Washington DC - Petrolheads know that hot-rodding was started in the United States during the depression years of the 1930s by young enthusiasts who stripped down beat-up old cars, modified their engines on a 'try it and see' basis, and used them for illegal street racing.

Which is why, to this day, the US governing body for drag racing is the National Hot Rod Association.

One of the first - and most significant - of these early modified cars was the McGee Roadster. Based on a 1932 Ford V8 Roadster, it was built by Second World War veteran Bob McGee who, on his release from the military, studied at and played football for the University of Southern California.

Rather than take part in illegal street drags, he raced the Roadster on the dry lake beds of California and used it to promote safer racing; the car was even featured on the cover of issue No.4 of Hot Rod Magazine in 1948.

This iconic early rod, the inspiration for generations of custom builders, is now owned by Bruce Meyer, the founding chairman of the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles, and recently became the 16th car to be added to the US National Historic Vehicle Register in recognition of its significance in American automotive history.

”Hot rodding is something so important to our American heritage,” said Petersen at the time, “and it was almost forgotten. This car exemplifies the pinnacle of that.”

Now the Historic Vehicle Association has released a documentary film called “The McGee Roadster: Hot Rod Legend” about this car and the birth of hot rodding in the late 1940s.

The video uses never-before-seen photos and behind-the-scenes stories from hot rod legends and the men who built one of the most significant cars of its era, to follow trends, styles and history of hot rodding through the decades.

And here is an episode of Jay Leno's Garage, featuring the same car and its present-day owner.