2003 Ford Ranger V-8 - Blurple Rain
Ford Teases the Sport Truck Faithful With a One-Off Pavement Stormer
Ford calls it Sonic Blue, we call it blurple. Whatever you want to call it, it didn't take one Corvette owner more than a car-length to realize he messed with the wrong bluish-purple-hued Ranger. After he looked at the 345mm wide rear tires on the Lightning Bolt and saw the widened Lightning wheels, he made eye contact, laughed at us, and gunned it. We responded by laughing back and blowing the doors off of his new C5. At 90 mph, the little bolt was walking away from the plastic Chevy as if it had become a late-model Malibu. With ego deflated, he conceded defeat with the obligatory thumbs-up sign.
Having seen the blurple beast at a local show, we knew we had to finagle some seat time. So, as soon as we got home, we placed a call to our friends at SVT and were rewarded with a date and time to rendezvous. It was off to Houston, where we were to meet up with our contacts at the traveling SVT trailer. After brief instructions, the keys were handed over with only one caveat, it must be returned. With trusting SVT reps handing over their favorite daughter for prom without a chaperone, we must admit to feeling a bit guilty, knowing full well we had been considered a questionable date in the past. Those thoughts were quickly dismissed as we set out to terrorize Houston for a day.
The little bolt started out as a black 2.5L I-4, automatic-equipped, styleside Ranger. It didn't take long for SVT Engineering's Dave Dempster to propose the Lightning Bolt concept to SVT boss John Coletti. The idea was to create a performance Ranger that used off-the-shelf components to reduce costs and fabrication challenges. Of course, the real intent was to provide somewhat of a sleeper vehicle that was more than capable of commanding someone's, anyone's, full attention when the opportunity presented itself.
Starting with the chassis, Ford engineers had to decide what areas of the vehicle needed to be strengthened to handle the Lightning's 5.4L supercharged V-8 powerplant. The project began with disassembly of the entire vehicle, until only the frame was left. Engineers measured out all of the critical mounting points and determined that considerable changes were needed in order for the Ranger chassis to handle the heroic 450 lb-ft torque output of the 5.4L. The Ranger's longitudinal plastic fuel tank was removed and the framerails were boxed. In critical areas, the frame was cross-braced and tied together. A behind-the-axle fuel cell was fabricated, and the fuel door was moved to the interior of the bed.
Next, SVT turned to the suspension, lowering the entire suspension assembly 2 inches, keeping the Lightning motor snug beneath the Ranger's stock hood. Lightning lower control arms and spindles, incorporating custom upper-arms, were bolted to the frame. The stock Ranger rack-and-pinion steering gear was reused, but a lower-flow Lightning pump was installed, giving the Ranger better steering feedback. A special steering shaft was fabricated to clear the Lightning Bolt's unique headers. New motor mount perches were fabricated, and stock motor mounts were used to secure the engine to the frame.
Turning their expertise out back, a narrowed production Lightning 9.25-inch axle was installed with new spring perches mounted inboard to clear the massive Viper-like rear tires. New shock mounts were made to allow the Bilstein shocks full control during hard launches. Michelin provided its P235/40ZR18 Pilot Sport tires up front for direction change, while in the rear, P345/35ZR18 Pilot Sports are good for leaving long black streaks across pavement. To properly mount the rubber, SVT installed the meats on narrowed 18x8-inch Lightning wheels in the front and widened 18x12.5-inch Lightning wheels in the back. With the Lightning Bolt checking in at 3,800 pounds, or 870 pounds lighter than a production Lightning, stock Lightning brakes effortlessly bring the little bolt back from the brink of ludicrous speed.
Giving this little truck its soul is a '02 SVT Lightning 5.4L two-valve V-8, good for 380 hp out of the box. This truck felt every one of those ponies strong, and then some. To fit the V-8, the supercharger's inlet had to be modified. A K&N performance air filter keeps the high-flow intake charge clean. Turning to the exhaust system, engineers handcrafted 2-inch headers that should be hanging in the gallery of a modern art museum. These beautiful tubes snake the exhaust flow in to the 3-inch dual exhaust system, with Borla Super Pro mufflers adding more to the musical note than the actual muffling. While nearly silent at idle, put your foot into it and the tone becomes absolutely exhilarating and reminiscent of old-school musclecars running around with uncorked headers. Continuing with the sleeper theme, the exhaust is routed inboard of the frame and is out of sight from behind the vehicle. We imagine with the custom headers and free-flowing exhaust, this trucklet is pushing more than 400 hp. Harnessing the herd is the Lightning's 4R100 transmission and a Lightning driveshaft, which became 3 inches shorter after the engineers had their way with it.
Other than a few telltale signs that only Ranger enthusiasts could pick out, the Lightning Bolt's body remains, for the most part, factory stock. The firewall was relocated 2.5 inches rearward for the V-8, and the transmission hump was widened for the 4R100. The Ranger's bulky HVAC plenum was removed for a more space-efficient unit donated by an Econoline van. After the fuel door was shaved, Lightning bolt graphics were painted to the side of the Lightning Bolt, to accent the monochromatic paint scheme. SVT also added custom tails and lighted rearview mirrors from Car Boutique. Hiding the fuel cell and exhaust tips is a custom roll pan.
In the cab, the interior is businesslike black. The stock bench is actually quite comfortable and has been retrimmed in supple Katzkin Creations leather, with yellow lightning bolts embroidered onto the headrests. To brighten up the starkness, MGW Industries billet aluminum interior knobs are used liberally throughout the cabin, highlighted by a deafening 450-watt Pioneer Automotive Electronics audio system. Northern Engraving added a touch of class with brushed stainless steel doorsills, and X-treme Graphics and Lettering provided the custom titanium gauge faces.
Unlike most prototype or one-off vehicles, this Ranger has been bolted together with care and is about 90 percent of what you would expect in a production truck. The cab is tight and the suspension is supple enough for use as a daily driver -- possibly even more so than a Lightning, since this smaller package keeps the Lightning Bolt maneuverable around town. All these of changes would be pointless, if the truck didn't just flat-out haul. And haul it does. Feeling stronger than the 380 hp quoted by SVT, they still have much more power that can be untapped from the blurple bolt. Running street rubber, and in its current state of tune, the truck lays down mid-13s, around 108 mph in the quarter. This compares favorably to the Lightning we tested in the Aug. '03 issue, which ran the quarter in 14.68 seconds, at 98.37 mph. Next on tap is some engine tuning and calibrating that will bring the Lightning Bolt solidly into the 12s.
SVT has done its homework and has built what is possibly the best Ranger we have ever driven. Not only is it well-rounded enough for everyday use, but frankly it is just plain scary-fast. We just hope that someone is convincing enough for Ford to change its mind about this being a one-off engineering exercise, because we think this would be the perfect truck to reduce Syclones to Doldrums.