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The Ford Ranger SVT V8 and Ranger SVT Lightning Bolt Are Muscle Trucks That Never Were

The Ford Ranger steadfastly remained the only true compact pickup truck on the market years after its rivals from Chevrolet, GMC, and Toyota grew into more stout mid-size packages. This dedication to staying small would define the Ranger's character for decades, which no doubt played a role in Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) coming back to it time and again as a potential high performance pickup platform.

SVT Ranger Lightning Bolt Engine Bay

Photos Courtesy John M. Clor / Ford Performance Photo Archives

The old familiar hot rod formula of stuffing a big engine in a small automobile fit the Ford Ranger's pint-sized personality perfectly. As a result, in the space of less than 10 years the world was treated to a pair of muscle truck concepts bearing the Ranger badge. Although neither of these machines would ultimately see production, both the Ford Ranger SVT V8 and the SVT Lightning Bolt offer a tantalizing glimpse at how close the Blue Oval came to blowing away the sport truck competition.

5.0 Still Kicking 

In the mid-'90s Ford was just starting to get back into the swing of building high horsepower special models. Having had some success with the 32-valve version of the Mustang's modular V8 in the Cobra, and curious about expanding its line of performance trucks after the introduction of the original F-150 Lightning just a few years previous, SVT put together a quick-and-easy update of the Ranger that dipped into the pony car's parts bin.

SVT Ranger 5.0  Photo Courtesy SVTOA Archives -- David Freers Photography / MotorTrend Magazine

Photo Courtesy SVTOA Archives - David Freers Photography / MotorTrend Magazine

Given how basic the Ranger's body-on-frame chassis was at the time (and, well, for all time), it wasn't hard for Ford engineers to stuff a 5.0L V8 under the hood and link it up to a five-speed manual gearbox. Tuned to produce 240hp and 285 lb-ft of torque, the truck claimed a 15 second quarter mile, which was competitive with both Mustang and Camaro V8 muscle cars of the era.

Photo Courtesy John M. Clor / Ford Performance Photo Archives SVT Ranger 5.0

Photo Courtesy John M. Clor / Ford Performance Photo Archives

The engine was further buttressed by a set of headers, a custom exhaust, and an oil cooler to help keep things chilled during repeated drag strip passes. Four-wheel disc brakes hauled the truck down from near-triple digit speeds at the end of the quarter, and it featured a suspension system that previewed the short/long-arm configuration up front that wouldn't appear until the factory truck's 1998 redesign. A thick anti-sway bar nodded towards better control through the corners, and wide 17-inch rubber helped stick the pickup to the ground.

Ford Mustang 5.0 on Nitto NT01

Despite the next-generation model appearing as scheduled at the end of the decade, the SVT V8 never graced showrooms. It's easy to speculate that emissions and fuel efficiency concerns might have dragged the 5.0 out of the Ranger's engine bay, but production hassles—the Explorer and F-150 had also by this time abandoned the engine in favor of the 4.6L mod motor—are a more likely reason that the V8 Ranger remained a concept.

Supercharged And Ready 

Just after the year 2000, Ford began to reconsider plans for a high performance Ranger. The success of the second-generation Ford F-150 SVT Lightning proved that buyers were willing to pay a premium price for a street truck, and with mightier versions of the modular V8 now on the shelf, it seemed economically feasible to give the Ranger a little Special Vehicles Team beef of its own.

Ford Ranger Lightning Bolt front Photos Courtesy John M. Clor / Ford Performance Photo Archives

Photos Courtesy John M. Clor / Ford Performance Photo Archives

Dubbed the SVT Lightning Bolt, the vehicle was little more than a barely-disguised half-sized version of the F-150 Lightning. This meant a stunning amount of power—380 horses and 450 lb-ft of torque—from the same supercharged 5.4L V8 found in its larger sibling. Shoehorning that lump under the hood meant pushing back the firewall a couple of inches, bashing out the transmission tunnel to accommodate a new four-speed automatic, moving the battery, and adding a lower intake plenum and a different heating and cooling control system (both borrowed from the E-Series van catalog). A set of headers were also fabricated in place of the stock Lightning units.

Ford Ranger Lightning Bolt rear Photos Courtesy John M. Clor / Ford Performance Photo Archives

Photos Courtesy John M. Clor / Ford Performance Photo Archives

SVT also strengthened the front frame of the Ranger in order to handle the additional weight and torque of the supercharged 5.4, while installing a shorter version of the Lightning's 9.25-inch rear end to help put the power down (along with 12.5-inch wide wheels at the back). The suspension was lowered at all four corners, but aside from lightning bolt graphics and a relocated fuel door, there wasn't a lot to give away just how potent the truck really was.

Ford Ranger Lightning Bolt 3/4 Photos Courtesy John M. Clor / Ford Performance Photo Archives

Photos Courtesy John M. Clor / Ford Performance Photo Archives

Weighing in at almost 900 lbs lighter than a full-size Lightning, the Ranger Lightning Bolt was unsurprisingly quick in a straight line. With a quarter mile time in the mid-13 second range the Lightning Bolt put the Ranger SVT V8 to shame, and it was also faster than the 4,600 pound F-150 Lightning. Unfortunately, despite being assembled nearly entirely from factory Ford parts, SVT had no plans to actually build the Lightning Bolt, and the project never got closer to the street than a few magazine tests.

What Might Have Been

Ford might not have delivered on the promise of a factory Ranger hot rod, but it did offer something that looked the part right around the time it produced the Lightning Bolt. Strangely, the 2002-2003 'Thunderbolt' ignored all of its similarly-named sibling's speed potential in favor of a body kit (including a huge, looks-only hood scoop), and the choice of three levels of further customization (such as a spoiler, a tonneau cover, fog lamps, etc).

Ford Ranger Thunderbolt

 

Produced by SLP Engineering, a 'Performance Package' was offered with the Lightning Bolt, but it merely added an exhaust system and a cold air intake to either four-cylinder or V6 powered models. It was a far cry from the fire and brimstone of the SVT editions, and a sad coda to what could have been a compact street truck dominator.

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