Evan J. Smith
March 1, 2001
Photos By: Jim Campisano

Welcome to another page in the saga of the Fridge, the story of our '99 Lightning F-150. As you know, these trucks are real butt kickers, but the best thing about them is how well they respond to minimal tinkering. Working with our truck brings back memories of 1987-88, when the fuel-injected Mustangs erupted on the scene and took over drag strips everywhere.

Back in '88, when the technology surrounding fuel-injected Mustangs was new, the potential locked in those five little liters was virtually unknown. Basic hot rodding tricks helped and in a blink, 5-liter Mustangs tore into the 12s, 11s and then 10s and 9s.

Today, things aren't much different. The new Lightning trucks present a performance challenge and many men and women are having a blast going fast. Ford blessed us with an affordable super truck and no one knows how far these supercharged monsters will take us. That mystery adds to the fun.

With typical performance bolt-ons, a Lightning can run mid-12s, all while retaining full emissions compatibility and perfect drivability. And it does so weighing over 4500 lbs. Amazing.

If you remember, it took a full list of bolt-ons and a competent driver to stick a 5.0 in the mid-12s, whereas a Lightning can do it with street slicks and a stab of the gas.

Part of the magic comes from Ford's Triton 5.4 engine, the first supercharged V8 that Ford Motor Company has produced for the masses since 1957. But there are other interesting notes about these red, white, silver and black F-150s. The Lightning is the first automatic transmission-equipped Ford in some time to really turn some numbers. It brakes with cars half the weight and let's not forget the car-like handling, either. Oh, and every Lightning owner gets comfy seats and big-block torque.

As for our truck, we've done many of the basic bolt-ons and found almost a full second improvement in elapsed time. Because our truck is a test bed for all the latest parts, we are obligated to try as many combinations as we can on the dyno and at the track. So, if you see us remove one manufacturer's part, it doesn't mean it didn't work or that we didn't like it. For instance, you may notice that we removed the Cervini's Ram Air. It worked fine, but we wanted to try something different.

What we tried is the fender-mounted Ram Air kit from Johnny Lightning Performance. In addition, we added a Johnny Lightning driveshaft loop and slipped in an updated Superchips module.

The Johnny Lightning Ram Air kit consists of a new K&N filter that we connected to our Pro-M meter. An under-the-bumper scoop and hose kit channels air from down low up to the fender and into the filter. However, unlike most ram air kits, the Johnny Lightning Ram Air retains the open filter for extra breathing.

"These Lightning engines like a lot of air and our kit helps out, but it's not a sealed system. It retains the open K&N style filter or you can use our kit with the stock air box. Either way it works," says Johnny Wiker (alias Johnny Lightning).

In addition to the ram air, we slipped in the latest chip from Superchips. According to Jay Payson at Superchips, "We've gone through a real learning curve making chips for the Lightning trucks. In fact, the chips we now offer are totally different than the first ones that we made. Our strategy for fuel and timing is all changed and so is the calibration for the transmission. It's all based on what we've learned."

So to put Payson's words to the test, we installed Superchips Flip Chip, a dual-channel chip with a toggle switch and two settings. Side one is a street calibration, while side two is more aggressive and requires a few gallons of 100 octane unleaded to prevent detonation. "Our chips are custom and I can tailor the calibration to the customer's combination," says Payson. "I can set up side one to be street only and then design side two to be a track-only setup. Some guys want side one for the street and side two to kick back the timing for nitrous, or they have side two be more aggressive for high-octane gas and no nitrous. We do the best we can and I'll do my best to get the chip right for each truck or car."