Can a nostalgia car be cutting edge? That depends who's asking the question, and who's answering.

You'll find no shortage of opinions from today's rodders. On one extreme are diehard traditionalists dead set on rehashing the same formulas again and again; on the other are contemporary crafters who all too often ignore rodding's rich heritage. The crossroads where they meet is a precarious place littered with attempts to please both sides that generally fail to excite either.

Imagine Troy Trepanier's predicament, then. As proprietor of Rad Rides by Troy, he's revered for pushing the creative envelope and crafting progressive, forward-thinking hot rods. So how does he respond when a valued customer like Roger Ritzow inquires about a nostalgic Deuce roadster? Simple: he builds the most refined, high-tech traditional '32 he can and wins the Goodguys 2004 Street Rod of the Year title.

Sounds easy, but even Troy will admit he was a little out of his element as the project began. Traditional rods-heck, early cars in general-are hardly common at Rad Rides; Troy built his reputation blending street machine brawn with street rod finesse in offbeat postwar iron. Furthermore, the "nostalgia" concept can seem confining to builders like Troy, as there are endless unwritten rules governing what "can" and "can't" be done. Deuce purists can be a particularly picky bunch.

At the same time, the challenge presented an opportunity for Troy, Roger, project manager Levi Green, and the Rad Rides crew to prove they could bend the rules and still remain true to hot rod heritage. Besides, deep down Troy must have known that some folks will never take you seriously until you build a Deuce.

Looking at the finished product you'd never suspect there were any doubts. Subtle and stunning, the low-slung roadster hooks you from a distance with classic style and a slick profile that looks like it just rolled off the cracked earth at El Mirage. It's as clean, as elemental, as the best postwar rods in memory.

At the same time, the roadster is slinkier, more svelte, and generally more refined than any hot rod crafted a half century ago. Like other Rad Rides, it's also more complex than it initially appears.

Consider the Pete & Jake's frame, which looks like a standard Deuce item, right? Except only the middle few feet remain as delivered; the rear 'rails are hand-made with 3-inch kickups and C-notches, while the fronts are kicked up 2-inches and thinned an inch. Similarly, the '49 Merc flathead is not as retro as you'd think-a stealth EFI system operates underneath those Hilborn stacks. Even the Brookville body is significantly massaged with a stretched hood top, chopped and slightly curved windshield frame, tucked fuel tank that's curved to match the body, and raised fender reliefs perfectly outlining the 19-inch Firestones.

Speaking of which, we can't ignore the irony of wrapping bias ply skins around custom billet rollers made to look like steel '48 Ford wheels. That's right, Troy coaxed his pals at Billet Specialties into whittling the 16x5- and 19x7-inch painted "steelies," and even had them machine ribbed "trim rings" into the edges. Billet Specialties also made the faux Buick brake drums that conceal front Wilwood discs.

As much of a departure as the roadster is for the shop, it exhibits Troy's trademark cleanliness and visual continuity. Virtually all wiring and plumbing is hidden: headlight wires route through combination shock/headlight mounts; flexible front brake lines lead to a common hard line behind the Super Bell axle before a flex line links them to the frame. Note also how the '40 Ford front wishbones have machined coves that match the '36 truck rears, and how the curved spreader bars mimic the grille shell and fuel tank profiles. Satin-finish nickel plating substitutes for chrome on chassis and engine accents.