Pete Epple Technical Editor
July 1, 2009
Photos By: Steve Baur

"When you let go of the transbrake button, all hell breaks loose and you're on two wheels for 60-100 feet-it's a wild ride!" explains Eric Leeper while telling us about his '99 Lightning. There is a lot to be said for the Ford performance aftermarket when a vehicle can routinely rip off mid-8-second quarter-mile passes, while possessing the same aerodynamic properties of a small house. And a feat like this doesn't come easy, it takes a certain kind of person to get the job done.

Eric Leeper of Sunrise, Florida, is a 37-year-old general contractor and long-time Ford enthusiast. Over the years, his love for power has grown with each trip down the quarter-mile. Eric started racing the way most of us do, in basically stock Mustangs as kids at our local racetrack. His humble beginnings in the world of Ford performance would soon evolve into something much greater.

Twin 76mm turbos hide behind the billet grille, waiting to force-feed the 32-valve modular bullet under the hood.

In June of 2006, Eric was looking to build a new project. Having raced Mustangs in the past, he wanted something different, and a Lightning fit the bill perfectly. With a curb weight of 4,670 pounds, the SVT Lightning is not most people's first choice when extreme performance is the main focus. This unconventional approach to power and speed was something Eric wasn't about to take lightly. After picking up this '99 SVT as a roller, he quickly made arrangements to transform this Lightning from mild street stalker to serious quarter-mile killer.

The start of the build found Eric and his Lightning at AC Carcraft in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for the build. A carbon-fiber tailgate and steel roll pan replaced the factory units and helped shed a few unwanted pounds. An 8.50-SFI certified rollcage was then welded in, and a lightweight Kirkey race seat was installed to keep Eric securely in place. The rest of the factory interior was reused, helping his Lightning retain the stock appearance he wanted. As AC Carcraft was working on the plumbing, fabrication, and wiring, Eric turned to Boss 330 Racing of Vero Beach, Florida, to handle the task of making massive amounts of power.

Al Papitto of Boss 330 is no stranger to making big power, and once the build was planned out, power was the name of the game. Papitto started the build with an aluminum 5.4L Ford GT block, and added a forged crankshaft from a Lincoln Navigator to set the rotating assembly in motion. The Oliver billet I-beam rods connect to custom CP forged pistons, producing a boost-friendly 9:1 compression. When it came time to pick a cylinder head, Papitto called on a set of 32-valve castings, also from a Lincoln Navigator. It wasn't long before Papitto treated the heads to some race porting and a valve job before adding custom double valvesprings and titanium retainers. The billet SHM cams control the Ferrea valves that now let the air/fuel mixture in and exhaust gasses out. Papitto topped off the build with a Sullivan Performance intake manifold and a Wilson intake elbow, along with a set of 150-lb/hr injectors.

When the mill was delivered to AC Carcraft, the engine bay was prepped for the monster that would eventually reside under the hood, as well as the twin turbos that were soon to follow. With the engine resting in its mounts, the crew went to work fabbing the custom headers, exhaust, intercooler tubing, and other necessary components to optimize the twin 76mm turbos that were poised to breathe more power into the potent modular bullet.

Now that the Lightning was ready to lay down some serious power, Eric's attention quickly shifted to the rest of the drivetrain. A Pro Mod Powergide was called into action to handle the gear changes during each quarter-mile blast. A 4,000-stall Neal Chance Pro-mod converter transfers power to the gearbox, which spins the custom 4-inch chrome-moly driveshaft. The stock rearend housing was swapped for a Fab-9 replacement, which is more than capable of handling the added power. The new aluminum center section was filled with a Moser spool and 40-spline, gun-drilled Moser axles. Power is transferred to a set of 15x12-inch Bogart wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson rubber to help keep this Lightning glued to the track.

The majority of the stock interior panels were kept to give the Lightning a stock appearance.

Weight transfer is controlled with a set of QA1 adjustable struts and custom QA1 springs, with a set of tubular control arms from AJE Racing holding it all together. The new rear-end housing is held firmly in place by a custom Pro-Mod-style four-link and wishbone suspension, with Strange double-adjustable shocks and Hyper Coil springs keeping the tires planted under hard acceleration.

After all was said and done, Eric and his Lightning tore up the track with a stout 8.58 at over 161 mph. That's impressive considering his truck still weighs in at 3,850 pounds. By the time this story hits newsstands, Eric will have shaved a few more pounds off this slick SVT. With the addition of larger turbos and a little weight reduction, 7-second passes may be within reach.