5.0 Mustang & Super FordsCar Reviews
2003 Ford Lightning Test - Lightning Struck
Stand On It And It Doesn't Let Up Until You Have Sense Enough To Get Off The Gas
Horse Sense: We have our fingers crossed that at least some of the technology displayed on the Gen 3 Lightning concept vehicle will make production. Not only did the concept sport a more efficient screw blower, but also it had a unique intercooler package with on-demand SuperCooler technology. The SuperCooler uses the air-conditioning system to chill intercooler coolant, which is then released on demand to provide an additional 20-percent cooler charge and a brief, nearly 50hp burst of extra power.
We check out the meanest factory super trucks ever assembled at the track, on the dyno, and in the history books
If you go to a big Ford-only race, you're guaranteed to see at least a dozen of Ford's SVT Lightnings in one form or another, whether they're at the car show or tearing up the dragstrip or open track. These trucks are everywhere. It's not uncommon to see more than 100 Lightnings in competition at the Mobil One World Ford Challenge. Their influence can also be felt at the cruise-ins and street races, where it's not a rare occurrence to see a 4,700-pound F-150 take out any Corvette, Firebird, or Camaro that gets in its way. When a vehicle has that kind of influence, you know it's made it. And SVT's Lightning has made it big time.
Since we wanted to uphold the "& Super Fords" part of our magazine's title, we put together a test drive, a drag thrash, basic bolt-ons, and a history of the truck.
Typical of all Ford vehicles that wear the SVT badge, the F-150 gets breathed on in a top-to-bottom strategy that raises the entire performance of the truck. Oh, sure, you get a torque-crankin' small-block with a supercharger under the hood, but you also get a world-class suspension and-most importantly-huge brakes to haul this thing down from speed. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.
First off, all Lightnings are standard-cab, Flareside F-150s. The strategy here is that the lighter the truck (and more structurally sound), the better it will perform. And, as Lightning owners will tell you, this truck is all about performance. SVT has also added a tasteful body kit and front grille treatment. This augments the already muscular lines of the short-bed, standard-cab unit. The SVT enhancements add nicely to the visual effect of the truck without going too far and making it dressed for The Fast and the Furious crowd.
The first thing that goes through your mind when behind the wheel of the Lightning is that it feels like a sports car with a higher seating position. The suspension is super-safe and responsive (especially when compared to your author's daily driven '01 F-150 XLT), and it allows you to do things with this truck that you wouldn't dare do with some cars. As with all SVT products, the seats hold you in while the powerful engine and sticky suspension try to throw you out. Other than the power, the biggest difference between the Lightning and its production counterpart is the braking system. If you drive a truck or heavy SUV on a daily basis, then you've been in a situation where you needed more braking power. The Lightning stays stable and under control, even with the brakes crushed through the floorboard.
Then there's the engine. Flowing, heaping, endless fields of torque send this truck from 0 to 60 in as little as 5.2 seconds and through the quarter in an advertised 13.7 seconds-that is, if you have enough self-control to keep from melting the super-expensive Goodyear F1s down to the cords (burnouts are no problem). The first time you whack this truck, it's magical. The second time is for pure addiction. The blower begins letting out this sound that reminds you of a food processor stuck on pure, and before you know what hits you, 4,700 pounds of Ford tries to separate you from your butt. Your mind tells you that you're going faster than your physics professor would imagine possible, but you don't let up. It's just too good. Second gear slams home, and the thing still wants to eat up earth. The suspension holds everything together, and you just have to see what happens next. By the time you realize you're going 100 mph in a truck, you're already doing 120. If you have enough room (and that's not too much), you can see north of 140 mph in this thing. We don't recommend it, but it's there for the taking any time you need the fix.
Our Sonic Blue Clearcoat test truck, with an MSRP of $33,555, came by way of one of our loyal readers, Jared Tschuor of Cincinnati. He was cool enough to let us beat on his brand-new truck for this story. We hope you have as much fun with your new Lightning as we did spending a few days kicking around in one. This is an awesome vehicle that does everything a truck is supposed to do-and many things that it's not. If you're in the market for a special vehicle, stop into your local SVT dealer, and take one for a bolt around the block.
As if the boundless torque hadn't already shown itself, we decided to dyno test the new Lightning anyway just to see where this thing matches up with the rest of the world. Of course, we headed right over to one of our favorite test sites, Paul's Automotive Engineering in Cincinnati [(513) 791-1087]. Paul Faessler not only has a complete chassis dyno facility, but also his collection of Ford experts can handle any project we could get into-stopping by for a quick dyno session was no problem for them. However, we advise you to give Paul a call before you stop in just to make sure they can accommodate your needs.
Driving the big Lightning on the dyno actually turned out to be a bit of a challenge because of the automatic transmission and tight converter. As the trans would shift into Third (Drive), the technician would go full throttle to record a pull. The problem was that this was around 3,000-3,500 rpm, which caused a peak in the graph. These peak numbers came out to 342 rwhp and 468 rwtq, when the actual numbers were more like 330 rwhp and a stump-pulling 440 rwtq. The recorded numbers were enough to verify what our pants were already telling us. These trucks make power from the punch, and they don't let up until you do. Satisfied after two pulls that we had the real thing, we headed off to the next stop on the Lightning tour-the drags!
Just about every Lightning owner has gone to the dragstrip with his new Ford. And, with a borrowed truck, we weren't going to be any different than the rest of the Lightning cult. The SVT Lightning has several good things going for it-a torque-filled engine, a tough-as-nails transmission, an indestructible rear axle packed with 3.73:1 gearing, and fairly decent weight distribution on launch. On the downside, the Lightning is a truck that weighs 4,700 pounds and is as aerodynamic as a brick. Still, if you're a truck guy, there's nothing like blowing off a sports car with your daily work rig.
Typical of the Midwest in July, it was hot and sticky when we pulled into the Thursday night test session at Tri-State Dragway. We weren't trying to break any records with this truck-we'll leave that to those lucky testers who evaluate cars in a mineshaft. We did want to see what $33,555 worth of Ford would do, so we went through the normal routine of parking the truck in the shade and icing it down after each run to avoid excessive heat-soaking.
One of the most fun aspects of this truck is that it's relatively easy to drive. Cool it down, click off the Overdrive, go around the water in the burnout box, give the tires a quick blast to clean them off, shallow stage the rig for maximum starting-line advantage, powerbrake the truck to launch, leave the line at 1,300-1,400 rpm, and away you go. The 60-foot times ranged from 2.018 to 2.198 seconds, the e.t.'s ranged from 13.945 to 14.327, and the mph ranged from 96.29 to 98.25 mph for the six runs we put on the truck in about four hours. Of course, the better launch (short time) got us the better acceleration (e.t.).
Really, the only story here is that the SVT Lightning is a lot of fun at the track. It laughs at this type of abuse, and that's probably why it has so many fans across the country who spend their time at local test-and-tune nights trying to get just a hundredth or two more out of the truck. We've heard of stock Lightnings going 13.20s at more than 105 mph and, given the conditions (85 degrees and 95 percent humidity), we're sure they could come close. The normal reported quarter-mile times for a stock Lightning are around the 13.80 range at 100 mph, so our tester sure didn't do too bad. Again, the best part is that the truck is a blast to drive, with Second-gear shifts kicking you in the backside, while that Eaton blower screams for life under the hood. We like!
If stock is good, then modified must be better, right? Well, that was our thinking once we got our hands on a brand-new SVT Lightning. We've seen what you Lightning guys have been up to, and we were just dying to try out some of these hot little parts ourselves. The plan was to add a modest collection of aftermarket parts to our bone-stock Lightning that would have maximal impact on the truck's performance. We also didn't want to choose parts that cost a fortune or would force us to have a track-only ride.
For guidance, we turned to Sal Mennella of Power Surge Performance, a man who definitely knows what it takes to make a Lightning get up and beg. Sal's rsum reads like a who's-who of Lightning ownership. He's the founder of the Lightning Owner's Club of America and is one of the top tuners in the country.
Sal's prescription for speed was what he recommends to new Lightning owners who turn to him for more performance. He provided us with the Power Surge Performance 6-pound lower supercharger pulley, his super-trick ram-air setup, and-to top things off-one of his Power Surge Performance computer chips to make the whole deal work together. Sal told us that for about a grand any new SVT Lightning owner should be able to run mid 12s at more than 110 mph. We thought he had left out some stuff, such as slicks, an exhaust system, and maybe some nitrous, but he assured us that mid 12s were quite common for Lightnings running his collection of parts.
Looking at his parts a little closer, we realized just what bang-for-the-buck we were getting. Sal has worked for years to perfect the intake side of the Eaton blower atop the 5.4 magic-maker under the hood, and his latest rendition has all you need for a fresh blast of air. It begins with a twin-intake scoop that mounts under the bumper, and then two different feed hoses pump fresh air up to a huge, open-ended conical air filter mounted to the mass air meter. The lower pulley may seem like a bit of work at first, but once it's in place you know why you skinned your knuckles. Want to talk about turned on? Pump another 6 pounds of boost into this thing and you'll wonder why it didn't come this way. Of course, the real secret here is the Power Surge Performance computer chip that Sal has worked on tirelessly with his own truck and several customers' trucks to perfect. It will add the right amount of fuel to keep up with the supercharged beast.
After the modest collection of parts was added to the stock truck, we couldn't believe the difference. The torque, which was already bone-crunching, just went crazy. No more stomping the throttle at the dragstrip-this thing now needed to be walked out with all the respect of a loaded shotgun. Get smart with the throttle and the tires just vaporize. As for sound, opening up that intake made the most psycho-logical difference, as the blower now went a full 10 clicks louder on the volume scale. A Lightning with an open intake sounds so wild, it will give you goose bumps. On the dyno, the truck rang out 399.1 rwhp and 514.5 rwtq. As Sal predicted, at the track we were rewarded with 13.01 e.t.'s at 105.44 mph. Talk about a Power Surge!
We admit to not writing much about trucks here at 5.0&SF, but we made an exception for the amazing Ford SVT Lightning. We wanted to present a concise story about the history and background on this vehicle, so we gave Sal a list of questions that we thought our readers might like to know the answers to. As expected, Sal's knowledge on these big performance vehicles was complete and dead-on.
Sal: I have always been a Ford fanatic. I got my first car-a '66 Mustang-at 15 years old, and I have owned over 50 Fords since. Then, in the mid-'90s, I was struck by Lightning-I instantly fell in love with the truck and lost all interest in the other vehicles I owned at the time, one of which was a Pro Street, 520ci, tubbed '69 Cougar. I have been obsessed with Lightnings ever since.
My obsession drove me to create a club for other Lightning fanatics with whom I could share my joy of these trucks. So in 1996 I founded the National Lightning Owners Club. The club united Lightning owners all over the country, in the common goal of sharing information and having fun with our trucks. The club is presently run by a new owner, but it is still the number-one place to be for Lightning owners.
I am also a former Ford technician, certified in engine performance, EEC diagnostics, electrical, and all areas of automotive repair. I am a master fabri-cator and have done many one-off custom vehicle builds.
My present company, Power Surge Performance, specializes in all aspects of first- and second-generation Lightning performance and custom tuning. We are the oldest and most well-known Lightning performance specialists, and we currently own the country's fastest Gen 2 Lightning. Through the years, we have sponsored many Lightning-related events, such as WFC, NMRA, Mod Shootout, Fords at Englishtown, and some local events. I always try to stay as connected to the owners as I possibly can.
5.0&SF: Who were the people at Ford SVT who brought about the Lightning project?
Sal: The funny thing about that question is that SVT actually had nothing to do with the Lightning's creation. The Lightning project was the handiwork of the Ford Truck Team, back before SVT even existed. One of the key people on the team was my good friend Gary Siegel. Gary was the powertrain program management engineer on the Lightning project. The following is his account of how the Lightning came to be.
Gary: In mid 1990, Ford Truck Management decided that Ford needed to come up with a vehicle to improve its image in the personal-use pickup market segment. Ford was still clearly the leader in the work-truck segment, but it was losing personal-use sales to Chevy, which had the 454 SS performance truck. One of the key ideas that came out of the first meeting was that Ford wanted to create a "complete" high-performance vehicle and not just a "straight-line, go-fast" pickup. It was something that had never really been attempted before, as far as Ford knew. The 5.8 was selected because it could perform near the level of the 454 SS and was still light enough to allow handling improvements. Amazingly, the Light-ning went into production in only 22 months-something that had never been achieved with a modern vehicle design up to that time.
Despite the compressed timing and small budget the Truck Team had to work with, when all the final designs were put together the vehicle worked even better than anyone had hoped. The truck could maintain 0.9g lateral skidpad, with spikes over 1.0g-better than most sports cars of the era, at any price. The truck also featured more than 23 new innovations never used on the F-series before, and many of them made their way onto regular F-series trucks after the Lightning.
Car Engineering was working on the '93 Mustang Cobra at the time, and a management decision was made that the new SVT division would market the two vehicles together to give the world the impression that Ford had an in-house performance shop (SVT) that worked with both cars and trucks in the hopes of polishing Ford's personal-use market image. Since that time, Ford Special Vehicle Engineering has overseen the engineering on SVT vehicles, with some of the work outsourced to companies such as Roush.
5.0&SF: What is the basic concept behind the SVT Lightning?
Sal: The basic concept for the original Gen 1 Lightning was simple. Summed up best in Ford's own words: "The essential ingredients for a memorable driving experience are an engine that breathes deeply during a rush to redline and a chassis that balances poise with predictability. Blend these cardinal virtues with finesse and you've got a passionate driving machine."
The creators of the Gen 1 Lightning wanted a truck that was more than a gas-guzzling, poor-handling, straight-line-only performance truck such as the 454 SS of the day. The Gen 1 is the ultimate balance of performance-feeling at home whether on the dragstrip, road course, or towing your boat to the water.
For the Gen 2s, the theory was the same, but technology allowed a different breed of truck to emerge. The Gen 2 concept is more of a "plush and powerful" truck. There is no exterior road noise, and fit and finish is vastly improved. The steering is less respon-sive and the seats don't grip you like in a Gen 1. Some of the performance feel is traded for driver comfort. The Gen 2 has a nice, docile ride to it under normal driving, but lay into the throttle and it's a whole new ballgame. The massive power of the blown 5.4 takes over, and you realize you're in no ordinary truck. Instead of being all-around balanced as was the Gen 1, the Gen 2 is more of a balance between comfort and brute force, with good looks and utility thrown in for good measure.
5.0&SF: What year was the first Lightning, and what were the biggest improvements over the base F-150?
Sal: The first year was 1993. The majority of the truck was different from a standard F-150. People don't realize just how much was different. Let's begin with the foundation-the frame. The Lightning frame was thicker-0.170 inch versus 0.143 inch on the regular F-150-and it had brace plates welded on the kick-up over the rear axle. This kept chassis flex to a minimum and contributed to the Gen 1's amazing handling. All the suspension parts were unique to the Lightning, which was also lowered 1 inch in the front and 2.5 inches in the rear, as compared to a stock F-150. The 17-inch rims had a zero offset and were wrapped in 275/60-17 Firehawk GTA tires. The rear suspension also had a factory slapper bar in the leaf spring pack, and the truck had thicker sway bars and Monroe Formula GP shocks front and rear. The Lightning had a quick-ratio steering box, standard 4.10 gears, an aluminum driveshaft, and transmission internals taken from the diesel unit.
Under the hood, the Lightning R-code 351 featured iron GT-40 heads, a GT-40 upper and lower intake, a 65mm throttle body, tuned stainless headers, and an all-stainless true high-flow dual exhaust. Cosmetically, the Lightning came in your choice of red or black monochrome for 1993, with matching front air dam and integral foglamps. The body parts had no trim and were all smooth. The '93s wore the prismatic Lightning decal on the bed sides and tailgate. Inside, the Lightning had a special gray interior, with fully adjustable sport seats with embroidered Lightning logo and full XLT trim. All this added up to a truck that had a total package of handling, straight-line performance, stylish good looks, utility, and an overall fun factor.
5.0&SF: What are the production numbers for each year?
5.0&SF: What is the typical quarter-mile performance for each generation?
Sal: In stock form, '93-'95 Gen 1 trucks performed anywhere from 14.9 to 15.8. Ford's official time for the Gen 1 was 15.6. My personal '95 ran 15.60 on the nose, stock. The '99-'00 trucks ran anywhere from 13.7 to 14.1 on the average. Ford's official time for the '99-'00 was a laughable 14.6. My personal '99 ran 13.73 with 300 miles on it. For the '01-'03, Ford increased the horsepower, and it dropped the average e.t. to about 13.4-13.8 and pushed the trap speed a tad over 100 mph.
5.0&SF: What upgrades were done from 2000 to 2001?
Sal: From 2000 to 2001, Ford made changes to the Gen 2, both cosmetic- and performance-wise. Power was increased by a new lower intake design that now had about 2-3 inches of intake runner wall added in before the ports in the heads. The intercooler, redesigned to fix the leaking issue that the '99-'00s had, picked up one extra row of cooling fins. Ford also switched to a 90mm mass air meter, the largest ever used on a production Ford vehicle. The rubber hose from the airbox to the inner fender was also enlarged. Out back, the truck picked up 3.73 gears and an aluminum driveshaft. In the suspension department, the '01s got gas-charged Bilstein shocks all the way around, and polyurethane suspension snubbers replaced the previous rubber ones. Cosmetically, the '01 had new rims, new clear headlamps and foglamps, clear taillamps, LED third brake lights, and simulated billet bar-style grilles.
5.0&SF: Could you list some of the record holders-or outstandingly fast Lightnings-such as the fastest Gen 1, the fastest Gen 2, and so on?
Sal: Probably the most famous of all "fast" Lightning owners is Jason Brown. I met him at the first World Ford Challenge in 1998. Back then, his '95 Lightning ran 9s. From that point, Jason stepped up the truck in a serious way, rebuilding it to current-day Pro 5.0 specs while retaining the factory Lightning body. The truck ran as fast as 7.80s, with a single turbo, that came apart at the 1,000-foot mark. Jason redid the motor and went to a twin-turbo setup, which should have easily put the truck in the 6-second range. I've heard that Jason recently sold the truck to someone overseas, so I don't think we'll ever see it again, but the legacy will always live on. Jason is also one the nicest people you will ever meet.
As for the fastest Gen 2, that title is currently held by myself, with a best e.t. of 10.48 at 132 mph. This was done with a race weight of 4,760 pounds. I was on the way to the first 9-second pass recently when the crank snapped right after the eighth-mile. But I was doing over 110 mph at the eighth, a sign that the truck would have easily shattered my previous best. There are many others that are close to that time, so I'm sure that title may change hands in the near future-maybe before this even makes it to print.
5.0&SF: What is the bare minimum of parts needed to go 12s in a Gen 2 Lightning?
Sal: A typical Gen 2 can easily run high 12s with just one of our PSP custom chips, our air filter kit, and a 4-pound pulley kit. For maximum safe e.t.'s, there is other supporting hardware we suggest, such as traction bars (to limit driveshaft-breaking axle wrap), slicks (to maximize e.t.'s with good 60-foots), and a performance valvebody (for healthier transmission operation). Past that point, there are tons of other products that will drop the e.t.'s even further, to as fast as the customer wants to go. But the best part about these amazing trucks is that for less than $1,000 in parts, you can knock a full second off the truck's stock e.t.
5.0&SF: How durable is the drivetrain in the Lightning? Will it hold up to lots of abuse?
Sal: The drivetrain has gotten better as the years went on. For the Gen 1s, the E4OD trans was revised each year, with the '95 being the strongest, especially with the O/D bearing support added in. All Gen 1s came standard with an aluminum driveshaft and 4.10 gears. The 8.8 rear used in the Gen 1 Lightning is the strongest version of the 8.8 Ford has ever built.
The Gen 2s have the 4R100, which is basically the redesigned version of the E4OD. It's a great trans, and it has to be, to handle the massive torque of the Gen 2. The '99-'00s had a steel driveshaft and the '01-'03s have an aluminum one. Both work great. The rearend in the Gen 2 is a massive 9.75-inch unit. I can attest that it works great, as my 4,760-pound truck pulls the front wheels off the ground, and that power is going through the stock Ford rear. The drivetrains in both generations hold up great to heavy abuse, with failures few and far between.
5.0&SF: Are Lightning enthusiasts excited about the future of the Light-ning and the new model that will be out next year?
Sal: The '04 model is going to be a continuation of the current truck. Ford is still undecided on when the Gen 3 will make its debut, but right now it looks to be in 2005. I think many people are excited about the new truck. The silver concept truck is not what the Gen 3 will be exactly, but it does hint to some of the ideas going into the new Lightning. I do have some knowledge of the new truck, but I can't share it for obvious reasons. I can say that I seriously doubt anyone will be disappointed. The power rating is going to be considerably more than the current truck. Visually, the truck will not have that yellow interior from the concept truck, but the final outside appearance should look close to what's been done on the concept truck's body.
5.0&SF: Is the Lightning a useful tow rig?Sal: The Lightning makes a great tow vehicle. As a matter of fact, many Lightning owners bought their trucks to tow their race cars. The Gen 1 trucks were rated at 5,000 pounds max towing, but that was only because the Gen 1 project went into production so fast the towing-ability testing never made it past the 5,000-pound test. Even a bone-stock Gen 1 can tow a 24-foot enclosed trailer with a car inside, with nothing else needed other than a load leveling hitch. I personally towed our '01 PSP drag truck all over the country for almost two years with my stock '95. The Gen 2s are even better, with all that massive torque on hand.
During the last five years, an entire cottage industry has sprung up that caters to the SVT Lightning truck owner and enthusiast. So many of these performance trucks have landed in the hands of individuals who simply want more, that specific Lightning classes and shootouts go on all summer long. So, whether you have a Gen 1 truck in need of a turbo-charged 408 small-block, or you just bought a brand-new Gen 2 and you want a good chip, here's a list of other folks who can give you a hand with your project Lightning.
60 Jerseyville Ave.
Freehold, NJ 07728
Johnny Lightning Performance
25 Archery Rd.
New Providence, PA 17560
Paul's High Performance
3715 Commerce St.
Jackson, MI 49203
Power Surge Performance
15 Shagwong Dr.
Sound Beach, NY 11789
Here are some Web sites to start you on your journey to Lightning enlightenment.