Evan J. Smith
Mustang360 Network Content Director
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."

In addition to adding performance, Superchips chips can be used to calibrate your speedometer when gears or tire sizes change. This custom tuning can also help out if you live in a very hot climate (or in a cool one for that matter).

After getting the new parts, we scheduled a day at the E-Town drag strip to get some real-world results. Before installing either the ram air or the chip, we made two passes to baseline the truck. For the record, the baseline runs were made with a set of light(er) front wheels and M/T ET Streets out back. We also removed the front anti-sway bar to gain some extra weight transfer on launch and the tailgate and spare tire to lighten the load. Unfortunately on the test day the air was cool but not cold, and the humidity was quite high.

Nevertheless, we marched on and recorded a 12.74 and a 12.76, both at 105 mph. This was on par with our previous best of 12.72 at 105.40 mph. Wiker then installed his Ram Air kit while we watched and ate pizza. In lieu of ice, we tried a new product called Pro Cooler. Pro Cooler is an innovative way of cooling your intake manifold using a specially designed gel pack and pouch system, rather than ice that eventually melts and leaks. We were impressed with the Pro Cooler and will be using it for future testing.

The Ram Air kit comes complete with all tubes and hardware. Wiker got started by jacking up the truck and removing the driver's side wheel and inner fender. Once those parts were out of the way, the ram air tubes went right in. Ease of installation is something we look for in aftermarket components and the Johnny Lightning parts get high marks. They are well engineered and easy to install.

After setting the tubes in place, Wiker adjusted the scoop so it would grab maximum air and we wiped the sauce from our faces. I showed restraint and only gobbled one slice so as not to become (too much) fatter before I climbed aboard the Lightning.

With the ram air kit installed, I went through the procedure of heating the slicks and staging shallow then I brought the revs up to 1800 rpm and held on. At this point the Fridge took over and did the rest. It was with seemingly great ease that it improved to a new best of 12.66 at 105.78. After a 30 minute cool down the truck repeated, registering a 12.64 at 105.95 and proving the value of the Johnny Lightning Ram Air.

With rain on the brink, we hustled and popped the new Superchips chip into the little slot in the computer. Into the gas tank went two gallons of 100 octane, as recommended by Superchips, and we set the toggle to the "hot" setting. The truck was cool, the tires were hot and I launched at the same mark.

Earlier attempts to launch harder caused the rear tires to literally jump off the ground, destroying our 60-foot times. At 1800 rpm, the Lighting moved out smoothly, but this time with a stout 1.724-second short time, our best yet. Fridge climbed up through the gears and ripped to a nice 12.55 at 108.44 mph.

The big speed increase is undoubtedly due to combination of the chip and Ram Air. A back up run of 12.59 at 107.50 confirmed that our truck was getting the job done.

We were excited with the results and are also quite anxious to see what we can do next to make more power and run quicker times. We have a few more parts on the shelf and we're sure by the time this issue hits the stands even more parts will be developed and tested.

The Lightning trucks are wonderful creatures and we're glad to be a part of the revolution. While GM is busy finding a graceful way to let its F-body car depart, Ford's on the drawing board whipping up new ideas and building the best cars (and trucks) money can buy. And I certainly like it.