Paul Grabski, of Sterling Heights, will be at several local car shows this summer with his 1953 Ford F-100 pickup truck.

Paul Grabski, of Sterling Heights, will be at several local car shows this summer with his 1953 Ford F-100 pickup truck.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Ford F-100 pickup keeps on truckin’

By: Maria Allard | Metro | Published June 5, 2024

 One of Grabski’s favorite features is the wood floor in the back.

One of Grabski’s favorite features is the wood floor in the back.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


METRO DETROIT — What started out as a dilapidated pickup truck is now a sleek, vintage vehicle that draws plenty of attention.

Nearly 25 years ago, Paul Grabski took a chance by purchasing a 1953 Ford F-100 pickup truck. Although he got a good deal on the sale, the vehicle had seen better days.

“It was inexpensive. I brought it home. It was sort of a derelict vehicle,” Grabski, 66, said. “It was so tall. It was an old farm truck that was taken out of a barn in Saginaw.”

The Sterling Heights resident knew that a couple of previous owners tried to turn the vehicle into a hot rod without much success. His plan was to restore the truck and then put it up for sale.

“When I got it running, the vehicle was not in drivable shape,” Grabski said. “No steering, no brakes.”

He changed his mind about selling the truck, though, and decided to keep it. Grabski soon got to work to make the set of wheels his own.

“I tore it down and I rebuilt the entire chassis. Both suspensions, front and back,” Grabski said. “I did the motor up nice, put an automatic transmission in it. Virtually created the truck. In the process I threw everything but the cab and the doors away. It was just all junk.”

Then “life got in the way,” so Grabski parked the Ford in the garage, where it stayed for 15 years.

“A couple years ago we decided we’d go ahead and finish it,” the 1975 Eisenhower High School graduate said.

He found a custom painter who beautified the truck with an indigo blue color.

“It’s not original, but what we did, we did right. It is customized to be more enjoyable and easier to operate than when it was first built,” Grabski said. “It’s pretty comfortable to ride in now as opposed to the old farm truck. A farm truck is exactly that. They’re stiff. They’re hard to drive. This changed it all.”

The pickup is now equipped with power steering, power brakes, automatic transmission, air conditioning and power windows. He even installed a Chevy V-8 engine. To keep up with the truck’s authentic appearance, the rear end is a bit higher than the front.

“It gives that hot rod stance to it. I love the wood floor in the back. I like the louver hood,” Grabski said. “I built the truck I wanted to build with the help of some friends and some people I paid to have work done.”

Working on the truck was second nature for Grabski, who has “done auto repair my whole life.” He worked in the auto industry in production, building various car models, motor home chassis and transmissions. The retired GM employee also learned the trade by repairing vehicles when he worked overtime.

“I picked up tons of knowledge repairing them,” he said.

Grabski, who built model cars as a kid, paid attention to the interior.

“This is actually a factory seat reimagined. It used to be a straight, flat seat,” he said of the front seat. “A couple down in Detroit that did the interior came up with this design. We added a box on the bottom; we didn’t have cup holders in ’53.”

Grabski is a fixture at all the local car haunts, including the Mount Clemens Cruise, Autorama, the annual Shorewood Kiwanis Club of St. Clair Shores Harper Charity Cruise, and Cruisin’ 53, organized by the Warren Community Foundation and the Center Line Festival Foundation.

People have stopped him in the middle of the avenue to snap photos during the Woodward Dream Cruise. He’s won trophies for the vehicle, which has about 2,500 miles on it.

“We get thumbs-up everywhere we go. We get phones shoved out the window at traffic lights,” said Grabski, whose wife, Roberta Hunter, is usually by his side. “You meet a lot of people with a vehicle like this.”

On a recent Monday morning while at James C. Nelson Park in Sterling Heights, local resident Donna Hill — while on the walking track — noticed the restored pickup truck.

“What kind of engine? Was that the original color? It’s so perfect how you kept it up,” Hill said. “That’s really nice. That is absolutely beautiful.”