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Differences Between First-Gen Ford Lightning and F-150

Insights on the weird-looking heavy hauler with the funny name.

Apr 8, 2021

It's no secret that the bulk of our content focuses on pickup trucks. We don't talk about big rigs too much (save for an occasional report about Shell Rotella's SuperRigs event, or other musings about diesel-powered Class-8 trucks), vans as a whole are given cursory mention, and SUVs only garner a modest amount of our attention.

What's the bottom line? The majority of trucks we report about are pickups through and through, typically new, in all cab and bed configurations, and powered by engines that run on gas, or diesel, and now, even electricity.

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One of the cool things about pickup trucks from a hobby perspective is the fact that they're great platforms for modifying. Changing wheel-and-tire packages, lifting or lowering suspensions, and changing color schemes through painting or vinyl wrapping are just a few mods that have been very popular for a long, long time.

Sometimes, performing cool truck upgrades (or "builds" as they're now called) are handled by manufacturers themselves and sold as special, limited editions of a brand's popular rig. Ford's 1993 SVT Lightning is one such vehicle, a regular-cab, shortbed, hot rod version of Blue Oval's best-selling F-150 pickup that was conceptualized in 1991, introduced to the world in 1992, and today is regarded by many enthusiasts as the truck that kick-started the late-model-performance-pickup movement.

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In an overall run that included a three-year production hiatus (1996 to 1999), Ford's F-150 Lightning was extremely successful, thanks in no small part to its powertrain, one of the primary highlights in each of its two generations. Ford made 11,563 Lightnings during its first-gen period. Today, they're highly coveted pickups, especially by fans of old-body style (1993 to 1997) Ford rigs.

For Generation One (1993 to 1995) trucks—assembled at Ford's Wayne, Michigan, truck plant—instead of using the hopped-up 5.0L engine powering SVT's 1993 Mustang Cobra, that engine's GT40 iron cylinder heads were onto a bigger 5.8L (351-cubic-inch) Windsor powerplant and dropped it between the fenders of the half-ton rig.

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The cylinder heads, combined with an all-new, SVT-only, tubular aluminum intake manifold, 65mm throttle body, a roller camshaft, hypereutectic pistons, and a true dual exhaust system, collectively gave the F-150 Lightning 240 naturally aspirated horsepower and 340 lb-ft of torque (compared to 205 hp/325 lb-ft for non-Lightning), and get up and go to the tune of 0 to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, and 15.6 seconds in a quarter-mile sprint.

In addition to the engine, the first-gen Lightning received an E40D automatic transmission from heavy-duty, big-block-powered rigs, with valvebody changes and ECM updates that made shifts more aggressive, 4.10 rearend gears in an 8.8-inch axle, and a 3.5-inch aluminum driveshaft.

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Due to the increase in horsepower and torque, and because SVT's ambition was to produce a truck that handles as well as it runs, the Gen-One Lightning is lower (1 inch/front, 2.5 inches/rear) than a standard F-150, and despite having twin I-beams up front like its non-performance sibling, 1993 to 1995 Lightning's suspension features special front coil- and rear leaf springs, Monroe Formula GP shocks, and 25.4mm front and rear sway bars.

Firestone Firehawk P275/60HT-70 radial tires on unique (gigantic for that time period) 17 x 8-inch, cast-aluminum, five-spoke wheels and 11.72-inch front disc brakes and 11.03 x 2.25-inch ABS rear drum brakes complete the package that gives Lightning the ability to accelerate, corner, and stop like a 4,480-pound sports car.

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Of course, there also are major aesthetic, visual differences between a standard 1993 to 1995 Ford F-150 its muscle-truck alter ego. The special edition has an air dam below the front bumper with foglamps that are incorporated into it, monochromatic black, red, or white (added in 1994) paint, and "Lightning" graphics. A monochromatic tubular rear bumper was also available as an option.

Inside, 1993 to 1995 Lightning has gray cloth bucket seats with adjustable side bolsters and lumbar support (and "Lightning" embroidered in the headrests), a center armrest/console, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel that all help set it apart from the standard F-150.

With performance at the forefront of first-generation Lightning's qualities, the trucks are merely OK with regard to doing truck things. Compared to the standard rigs, the 1993 to 1995 Lightning only tows a maximum of 5,000 pounds, which is roughly 2,200 to 2,500 pounds less than its siblings of the same era.

In 1999, Ford introduced a completely revamped F-150 Lightning. Stay tuned for a future report with details on that rig and how it differs from the first generation.

Sources
Ford Performance
http://www.performance.ford.com

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