Do You Remember The "OG" Ford F-150 SVT Lightning?
With the upcoming electric F-150 set to be called "Lightning", let’s take a moment and remember the original gangster from the 90sby Sidd Dhimaan, on LISTEN 12:23
Back in the day, automakers like Dodge, Chevy, and GMC, tried to develop pickup trucks that were more than their towing and payload prowess. They came up with performance versions of their respective trucks, but could not break this perception people had about trucks and failed to create a niche. Ford, too, threw its hat into the ring with a product called the Lightning. The Lightning stayed around for a decade before going down the same way as its counterparts. But, does that mean it was a bad truck? No, sir!
With the moniker being resurrected again, we thought it would be a good time to remember the original truck and tell you everything you need to know before Ford blankets its legacy with its first electric truck with the same name.
The Trend Started Long Back
Pickup trucks today are powerful, fast, and luxurious enough to put premium sedans to shame. The perception about them being work vehicles has changed to a certain extent now. In the case of EVs, this has transformed completely, with automakers creating pickup trucks that are more about glamour than utility. Fast trucks are not uncommon today and people are more accepting of seeing them as more than just work trucks. But, back in the day, many automakers tried to break this image and came up with fast trucks. I’m talking about trucks like the Dodge SRT-10, the GMC Syclone, etc.
Unfortunately, none of them had a good run, and the Ford SVT Lightning was no exception.
Ford’s Special Vehicle Team, the arm responsible for Ford’s high-performance vehicle development, was commissioned to come up with a fast truck based on the F-150. The team developed one based on the ninth-gen F-150 and then again for the tenth-gen. Ford finally pulled the plug on it with the demise of the tenth-gen F-150 in 2004. In 2010, the company came up with the Raptor and it was touted as the spiritual successor to the Lightning but focused on off-roading capabilities more than performance.
First-gen Ford SVT Lightning: 1993-1995
Ford introduced the first-gen SVT Lightning based on the ninth-gen F-150 in 1993. It was built at Ford’s plant in Wayne, Michigan. Brought in as a competitor to the GMC Syclone and the Chevy 454 SS, the automaker commissioned SVT to develop and market it. The GMC Syclone was a pure performance truck and lost out on all other capabilities, like towing, off-roading, etc. This is where Ford tried to capitalize – offer a truck to the mass markets that could do everything an F-150 could and then some more.
The SVT Lighting was powered by a slightly tweaked version of the 351 Windsor V-8.
It featured GT-40 heads and hyper-eutectic pistons. The 5.8-liter naturally aspirated engine made 240 ponies at 4,200 rpm and 340 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm. This was 40 horses fewer than the GMC Syclone, but 10 more than the Chevy 454 SS. Power was sent to the rear wheels exclusively via a heavy-duty, four-speed transmission sourced from the F-350. Courtesy of this, the Lightning took around seven seconds to sprint to 60 mph from rest and had a top speed of 110 mph.
Ford and SVT made sure the truck had good acceleration and throttle response. This is precisely why the Windsor V-8 was chosen over the Cleveland V-8 even though it shared the same displacement.
While the latter can rev higher, the Windsor offers more grunt at the lower end of the torque bandwidth, thus helping with those quick off-the-line starts.
To help the cause further, a 4.10 axle ratio was offered.
These power outputs quite less when compared to the Syclone, but the latter couldn’t be taken on beaten paths or two more than 2,000 pounds. The Lightning could go light off-roading and also tow up to 8,400 pounds. So, you were essentially getting Mustang-like performance with F-150’s practicality. A better all-rounder, ain’t it?
Speaking of the suspension setup, it came with Twin Beam coil springs at the front and a solid rear axle with leaf springs at the rear. Monroe Formula GP shocks and a one-inch stabilizer were offered at the front as well as the back. The Lightning was lowered one inch up front and 2.5 inches at the back when compared to the standard F-150.
It also came with Firestone Firehawk GTA tries wrapped around 17-inch five-spoke Aluminum wheels. For the 1993 model, Ford produced the Lightning in two colors – Black and Red. For the ’94 and ’95 models, White was added to the mix. To further differentiate it from the standard F-150, ‘Lightning’ badges and accents were slapped all around the truck.
Depending on the model year, the price of the first-gen SVT Lightning was anywhere between $19,500 and $23,000.
|Engine||5.8-liter 351 Windsor V-8|
|Power||240 HP @ 4,200 RPM|
|Torque||340 LB-FT @ 3,200 RPM|
|0 to 60 mph||7 seconds|
|Top Speed||110 mph|
Second-gen Ford SVT Lightning: 1999-2004
The second-generation SVT Lightning came four years after the first-gen was shelved, but it was worth the wait. Based on the tenth-gen F-150, the second-gen was a big improvement over its predecessor.
This time, it came with a 5.4-liter V-8 engine, but was paired to an Eaton Gen IV Supercharger and a water-to-air intercooler.
In terms of power output also the truck was a big improvement. For the 1999 and 2000 models, it made 360 horses and 440 pound-feet of torque. The 2001 to 2004 models were given a light boost, with the engine now churning out 380 ponies and 450 pound-feet of oomph. The power outputs cut down the 0-60 mph time by one full second! Instead of taking 6.2 seconds to 60 mph from rest, the 21st-century iterations took just 5.2 seconds.
The top speed stayed the same 140 mph. But compare these to the first-gen specs and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Surprisingly, a production SVT Lightning clocked 147 mph in 2003 and it was declared as the “World’s fasted production truck" by Guinness World Records.
For those of you wondering how it did on a drag strip, the ’99 and ’00 models took 14.6 seconds to finish the quarter-mile distance with a trap speed of 97 mph.
Power was again sent to the rear wheels exclusively and the gearbox was also borrowed from the then-current F-350 model, which was a four-speed automatic. The axle ratio on the 1999 and 2000 models was 3.55 with a 3.5-inch aluminum driveshaft, whereas for the models post that, it was 3.73:1 with a 4.5-inch aluminum driveshaft. Furthermore, a 9.75-inch rear axle with traction-lock limited-slip differential also made the cut here. These specs, however, led to a fall in the towing capacity. It was now rated at just 5,000 pounds, a drop of 3,400 pounds when compared to the first-gen Lightning.
As for the suspension setup, the second-gen SVT Lightning came with upper and lower A-arms, SVT coil springs, Bilstein shocks, and a 1.2-inch stabilizer bar upfront. At the rear, it featured staggered Bilstein gas-charged shocks, a five-leaf spring setup, and a 0.9-inch stabilizer bar. The stance was lowered by 1.5 inches at the front and two inches at the rear as opposed to the standard tenth-gen F-150.
As before, the truck came with badges and accents to show laymen this wasn’t an ordinary truck. Unlike the three colors on the first-gen, Ford added four more colors to the existing palette, with the additions being Silver Metallic, True Blue, Dark Shadow Grey, and Sonic Blue. Ford introduced new shades every year to keep the truck fresh in its five-year run. As for the shoes, the SVT Lightning came with bigger 18-inch wheels this time wrapped in low-profile 295/45 section Goodyear Eagle tires.
The truck was priced under $30,000 in its run and it seemed to be worth every penny.
The Third-Gen SVT Lightning Never Made It To Production
With the tenth-gen F-150’s demise, Ford also halted the production of the second-gen SVT Lightning. It was expected to come again because the automaker revealed the third-gen at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. Ford, again, exceeded expectations and revealed a killer concept version with humungous upgrades. It featured a 5.4-liter, all-aluminum V-8 supercharged engine that made 500 horses and 500 pound-feet of twist! Even in the present day, the most powerful F-150 on sale is the 2020 Raptor that makes 450 horses.
The concept came with big 22-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile Goodyear tires that were chunkier at the rear. Brembo brakes with cross-ventilated discs, independent rear suspension, new steering setup, etc. were part of the new package. Mind you, all this in 2003. But, Ford didn’t go ahead with the production version and that was the end of the Lightening badge.
Why Did Ford Shelve The SVT Lightning?
The reason for shelving the Lightning was the sales numbers it was clocking.
In its first two-year run, Ford managed to move just 11,563 examples, and around 28,000 examples in the second run of five years.
These numbers may sound good enough to keep it in production given it was a niche model, but the F-Series has been the best-selling model in the States for over four decades. So, Ford couldn’t afford to keep its assembly lines busy for a model that doesn’t bring in volume.
To put things into perspective, Ford sold close to 1.9 million F-Series trucks between 1993 and 1996, and less than 12,000 of these were SVT Lightning. That’s around 0.65-percent of the total sales.
Unlike our apprehensions about the ‘Mustang’ moniker used on the Mach-E EV, we are quite pleased with the ‘Lightning’ badge being slapped on the upcoming electric F-150. The yesteryear Lightning can be considered a colloquial ‘flop’, but even decades later, it enjoys strong brand recall. Lightning is also a clever wordplay when used on an electric truck. Also, the fact that Ford is reviving it on a vehicle that will be the bread and butter for the automaker moving forward further cements its legacy.
Apart from the wordplay with electrification, the e-truck will be the quickest and the most powerful truck to have rolled out of the company’s factory. With such accolades attached already, we don’t see why anyone would be unhappy with this badge on the upcoming electric pickup truck. It doesn’t dilute, negate, or nullify the original Lightning’s name in any way.
Is This Also An Emotional Bait?
There’s no denying that a revived badge creates more hype than a new one. There have been so many products lately from multiple automakers that feature the resurrected badges, like Defender, Grand Wagoneer, and Hummer, to name a few. Ford itself brought back Bronco last year and is coming up with an entry-level truck called Maverick, too. So, there’s no question that reviving a badge markets and publicizes the vehicle more than a new badge that comes with no history or legacy attached.
Are you excited that the Lightning badge is coming back, or would you prefer the electric F-150 be called something else? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.