First Drive: Ford SVT Lightning Bolt Ranger!
By: Michael Levine Posted: 12-30-02 00:00
© 2002

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Call it trickle down performance. After all the years of attention and engineering paid by Ford to the superb SVT Lightning F-150 muscle truck, some of that high-octane magic has finally reached Ford’s compact pickup in the form of the SVT Lightning Bolt Ranger concept.

The idea for the Lightning Bolt Ranger began with Ford Special Vehicle Team powertrain engineer Dave Dempster. His concept was to create a vehicle that didn’t draw attention with just 'paint-and-tape' looks as much as creating a performance machine that would leave its mark “on those occasions when the accelerator pedal might get exercised aggressively.”

Dempster approached O.J. “John” Coletti, SVT’s engineering director, for project approval.

"I think you've gone over the edge!” is what Dempster remembers from Coletti’s initial comments about the Lightning Bolt but Coletti immediately gave the project the green light under the mantle of SVT’s performance research mandate.

Next up was the Ford Ranger that would be transformed by Dempster and his team into the Lightning Bolt - a black regular cab, style side 2.5-liter I4 automatic. As much as possible, off-the-shelf hardware was used to keep build and fabrication costs down.

The Ranger’s engine and transmission were replaced with the same 5.4-liter supercharged engine and automatic transmission used in the SVT Lightning, even though the compact Lightning Bolt weighs in at 1200 pounds less than its big brother. Custom 2-foot headers, a K&N air filter and the relocation of the supercharger’s air inlet to accommodate the Ranger’s unique air entry position were the only material changes to the stock powerplant. The exhaust system was modified with stainless steel and Borla Super Pro mufflers resulting in a power boost from 380hp and 450lb-ft to an estimated 400hp and 460lb-ft. Handling all of this power also meant replacing the Ranger’s stock driveshaft with a shortened 3-foot aluminum version from the Lightning.

As the powertrain transplant was going on, the Ranger was torn down right to its chassis.

To fit the 5.4-liter engine under the Ranger’s factory hood the suspension was lowered 2-inches. Dempster said, “The Ranger's light duty front suspension was inadequate to handle the heavier V8 powertrain. Production F-150 Lightning suspension hardware was fitted to the chassis wherever possible (such as) in the lower control arms and steering knuckles.”

The frame rails were boxed and cross-braced in several areas to handle the almost 300lb-ft increase in torque between the Ranger’s 153lb-ft I4 and the Lightning Bolt’s V8. These chassis modifications also “necessitated the removal of the production plastic longitudinal fuel tank and an aft axle fuel cell was fabricated requiring moving the fuel access door to the rear of the vehicle” according to Dempster.

The production Ranger’s rack and pinion steering gear was retained but the power steering pump was replaced with one from a Lightning for better steering feedback. A custom steering shaft was required to clear the new headers.

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