Ford F-150 Lightning Tribute

Robby Winiarczyk, General Manager of Pioneer Ford in Bremen, Georgia, always loved the F-150 Lightning that Ford's Special Vehicle Team built from 1999 to 2004. It's been a long thirteen years since it's been gone and there's no sign of it coming back in any official form, but they had an idea to revive it in their own way - with a 650-horsepower tribute.

They only first showed the F-150 Lightning Tribute to the world last Wednesday but it's already sent the internet into a frenzy. Over a million people saw their initial Facebook post and our early coverage of it became one of the most popular articles in this site's history. And yet there I was, less than a week after its introduction, doing donuts with it in an empty airport.

That's right, this weird little website of ours got to drive it first. If hilarious amounts of tire-shredding power in unlikely packages is of interest to you, keep reading.

Disclaimer: I reached out to Pioneer Ford after the story broke and was invited to come and drive the Lightning tribute. Because of my close proximity to them, I got to do it first. My hour drive was rewarded with the opportunity to do silly things with a 650-hp truck.

Pioneer Ford's Lightning Tribute starts out as a standard-issue 2017 F-150 XL Regular Cab with the 6-1/2′ bed. Mechanically, it's spec'd with the optional 5.0-liter V8, an electronic locking rear diff with a 3.55 ratio, a six-speed automatic with "manual" shifting, and a transmission cooler which is included with the towing package. This configuration is about as close as they can get to the original Lightning formula in more ways than one, the most obvious being that it's the shortest and therefore lightest V8 F-150 configuration possible.

Another perhaps unintended way that it's like the original Lightning is it's also devoid of some of the more upscale features that modern trucks are known for. To get a Regular Cab F-150 without all the chrome, the only option is to get the XL trim which has limitations of its own. This means no leather seats, no big nav screen, and no premium audio. Some of the nicer options are tied to a chrome trim package, but since the old Lightning didn't have a lick of chrome on it, this one can't either. Even Ford dealers can't get around the OEM's packaging limitations.

But modern trucks have come so far that even this relatively basic truck still comes with Ford's brilliant Pro Trailer Backup Assist, standard Sync features, and very comfortable seats. Truth be told, the Lightnings had even less. This truck is still nice to live with and it can work just as hard as any other F-150. It also plays quite a bit harder too.

The party gets started as soon as the truck gets to Pioneer Ford. Their authorized Roush installers slap on a Roush Phase 2 supercharger and all the backing hardware that comes with it. This includes a high-capacity, low-restriction air filter and complete induction system, an aluminum intercooler, Roush high-flow fuel injectors, 60 mm dual-bore throttle body, and more. This supercharger kit will pass emissions in all 50 states.

Helping the supercharged V8 turn dinosaurs into noise is a beautiful MBRP 3″ cat back side-exit exhaust system. For now it only rides on stock suspension with a lowering kit installed, but a full Bilstein setup is planned for the 2018 models which are coming soon. Its brakes are stock as well, but they handled regular street use just fine and had no problem holding the truck in place for some epic brake stand burnouts. I wouldn't say no to upgraded brakes though.

The unlucky tires chosen to help put power to the ground is a set of Goodyear Forteras and they're wrapped around 22-inch aftermarket wheels which mimic the original SVT set. The side exhaust, wheels, and Lightning badging are the only visible modifications made to the truck, but it's enough.

With the way the new F-150s are styled, there's really no way to get a sporty front splitter that'll replicate the original look. In fact, the only company even selling a lower splitter for one of these is Shelby, and you don't wanna know how much that costs.

To quickly recap the downsides so far, this Lightning tribute doesn't have leather seats, it doesn't have a ground effects kit, and its brakes might not be as fade-resistant as is preferred. The upsides are that it's more powerful, a few hundred pounds lighter, and more advanced than the original Lightnings ever were. Also, 650 horsepower… what were the downsides again?

With the facts out of the way, let's get down to the fun stuff and the main reason why I came all the way out to Bremen - the drive.

My first miles on the truck were on public highways and back roads to sample it as a daily driver. Ride quality is still good despite the lowering kit and thinner side walls. It's noticeably stiffer over bumps, but it's nothing uncomfortable. The 22-inch rollers mean the steering is bit heavier than normal, but that's easy to get used to. The MBRP exhaust - for how amazing it sounds - will almost certainly piss off your neighbors and it does have some drone to it, but anyone writing a check for a 650-horsepower truck likely won't care about that. I sure didn't.

But the truck's centerpiece and the main reason why you'd buy one of these is that engine. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced, least of all in a truck. This thing just wants to go and it seems only an inch of throttle makes the difference between being a responsible adult and getting your picture taken at the county jail. Give it enough gas and it ferociously roars to life regardless of whether the driver or the tires are truly ready for it. Its power is brutal and it's served up without hesitation. At this moment, it stops being a truck and starts being a Lightning.

Having the responsibility of a 650-hp V8 under the command of my right foot may have been the most difficult test of my maturity to date. So when we rolled into West Georgia Regional Airport and were escorted to our little play area, the real fun began.

We began with some basic tests ranging from a 0-60 mph sprint to a little slalom that we set up. Pioneer Ford brought out the only other 2017 F-150 regular cab in stock to sort of compare with, but it sadly lacked the V8 option. Our little corner of the airport was an old dusty surface so we could only manage a hand-timed 6.2-second 0-60 sprint in the Lightning tribute. With a cleaner surface, there's no question this is a 5-second truck as is.

The stock F-150 didn't stand a chance in the sprint test because V6, but a more direct comparison was made in the tight slalom. We were nearly three seconds quicker through the slalom in the Lightning tribute thanks to the wider tires and lower center of gravity. It won't win any autocrosses but it works fine for the truck's intended purpose. That being said, the Bilsteins they have planned for the next one can't come soon enough.

But the only test that really matters is the "can I hoon it" test. I lined up at the far end of the ramp with all the aids switched off and punched it from a stand still. The wheels didn't stop spinning until I settled into third gear. It passed.

Once my fit of maniacal laughter subsided, I noticed the set of 11s I left behind - which were at least 100 feet long - were almost completely straight. I just had to make one small correction to the wheel to keep it going where I wanted. I expected Cobra 427 levels of sketch with its light rear end and short (for a truck) wheelbase, but it was all very stable and not at all terrifying.

That cover image is our silly recreation of this old gem.

I celebrated still being alive by denying that same honor to the tires. I don't think I'll ever experience anything else that's as eager to hoon as this. 650 horsepower being sent to wheels with very little weight over them means brake stands, donuts, and power slides are more certain than death and taxes. No matter where you are or what speed you're going, count on leaving a mark when you give it anything close to wide open throttle. Hooning the Lightning tribute is truly effortless yet completely satisfying.

For about three hours, I wasn't exactly going easy on this truck on a 90-degree day, but it all worked perfectly. It never felt as if it couldn't handle what I was throwing at it and it didn't feel abused. If anything, it was ready for more. Between my hooning and Pioneer Ford's other tests, we drove it so hard that the adhesive holding the wheel caps in place melted off, but we could've been there all day. Trust me, I wanted to. Nothing has put a bigger smile on my face. A truck of all things can do stuff like this… what a world we live in.

Should you be interested enough to place an order, you'll be getting a 2018 model year truck which will have some more enhancements. It'll have everything this 2017 Lightning tribute has but with added Bilstein suspension (like the originals) and body-colored side mirrors. They're looking into adding an optional custom interior as well.

One of the big selling points here is that all this comes with a warranty, but it's not actually the original factory warranty as previously reported. Ford's powertrain warranty is voided with the Phase 2 supercharger kit, but Roush sells their own 3 yr/36,000 mile powertrain warranty as a replacement. It acts like the regular Ford warranty, but the truck can only be serviced at an authorized Roush dealer like Pioneer Ford.

This F-150 Lighting tribute was $49,661 as tested and that includes the cost of the Roush warranty. All of Ford's usual incentives and plan pricing still applies to this truck depending on the buyer, so your cost out the door could be up to several thousand less.

So to recap, this could very well be the fastest truck you can buy off a showroom floor. By forcing a truck to do muscle car things, Pioneer Ford has created a package that can do it all exceptionally well. It has addicting amounts of power and it'll eat through tires without thinking twice, but it's approachable and enjoyable rather than terrifying. It's immensely powerful, but it doesn't feel like it's too much for the rest of the truck to handle. Furthermore, none of the modifications impact its ability to work and it's still comfortable enough for commuting with.

But most importantly, it's just plain fun. It's easy to think that nobody would ever need a truck like this, but once you've experienced it, it'll be hard to live without.


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