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Ford SVT Lightning: the American On-road Performance Truck

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Prior to the F-150 Raptor, Ford had another F-150-based performance truck called the Lightning. In fact, the Ford Lightning was among the first projects of the then-newly established Special Vehicle Team (SVT). It came in the form of a 2-door and was designed to compete with the existing performance trucks from rival makes like GM. The blue oval’s pre-Raptor performance truck lasted for 11 years before the company decided to finally cut its production. Unlike the Raptor moniker, the Lightning was not designed to handle the harshest terrain. Instead, its development focused mainly on road applications. It featured no tube bumpers, off-road tires, nor optimized approach and departure angles. What it had were sleek bumper covers, side skirts, and side exhaust pipes.

The Lightning boasted superior performance, and better throttle response and acceleration.

The birth of the SVT Lightning

Ford released the ninth-generation F-150 in 1992. Around that time, the company’s focus was to improve the truck’s performance by enhancing the body’s aerodynamics. This design discipline resulted to a lower hoodline, more rounded front fenders, and a redesigned grille. A year after the introduction of the ninth-generation model, Ford introduced the Lightning—a specially-tuned performance truck developed by Ford SVT. Over 11,000 units of this model were manufactured from 1993 to 1995.

Exterior trims like aerodynamically-enhanced bumpers with integrated fog lights, 17-inch aluminum wheels with Firestone Firehawk tires, and “fleetside” bed and “Lightning” decals set it apart from a regular F-150. Aside from its outward appearance, the Lighting also featured exclusive Lightning manifold attached to the engine, and came with improved shock absorbers for a stiffer ride and enhanced response on curves and bump hits.

The Lightning boasted superior performance, all thanks to the 5.8L 351 Windsor V8 with GT40 heads and “hyper-eutectic” pistons that could churn out 240 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque. Although based on a regular F-150 block, the Lightning’s engine’s forged pistons and specifically-built GT40 peak cylinder heads gave the truck better throttle response and acceleration. The engine setup came coupled with an upgraded E40D transmission, as well as new aluminum drive shafts. Together, it enabled the car to have an acceleration rate of 7.6 seconds from 0-60 mph with a top speed of 110 mph. A number of current and past owners also praise its fuel efficiency and competitive base price compared to its rivals.

Lightning does strike the same place twice

Production of the first-generation Lightning lasted until 1995. It went on hiatus for four years until Ford released a follow up model in 1999. This time, the Lightning was based on the 10th generation F-150 that came out two years prior. Before Ford relaunched the Lightning, they observed that the truck buying trend shifted dramatically from work to personal use. This pushed Ford to design the 10th-generation F-150 as a personal daily-driver truck. The idea influenced the development of the second generation Lightning model.

There are more curves on the exterior of the second generation Lightning which follows the design of the tenth-generation F-150. SVT gave it a sleek protruding bumper that houses a lower intake and fog lamps. Ground clearance was also visibly lower compared to the previous model. According to some sources, SVT lowered the front by an inch, and the rear by two. In short, it veered away from the traditional pickup truck design and brought it closer and closer to the ground to provide more riding comfort. Despite the lower ride height, it featured a larger set of 18-inch wheels fitted with GoodYear tires.

There were exciting improvements in the 1999 Ford Lightning, including the new 5.4L Triton engine and an Eaton Gen IV Supercharger. SVT scaled up its power output to 360 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. Power is transmitted to the axles by the new 4R100 automatic transmission, allowing the truck to sprint from 0-60 mph in roughly 5.4 seconds—beating its predecessor by around 2.2 seconds with a top speed of 149 mph.

The third-generation SVT Lightning: a concept lost in time

The SVT Lightning may have struck the same spot twice but it was unable to do it a third time. Ford ceased the F-150 SVT Lightning’s production in 2004. However, there was supposedly a third SVT Lightning presented as a concept at the 2003 North International Auto Show. The display boasted beefier exterior styling relative to that time. It had a larger bumper with lower intake and fog lamp integration, wide rectangular grille, vented hood, and low ride height. The aggressive design profile set it apart from the typical workhorse F-150, especially with a set of 21-inch wheels with low profile tires. The concept was more like a tuner truck than the average muscle truck some people prefer today. Sadly, it never reached the production line and was archived by Ford and SVT. It has been 15 years since the last Ford Lightning.

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In the Garage with CarParts.com is an online blog dedicated to bringing DIYers and devoted car enthusiasts up to date with topical automotive news and lifestyle content. Our writers live and breathe automotive, taking the guess work out of car repairs with how-to content that helps owners get back on the road and keep driving.

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