Michael Galimi
February 23, 2007
A Belltech lowering kit, Johnny Lightning Performance traction bars, Strange rear shocks, and QA1 front shocks help this Lightning sit tough.

The SVT division of Ford has been branded into the musclecar history books thanks to the outstanding cars and trucks that were produced in its brief 11-year history. While all of the SVT products have been a badge of honor for the factory hot-rod shop, it was the '03-'04 Cobra (nicknamed the Terminator) that really nailed down their place in history.

The ease of modification makes the Terminator Cobras the most-feared SVT product on the roads today. Sure, our love for the Lightning (specifically the Gen II variety) is not lacking, and they make great performance vehicles. But we have to give credit where credit is due, and the '03-'04 Cobra certainly deserves the accolades. Even the darling of the media, the '07 Shelby GT500, has begun terrorizing the streets, dragstrips, and chassis dynos around the country.

Eric Gulas decided it was time to use his Lightning to strike down the competition-a deed he felt he could accomplish despite his '01 Lightning being a heavyweight pickup truck. The plan consisted of lots of boost, a built engine, and determination. Using those tools, he planned to eliminate the Terminators (as well as Corvettes) on the track, the street, and the dyno.

Eric's love affair with Lightning trucks began in 1999 when Ford unleashed the potent pickup on the market. "After they came out in 1999 and hit the showroom floor, I was amazed at what I was looking at and knew I had to have one," he recalls. Further fueling his desire for these trucks was his father, who had bought a Lightning in 2000. Up until that point in Eric's life, he had owned four Mustangs, but none of them satisfied him as much as the Lightning truck. Unfortunately for Eric, starting a new business, Frontline Detail and Accessories, precluded him from snatching up one for personal use.

Business was booming by 2001, and Eric mustered together the loot for a Lightning and went to the local dealerships to seek out the rare muscle truck. A month went by before he got a call from a dealership letting him know that a silver Lightning-the only color Eric was willing to have-was scheduled to arrive in a few days.

Upon purchasing this truck, Eric called a few mail-order shops to order some upgrades. The next day, a Belltech lowering kit, chrome Lightning wheels, and an AirAid cold-air kit showed up at his house.

Modifications came one after another, and within eight months of owning the truck, it was producing nearly 500 hp on Panhandle Performance's Mustang chassis dyno. The silver Bolt featured the full line of Bassani exhaust products, a smaller blower pulley (14 psi), and a 125hp hit of nitrous.

Extensive attention was paid to the interior where Eric added gauges, an Alpine stereo system, and a host of other custom touches.

The puny powdered rods broke apart and the engine finally let go after 27,000 miles of fun and many runs with the juice. It was a golden opportunity for Eric to have Mark Biddle and Adam Day of Panhandle Performance build a bulletproof engine that could endure boost and nitrous-no matter how much of it was crammed into the 5.4L engine.

A stock Lightning block was bored, and a set of custom CP pistons (8.5:1 compression) was dropped in. The forged pistons were attached to the extremely popular Manley steel rods, which are stronger and lighter than the factory pieces. The steel crankshaft is held in place with the stock main caps, and a Melling oil pump was added to lubricate the modular engine properly. Day and Biddle gave the factory aluminum cylinder heads a Stage III port job and added larger intake and exhaust valves from Ferrea. Custom camshafts from Comp Cams were installed on top of the cylinder heads.

A Whipple/Ford Racing W140AX 2.3L supercharger is mounted on the factory lower intake manifold (which was port-matched to the heads) and intercooler. The Metco pulleys spin the twin-screw blower hard enough to produce 19 psi of boost. Air is sucked into the blower via an Accufab single-blade throttle body, an SCT BA2800 MAF sensor, and a huge K&N air filter. Adding fuel to the engine are twin Walbro 255-lph fuel pumps and 60-pound fuel injectors. A custom flip-chip from Sniper was programmed by the speed demons at Panhandle Performance. Installation of the massive engine into the truck's engine bay was done with help from Jud Stansell.

Other go-fast goodies that enable this 5.4L to hunt and kill Cobras are a heat exchanger from Lightning Force Performance and a hit of nitrous. The LFP heat exchanger dropped the intercooler water temperature by around 35 degrees and has larger capacity lines. Preventing heat soak is important for chance encounters with the enemy while cruising around on the streets. If the 19 psi of boost isn't enough to get the job done, then Eric can easily turn on the NOS kit and add 75 hp at the hit of a button. All said and done, this Lightning throws out 612 rwhp and 650 rwtq sans nitrous. A whiff of laughing gas jumps the peak power output to 677 rwhp and 698 rwtq. Brian Plemons of Precision Metal Polishing and Machining went crazy under the hood to give it the bling Eric desired. Keeping it clean isn't a problem since Eric owns a detailing shop.

An Expedition upper console adorns the Lightning's headliner. The climate controls were moved up top to make room for a TV/DVD player in the dashboard.

The truck rolls lower to the ground, thanks to the aforementioned Belltech lowering kit, aided by a set of Johnny Lightning Performance chrome traction bars, Belltech shackles and hangers, a pair of Strange 10-way adjustable rear shocks, and QA1 adjustable shocks up front. The stock 9.75-inch rearend has been enhanced with a Detroit True-Trac differential and 4.10 gears. A Lentech 2,800-rpm-stall torque converter sits in front of the factory transmission, though a BTS transmission is scheduled to be in the truck by the time you read this. Eric also added an aluminum driveshaft to the driveline.

Eric knew he had the performance end of his Lightning covered with the excessive modifications. It was time to turn his attention to the interior of his potent pickup. Longtime-friend Dave Legra was commissioned to perform the makeover, and as usual, Eric wanted to push the upgrades to the limit.

After consulting many other owners on SVTPerformance.com, the decision was made to add an Expedition overhead console. The climate-control knobs were moved to a new panel to make room for a TV/DVD player on the dashboard. The center pocket on the center console was converted to a switch panel for nitrous activation as well as other accessories.

The sound system would fit in better at a rock concert rather than in a vehicle. Speakers, amps, neon lights, and a stereo head from Alpine are the pieces of choice. Billet interior pieces finish off the cockpit of Eric's pride and joy.

The streets of Tennessee were never the same once Eric rolled out his Lightning for all to see. He packs the muscle under the hood to run with anything-whether domestic or foreign-but something was missing. The Lightning looked too ordinary for Eric's taste.

He brainstormed for months to find the perfect custom paint job. Flames were too common, ghost flames were too cliche, and wild colors weren't his cup of tea. One night, he came out of the grocery store and "the look" hit him. The truck was parked in the right spot for the store's lights to cast a shadow across the Cervini hood that sparked an idea. "The next day, I called Derek Hensen of Chattanooga, Tennessee," Eric tells us. "He is one of the three best custom painters in town." Eric proceeded to show Derek the spots on his truck he wanted to spray. Future mods call for a set of 20x10 Bonspeed Sweeps at all four corners of the Lightning.

Eric's goal of pushing the Lightning to the forefront of the SVT lineup is a success. The 677 hp at the rear wheels ensures he keeps the Cobras and Corvettes in the rearview mirror as he cranks up the tunes in his wildly modified interior. When he is not tearing ass down the roadway or dragstrip, the truck can easily hook up to a trailer and head down the highway.

And to think, he wasted all those years and money on several Mustangs before he realized he could do it all with a Lightning.