When you think about it, superchargers and shorter gearing and big-mofo brakes are just about the last thing on the minds of two of the Big Three full-size truck makers. Over at Dodge, they’re more concerned with getting another thousand pound-feet of torque out of the Cummins diesel. At GM, they’re trying to find a way to make the heavy-duty Silverado ride even better — when it’s already more serene than all the same brand’s sedans.
Ford is maybe the last place you’d find the engineers thinking about extracting 20 more horsepower out of a blower-possessed multi-valve V-8 already pounding out 360 horses, but indeed, that’s where the 380-hp 2001 Ford SVT Lightning comes from. Surprised? Us too.
Okay, so it’s not the mainstream minds at Ford looking to melt your favorite strip of tarmac. It’s the microbrand managers at SVT (Special Vehicles Team, the guys who make things go fast, the best place to work in Dearborn — pick your descriptor) who decided a couple of years ago that it would be pretty entertaining to stuff a supercharger under the hood of an F-150, button down its suspension and butch up its looks to create something that would just make auto writers itch to use the exclamation point on their ancient Mac Pluses.
The $32,460 Lightning runs that diacritical risk. It’ll hurtle two or three discerning truckers through the traps about as quick as a V-8 Camaro, while it handles better than any full-size four-wheeler you can purchase in North America. The fact that it also can carry 800 pounds of horse huevos or tow a 5000-pound Airstream just makes it all the more lust-inspiring. It’s sort of like finding out Ashley Judd knows how to make the world’s best chimichangas.
2001 Ford F-150
Peasant stock, enthusiast stew
Those sharp tacks in the audience may look at the ’01 Lightning and wonder what all the fuss is about. It hasn’t changed all that much from last year, still thriving on the horsepower jolt supplied by an Eaton supercharger. But of course, it’s got to be badder and better, to keep enthusiasts arguing over whether the last model year was really more balanced. That’s why the speed freaks at SVT have gone back under the hood and come up with 20 more horsepower and 10 more pound-feet of torque, along with some minor upgrades inside.
Fundamentally, the Lightning comes from solid peasant stock. Underneath it’s a sturdy F-150 truck with two doors, a regular cab and a short bed. It’s assembled at Ford’s Oakville, Ont., plant that’s one of a handful building the F-Series trucks, but somewhere along its assembly line it gets waylaid by rogue Canadians who install a breathed-on motor, bigger and better brakes, a shorter gearset, and other go-fast goods.
The motor is a 5.4-liter V-8, essentially a modular Ford powerplant with an Eaton supercharger running to 8 psi strapped on top. With a bunch of breathing improvements and tech refinements, it gets a 20-hp massage to 380 hp; torque is boosted 10 lb-ft, for a total of 450 lb-ft.
2001 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning
2001 Ford F-150
In the manifold itself, the SVTers separated the engine coolant passage a little more from the intake manifold, which evens out the heat load carried by the cylinders.
The water-to-air intercooler gets another row of fins for better cooling, while the carryover engine oil cooler promotes a healthy supercharger. The pistons are deep skirted and dished to lower the compression ratio to 8.4:1.
The V-8 is coupled to a stock Ford four-speed automatic, which for 2001 gets a shorter 3.73:1 gearset, as opposed to last year’s 3.55:1 set. A wider-diameter aluminum driveshaft (4.5 inches, versus the 2000’s 3.5-inch shaft) bears the extra power.
The above ingredients give a little goose to the Lightning’s numbers. The SVT crew says it’ll zip to 60 mph in about 5.8 seconds, and run up a top speed of 142 mph. The quarter-mile falls 0.7 seconds to 13.9 seconds at 100 mph — nothing to bet the title on, unless you’re dragging a stock Ram or Silverado.Nothing more than feelings
Older Lightnings had a distinctly tough ride quality, like they’d been tuned for the racetrack, Detroit’s Telegraph road, and nothing in between. This year’s model gets some noticeable improvements. To accompany the front A-arms and rear leaf springs, SVT has swapped in some Bilstein shocks for better ride damping. Even with the half-inch drop in suspension height in front, and two inches in the rear, it’s a step forward — but still, the Lightning won’t be mistaken for a Town Car. It rides stiffly, thrums like a Camaro over bubbly tarmac, and bumps-steers about as much as you’d expect from any vehicle wearing 295/45ZR-18 unidirectionals.
While the steering could use a touch more feel — the recirculating-ball setup leaves about an inch of play on center— the brakes feel strong and capable. With vented rotors in the front, solid discs in the back, Ford claims a stopping distance of 137 feet from 60 mph. As for safety, anti-lock brakes and dual front airbags (with a passenger turn-off switch) are gratis.
2001 Ford F-150
Looking around, the Lightning has a few nips and tucks that might make you notice the ’01 refurbishing, but Linda Tripp has no competition here. First and foremost is a major nose job; the Lightning now has twin vertically stacked grilles to go with its nostril-like fog lamps. All the lights get Lexan lenses, giving the Lightning a techy look. The lenses have little lines etched across their surfaces, which SVTers say makes them look more finished.
Inside, the Lightning’s split-bench seats are nicely bolstered and fairly supportive side to side, critical when you’re flogging it around the track. Befitting its pricetag, the Lightning includes a power driver’s seat and power everything, anti-theft protection and a six-disc CD changer. When you’re doing things the SVT way, you’ve got to cut costs where you can, which explains the big motor — and the Ford Explorer steering wheel in the Lightning, a parts-bin piece that’s smaller than the stock wheel and feels surprisingly perfect.
As if it played any role in the decision process of buying a Lightning, there is in fact a pickup bed out back. It can tote 800 pounds of livestock or laundry, if you can ever break it free from the track for normal truck use. Over the cargo bed, the rear stop lamp is made up of LEDs and is flanked by diode lamps, so you can see just how much ass you’ve hauled at night. (Order the only option — a $150 tonneau cover — and no one will know.) There’s a class III hitch standard, to go with the Lightning’s 5000-lb towing capacity.
SVT will convert about 7500 trucks to Lightnings over the 2001 model year. Cough up the right amount of cash — you’d be surprised what you can find under the cushions — and you can be one of those rare truck drivers who knows what’s going on underneath your seat.
2001 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning
Engine: 5.4-liter SOHC V-8 with Eaton supercharger and water-to-air intercooler
Output: 380 hp @ 4750 rpm; 450 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 208.0 in x 79.1 in x 70.9 in
Wheelbase: 119.8 in
Curb weight: 4670 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 13/17 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes
Major standard equipment: AM/FM/cassette with six-disc CD changer, fog lights, keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control, power locks/windows/mirrors
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles