I first began thinking of this project at the Carlisle All Ford Nationals in June 2002. I had the pleasure of driving my friend's new SVT Lightning from North Carolina to Carlisle, and I must say I was more than impressed with the truck. I am a true-blue Ford enthusiast and have restored many cars in my shop. My efforts have mainly been Ford products; my car of choice: a '56 Ford, and since 1957, I have owned more than ninety of them. I also have been involved with street rods and custom cars, so my imagination began to run wild while driving the Lightning. I already had a '66 F-100 shortbed Flareside modified and decided a truck with the stylish good looks of the '66 and the performance, safety, and creature comforts of the new Lightning would make a super ride.
I already had a nice '66 cab and cargo box and actively started to locate a rolled-over Lightning. Nearly a year later, the donor was found and purchased. I had spent a considerable amount of time measuring both the old and new trucks, and had convinced myself the project was doable. As with any project of this magnitude, there are always surprises lying in wait, and so it was with this one. I knew the cab would have to be stretched in length as the '66s were notoriously short, and Ford lengthened the cabs in 1967. I also wanted a big back window as none were offered in 1966. The '61 thru '63 Unibody trucks did offer what was known as the Cathedral rear glass, and I set out to locate one. this was nearly as difficult as finding the wrecked lightning, but not nearly as expensive. Once I located one, I purchased the entire top section and used the last 6 inches to lengthen my cab. The floor of the Lighting and the rear wall of the cab from the window down were retained, which allowed all of the cab interior components to be reused.
One design point that had escaped my planning was the angle difference of the windshields from the old to the new cabs. This was discovered on my first attempt to lower the '66 cab over the Lightning dash and front door pillars. Progress screeched to a halt, and back to the drawing board I went. This little glitch took well over a month to resolve, and involved cutting 6 inches off the front section of the dash, reworking and moving the wiper assembly, arms, and the wiper grille section of the cab to correct the problem. Having slain that dragon, I was again emboldened and confident of success.
I next positioned the front fenders and set the hood in place, only to find there was no good place to fit the hood hinges. Back to the drawing board. Then I remembered seeing a late-'80s Buick hood that opened from the rear. My nephew just happened to have one he planned to junk, so I had the parts I needed if I could make it work. After many hours of effort, it was fitted and worked out even better than I had hoped for.
With these problems solved, the project once more seemed feasible and progress resumed. Many more challenges arose, such as relocating coolers, modifying and mounting bumpers, and so on.
It was at this point in time--around 80-percent complete--that a friend made me aware of an August '04 Mustang & Fords article. The article showed an artist rendition and issued a challenge for someone to build such a truck. Since I was well into the project, I was thrilled with the challenge and called up the editor. The response was enthusiastic, and I mailed off some in-progress photos.
At that time, I was at the point in the project of trying to design and build the grille, and install the driving lights in the front bumper. I had been looking at the oval grille in my neighbor's GMC and picturing a nice blue oval in place of the red letters. The curvature and overall width ruled it out. The grille design and driving light placement on the truck in the magazine article was exactly what I had in mind, and if you look closely you might see some similarity. Building it proved to be more difficult than sketching it, and took about eighty hours to fabricate the pieces and weld it into the '66 grille shell.
Having pretty much completed the cab redesign, the electric window mechanisms and door handles/latch assemblies were installed in the doors; electric mirrors from a '96 F-150 completed the transfer of everything from the wrecked Lightning cab to the '66 cab. With this completed, my efforts focused on the cargo box. The center floor and front panel from the Lightning box were used to allow the bolt locations to be unchanged. The wheel housings were ample to fit over the monster wheels and tires, but the bed had to be widened 23/4 inches to provide additional clearance. Also the bed supports had to be shortened in height from 3 inches to 1 inch to line up the box sides with the floor. The additional box width proved to be a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to move the box corners taken from a '96 F-150 inward to meet the tailgate, also from a '96. This movement permitted me to utilize the taillight assemblies cut from a '00 Ranger, which were later fitted with euro lenses to emulate the '00 Lightning. The gas door was also taken from the '00 ranger and bolted up nicely to the Lightning gas tank. The additional box width did, however, require that the Gaylord lid be widened to fit the box. The tailgate was covered with sheetmetal to eliminate the latch mechanism since it now locks from the inside. Next came the rear bumper, which had to be a step bumper to look like the newer truck. I discovered that the '03 Dodge truck bumper was wider than the Ford; when modified slightly this completed the rear of the truck. The truck was then disassembled and the final bodywork and painting was completed. The truck was then reassembled, and sent to Jerry Hobgood of Hobgood's upholstery shop in Spring Hope, North Carolina, where Jerry did some ingenious work to make it all tie together.
The plan was to merge the new technology with the great looks of the early design in a subtle way that would require the most ardent observer to take a second, or perhaps a third look, to realize what was actually being shown. Hence the words on the tailgate artwork--APPEARANCES ARE DECEPTIVE. This truck represents approximately 2,500 hours of labor over a two-year period, but every time I hear the supercharger whine, it seems like it was just a walk in the park.
For more of this awesome truck, check out the November 2005 issue of Mustang & Fords magazine on newstands now!