Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
March 18, 2003
Contributers: Planet R/Randy Lorenzen

I think you've gone over the edge," said SVT Engineering Director John Coletti. Coming from a man who was behind such mechanical monsters as the Super Stallion and the 10L, Shotgun V-8-powered Boss Mustang, you wouldn't think anything would surprise Coletti, but SVT Powertrain Engineer Dave Dempster had an idea that would hold true to the outrageous project cars of the past, while creating something new and interesting.

Coletti's psychological evaluation was in response to Dempster's proposed project vehicle, which began life as a standard cab, 2.5L I-4 Ford Ranger pickup. Considering this is an SVT exercise in automotive experimentation, one can easily assume the mad scientists would endow such a vehicle with blistering, balls-out performance and sleek, supermodel styling. If you can prove that a vehicle is financially feasible to build, you have a much better chance at getting it into production. Using factory parts is the first step in keeping costs down, so Dempster and the crew at SVT began the project by ripping apart a fresh Ford Ranger and accessing the Lightning parts bin for motivation. Before the Ranger was electrified, however, there were some chassis issues to address. Due to the immense amount of power that would be twisting through the truck, SVT boxed both framerails for increased torsional stiffness, and then cross-braced them to tie it together.

The powerplant for this project--affectionately dubbed the Lightning Bolt--would be the supercharged, 380hp, 5.4L engine from its fullsize cousin. In order to keep the '02 blown bullet beneath the hood, the entire front suspension was lowered 2 inches, and since the 5.4 is quite a bit heavier than its predecessor, the lower control arms and steering knuckles were upgraded to Lightning status. The Ranger rack-and-pinion was kept, but a reduced-flow Lightning power steering pump was used to give the driver a better feel for the road.

Under the flareside bed is a production 9.25-inch, 3.73-geared Lightning axle, which has been chopped and narrowed 10.75 inches to fit beneath the not-so-wide Ranger bodywork. The spring perches were relocated inboard in anticipation of some mighty wide hides being housed in the nearby wheelwells. Rolling stock for the Lightning Bolt is, as you may have guessed, production SVT hardware, but the rear wheels were widened to 12.5 inches and wear steamroller-like 345/35/18 Michelin Pilot rubber. The front wheels were narrowed to a mere 8 inches and use matching Michelin Pilots, sized 235/40/18.

The Lightning 5.4L engine now had a suitable home, and once it was fitted to the bay via custom motor mount perches, it was backed by a production 4R100 transmission and a shortened, but stock, aluminum Lightning driveshaft. Although the engine was sitting low between the fenders, the supercharger required a modified air inlet, which inhales air through a K&N filter. The only other non-factory item was a set of custom-made headers.

Rather than use stock Lightning manifolds, SVT deviated from the factory parts by constructing some one-off headers. Featuring 2-inch diameter pipes, the headers dump into a 3-inch stainless steel exhaust and a pair of Borla Super Pro mufflers. The entire exhaust system hides between the framerails and even the tailpipes are not visible.

An exercise in excess, the Lightning Bolt was not going to be left with mundane looks. Originally black, the Lightning Bolt received a vivid Sonic Blue paint job, which is the same azure shade available on the SVT Cobra and SVT Focus. Before paint, the gas door was moved to the inside of the bed and it's former home in the left rear quarter-panel was filled in. This was partly due to the relocation of the fuel tank, which was necessitated by the frame work. Car Boutique supplied the trick taillights and lighted mirrors, and lightning bolts were painted on the doors. These would be the only identification marks on the truck.

The interior is stock Ranger fare, although it has been redesigned and re-upholstered to add a little more pizzazz. Katzkins Creations provided supple black leather for the seats, and added yellow lightning bolts to them. The SVT crew wanted the interior space to be all black in color. This was accomplished by painting or dying various interior parts and panels and by calling up Custom Auto Carpets for a black rug. MGW supplied a host of billet accessories, and X-treme Graphics and Lettering did the custom gauge faces. Finally, Pioneer Electronics saw to the interior audio pleasures of the Lightning Bolt's occupants by installing a 450-watt audio system.

What you really want to know is what it runs, right? Well, with no tuning of the stock programming, the 3,800-pound truck has run the quarter-mile in 13.6 at 108 mph. SVT reports that, although it has the same suspension as its older cousin, this truck was made with only one thing in mind: straight-line performance. We got to drive it at the Mustang Mach 1 preview on the strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It felt awesome, like a Lightning from which someone sucked a bunch of weight. Is this the next great thing from SVT? Probably not. While SVT has dabbled in Ranger projects before (Remember the original 5.0 Ranger concept?), there is likely no room for a second truck in the SVT stable.

"We have no plans for an SVT Ranger at this time," said SVT sales and marketing Tom Scarpello. Feel free to beg, plead and/or bribe, though. As motoring enthusiasts, we should be thankful the minds at places like SVT work in such glorious ways. If they didn't we wouldn't have the wonderful toys we do. Individuals like Dave Dempster, John Coletti and the team of technicians, which includes Scott Tate, Mike Wright, Mike Borg, Mike Sturr, Paul Gordanier, Dan Paeth, Dave Behnke, Brian Shell, Jeff Michael, Richard Moosekian, Dwayne Larkin, Carl Phelps, Keith Healy, Allan Clark, Ron Isbeque and Ed Rathke, all make it happen for gearheads like us.

0303MM_Mini06zoom

0303MM_Mini01zoom
In addition to boxing and crossbracing the frame, the firewall was moved back 2.5 inches and a new transmission tunnel was fabricated. Resetting the firewall made the decision to replace the Ranger HVAC system with the rear unit from an Econoline van a must. In addition, a unique steering shaft needed to be fabricated due to the custom headers.

0303MM_Mini02zoom
This is one comfortable cabin. With loud pedals courtesy of SVT and Pioneer, one can enjoy the sweet sounds of motor and music in any combination they wish.

0303MM_Mini03zoom
SVT said there was going to be additional tuning on this show-bound truck. As if it weren't tough enough already.

0303MM_Mini04zoom

0303MM_Mini05zoom
TECH INSPECTION
Vehicle: Ford Ranger Standard
Cab Color: Sonic Blue
Engine: {{{2002 F-150}}} Lighting 5.4L supercharged, 380 hp @ 4,750 rpm, 450 lb-ft torque @ 3,250 rpm
Transmission: 4R100 automatic
Rear Axle:{{{F-150}}} Lightning 9.25-inches, narrowed 10.75 Inches, 3.73 gear
Wheels Front: Stock Lightning, narrowed to 8 inches
Wheels Rear: Stock Lightning, widened to 12.5 inches
Tires: Michelin Pilot, 235/40/18 front, 345/35/18 rear
Weight: 3,800 pounds
Performance: 13.6 @ 108 mph