely American, and reflect the exceptional talent and unique cultures of the designers, artisans and mechanics that modified production cars for speed and style.”

Based on a 1932 Ford V8 Roadster, the McGee Roadster was named for its builder, Bob McGee, a soldier who started building his car upon returning from WW2 in the Pacific, and making the cover of Hot Rod magazine in 1948. McGee ran the car on the dry lakebeds of California and used it to promote hot rod safety.

“Hot rodding is something so important to our American heritage, and it was almost forgotten,” said Bruce Meyer, the car’s current owner, and founding chairman of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. “This car exemplifies the pinnacle of that.”

Before his iconic modified cars like the Batmobile, George Barris worked on the modification of a 1951 Mercury coupe with brother Sam for Bob Hirohata, who drove it across the country, collecting 150 trophies at the various shows he entered.

“The Hirohata Merc really isn’t mine; it’s had an effect on a lot of people’s lives,” said current owner Jim McNiel, who purchased it from a used car lot in 1959 for $500. “When they come to see it, a lot of them, they just break down. It’s all about the history of the car.”

Gypsy Rose is a modified 1964 Chevrolet Impala meant to slowly cruise the Mexican-American neighbourhoods of East LA. Known as one of the most extravagant lowriders of its period, it graced the cover of Lowrider Magazine and made the opening credits of 1970s sitcom Chico and the Man

“You’re only going to find certain iconic cars that are still around,” said Joe Ray, Editor of Lowrider Magazine. “That was one of them, and I think that was our foundation, our cornerstone of all lowriding.”

“These distinctively ‘American’ genres of car are a uniquely fascinating aspect of international automotive culture, and FIVA strongly supports the HVA’s efforts to raise awareness on behalf of the enthusiasts who preserve these evocative vehicles,” concludes Patrick Rollet, President of FIVA.