Ken Kerl is the owner of this amazing 1953 Anniversary Edition F-100. A true lover of hot rods and a drag racer in his earlier years, Ken has been retired for some time, enjoying his hobby of building cool custom vehicles. His current collection includes a half dozen high-end customs at his summer residence in Cuba, New York, with this F-100 maintained at his home in Ocala, Florida.
Ken originally found this truck in Florida and had it shipped to New York for most of its customizing process. It was already in good shape, so the adventure began as a series of discussions with his customizing team, characterized by “How would this look?” “Do you think this would work?” And, “Could we add this here?”
Working with Ford’s famously aerodynamic-adjacent body, the group was aware there were downsides to tampering with an icon. As a result, they let the truck carefully unfold, allowing it to define its own outcome. Ken describes it as “bouncing ideas off each other to come up with a unique approach.” The result was a truck with an amazingly consistent theme, dozens of genuinely innovative details, and a show-winning status when it was finally complete.
Augmenting the bones is always a smart initial step. In this case, the chassis is from a late-model Lincoln equipped with a Mustang II frontend, 2.5-inch drop spindles, four-wheel Lincoln power disc brakes, and power steering. A Mustang 8.8 POSI housing hangs from the Lincoln leaf spring/lowering blocks suspension and hosts 3.70 gears.
The truck rolls on US Mags rims with 18-inch versions up front and 20s in the rear, all wrapped in Continental Extreme Contact rubber. Brett Barry’s Rod Shop in Eldred, Pennsylvania, did the chassis swap. The crew there also modified the truck’s too-tall profile with a 4-inch chop, following up with single-pane side glass and shaved door handles. Although the drop is not immediately apparent, when parked next to a standard F-100, the profile difference is dramatic.
The surprising elements of this build begin with a list of one-of-a-kind, thoroughly modern upgrades that somehow are not at odds with the classic lines of the F-100. Take the headlights and taillights, for example. Clearly, they are stylistic choices that are decades apart from the original, yet they accent the iconic lines of the vintage Effie beautifully.
The taillight adventure began with a cardboard template from the Ford rear fender while Ken spent considerable time in the local Walmart parking lot. He measured dozens of vehicles until he found a match, finally discovering that 2013 Nissan Sentra rear lights had exactly the shape he needed. Once grafted to the F-100’s rear fenders, they produced a one-of-a-kind look.
Up front, the grille follows the same theme with high-tech modern upgrades blending beautifully into the original Ford grille bar. Located in custom housing, the LED lights came from a late-model Dodge Charger that combines headlights, running lights, and “Angel Eye” headlight surrounds. Several more interesting upgrades make the grille unique, like the small Ford emblem in the center and, just below that, a tiny V-8 ring, incorporated simply as an interesting detail. The bumper was removed and the lower pan was molded into the fenders for a sanitary look. They employed a similarly clean approach with the smooth roll pan at the rear. The Stepside bed was next on the list.
At the touch of a switch on the driver seat, twin linear actuators lift the pinstriped aluminum tonneau cover to reveal the beautifully detailed bed. Exotic Bubinga hardwood was chosen, and it’s separated by stainless steel strips for a dramatic accent. Ken smiles when he recalls the Amish craftsmen who sawed the dense wood complained that they needed three blades to complete the job! Smooth inner fender panels, more pinstriping, fire extinguisher, and a mirrored rear wall complete the upgrades.
The elegant interior is a long way from the original cardboard headliner, tattered door panels, and worn bench seat. The mix of comfort and style began with sound insulation throughout, followed by heated power seats from a late-model Olds cut down to accommodate the lower roof line. They were upholstered in tan and dark brown leather and feature embroidered Ford logos.
The door panels collect their own share of style points, beginning with the imaginative use of chrome side spears from a Ford F-100 hood, now re-purposed into armrests. At the touch of a tiny button below the armrest, lights illuminate the chrome “Ford F-100” letters. Two shades of leather, paint, and Bubinga accent strips complete the panels, but you’ll notice that there are no inside door handles. Ken took the highly unusual approach of mounting the door handles in the headliner, one of many unique overhead features.
While you’re looking up, you will be impressed at how the old Ford cardboard has been transformed into two shades of leather, embroidered “53” stitch work, and more Bubinga accents. The headliner also holds the JVC stereo in a custom housing that energizes speakers in the kick panels and behind the seats.
Moving back down, the shape of the Ford spear in the door panels became the design element for the distinctive floating center console. It holds the pushbutton starter, power window and side mirror controls, again featuring similar paint, leather, and wood accents.
The final efforts inside dealt with the dash and naturally, the erratic old gauge cluster went away, now replaced with a responsive Dakota Digital analog package. The new lower portion holds the air-conditioning vents and more Bubinga—but there is a surprise. If you remove the magnetized Ford emblem from the center, you’ll find the hidden heat and A/C controls! A chrome Ididit tilt column, Bubinga-wrapped banjo wheel, and custom 50th anniversary floor mats complete the interior.
Ken says that the interior was a collaborative effort with members of the team, who added their suggestions and talents as the interior took shape. Motive power for the Ford happily is also Ford, using a complete Coyote powertrain taken from a wrecked late-model Mustang with only 4,000 miles on it. Because the engine already had just the right dose of Howitzer, no performance upgrades were required on the 420hp V-8 and 4R70W 4-speed automatic, but a vast amount of innovative details occurred in the engine room.
Under the tilt-forward, scooped, and pinstriped hood, fabricated inner-fender panels highlight the engine, painted in the same black and gold shades as the exterior. The Coyote logo on the custom radiator shroud educates everyone to the power source. Sanitary touches include the engine’s computer package housed in a stainless steel box in the center of the firewall, along with a pinstriped metal bread pan pressed into service on the passenger side to hide the A/C hoses. A K&N air filter ensures free breathing. The package creates more riot than Ken will ever need, thanks to Joe Collins from Scio, New York, who did the engine work.
After the gaps were set to perfection, Dick Ayers of Ayers Paint and Collision in Allegany, New York, wrapped up the five-year project, spraying the flawless black paint and adding gold flecks to the eight layers of clear. Dick Briggs from Little Valley, New York, followed up with the graphics and pinstripes.
Ken’s wife, Frances, an equally active enthusiast, enjoys the car show scene with Ken, participating in events on a regular basis. As you might expect, their one-of-a-kind F-100 is ensuring that the Kerl family trophy collection continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
Frances and Ken Kerl
1953 Ford F-100
- Mustang 420hp V-8
- 4R70W 4-speed automatic
- Engine work by Joe Collins from Scio, NY
- Late model Lincoln frame
- Mustang II frontend
- 2.5-inch drop spindles
- Four wheel Lincoln power disc brakes
- Lincoln power steering
- Leaf spring/lowering blocks rear
- Mustang 8.8 POSI rear
- 3.70 gears
- Chassis work by Brett Barry’s Rod Shop in Eldred, PA
Wheels, Tires & Brakes
- US Mags Rambler rims, 18×8 and 20×8.5
- Front: 245/45 ZR18
- Rear: 255/50 ZR 20
- Four-inch top chop
- Dodge Charger headlights in a custom grille
- Nissan Sentra taillights
- Tilt forward hood with scoops
- Shaved door handles
- Single pane side glass
- Aluminum tonneau cover
- Bubinga bed floor
- Bodywork by Brett Barry’s Rod Shop in Eldred, PA
- Paint is single-stage black paint with gold flecks and eight layers of clear
- Dick Ayers of Ayers Paint and Collision in Allegheny, NY, did the paint
- Dick Briggs from Little Valley, NY, did graphics and pinstripes.
- Leather-wrapped Oldsmobile seats, custom door panels, custom headliner, headliner-mounted door handles, custom center console, custom dash with Dakota Digital instruments and JVC stereo along with paint, wood, and leather accents throughout.