• The Ford Thunder - Everything You Didn’t Know And Why You’ve Never Heard Of It

Ford SVT Thunder Expedition is the performance SUV Ford never made

Before the Ford Raptor stole the show, as Ford’s go-to performance pick-up truck, there was the Ford F150 SVT Lightning. The first-generation SVT Lightning came in 1993 and inspired other manufacturers to build their own performance pick-up trucks. In 1999, the second generation Lightning came and this is where things get interesting. At the time of the second-generation F-150 Lightning, SVT (Special Vehicles Team) worked on an SUV version of the pick-up truck. It was the Ford SVT Thunder Expedition. Sadly, it never made it to production, but that doesn’t stop us from telling you all we know about it.

The Ford Thunder - Everything You Didn't Know And Why You've Never Heard Of It
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Ford’s SVT was a standalone entity and it did way more than just take standard Fords and make them faster. SVT also focused on making the cars feel more upscale and unique, compared to the “mainstream” Fords. By the late 1990s, SVT had gone through most of Ford’s lineup and someone had the idea of making a performance version of their full-size SUV, Ford Expedition.

The Ford Thunder - Everything You Didn't Know And Why You've Never Heard Of It
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Making the Ford SVT Thunder Expedition was easy since it shared a platform with the F-150 pick-up truck. All they needed to do was take the suspension and powertrain from the Lightning and put it in the Expedition. And so they did.

It would have been the quickest production performance SUV
Had they actually put it in production, it would have been quicker than what is considered to be the first global performance SUV model – the 2000 Mercedes ML55 AMG (W163). To put things in perspective, the German SUV managed a 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) time of 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 144 mph (232 km/h).

The Ford Thunder - Everything You Didn't Know And Why You've Never Heard Of It
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The SVT Thunder did actually run tests and it managed a 0 to 60 mph sprint in 5.6 seconds – 0.2 seconds slower than the lighter SVT Lightning. What’s even more impressive is that the SVT Thunder Expedition could blast the quarter-mile in 13.87 seconds with eight people on board. Oh yes, did we mention it was a three-row eight-seater? The top speed was believed to be around the SVT Lightning’s 149 mph (240 km/h) figure. In any case, the Thunder Expedition was 3.6 seconds quicker to 60 mph than the normal Ford Expedition, which needed around 9.2 seconds to hit 60 mph (97 km/h).

Power, of course, came from the 5.4-liter supercharged SOHC V-8, which produced 360 horsepower (268 kilowatts) at 4,750 RPM and 440 pound-feet (597 Nm) at 3.250 RPM, and was mated to a heavy-duty four-speed 4R100 torque converter automatic, which sent power to the rear wheels.

Ford SVT Thunder specifications
Engine 5.4-liter supercharged SOHC V-8
Horsepower 360 HP @ 4,750 RPM
Torque 440 LB-FT @ 3,250 RPM
0 to 60 mph 5.6 seconds
0 to 60 mph 149 mph (240 km/h)
The Ford Thunder - Everything You Didn't Know And Why You've Never Heard Of It
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As mentioned, SVT didn’t just put a more powerful engine and a lower suspension, they also made sure the car performs. Gone were the wobbly handling characteristics of the Ford Expedition. On the slalom, the SVT Thunder picked up more than 4 mph (6.4 km/h) of speed – 55.4 vs 59.6 mph (89.2 vs 95.9 km/h). At the same time, it could pull a 0.87 g on the skidpad, compared to the normal Expedition’s 0.65 g. The 60 to 0 mph braking distance was also improved, from 139 to 133 feet (42.4 vs 40.5 meters).

Like the SVT Lightning, the Thunder featured a new more aggressive body kit, including the Lightning front fascia, new side skirts, black trim delete for a cleaner look, and the Lightning’s alloy wheels.

Why it didn’t come to fruition

The Ford Thunder - Everything You Didn't Know And Why You've Never Heard Of It
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Just like the GMC Typhoon was a more practical version of the GMC Cyclone pick-up truck, the SVT Thunder could have been a more practical version of the SVT Lightning. In a Donut Media interview (video below) with John Coletti – SVT chief engineer between 1994 and 2004 – he says that part of the reason why they didn’t produce the SVT Thunder Expedition had to do with timing.

The 10th generation of the Ford F150, which was also when the second-generation SVT lightning came around was produced between 1997 and 2004. That said, the next Expedition was coming in 2002, which meant that production of the back then current Expedition, on which the SVT Thunder was based, was nearing the end of its cycle.

The Ford Thunder - Everything You Didn't Know And Why You've Never Heard Of It
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Hence, it was decided that the project was not worth pouring resources into. John Coletti also said that if that generation of the Expedition had two more years of production, it would have been feasible for them to mass-produce the Thunder. Because of this, only one Ford SVT Thunder Expedition was ever made, the whereabouts of which are currently unknown.

That said, Coletti says it’s very easy to build one. You just have to get all the SVT body panels and wheels, and the suspension and engine from an SVT Lightning, stick them into an Expedition, and voila! It sounds awfully easy, which begs the question, why Ford used timing as an excuse not to make it?

Dim Angelov
Dim Angelov
Born in 1992, I come from a family of motoring enthusiasts. My passion for cars was awoken at the age of six, when I saw a Lamborghini Diablo SV in a magazine. After high school I earned a master’s degree in marketing and a Master of Arts in Media and Communications. Over the years, I’ve practiced and become skilled in precision driving and to date have test driven more than 250 cars across the globe. Over the years, I’ve picked up basic mechanical knowledge and have even taken part in the restoration of a 1964 Jaguar E-Type and an Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint. Lately, I’ve taken a fancy to automotive photography, and while modern cars are my primary passion, I also have a love for Asian Martial Arts, swimming, war history, craft beer, historical weapons, and car restoration. In time, I plan my own classic car restoration and hope to earn my racing certificate, after which I expect to establish my own racing team.  Read full bio
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