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Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage – The Ford SVT F-150 Lightning

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Welcome to the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage, a regular feature which aims to expand the notion of what a muscle car is, and to see if a truck can fit the definition of muscle car. Could a Pickup Truck be considered an Obscure Muscle Car, and if not, how would you classify a performance “Pickup Truck”? I thought it was time to feature a set of trucks for all of you Ford guys. Let’s take a look at both generations of the Ford SVT F-150 Lightning, and see if they are Obscure Muscle.

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The Ford Special Vehicle Team (SVT) was established in 1991 to “Polish the Ford Oval,” a mission very similar to the reasons behind the company’s participation in motorsports. Ford created a small, passionate, cross-functional group of engineers, product planners, and marketing people all housed together under one roof with a common mission: to create vehicles specifically designed to meet the unique needs and desires of the knowledgeable driving enthusiast. The first two products offered by this enthusiast driven division were the SVT Mustang Cobra, and the SVT F150 Lightning.

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Ford introduced the SVT F-150 Lightning at the Chicago Auto Show in February of 1993. It was a model to showcase what the SVT Team could do with an everyday, workable, Pickup Truck. It was also an effort to compete in the performance truck market, with the Chevrolet Silverado 454SS and the GMC Syclone, both drawing a lot of press attention at that time. The Lightning shared its basic platform structure with the regular F-150, but custom modifications were made to many vehicle systems. The stock Lightning was capable of achieving 0.88 g lateral acceleration, yet it was a full-sized American pickup truck with almost all the hauling and trailering capabilities of the parent F-Series. A 351 Cu In (5.8 L) Windsor V8 producing 240 hp and 340 ft·lbf of torque replaced the standard F-150 engine. The engine was based on an existing block, but Ford engineers fitted it with high flow rate “GT40″ heads to increase response, output and durability.

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An upgraded Ford E40D automatic transmission equipped with an aluminum driveshaft was standard and the only available transmission. 4.10:1 ratio rear gears, special 17″ aluminum wheels with Firestone tires, unique Lightning badging, a custom front air dam with integrated fog lights, a 120 mph speedometer and unique under hood treatments including a special “Lightning” intake manifold casting all differentiated the Lightning from normal F-150s. Bucket seats with adjustable side bolsters and lumbar supports were part of the package. Suspension modifications made the truck stiffer and more responsive, and provided a 1 in front and 2.5 in rear drop in ride height, lowering the vehicle’s center of gravity and improving handling.

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The 1993 Lightning received more than 150 favorable articles in America’s newspapers, magazines, and television outlets, and helped Ford regain leadership in the all-important personal-use truck market. Three-time World Champion driver Jackie Stewart was highly involved in fine-tuning of the Lightning’s handling prowess, and Mr. Stewart finally announced to the motor press, “I love the Lightning!”

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The 1993 Lightning had an incredible 23 product “firsts” or pilot applications, including the first true dual exhaust on an F-Series, the first bucket seats in an F-Series, the first 17″ wheels and tires, and the first use of synthetic lubricant in Ford truck rear axles. 1994 saw the addition of a new color to the SVT Lightning palette, White. The only other colors offered were a bright Red, and Black. Production of the first generation F-150 Lightning wound down after only 3 years of production, and with only a little over 11,500 produced.

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Ford resurrected the Lightning in 1999, after a five year hiatus. With its new F-Series body the Lightning now came equipped with a SOHC 5.4L Triton V8 and an Eaton supercharger helping pump out an astounding 120 more horsepower than the previous generation. The Lightning’s 360 horsepower and 440 ft-lbs. of torque made it the fastest production truck in the world doing 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds. The twin short-and-long-arm suspension was lowered 1/2-inch up front and the solid axle, five leaf-spring rear suspension lowered 2-inches over the standard truck’s three-leaf units. Behind the engine sat the 4R100 automatic transmission which connected to a rear end housing 3.55:1 rear gears. The Lightning featured specialized 18″ wheels mounted with Goodyear Eagle F1 295/45ZR-18 tires.

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In the 2001 Model Year, the engine design was slightly altered to produce 380 horsepower @ 4,750 rpm and 450 ft·lbf of torque @ 3,250 rpm. At the other end of the drivetrain, the final drive ratio was shortened to 3.73:1 in 2001. The specially developed 295/45ZR-18 Goodyear Eagle F1-GS unidirectional tires were upgraded, improving the tires’ gripping capability. With these engine and drivetrain revisions, Car and Driver magazine drove a lightning from zero to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. For 2003, the Lightning’s cargo capacity was raised from 800 lb. to 1,350 lb.

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Also for 2001, the Lightning adds brand new Bilstein monotube shocks with better dampening than the tubular, gas-charged shocks found previous years. The rest of the suspension and chassis remains unchanged. The Lightning hugs the road like Lycra on a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. When combined with the limited-slip differential in the rear and those specially formulated Goodyear Eagle tires, the Lightning exhibits the best handling found in a pickup truck not sporting all-wheel drive.

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The second generation Lightning was initially offered in just Bright Red, Black, and White paint colors. The 2000 Model Year brought the addition of the Silver color to the lineup. In 2002, True Blue, a very dark blue, was offered, but replaced with a lighter Sonic Blue in 2003. The 2003 Model Year also saw the introduction of the Dark Shadow Grey color. These trucks were in production for 6 seasons, with a production run of over 28,000 units. These trucks were manufactured at Ford’s Ontario Truck Facility in Oakville, Ontario until its closure.

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There you have it, a limited edition truck, built in two distinct generations. There is a question if the Dodge and the Chevy performance trucks would make great additions to the Garage, but let’s start with these Fords. Is the first generation SVT Lightning really any different than a standard Ford F-150? Is the second generation just trying too hard (with its Supercharged V8), and are these Muscle Trucks really that obscure? Let me know.

Should the Ford SVT F-150 Lightning be included within the Obscure Muscle Car Garage?

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Please Note: All Images are screen grabs from around the web. If you want credit for any image, please let me know in the comments section. Thank You!

  • The second generation is a true performance truck, but the first generation would lose in a race versus my 220hp stick shift equipt regular cab short bed Chevy Colorado, which is 1000lbs lighter.

  • Absolutely a muscle truck. Obscure, eh, not so much.

    Having both a first year Gen I and last year Gen II in the family was awesome. Red was the loud beater, and Blue was the classy ride. I got into some serious mischief in both.

  • GTXcellent

    Tho first half of the 2000 decade sure brought some neat trucks to the market. The Lightening, GMC C3, and a little later the SRT-10s – really, this was the muscle market of the time given the phasing out of the camaro/firebird in '02, the SN-95 Mustang just kind of plodding along and Mopar's only real "toys" being the Viper and ACR Neons.

  • kingcrowing
  • I Think Not
  • OA5599

    My perspective is perhaps influenced by years of Sy/Ty ownership, but I think Gen 1 was a bit too little, too late. It would have been great had it been intrduced a decade earlier, but 240 HP out of a 90's V8 doesn't seem all that noteworthy, especially in a full-sized truck.

    Some of those "firsts" seem rather negligible, too. First true dual exhaust in an F-series? Maybe from the factory, but the aftermarket had been fixing that oversight for decades. Same thing for the first use of synthetic diff fluid, an engineering change that probably cost a whopping $20/vehicle. Jackie Stewart liked it? Wait a minute, who was signing his paycheck then?

    The second gen Lightning is the real deal, even though the rest of the truck market has now surpassed it, performance-wise.

    • pj134

      Yeah, first gen and 454 ss were both "Eh" at best. After the podcast, I'm very disappointed that Banks didn't get a chance at a GMC full size.

    • Vairship

      Jackie Stewart also really liked the Ford Tempo's handling… [youtube u4Ws_Bp7WYA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4Ws_Bp7WYA youtube]

    • CABEZAGRANDE

      As with every factory Windsor engine, the 351 in the Gen 1 Lightning was very nerfed in stock form for durability. You can throw an aftermarket cam in it and instantly make 50 more hp with no tuning. Throw a cam, some better exhaust, an intake, and a tune at it (about $1200 all told) and it'll make an easy 300-320 whp and well over 400 lb-ft of torque. Or you could throw a supercharger on it and make an effortless 450 whp on an otherwise stock engine.

  • Really obscure would be the F-150 Harley Davidson version of the same gen as the second gen Lightning. It got the lighting motor without most of the handling upgrades and was available with a back seat. I kind of want one.

    • JayP2112

      The Lincoln Nav almost had the supercharger 5.4… that'd be a hotrod.

    • Maymar

      Strangely enough, I've seen one of those around my neighbourhood the past couple days. Not sure I'd seen one since it was new.

  • $kaycog

    I was part owner of a red '99 Lightning in my previous life. It was an awesome performing pickup, and it had the most beautiful suede interior. My ex got it in the divorce. I got the 2000 Expedition. 🙁

  • vwminispeedster

    I regret never getting to drive my Aunt's (it was her commuter vehicle) before it got rear-ended and totaled.

  • dukeisduke

    I always wanted a set of the first-gen 17" alloys for my '95. I like both generations, but I think the first-gen would be more long-lived, based on my experience with my XLT.

  • JayP2112

    I still see the 1st gen every once in a while- even used as a truck.

  • stigshift

    I've got to vote no. Not because it's not a unique and attractive vehicle, but because it's simply not a car. I would include a 429 CJ Ranchero, or a 454 SS El Camino, because they are car-based. Fact is, even the fastest, plushest F-150 is still a truck.

  • "There is a question if the Dodge and the Chevy performance trucks would make great additions to the Garage, but let’s start with these Fords."

    What, no GMCs?

    <img src="http://memimage.cardomain.com/ride_images/1/1876/3281/4689140012_large.jpg"&gt;

  • MVEilenstein

    I'm biased, but yes, it's a muscle car. One thing I don't understand, though, is why the second-generation Lightning was a stepside. I don't think they're ugly, but I think a regular short bed would look awesome in Lightning getup.

  • PotbellyJoe ★★★★☆

    Loved my '94. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

    Sure it wasn't the fastest thing on 4 wheels, but it was plenty of fun.

    At the End of the day, isn't the point of these kinds of cars to transcend the a-to-b appliance and do the a-to-b with a huge smile on your face?

    In that category, the Gen1 Lightning was dominant.
    <img src="http://farm2.staticflickr.com/1186/699203203_a4617b0a02.jpg"&gt;

  • For REALLY obscure, the 1994 Lightning Indy 500 Truck.
    <img src="http://i7.photobucket.com/albums/y287/digdoug1/lightning%20pace%20truck/indy4.jpg"width=500&gt;

    I went to Indy in 1994 for the qualifying and remember seeing these trucks. Apparently only 10 made it out into the wild.

    • Van_Sarockin

      Because Pace Truck.

  • Maymar

    <img src="http://image.internetautoguide.com/f/auto-news/2009-chevy-colorado-v8-review-by-motor-trend/18906330/2009-chevy-colorado-v8-53-vortech.jpg&quot; width=500 /img>

    If you want to talk obscure, the Colorado V8 is probably a little more obscure, although it's closer to the first-gen Lightning in performance than the second, but it's still quicker than you'd expect.

    I do like the look of the first-gen Lightnings though.

    • These are more obscure than I would think, most likely because they didn't get a catchy name. Officially they are Chevy Colorado LT3 ZQ8 or something. My 5cyl 5sp regular cab ZQ8 was ordered before they jerry-rigged the option packages so you had to get the top of the line truck before you could get the ZQ8 sport package.

      I may sell my regular cab and go looking for a V8 version in the near future just to have a little more towing power, but I will miss the stick shift.

  • Synchromesh

    It's not a muscle car. It's a muscle truck and an automatic at that. Not a fan, thank you.

  • Marto

    Muscle car: any car with more power than chassis
    Sports cars: any car with high level of power and chassis
    Funster: any car with more chassis than power

    Solved.

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