The Idea of a hot-rod pickup was nothing new when Ford introduced the first Lightning. In 1993, Ford wanted a pickup that would compete with Chevrolet's full-size regular-cab 2WD 454 SS and, to a lesser extent, the GMC Syclone--a high-performance version of the compact Sonoma. Ford did so with a 351 Windsor V-8 and a heavily modified chassis. Speed we'd seen before, but the first Lightning proved that a stupid-fast pickup didn't have to drive like a coal cart with a broken wheel.
If the first-generation Lightning was good, it was Ford's intent to make the second-gen effort nothing shy of great. Launched in 1999, the new Lightning followed a three-year hiatus for the model, but, more important, dumped every speed and handling trick Ford's Special Vehicle Team could imagine into the vastly better late-1990s F-150 platform.
The second-gen Lightning used Ford's sophisticated modular V-8 in 5.4-liter form. This engine already made a respectable 260 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque in normal F-150 guise--20 horses more than in the first-gen Lightning. Then SVT added an Eaton supercharger with an intercooler to boost peak power to 360 horsepower--a fine accomplishment--but truck fans were as likely to fixate on another number: 440 pound-feet of torque.
It would be easy to dismiss a truck with a 0-to-60 time in the low-five-second range as nothing more than a straight-line brute. And while it was quick, especially after minor modifications to the engine netted another 20 horsepower and 10 pound-feet of torque for the 2001 model year, that speed-is-all assessment is unfair. SVT worked hard to balance the Lightning's handling, fitting massive unidirectional tires on 18-inch wheels (something of a rarity in 1999), lowering the truck (one inch in front, two in the rear), and including high-quality shocks and big-as-your-forearm anti-roll bars to help keep the standard-cab missile on an even keel. To say the Lightning was a revelation in handling grossly sells SVT's accomplishments short.
There weren't many options. The second-gen Lightning came as a regular cab short bed, automatic transmission only, and with a limited number of interior options. There were only three color choices in the first years, expanding to five for the second gen. Forget hauling a huge load: The first Lightnings were limited to 800 pounds in the bed, upped to 1350 for the 2003 model.