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.
The Lightning has an enthusiastic audience, and it's possible that most of the trucks on the market will have been owned by like-minded power junkies. That's both good and bad. On the good side of the ledger, these dedicated owners are likely to have taken very good care of their Lightnings; a perusal of Lightning-specific Web sites shows a level of adoration and fanatical maintenance that would do a Ferrari proud. But there are also those for whom the standard power isn't enough, and modifications abound. Your mission is to find a Lightning as close to stock as possible. But even then, a thorough review of the vehicle's service record is in order. Remember that this generation of F-150 had its share of problems overall--chassis (ball joints and ABS modules), electrical and engine (coils, idle control valves, EGR sensors). Be sure any Lightning you consider is fully up to date in service bulletins and recalls.
| 1999-2004 FORD F-150 SVT Lightning|
|Body type|| 2-door pickup|
|Drivetrain|| Front engine, RWD|
|Engine|| 5.4L/360-hp SOHC V-8; 5.4L/380-hp SOHC V-8 (2001-on) |
|Brakes, f/r|| Disc/disc, ABS |
|Price range, whlsl/ret (IntelliChoice)|| $7594/$12,216 (2000); $10,629/$15,981 (2003)|
|Recalls|| Too many to list; see www.intellichoice.com|
|NHTSA frontal impact rating, driver/pass|| Four stars/four stars|