For nearly a century, full-size pickup trucks almost exclusively traded on their utility. Sure, Raymond Loewy designed Studebaker’s trucks in the 1950s and Brooks Stevens was responsible for Jeep’s first Gladiator, but ultimately these were stylish versions of work implements.
And then came the Ford F-150 SVT Lightning in 1992. It wasn’t quite the first performance-oriented full-size truck — GM’s 454 SS was there first — but it definitely had a bigger long-term impact. It’s not hard to see how the F-150 SVT Lightning paved the way to the road eventually ripped up by today’s F-150 Raptor, a 450-horsepower terrain-conquering beast.
A new F-150 Lightning is on the way, and it will be unlike any of its predecessors. Ford has confirmed that the Lightning name will return on a new electric pickup, and early reports indicate that the truck will feature a dual-motor setup for all-wheel drive.
The new F-150 Lightning is expected to hit the market as early as late 2021. While Ford has promised more power than any F-150 before, the automaker has hinted that the new F-150 Lightning will be more about well-rounded versatility than just performance like its namesakes.
Ford F-150 SVT Lightning History
The original F-150 SVT Lightning wasn’t quite as thorough a rethink of a utility truck, though Ford did more than just slap badges and fancy wheels on an F-150 XLT and call it a day.
The automaker’s Special Vehicle Team division sought input on modifying the F-150’s suspension from Sir Jackie Stewart, the Formula One champ. Underhood, the 5.8-liter V8 was beefed up to 240 horsepower, and an aluminum driveshaft was sourced. Yes, the F-150 did have special badging and wheels, the latter of which were huge for the time at 17 inches and wore grippy enough tires that contemporary reviewers praised the truck’s roadholding.
In reality, the bar wasn’t high. Those early 1990s F-150 were good trucks, but hardly sporty.
Ford built more than 11,500 F-150 SVT Lightning trucks over three model years before pausing when the next-generation F-150 arrived for 1997.
Ford took some time to revive the F-150 SVT Lightning, but the wait was worthwhile — and understandable. For 1999, the new 5.4-liter V8 was fitted with a big Eaton supercharger good for 360 hp. A locking rear differential akin to that found on a ’60s muscle car hustled power to the rear wheels. Disc brakes were installed at all corners to make stopping power match its acceleration. The 1999 F-150 Lightning also finally looked the part with a special composite bumper paired with 18-inch wheels and unique interior trim.
The F-150 SVT Lightning lasted through the 2004 model year, after which the name was retired. The next-generation F-150 skipped the SVT treatment entirely, which was somewhat understandable since Ford was bleeding money in the early 2000s. For 2010, however, Ford’s SVT division was back in action. This time, they went off-road — way off-road — with the high-riding Raptor, a model that continues to today.
Ford made a surprisingly large number of F-150 SVT Lightning trucks, though the first generation can be tough to find. These trucks were still plenty utilitarian, and many have been used no differently than if they had XL or XLT badges on their front fenders. Industry rustproofing at the time wasn’t exactly great, either, and pickups have lots of exposed sheet metal that can be especially susceptible to rot.
Ford built about 28,000 second-generation F-150 SVT Lightning pickups. Predictably, they’re not as tricky to find. Their lower suspensions and sporty looks make them less likely to have been used and abused. Prices are generally on their way up, though you’ll find some well-preserved examples if you look hard enough. Here’s one with under 9,000 miles for $44,500 — hey, that’s about the price of a modestly-equipped 2021 F-150 XLT — at a used car dealer in Michigan.