Full-size pickup trucks have never been more popular! But as the competition for truck sales heats up, manufacturers are looking for new ways to attract buyer attention. Now, if you’re Ford, maker of the world’s most popular pickup, the F150, you look back at your own history—not your truck history—your muscle car history. And you create a hot-rod cargo hauler called the Lightning. So has the company that created the Mustang now given us the pony car of pickup trucks?
It sure looks that way, because the Ford Special Vehicle Team’s 1999 F-150 Lightning is a vehicle that’s clearly built for passion and speed!
Unlike the first Lightning of 1993, which was a beefier version of Ford’s standard pickup truck, the new Lightning is a pure, purpose-built muscle truck. And it looks the part! The super-deep front fascia, with its round driving lights, reminds us of a NASCAR race truck, as do the ground-hugging rocker sill extensions, which emphasize its reduced ride height. It’s a half-inch lower in the front, and a full 2-inches lower in the rear.
But the most significant exterior feature is probably the massive 18-inch wheels. They wear huge, specially designed 295/45ZR18 high performance tires. We shudder to think what they will cost to replace.
And you will replace a lot of them, especially in the rear! That’s because the Lightning is powered by SVT’s most brutal truck motor ever! Ford’s 5.4-liter Triton V8 that’s been pumped up and supercharged, to put out a massive 360 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque.
In addition to the Eaton supercharger’s 8 pounds of boost, the Lightning engine also packs a high capacity intake system, forged pistons and rods, a heavy-duty balanced crank, and a water-to-air intercooler. And exhales through a pair of fat, 3-inch exhaust tips, which exit just forward of the right side rear wheel.
To get all that power to the rear wheels, there’s a beefed up version of the 4-speed automatic transmission designed for the Power Stroke turbo diesel engine and a 3.55-to-1 limited slip differential.
Put the pedal to the metal, and the Lightning smokes to 60 in a mere 5.8-seconds! Pinning you to your seat through a quarter mile that lasts only 14.3-seconds, and ends at 99 miles-per-hour. With torque peaking at only 3,000 rpm, the Lightning pulls like a freight train in any gear! Excellent throttle response and those big grippy tires help to control the inevitable wheelspin.
If SVT had stopped at that tremendous engine, most of us would have been perfectly happy. But not SVT. They set out to make the Lightning handle as well. So the F-150’s double A-arm coil spring front suspension gets new gas-charged shocks and a 31mm stabilizer bar. The standard 3-leaf rear spring design is replaced with a 5-leaf setup and a heavy-duty solid axle, gas shocks and a 23-mm stabilizer bar. Which makes its resemblance to a NASCAR race truck more than skin deep. Grip and response are exceptional for a truck.
The F-150’s normal front plow is substantially reduced, and the expected body roll almost nonexistent. The steering, while slow, delivers plenty of feel. Ford claims that the Lightning will out-handle many cars. And while we’re not ready to confirm that, we have no doubt that it will easily outpace any other truck or SUV in production on a twisty mountain road. And easily out-brake it, as well. Stops from 60 averaged only 111-feet, thanks to huge 4-wheel discs borrowed from the F-250 Super Duty model, along with a 4-wheel anti-lock system. And that is better than many cars. We would prefer more pedal feel, but nose dive was minimal and lateral stability excellent. When do Ford cars get these brakes?
For that matter, when do they get the superb seats that are a highlight of the Lightning’s spacious, sports car-style cab. The Lightning’s plain, white-faced gauges are both handsome and functional. While both the well-positioned standard cassette stereo and the F-150’s standard HVAC controls are very user-friendly.
And last, but not least, for those of you wondering how much utility this hillbilly hot rod could possibly have, the answer is a lot less than usual. Maximum payload for the Lightning is only 800 pounds, thanks mostly to the lower, stiffer performance suspension. That’s less than half of what the standard F-150 Regular Cab Flareside model, on which the Lightning is based, will carry. But it retains the standard truck’s ease of loading and solidly-locking tailgate. Trailer towing capacity is also significantly reduced, to 5,000 pounds.
And what does this Bentley Turbo R for the ranch-hand set cost? Base price is $29,995. Add on the only three options available, a tonneau cover, CD changer and towing package, and the final price comes to $30,805.
With the F-150 Lightning, Ford’s Special Vehicle Team has moved the pickup truck into a whole new performance arena, a place where truck owners need no longer take second place to their pony car driving compatriots, and given fans of America’s most popular full-size pickup yet another fast reason for passion.
Engine: 5.4-Liter Triton V8
Torque: 440 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.8 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.3 Seconds @ 99 MPH
60-0 MPH: 111 Feet