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2017 Ridler Award goes to 1933 Ford “Renaissance Roadster”

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1933 Ford Renaissance Roadster, the 2017 Ridler Award winner. Photo by Marc Rozman, courtesy Detroit Autorama.

It may resemble a customized 1933 Ford, but the Renaissance Roadster that captured the 2017 Ridler Award at the Detroit Autorama didn’t begin its life on a Dearborn assembly line. Instead, its chassis was built from scratch and its body panels formed by hand from flat steel and aluminum stock. Builder Steve Frisbie of Steve’s Auto Restorations in Portland, Oregon, estimates that 20,000 man-hours and 42 months went into building the custom, owned by Buddy Jordan of Portland, Oregon, with the work completed just one week before the Detroit show.

The Renaissance Roadster began as a design sketched by Chris Ito, with input from Frisbie. The chassis was constructed from 3/16″ steel and 1.5-inch chrome-moly steel, while the body was crafted from sheets of 3003 aluminum, hand-formed panel-by-panel. The independent front and rear suspensions were also designed and fabricated by Steve’s, and use race car style remote shock absorbers.

Renaissance Roadster

Owner Buddy Jordan (L) and builder Steve Frisbie pose with the Ridler Award-winner.

Power comes from a modified Chevrolet Performance “Anniversary Edition” 427, an aluminum big-block V-8 built in a limited production run (of 427 units) to honor the ZL1 that powered COPO Camaros in 1969. Fed by a custom fuel injection system and dressed up with a custom fabricated oil pan, valve covers and air cleaner, the cross-brand powerplant certainly doesn’t look out of place between the car’s hand-hammered fenders, and bolts up to a GM 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission. Frisbie admits the car hasn’t been dyno tested, but estimates its output to be slightly north of 500 horsepower in current tune.

We asked Frisbie why he opted for a GM crate engine in a build designed to look like a ’33 Ford, and he replied,

Several reasons. We wanted to use an aluminum engine block , intake manifold, rear suspension third member housing and transmission housing to carry on the aluminum theme used in all of the body components.  Secondly we chose to use a GM block because it is easier to make a GM engine aesthetically appealing. This is a show car, so appearance is top on the list of priorities when you build this type of vehicle.

Inside, the dash comes from a 1930 Nash, fitted with retro-style gauges from Classic Instruments. Frisbie chose this dash for its size and shape, as well as what he calls “the art deco elements of the gauge cluster housing,” which fit well with the overall design of the car. The console and switch panel are custom pieces, as are the leather-wrapped seats, finished in red and black to match the car’s paint. Outside, the Renaissance Roadster is sprayed in a custom-mixed candy apple red with black fenders and a black removable hard top.

To qualify for the Ridler Award, which honors long-time Detroit Autorama promoter Don Ridler, a car must be making its public debut at the show, though limited media exposure showing the vehicle under construction (but not completed) is allowed. The car must also be “minimally operable,” defined as able to “start, stop, move forward and backward under its own power, turn left and right and stop using the brake pedal.” Judges look at an entrant’s functionality, too, meaning that pure show cars don’t necessarily score as high as those meant to be driven, even occasionally.

1930 Ford Model A coupe

After Thought, a 1930 Model A coupe owned by Ted and Colleen Hubbard. Photo by Barry Kluczyk.

Each year, the Ridler Award field is narrowed to eight finalists, deemed, the “Great Eight,” from which one car is selected for top honors. Other finalists at this year’s Detroit Autorama included After Thought, a 1930 Ford Model A Coupe owned by Ted and Colleen Hubbard of South Bend, Nebraska; The GPT, a 1932 Ford Tudor owned by George Poteet of Memphis, Tennessee; Split Ray, a 1966 Chevrolet Corvette owned by Dennis Johnson and Scott Roth of South Burlington, Vermont; The Gold Standard, a 1941 Ford pickup owned by Ed Sears of Annapolis, Maryland; Phoenix, a 1929 Ford pickup owned by Dennis Portka of Hamburg, New York; a 1954 Chevrolet Corvette concept tribute, owned by Larry and Robbie Griffey of Powell, Tennessee; and Heirloom, a 1949 Chevrolet C-10 pickup owned by Robby Collins of Mount Vernon, Texas.

Look for the Renaissance Roadster to make appearances at the Chicago World of Wheels in Chicago, Illinois, on March 3-5; the Portland Roadster Show in Portland, Oregon, on March 17-19; the San Antonio AutoRama & World of Wheels in San Antonio, Texas, on March 24-26; and the Meguiar’s Del Mar Nationals in Del Mar, California, on March 31 – April 2.