PickupTruck.Com Review of the 1999 Lightning Specifications

DARTH TRUCK

Why does everybody look at it like that? Hasn't anybody seen a pickup truck before? I mean, it's just an F-150. Shortbed. Flareside. Oh, sure, it has a forged crank. Aluminum heads. Alloy rods and pistons. A sports-car suspension. Oh, and did I mention the supercharger? But really, it's just a truck. Just a 360 horsepower, slick handling, badass truck. Lowered and black and glowering its way around town on custom alloy rims. That tows 5000 pounds. Ford's Lightning is almost too outrageous to be real. A pickup truck that does .85 g on the skidpad? What's next, a fifth-wheel Kia? But real it is, and the only true debate about the Lightning is which is the greater achievement: 360 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque from a 2-valve engine, or the fact that it all gets to the ground -- and stays there.

INSIDE & OUT

There's no mistaking the Lightning for anything else. Lowered half an inch in front and two inches in the rear, SVT's hauler squats over its 18" wheels. A bespoke fascia and rocker extensions visually lower the truck even more, until only the full-height cab reveals that this isn't one a' them NASCAR trucks. As in NASCAR, the exhaust exits on the side, although the street Ford puts it out just ahead of the right rear wheels. (And, as in NASCAR, whatever Ford gets, GM wants; watch for Chevy's forthcoming Silverado SS, designed specifically to take on the Lightning.)

The body and frame are stock F-150, built on Ford's Oakville, Ontario line. It's available only with the short bed (which handles better) and as a flareside (which simplifies production; they're only making 4000.) Because it's a stock cab, there's plenty of room for your Stetson or your Simpson, as appropriate. Almost all you have to decide is: red, black or white?

 

Inside, SVT's signature black-on-white gauges tell you this isn't your grandpappy's truck. In this case, those gauges are electroluminescent, lit from behind with orange needles. Scanning from left to right, you find small fuel and oil temperature

gauges; a 140 mile per hour speedometer (where the aerodynamic limit is enforced by a fuel cutoff); and the 6000 rpm tachometer with red line at 5250. Then, to the right, a water temperature gauge leads your eyes to the magic boost gauge that sets this F-150 apart from its kin.

Seats aside, the interior is standard F-150, which is to say comfortable and stylish. The Lightning comes with your choice of gray cloth with black accents. Period. A very large fold-down armrest opens to reveal a cupholder -- that'll handle even the very large drinks -- and extra storage. In the dash are two power ports and two smaller cupholders (soft cups only) nearer the passenger side. The AM-FM cassette radio, air conditioning, power mirrors, windows, and locks, and cruise control all appear when you tick the Lightning box on your order form.

The seats, unique to the Lightning, start as an F-150 40/60 split bench. The sides are then highly bolstered, particularly on the seat back, so the result feels (and looks) like a bucket, but retains a space for your Skip Barber instructor in the middle. Unfortunately, as we have noticed in other SVT projects, the bolstering across the shoulders and along the sides is so prodigious that the small of your back sinks rearward, with seemingly less support. That becomes an issue on longer trips, or particularly over rough downtown pavement. But what are you doing downtown? This truck was built for the open road; it loves to run.

ON THE ROAD

After all, this is the part you really wanted to read, isn't it? The Lightning will take your breath away faster than a Lawrence Taylor tackle. Its performance in any dimension is superb for a car, and

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.

SUMMING UP

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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