Frank H. Cicerale
February 1, 2009
Photos By: Jim McIlvaine

In a land filled with Terminator Cobras, SVT Lightnings, GT500s, and more blown and nitrous mod and pushrod-powered Mustangs than you can shake a stick at, it takes something truly special to stand above the crowd. While building that "special" car (or truck) is something all of us strive to do, sometimes one person does it just a bit wackier than others. Not to say that Ed Weschler is a wacky guy, he just loves shifty business, especially when it comes to his '03 Lightning.

You see, unlike a stock Lightning, of which all of them came with a column-shifted overdrive automatic, Ed's SVT hauler is different-it packs a clutch and a gear jammer. Yes, when Ed wants to get the truck moving, instead of dropping the shift lever to Drive, he uses his left leg to depress a clutch pedal, while his right arm shoves the shifter of a T56 six-speed forward. Then the only choice is whether to walk the truck off the line normally, or dump the clutch and create clouds of smoke. What a wonderful choice indeed.

"Ed wanted to do something different with his truck, and this is what he came up with," explains Bob Bennett, the owner of Bennett Coachworks in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. "We have built some high-end cars for Ed, and he has always wanted the biggest and baddest thing you could come up with. He originally wanted a Vortech-blown Chevy S-10 pickup, but once he test drove the Lightning, he bought it on the spot."

Bob and the crew at Bennett Coachworks were tabbed by Ed to do the work on the Lightning. While only a few minor upgrades were made to the powerplant of the truck, so far, the majority of the SVT special's novelty resides in the transmission choice. In fact, the 5.4L Two-Valve Triton motor was left untouched, save for the removal of the mufflers.

Obviously, the appeal of this truck is the fact that you have to make every gear change manually. As was to be expected, the swap took a fair amount of ingenuity and fabrication. After all, you are dumping the factory 4R100 overdrive slushbox for a T56 six-speed gearbox. "Having to clearance everything to get the trans to fit and work properly took some time," Bob comments. "Thankfully, our shop is experienced in building just about everything, from T-bucket roadsters to Ferraris. A couple of the mechanics who work here are very knowledgeable in the road race arena, and they helped to design and create the parts needed to make the swap work."

While the installation of the transmission necessitated some work to make it fit, a lot of thought had to go into making the swap look like Ford built it on the assembly line. Obviously, a new driveshaft had to be fabricated, and linking the tailshaft of the T56 to the Lightning's rear is a custom-built aluminum shaft. The other areas to be considered were the clutch choice, as well as the tune for the ECM.

"The installation of the clutch assembly really wasn't that bad," Bob says. "We installed a pedal assembly from an '03 F-150 truck that had a manual trans in it." Bob went with a hydraulic clutch system instead of a cable one, simply because it was more conducive for him to do so. As for the clutch department, some R&D work was called for, but nothing that required swapping multiple clutch units to find the right one. "We looked at numerous kinds of clutches, but settled on a Centerforce street/strip clutch, and it works flawlessly," Bob says. The clutch coincides with a Cobra R flywheel to get things under way from a dead stop. As for selecting each gear, the shifter was removed from the column, and the floor and carpet of the truck was modified for the long handle and Steeda knob that now protrudes into the cabin.