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Hooniverse Reviews the Pioneer Ford F-150 Lightning Tribute

Greg Kachadurian September 19, 2017 Featured, Reviews 21 Comments

Robby Winiarczyk, General Manager of Pioneer Ford in Bremen, Georgia, always loved the F-150 Lightning that Ford’s Special Vehicle Team built from 1999 to 2004. It’s been a long thirteen years since it’s been gone and there’s no sign of it coming back in any official form, but they had an idea to revive it in their own way – with a 650-horsepower tribute.

They only first showed the F-150 Lightning Tribute to the world last Wednesday but it’s already sent the internet into a frenzy. Over a million people saw their initial Facebook post and our early coverage of it became one of the most popular articles in this site’s history. And yet there I was, less than a week after its introduction, doing donuts with it in an empty airport.

That’s right, this weird little website of ours got to drive it first. If hilarious amounts of tire-shredding power in unlikely packages is of interest to you, keep reading.

Disclaimer: I reached out to Pioneer Ford after the story broke and was invited to come and drive the Lightning tribute. Because of my close proximity to them, I got to do it first. My hour drive was rewarded with the opportunity to do silly things with a 650-hp truck.

Pioneer Ford’s Lightning Tribute starts out as a standard-issue 2017 F-150 XL Regular Cab with the 6-1/2′ bed. Mechanically, it’s spec’d with the optional 5.0-liter V8, an electronic locking rear diff with a 3.55 ratio, a six-speed automatic with “manual” shifting, and a transmission cooler which is included with the towing package. This configuration is about as close as they can get to the original Lightning formula in more ways than one, the most obvious being that it’s the shortest and therefore lightest V8 F-150 configuration possible.

Another perhaps unintended way that it’s like the original Lightning is it’s also devoid of some of the more upscale features that modern trucks are known for. To get a Regular Cab F-150 without all the chrome, the only option is to get the XL trim which has limitations of its own. This means no leather seats, no big nav screen, and no premium audio. Some of the nicer options are tied to a chrome trim package, but since the old Lightning didn’t have a lick of chrome on it, this one can’t either. Even Ford dealers can’t get around the OEM’s packaging limitations.

But modern trucks have come so far that even this relatively basic truck still comes with Ford’s brilliant Pro Trailer Backup Assist, standard Sync features, and very comfortable seats. Truth be told, the Lightnings had even less. This truck is still nice to live with and it can work just as hard as any other F-150. It also plays quite a bit harder too.

The party gets started as soon as the truck gets to Pioneer Ford. Their authorized Roush installers slap on a Roush Phase 2 supercharger and all the backing hardware that comes with it. This includes a high-capacity, low-restriction air filter and complete induction system, an aluminum intercooler, Roush high-flow fuel injectors, 60 mm dual-bore throttle body, and more. This supercharger kit will pass emissions in all 50 states.

Helping the supercharged V8 turn dinosaurs into noise is a beautiful MBRP 3″ cat back side-exit exhaust system. For now it only rides on stock suspension with a lowering kit installed, but a full Bilstein setup is planned for the 2018 models which are coming soon. Its brakes are stock as well, but they handled regular street use just fine and had no problem holding the truck in place for some epic brake stand burnouts. I wouldn’t say no to upgraded brakes though.

The unlucky tires chosen to help put power to the ground is a set of Goodyear Forteras and they’re wrapped around 22-inch aftermarket wheels which mimic the original SVT set. The side exhaust, wheels, and Lightning badging are the only visible modifications made to the truck, but it’s enough.

With the way the new F-150s are styled, there’s really no way to get a sporty front splitter that’ll replicate the original look. In fact, the only company even selling a lower splitter for one of these is Shelby, and you don’t wanna know how much that costs.

To quickly recap the downsides so far, this Lightning tribute doesn’t have leather seats, it doesn’t have a ground effects kit, and its brakes might not be as fade-resistant as is preferred. The upsides are that it’s more powerful, a few hundred pounds lighter, and more advanced than the original Lightnings ever were. Also, 650 horsepower… what were the downsides again?

With the facts out of the way, let’s get down to the fun stuff and the main reason why I came all the way out to Bremen – the drive.

My first miles on the truck were on public highways and back roads to sample it as a daily driver. Ride quality is still good despite the lowering kit and thinner side walls. It’s noticeably stiffer over bumps, but it’s nothing uncomfortable. The 22-inch rollers mean the steering is bit heavier than normal, but that’s easy to get used to. The MBRP exhaust – for how amazing it sounds – will almost certainly piss off your neighbors and it does have some drone to it, but anyone writing a check for a 650-horsepower truck likely won’t care about that. I sure didn’t.

But the truck’s centerpiece and the main reason why you’d buy one of these is that engine. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, least of all in a truck. This thing just wants to go and it seems only an inch of throttle makes the difference between being a responsible adult and getting your picture taken at the county jail. Give it enough gas and it ferociously roars to life regardless of whether the driver or the tires are truly ready for it. Its power is brutal and it’s served up without hesitation. At this moment, it stops being a truck and starts being a Lightning.

Having the responsibility of a 650-hp V8 under the command of my right foot may have been the most difficult test of my maturity to date. So when we rolled into West Georgia Regional Airport and were escorted to our little play area, the real fun began.

We began with some basic tests ranging from a 0-60 mph sprint to a little slalom that we set up. Pioneer Ford brought out the only other 2017 F-150 regular cab in stock to sort of compare with, but it sadly lacked the V8 option. Our little corner of the airport was an old dusty surface so we could only manage a hand-timed 6.2-second 0-60 sprint in the Lightning tribute. With a cleaner surface, there’s no question this is a 5-second truck as is.

The stock F-150 didn’t stand a chance in the sprint test because V6, but a more direct comparison was made in the tight slalom. We were nearly three seconds quicker through the slalom in the Lightning tribute thanks to the wider tires and lower center of gravity. It won’t win any autocrosses but it works fine for the truck’s intended purpose. That being said, the Bilsteins they have planned for the next one can’t come soon enough.

But the only test that really matters is the “can I hoon it” test. I lined up at the far end of the ramp with all the aids switched off and punched it from a stand still. The wheels didn’t stop spinning until I settled into third gear. It passed.

Once my fit of maniacal laughter subsided, I noticed the set of 11s I left behind – which were at least 100 feet long – were almost completely straight. I just had to make one small correction to the wheel to keep it going where I wanted. I expected Cobra 427 levels of sketch with its light rear end and short (for a truck) wheelbase, but it was all very stable and not at all terrifying.

That cover image is our silly recreation of this old gem.

I celebrated still being alive by denying that same honor to the tires. I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything else that’s as eager to hoon as this. 650 horsepower being sent to wheels with very little weight over them means brake stands, donuts, and power slides are more certain than death and taxes. No matter where you are or what speed you’re going, count on leaving a mark when you give it anything close to wide open throttle. Hooning the Lightning tribute is truly effortless yet completely satisfying.

For about three hours, I wasn’t exactly going easy on this truck on a 90-degree day, but it all worked perfectly. It never felt as if it couldn’t handle what I was throwing at it and it didn’t feel abused. If anything, it was ready for more. Between my hooning and Pioneer Ford’s other tests, we drove it so hard that the adhesive holding the wheel caps in place melted off, but we could’ve been there all day. Trust me, I wanted to. Nothing has put a bigger smile on my face. A truck of all things can do stuff like this… what a world we live in.

Should you be interested enough to place an order, you’ll be getting a 2018 model year truck which will have some more enhancements. It’ll have everything this 2017 Lightning tribute has but with added Bilstein suspension (like the originals) and body-colored side mirrors. They’re looking into adding an optional custom interior as well.

One of the big selling points here is that all this comes with a warranty, but it’s not actually the original factory warranty as previously reported. Ford’s powertrain warranty is voided with the Phase 2 supercharger kit, but Roush sells their own 3 yr/36,000 mile powertrain warranty as a replacement. It acts like the regular Ford warranty, but the truck can only be serviced at an authorized Roush dealer like Pioneer Ford.

This F-150 Lighting tribute was $49,661 as tested and that includes the cost of the Roush warranty. All of Ford’s usual incentives and plan pricing still applies to this truck depending on the buyer, so your cost out the door could be up to several thousand less.

So to recap, this could very well be the fastest truck you can buy off a showroom floor. By forcing a truck to do muscle car things, Pioneer Ford has created a package that can do it all exceptionally well. It has addicting amounts of power and it’ll eat through tires without thinking twice, but it’s approachable and enjoyable rather than terrifying. It’s immensely powerful, but it doesn’t feel like it’s too much for the rest of the truck to handle. Furthermore, none of the modifications impact its ability to work and it’s still comfortable enough for commuting with.

But most importantly, it’s just plain fun. It’s easy to think that nobody would ever need a truck like this, but once you’ve experienced it, it’ll be hard to live without.

[Images © 2017 Hooniverse/Greg Kachadurian – Go here for full size]

  • Kiefmo

    I love that this thing exists and that it delivers such goofy antics.

    I just hope Ford corporate doesn’t get a wild hair and tell them to cease using the Lightning and SVT names. Maybe that’s why they don’t list them as anything but an XL on the website?

    I’d be curious what the 3.5L ecoboost could do when tuned up to 11 to make 11s, both on the pavement and (with adequate tire) the 1/4 mile. Regardless, it couldn’t make that same glorious V8 noise.

    • neight428

      They marketed a “Tremor” trim a few years back with the RCSB and 3.5L Ecoboost, but that would be pretty pedestrian compared to an RCSB 2wd aluminum bodied new model with the new Raptor’s engine and 10-speed auto.

      • Kiefmo

        I remember that. It seems like a newer edition would be a no-brainer, since the Raptor engine already exists, and it isn’t like it would steal sales from the Raptor.

    • Greg Kachadurian

      Apparently there is no issue with them using the Lightning badges because they’re a dealership selling a low numbers special edition. They weren’t worried about it so I’m not either.

  • PotbellyJoe★★★★★

    Really needs a sliding rear window. That was my 3rd favorite feature on my 1994.

    1st was the engine, 2nd was the suspension, haha.

  • Fuhrman16

    Boy, does that look good in red…

  • wunno sev

    it seems weird that they charge $50k for the truck, but they can’t pick a higher-spec model to start with and just swap in the black trim pieces, rather than starting with an XL and putting up with the sacrifices. swap the chrome onto some XLs and call it an XL with chrome package!

    i have nothing against work trucks, of course, but a expensive truck should come with a decent radio and seats, you know?

    • Greg Kachadurian

      I don’t know if they’ve considered swapping trim pieces like that, but it might work? It might create some confusion though. They thought about just painting them but it would’ve been more trouble than they thought it was worth at the time (before this all went viral). They’re working with a custom interior shop to see if they can offer nicer options for the newer trucks.

      • Maymar

        I assume if you’re not too hung up on the Lightning name, they’d do the same mods to any spec of F150 you’d want?

        • Greg Kachadurian

          They can definitely do the supercharger upgrade since they’re an authorized Roush installer. They also do other custom stuff from time to time so I’d imagine exhaust can be done too. If they reserve the wheels for the Lightning models only, you can always get those yourself. So yes, basically.

    • neight428

      Ford is pretty dogmatic about what trim and options shall be placed on which versions of their trucks. They presume that if you want a regular cab truck, you are either paying someone else to drive it or you are impoverished. It doesn’t seem to me that grabbing different interior bits out of different bins at the factory would be all that inefficient, but what do I know. The way the turbo engines respond to modifications, if they were available on this truck as they are on the long beds/super cabs as a $600 option over the V8, one could top the performance of this thing really easily. Ford is such a killjoy on this.

      • outback_ute

        I bet that someone with the right pull within Ford or the Rouge plant could arrange for the right set of trims to be available for a batch to be done at the end of a Saturday shift or similar, where there is minimal chance of disrupting the plant. So long as you were just using standard parts, or had the special parts scheduled correctly it should not be difficult but just require the will to do it. For a Ford-produced Lightning they would make it happen, but likely not for a handful of dealer-special trucks.

        • wunno sev

          easier even than that. all the Roush work is being done at the dealer, why doesn’t the dealer just swap trim between each Lightning and an XL? surely they sell more work trucks than specialized, limited-edition sport trucks, and surely many potential XL customers would not mind a free “upgrade” (such as it is) to chrome trim.

    • If you step up to an XLT you spend an extra $5,000. The money goes to better wheels (you’d be taking off anyway), chrome grille and bumpers (expensive to powdercoat), power windows and locks, SYNC, MyKey, cruise control, etc.

      Playing mix and match with your inventory sounds good but can be problematic these days. The best bet would be to inventory the parts and up-sell customers onesey twosey. Problem is that you have to pay the F&I or accessories department to sell it, the shop to do it, and there’s always “inventory shrinkage.”

      I think I’d do it the way they’re doing it. At least for inventory. If you ask, I bet they’d spec one the way you want it.

  • What wonderful times we live in.

  • Zentropy

    It’s cool, but not $50k cool. That’s nearly double the MSRP of the base truck. I’d rather do the mods myself on the truck of my choosing (screw the warranty).

  • What happened? This site completely sucks now. Boring

    • Greg Kachadurian

      k.

    • Alff

      Yes, the quality of commenting has really gone downhill.

      • If it makes you feel better, no matter what anyone else says I still like your comments.

  • Ford will, prob has already noticed this went viral. They’ll go to SVE & ask when they can get one like this done. There’s clearly, beyond any doubt, alot of interest in a new Lightning, & this is an excellent start to Gen 3. With a better interior & some side skirts, better front lower valance, & better gearing this would be a Gen 3!! A mid 4 sec 0-60 with the right setup for everyday driving & still be a nice smooth ride at reg speed!
    Ford must’ve thought a new Lightning would cut into the Raptors sales! Raptor is more off-road truck with alot of interior perks. A Lightning is an on-road beast & should come with alot of options incl interior perks! 2 diff animals. The new Raptor is more streetable than the last Raptor, but a Lightning is still the king of the street trucks, & as mentioned this is a great start! Kudos for you bringing it out in the open, & the Ford Dealer in Georgia for making these. Once a skirting kits available & lower front valance, better suspension & brakes, I’m in!! I’ll take one in Oxford White with blk & red leather!
    Ford surely must see the interest is very high in a new Lightning! With the new GT500 coming out later next yr the Lightning must be released on or near the same time with similar HP #’s of 650+, 22″ rims, & a wicked cool skirting kit & upgraded interior with more than blk or gray for interior color choices! I’d say we’ll see one within a yr or so from Ford!!
    Also, Ford for gods sake make a new SHO with the new Taurus platform & offer it in a 6spd manual as well as 8spd auto with paddle-shift, 400+HP & at least 4 or 5 diff interior color choices!! You’ll sell 50K easy with a 6spd stickshift & another 50K with paddleshift!! If you can offer stickshift for Mustang & Focus make it for the SHO as well!!