Every year the promoters of the Detroit Autorama sponsor a special award. Named in memoriam of one of the event's early promoters, the Don Ridler Memorial Award recognizes what contemporary judges deem the finest example of a custom car or truck for that year. It is by anyone's admission, who is familiar with the show car world, one of the most prestigious contests going.

This year Steve's Auto Restorations (SAR) surprised just about everyone in that world when it submitted a car for Ridler competition. At face value that was no real shocker. Over the years the shop has built a number of Ridler-worthy cars: Dave Hall's '55 Nomad "Newmad"; Bill Bauce's coach-built '37 Ford "Baron Von Kuhl"; and Gary Coe's '57 F-100 "F-157". What made this entry surprising was that none of those cars were submitted. Their absence was almost conspicuous.

What made SAR's entry especially curious was its timeliness. By their nature, up-and-comers come out of left field but big-name shops almost never do; they usually broadcast their intentions well in advance if only to drum up some hype. But not this time. In typical, understated, Northwest fashion, SAR seemed to speak with actions, not words. And by its choice of car, apparently the shop had something different to say.

Dodge. Different. Dodge advertised its cars with that slogan about a decade ago, only it was about 60 years too late. What really made Dodge different was what it did in 1933. Until then-and even for other makers that year and for years thereafter-trucks were collections of vertical and horizontal lines joined by mostly right angles. Only Dodge's designers introduced something rare among even luxury cars of the era: curves and acute angles.

The project started as a '33 Dodge pickup body, some fiberglass fenders, an over-built, blown Hemi, and a mandate from its owner: Make a show truck from it. Chris Ito rendered the project in a fashion common to several of the shop's high-profile cars: as if their original designers ventured into the future and created a concept car based on what they remembered.

To underscore the extent by which the shop modified the truck, consider the following: By the time the last cloud of polishing compound settled, only 3 percent of the original truck remained. In real terms that includes the windshield header, the cowl top, the beltline around the back of the cab, and part of the grille shell. SAR's crew made, not modified, the other 97 percent.

After removing whatever metal didn't resemble Ito's drawing, Colton Hardison formed a wire skeleton in the drawings' likeness and hung the various components on it. Using that matrix as a sort of buck, he hammer-formed steel panels to span the gaps between what remained of the body. As every piece of the cab was to reflect the original in design but not shape, the SAR crew formed tooling to replicate the various character lines and beads that define a body as a production unit from the early part of the last century.

Like truck designs of the era, it consists of a skin within another skin. Only rather than hiding those internal walls, SAR capitalized upon them by painting, rather than upholstering, them. Tubing between the firewall's inner and outer skins mounts key components like the doors and latches yet hides fasteners from the engine bay and cockpit.

With their square ends and knobby stake pockets, Dodge's beds were all truck. The pickup's new bed, on the other hand, emphasizes the truck's car-like theme without sacrificing its utilitarian aesthetic. Leaning the bed's header back to match the cab's rear panel, for one, better integrated the two body components. Like the header, the back of the bed leans forward to enhance the truck's streamlined profile. Rather than end abruptly at the tailgate, the bed rails wrap entirely around the bed sides and back.