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.

Even the gray-green Glasurit paint is kind of a Troy trait, though it's even more understated than the earthy hues on the Sniper or the Chicayne. Troy seems to relish its subtlety. "Hey Troy, what's the hot color for street rods this year?" he asks in a mock reporter's voice. "Gray-green!" he answers with a chuckle.

The cockpit is as simple as the rest, with a dash devoid of switches housing a '33 Plymouth instrument cluster. The only visible knob is the starter switch mounted on the under-dash heater-turned-speaker box. A painted '40-style wheel tops the So-Cal column, while Jim Griffin-stitched buffalo hide complements the body color with supple style.

Study the list of individual elements and you may conclude that Ritzow's roadster is not "traditional" at all; in many ways it's a thoroughly contemporary car that salutes hot rodding heritage-a creative interpretation of classic design. With a timeless look and modern craftsmanship and engineering, this "Trad Rod by Troy" represents the best of where hot rods have been and where they're going, and proves that nostalgia need not be clich.

Roger RitzowMilwaukee, WI'32 Ford Roadster

Chassis: Beginning with a Pete & Jake's frame, the Rad Rides crew crafted new rear rails with 3-inch kickups and C-notches. The new front rails are thinned an inch and incorporate 2-inch kickups. A Model A rear crossmember supports a Posie's SuperSlide spring connected to a Dutchman quick-change rearend and '36 Ford truck rear wishbones. Up front, a custom crossmember and another Posie's spring are used in conjunction with a modified Super Bell axle, Vega steering box, and '40 Ford car wishbones with machined coves to match the rears. Wilwood front disc brakes are housed inside custom billet "drums" carved by Billet Specialties; the rear drums match the finned Buick look. The bolt-on panhard bar and engine mounts are made to look riveted. Both spreader bars are slightly curved to match the grille shell and reshaped gas tank. All non-painted and non-stainless parts wear nickel plating with a satin clearcoat.

Wheels & Tires: Billet Specialties carved 16x5- and 19x7-inch wheels to look like '48 Ford steelies, even machining trim rings into the edges. The wheels are painted a tan color and are wrapped in 5.25-16 and 6.50-19 Firestone rubber from Coker Tire.

Drivetrain: Built by Bob Sweeney (FX Engines) and Rad Rides by Troy, the smooth-block '49 Merc flattie now displaces 273ci and incorporates a Scat crank, JE pistons, Isky cam, MSD distributor, and Edelbrock heads painted to match the nickel plating on the chassis. The Hilborn injector stacks are smoothed off and now only provide throttle-valve butterflies; electronic injectors are housed in a custom intermediate plate sandwiched between the stacks and block, with fuel rails hidden in the lifter valley. Injection guru John Meaney built the EFI control system using Big III electronics. Cooling comes from a Griffin radiator with a custom shroud assembled using more faux rivets. Custom lakes-style headers branch off through windows in the frame to the under-car exhaust. A Cornhusker Rod & Custom bellhousing links the flatmotor to a Tremec 5-speed transmission.

Body: Starting with a Brookville body, the Rad Rides crew cut and raised the rear quarter sections to better fit the tall tires. The guys also sliced and reshaped the fuel tank, tucking it higher and closer to the body and giving it a slight curve to match. A stainless frame surrounds the recessed license, the '39 Ford taillights are frenched on a taper, and custom-crafted body corners finish off the rear. A chopped (2 inches) and curved windshield frame brings the front glass into proportion, while the firewall is welded and smoothed. The custom-made hood top is stretched 3 inches and uses a MG center hinge and custom-fabbed hidden stainless latches. Commercial-style headlights with sectioned buckets flank the nickel-plated grille and mount on custom stainless headlight stands/shock mounts. Naturally, the fit, finish, and gaps are spot on; color is a subtle gray/green by Glasurit. Winners Circle does the detailing.

Interior: Jim Griffin Interiors gets credit for the soft stuff, stitching green-dyed buffalo leather over a modified Glide seat and custom door and side panels. Gray carpet covers the floor. The dash sports a '33 Plymouth instrument cluster, and supports a So-Cal column with a custom drop and a painted '40-Ford style Giovanni billet wheel. The vintage auxiliary heater under the dash actually houses speakers and a pull-on ignition switch. A custom shifter-with one-off boot and trim ring-directs the Tremec transmission.

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