simply unheard of for a truck. Step on the throttle and the blown 5.4 jams you back in the seat, lighting up even the massive Goodyears and thrusting down the road with a gorgeous supercharger howl. Bury the brakes -- or even finesse them -- and you'll be glad you fastened your belt. Crank the steering wheel and the Lightning's mammoth contact patch converts speed into lateral g NOW. It's more F-15 than F-150.
For that stopping power, credit the pie-plate sized F-250 based 4-wheel discs (12.1" in front, 13.1" in the rear, with 4mm thicker rotors than stock) linked to 4-wheel ABS. Ford says the Lightning stops from 60 in 137 feet, only ten more than a Cobra. For the turning, credit the stabilizer bars and massive 295/45-ZR18 Eagle F1GS rubber, based on the tires Goodyear supplies to Ferrari and Corvette, but with sidewalls stiffened to handle trailer loads (an attribute which, for some reason, the Testarossa doesn't need.) But most of all, give thanks to the SVT engineers, a bunch of wild and crazy car people who make the whole thing work as a package.
That engineering dedication is nowhere more evident than driving to the grocery store. Unlike many a hot-rod Frankenstein, the Lightning is docile and completely tractable; indeed, were it not for the white gauges and the wide eyes of passersby, you might well be in any F-150.
It would have been easy to stop at the engine, as some earlier hot trucks did. Heaven knows it would have been enough. The intercooled Eaton blower takes the strength of the 5.4-liter Triton V-8 and adds Tabasco, raising compression to 8.4:1. (Premium unleaded only, please.) Max torque (440 lb/ft, remember?) arrives at 3000 revs, all 360 horses by 4750.
That power flows through a four-speed automatic (no manual is available) to the 9.75 inch, 3:55 limited slip rear. While it rained almost the entire time that we had the Lightning, Ford claims an 0-60 time of 6.2, and a 14.6 quarter at 97 mph. Which seems awfully conservative to us.
But SVT didn't stop at the firewall. Gas shocks went to all four corners, with a 5-leaf rear spring replacing the standard 3-leaf. Add the fat stabilizer bars and tires, and the up to 800 pound payload had better be tied down really well.
The Lightning enters corners with just a hint of initial understeer. Then the Goodyears take over, delivering remarkably neutral handling through the apex. On exit, you can use the throttle to move the rear end out, but not very much; such is the Lightning's grip -- unloaded -- that it takes a truly ham-footed driver to get it out of shape. (Even we were unable to upset the rear end in anything but a wet road situation.) Except for the very vertical seating position, you might as well be in a Corvette or Cobra.
Part of the appeal of a factory hot rod is polish, and the Lightning certainly has that. Annoyances were few. In mixed but spirited driving, the Lightning consistently averaged 15.3 mpg, but what did you expect? Also, over rough surfaces, the pickup bed rattled a bit. We suspect the standard bed liner to may not have had quite a happy marriage with our test truck.
The Lightning is a terrific ride. Consider it the perfect companion vehicle for someone who has a Corvette in her garage. It adds real utility to real sport. Our tested Lightning, which bore every available option except the tonneau cover, came to just over 30K; that's a decent tab for a vehicle with limits so distant that most of its performance is not available on the street.
In the end, the Lightning is the most fun you can have sitting straight up.
1999 Ford SVT Lightning
Base price: $29,355USD
Price as tested: $30,450USD
Price as tested includes class III trailer towing package, $245USD; 6-disc cd changer, $210USD; destination, $640USD.
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