These days, we see high-powered trucks at almost every street corner across the country. The Ram 1500 TRX is a 700-horsepower monster, while the F-150 Raptor hunts WRX on and off road. Even more recently we have seen a plethora of electric pickups that are pumping out scary numbers. The Rivian R1T drops more than 800-horsepower and 900-plus-pound-feet of torque, while Ford’s newest Lightning strikes (pun intended) with 563-horsepower and 775 pound-feet of torque. But, all of those haulin’ haulers owe a debt of gratitude to one of the earliest tire-smoking pickups we’ve ever seen: the second generation Ford F-150 Lightning.
Introduced in 1999, the “flying brick” as it was known in some tuner circles, was met with mixed emotions. Some thought that a pickup truck was only meant to run to and from Home Depot, carrying hot water heaters and plywood. While others found the novelty of a hot rod truck would make those homeowner errand runs a lot faster, and a lot more fun.
SVT took the standard F-150 and added unique ground effects, Euro-style taillights, clear headlamps, and a unique front bumper with fog lights. They also raised the rear end up two-inches and lowered the front end a full inch to give the Lightning a much more aggressive stance. That suspension was also tweaked with coil-overs up front, a traditional leaf-spring rear and bigger anti-roll bars at both ends of the truck.
The real fun came under the hood of the Ford F-150 Lightning. In order to move all 4,700 pounds of truck, Ford endowed the Lightning with a 5.4-liter SOHC Eaton supercharged iron block V8 that used forged internals and a liquid-to-air intercooler to help make a full 360-horsepower at 4,750 RPM and an even more impressive 440 pound-feet of torque at a low 3,250 RPM. Fast forward to the year 2001 and both of those numbers go up by 20 and 10 respectively. That power was then routed through a heavy-duty 4R100 four-speed, column-shifter automatic transmission and then through a 3.55:1 rear end (later changed to 3:73:1 for the ’01-’04 model years) and on to just the rear wheels where big Goodyear Eagle F1 295/45ZR-18 tires waited to try and grab as much tarmac as possible.
Ford opted for the two-seat step-side body, as well as a rear-wheel drive-only layout to help keep mass as low as realistically possible. Of course, in terms of traditional truck measurables, the Lightning suffered a bit. Towing capacity was limited to just 5,000 pounds, while payload capacity was capped at a scant 800 pounds total. But then, no one bought an SVT Lightning because they needed to move concrete, they bought one to burn rubber.
Having driven one of these bad boys for some time, this author can confirm that the 380-horsepower version could easily run from 0-60 MPH in 5.0 seconds flat, 0-100 MPH in 12.5 seconds and through the quarter mile in 13.4 seconds at 105 MPH. Top speed was drag-limited to 142 MPH, but that was never tested. Of course, moving all that mass around with such a high-powered engine cots big at the pump. The Ford F-150 SVT Lightning. posts a ghastly 13/17/15 city/highway/combined MPG, and that was assuming you weren’t drag racing from stoplight to stoplight, in which case those fuel economy numbers could easily dip into the single digits.
The second-generation Ford F-150 Lightning. was only produced from 1999-2004, and totaled 28,124 units overall, with its best selling year being 2001 where 6,381 trucks rolled off the assembly line. Though it was met with some mixed feelings at first, most anyone that got behind the wheel of one of these trucks and stared down at the racy white-faced gauges, mashed the throttle and was simultaneously mashed into their sport seat and serenaded with a throaty roar from the trick side-exit exhaust, couldn’t help but grin like a Cheshire Cat that just won the lottery. With a base price right around $32,000, the SVT Lightning was an excellent performance value with the bonus of being the fastest tailgate at the game. So however anyone might have felt about the Lightning back then, there is no denying that it was far ahead of its time, and paved the way for all of the hot rod trucks we have today.