A bolt of genius.

by Nick Twork

Here's what you need to know about the Ford Special Vehicle Team's newest creation: It has 360 horsepower, 440 pound-feet of torque, 18-inch tires, goes 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds, and does the quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds. Those are some impressive statistics. Sounds like it could be the next Mustang Cobra R?

As Regis would ask, "Is that your final answer?"

If it is, you lose the million.

One more hint - the vehicle we are describing has a 5000-pound towing capacity. And it's not an SUV.

Yep, it's a pickup truck. And as a pickup, no one expects the Lightning to be as fast as it is. Sure, its lower stance and aggressive front-end treatment hint that the Lightning is no ordinary F-150, but this truck packs a punch more severe than many performance cars. It does not seem that a truck could be quite so fast. One drive in the Lightning is all it takes to grasp just how amazing this truck's performance is. For perspective, consider that the Lightning can accelerate as fast as a BMW M Coupe from 0 to 60 mph and can nearly beat a Lexus GS400 in the quarter-mile. Yet it can still haul a load of mulch home from the garden center - and in short order.

To propel 4670 lb with such fervor, the Lightning uses a 5.4-liter SOHC V-8 engine. It starts out much the same as any other 5.4-liter Ford truck engine but adds a strapping supercharger, perched proudly on top of the engine. Much of the extra 100 horsepower of the engine is courtesy of the blower, but beside the blower, the Lightning engine also gets a beefier crankshaft, forged pistons and a new intake tract.

The mods make the normal F-150 something frightening to the casual truck user. Mash the gas pedal, and the truck's massive Goodyear Eagle F1-GS 295/45ZR18 tires erupt in plumes of white smoke as the blower begins to moan. Second gear comes with a hard thunk of the four-speed automatic transmission and the tires regain grip as the engine control cuts power to avoid blowing the transmission to pieces with the massive torque output of the engine. As the speed piles on, the Lightning's red speedometer needle eclipses the black mark on the white-faced gauge cluster where a regular F-150 would normally hit terminal velocity. According to Ford, the truck is capable of 140 mph.

After the Lightning's beefed-up brake system hauls the truck down to an appropriate speed to enter a corner, the truck's wide tires come in handy again. With driver's firm hold at the 9- and 3-o'clock positions of the Lightning's small-diameter, fat-rim steering wheel, the truck can negotiate corners with surprising velocity. The tires are capable of keeping the truck planted way beyond what a typical enthusiast driver would dare achieve on public roads. No matter how hard it is pushed, the tires just keep offering more grip. However, around bumpy corners, axle hop does an excellent job of reminding you that the Lightning is a truck, not a low-slung, technology-laden sports car.

While the sub-exoticar handling may leave you yearning for an NSX, the interior will not. Well-bolstered suede-and-leather sport seats replace the gloriously unsupportive units of the regular F-150. Appointments such as an overhead console with temperature gauge and compass (new for 2000) and a center seat that converts into a usable seat for a second passenger are included. As with other SVT vehicles, the Lightning comes with a high level of standard equipment. The only available options are a six-disc CD changer, factory-installed vinyl bed cover and a Class IV trailer towing package.

In keeping with the simple option theme, the truck is only available in one body style: with a regular cab and a flareside box. Color choices include red, black, white and, new for 2000, silver. Also new to the 2000 Lightning are body-colored sideview mirror accents.

Obviously, we enjoyed driving the Lightning. No vehicle out there is quite like it. For now, it's king of the hill when it comes to badass pickups. However, the word on the street is that Chevrolet is contemplating production of the 395-horsepower Silverado SS that it unveiled at the SEMA show last November.

Stay tuned, power freaks.

© 1999, The Car Connection

 

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