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1999 Ford Lightning - Project Fridge - Record Breaker
We push our '99 Lightning to the limit--and it pushes back.
Step By Step
You may have noticed by the coverage over the last few months that we've gotten back to the task of thrashing on The Fridge, our trusty '99 Lightning. Since 1999, this truck has served as a test mule, first in the Ford press fleet, then as our in-house workhorse. In most cases, the 4,600-pound beast has responded wonderfully, providing us with daily transportation as well as Corvette- and Evo-crushing power on demand. It has also hauled its fair share of loads in the bed, such as car parts and other items.
The Fridge has seen boost from a Magnum Powers ported blower, a 2.3 Whipple, and more recently, the mighty 3.4 Whipple. The JDM Engineering long-block has racked up around 70,000 miles, the Level 10 trans about the same, all while being tortured with 28 psi of boost and over 700 proud ponies at the wheels. Not bad for a commuter, but most folks want to know what 715 hp and 745 lb-ft of torque equates to in the 1,320. Quite frankly, so do we. Not to mention that we were getting heat from the Super Chevy magazine guys who reside down the hall. "Great, you got Earth-rotating power, but when's the last time the truck went to the track?" one editor muttered. "We'll fix that!" was our retort.
Comments such as that got the fire going, not to mention the fact that we've been itching to go for the standing office e.t. record of 10.23, set years ago by former MM&FF tech editor John Hunkins, who in Excalibur, his Vortech-equipped strip Stang, ran the said time.
So, with 715 hp and a tank of C16, we set out to E-Town. We were met with great weather, the Lightning was fitted with slicks and skinnies, and we yanked out the passenger seat for good measure. We left the tailgate and spare tire in place, and race weight was a hefty 4,600 pounds with driver.
Despite the big power numbers, we had mixed emotions about putting the truck on "kill," or "triple-wreck," as another editor termed it. As reported in our last story, when we went from 23 to 28 psi and only picked up 25 hp, we had a feeling the old girl was tired--just how tired was anyone's guess. Any tuner worth his laptop knows that an increase of 5 psi should be worth much more power, so we knew something wasn't 100 percent.
Nevertheless, we marched on after our dyno test produced favorable results. "The engine is tired, the valvesprings are weak, and it's definitely getting some blow-by," says Jim D'Amore. "We built that engine about five years ago, and we run way more valvespring pressure on our current engines. We have much more efficient camshafts, too." However, we had no choice but to tune her up and go for it.
Knowing that we could be limited to only a few runs, I went to the line, heated the slicks, and staged carefully. I did my best to launch smoothly and roll into the power, but on the hit the sneakers broke loose and chattered on the way out. Despite the spin, the truck accelerated well (1.54 60-foot), and I kept my foot in it. As GM High Tech editor Rick Jensen said, "I was in it to win it!"
The Fridge ripped into Second with a chip, then Third, and with that I could feel the enormous load as it fought its way through the air. It pulled really hard right until the end, with the 5.4 screaming and the tach needle pegged past 6,100. Crossing the stripe, the board flashed the new office record of 10.225 at 133 mph! Mission accomplished.
We were pleased with the performance, but at the same time we knew there was more left if we could hook better. The 1.54 was pretty dismal, as we've been 1.50 with this truck in the past. But therein lies the rub. Adding power to a street-driven vehicle, especially a nose-heavy truck, doesn't guarantee better short times or quicker e.t.'s.
Another try brought similar launch results, and I legged it out--at least until Third, when the nose dipped and the truck laid over. I was out of the gas in a flash, but the damage was already done; a lifted head gasket and some white smoke from the exhaust were the results. Oh well, we knew going in that The Fridge had 104,000 miles on the clock, about 70,000 on the engine, and that pushing it may bring parts failure.
But in the end, we owed it to you, our readers, to push it to the limit and see what the truck could do. Dyno numbers are one thing, but e.t. slips tell the real story. On a bright note, we did set the record here at MM&FF Command Central, and JDM has been poking us to try its new all-aluminum 5.4, so it looks like we'll be going for the nines.