Ford has long been the best selling pick up truck in America. In the past, the people buying pick-up trucks were farmers or construction workers. Pick-ups were tough, utilitarian, and could get almost anything done. The one thing they weren’t good at was being sporty. Ford launched the Lightning in 1993 as an attempt to make a truck that appealed to sport car drivers, and it was one of the coolest trucks to ever be produced.
The Lightning was Ford’s answer to the Chevy 454SS which had launched a few years earlier with great initial success. Just like the 45SS, Ford limited the Lightning to single cab trucks with a short bed. Part of the reason Ford did this was to keep the Lightning as light as possible, but to also keep the wheelbase small for improved handling.
The first generation Lightning used a 240 horsepower version of Ford’s 351W engine. This engine was paired with the four-speed transmission that was used in the F350. The second generation Lightning used a 5.4L equipped with a supercharger which outputs 360 horsepower. In 2001 the power was increased even further to 380 horsepower. For the rest of this article, we’ll be focusing on the second generation Lightning since that one is much more popular.
Ford didn’t just plop a high horsepower motor in the Lightning and call it a day. Ford lowered the truck by an inch up front and two inches in the rear. They used a stiffer 31mm rear antiroll bar and a 23mm antiroll bar ball up front. Monroe shocks were used from 1999-2001 but were replaced by Bilstein shock from 2002-2004. The tires used were 295/45ZR18 Goodyear Eagle F1 which are pretty wide and pretty sticky. Some modern supercars use the modern version of the Eagle F1 tires today. All of this added up to a truck that actually handled somewhat decent. You can’t eliminate the high roll center of a pickup truck, but the bigger antiroll bars definitely help cover it up.
When Car and Driver tested the Lightning back when it was new it was able to acceleration from 0 – 60 in just 5.2 seconds. Modern day sports cars are still around this 0 – 60 which is a testament to how fast the Lightning really was. For reference, the 454SS went from 0 – 60 in 7.1 seconds, but keep in mind the 454SS is older than the Lightning we’re talking about right now. The quarter-mile flew by in an extremely impressive 13.7 seconds.
One of the best parts about the Lightning is the factory Eaton M112 roots supercharger. Although the early versions have a problem with the intercooler leaking, this system has been proven to be fairly reliable. With just a tune and a smaller supercharger pulley to increase boost, many Lightning owners are reporting 12 seconds 1/4 mile times. Ford specifically used a cast iron block instead of an aluminum block to increase reliability at high horsepower levels.
Other upgrades the Lightning received over the standard F150 include a modified version of the 4R100 four speeds transmission, limited slip rear differential, auxiliary transmission cooler, upgraded engine cooling system, unique front fascia, unique wheels, and a four-wheel ABS system. All of these upgrades help differentiate the Lightning from a standard F150 with a short bed.
Just like the 454SS, this truck sold in pretty low numbers. The 454SS sold about 17k units, and the Lightning sold 28k units, not including the first generation models. Part of the reason the Lightning sold more than the 454SS was that it had overall better performance. A 380 horsepower truck was no joke in the early 2000s, it could literally outrun the Mustang and nearly every other American performance car at the time.
To summarize all this here’s what you need to know. The first generation Lightning was an impressive truck at the time rivaling the Chevy 454SS very well. The second generation took the idea of a sports truck and put it on steroids. The Eaton supercharged helped the Lightning put sports cars to shame, all while maintaining the functionality of a pickup truck. It would be really cool to see Ford make a modern recreation of the Lightning with a 3.5L EcoBoost, but that probably won’t happen.