Having long been America’s number one selling vehicle, it was perhaps inevitable that the pickup truck would even start edging out the sports car in some American garages. Sacrilege, you say? Well, not to a serious pickup trucker, or to any fan of NASCAR’s Craftsman truck racing series. And not to the go-fast folks at SLP Engineering either. Their first pickup truck venture is the Thunderbolt. Has your sports truck finally arrived?
Well, that depends entirely on what you consider ‘‘sports’’ to mean. Is it appearance, power, or handling? With the 2002 Thunderbolt, based on the number one selling compact pickup Ford Ranger, the folks at SLP Engineering have tried to cover all the bases with three available packages that you can mix and match.
Let’s start with appearance and the basic Thunderbolt package. As you can see, the Thunderbolt’s exterior is macho aggressive, with a large, if non-functional, hood scoop, monochromatic grille and front fascia, surrounding body side cladding, chrome exhaust tips, Thunderbolt badges, and Thunderbolt appliques on the seats. To this basic package, you can also add graphics, fog lamps, turn signal mirrors, and inside, carbon fiber-look trim, which we’ll pass on. This prominent rear wing is also available, as is a hard tonneau cover. All together it’s a little over the top in an Elvis-in-Las-Vegas kind of way for us, though many younger onlookers found it to be quite appealing. And that’s the market SLP is aiming Thunderbolt at.
The Thunderbolt performance and handling packages aren’t quite so overwhelming. Rather than go for monster horsepower, The SLP engineers aimed for more subtle improvements. To that end, both of the Ranger’s available V6 engines get a new high-flow, ‘‘cat-back’’ dual exhaust system, and a free breathing under-hood air box and filter. These give the 3.0-liter pushrod V6 a boost of about 10 horsepower, for a total of 160. Torque is 190 pound-feet.
The larger 4.0-liter SOHC V6 in our test truck gains 15 horsepower, for a total of 222. Torque holds steady at 238 pound-feet. With our truck’s 4-speed automatic in gear, this translates into a 0 to 60 time of 6.5 seconds, and a 1/4 mile run of 14.9 seconds at 95 miles-per-hour.
But the real improvement is in driveability. Those subtle modifications really wake the 4.0-liter V6 up, substantially improving throttle response, and smoothing out the power band.
Modifications to improve handling are also simple but effective, consisting of little more than larger front and rear stabilizer bars. And if you desire, a set of fancier 15-inch alloy wheels, with the Thunderbolt logo on the center caps. The new stabilizer bars and wheels hardly turn our test truck into a sports car, but it does have a more stable, solid feel in tight turns. Again, not a huge improvement, but one that’s very well thought out.
If you think that a Thunderbolt could make you feel like the king of the Vegas strip, just go to your local Ford dealer and order a 2-wheel-drive V6 Ranger with option code 31L-D9P. This basic package will add about $1500 to the Ranger XLT’s price, and around $3,000 with everything. That makes the final sticker about $19,500 for a base Thunderbolt with the 3.0-liter V6 on a Ranger XLT SuperCab, and approximately $23,500 for a fully loaded 4.0-liter V6 model like our test truck. Or, a lot less than many young buyers spend on customizing a truck with less noticeable results.
On the outside, our Thunderbolt is an in-your-face, white-sequined-jump-suit, look-at-me machine. But under the gaudy clothing, it’s a sensibly designed, affordable machine with just the right amount of power and handling. And, Thunderbolt maintains the factory warranty too!
So whether you’re a youngster into scoops, wings and wheels…or an old car nut like us… there’s a 2002 SLP Thunderbolt for you. Congratulations, your sport truck has finally arrived!
Engine: 4.0-Liter Sohc V6
Torque: 238 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.9 Seconds @ 95 MPH