With a stomp of the loud-pedal, the Eaton supercharger whir under the hood swells, as the boost builds. The thrust generated pushes the driver of the Lightning back in the seat. While it accelerates forward in a straight line, it has the stopping power and handling prowess to slow down and take a turn before it’s time to drop the hammer again.
This is no performance car, however – it is the second-generation SVT Lightning pickup. With a supercharged, modular-powered upgrade over its pushrod predecessor, it came powered by an Eaton-supercharged, two-valve, 5.4-liter engine, churning out 360 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a 4R100 four-speed automatic, this output propelled the sport truck to a quarter-mile elapsed time of 13.9 seconds at 101 mph in factory form.
Finding An Enthusiasts Path
Not only were the 1999-2004 SVT Lightnings fast and agile for their size, but they featured a sleek style that separated them from the standard production trucks of their time. They were the total package, and they made an impression on enthusiasts such that a handful of performance shops were dedicated primarily to these trucks. They also became a dream machine for many fans of performance Fords.
One such impressionable youth was Paul Brogniez, who began his path down the road to loving fast machines in a pretty traditional way. As a child, he loved toy cars, and in his formative years, the Fox Body Mustang struck a chord that still rings true to this day.
The truck gets a lot of attention, which is saying something in the present times. —Paul Brogniez, Owner
“Funny enough, I always liked cars. Some of my earliest memories are of my parents buying me Hot Wheels. However, what truly ignited my passion for cars was during my freshman year of high school in 1999. In Coppell, Texas, there was a local car club called Darkside Racing,” Paul recalls. “At the time, if you didn’t have a Fox Body Mustang, you not only couldn’t get in, you weren’t anything to talk about. That’s when my love for Mustangs and car culture in general, took off. Who would have thought that a blue notch with a 302 and an E-cam would change my life?”
Love At First Sight
Fellow Fox fans wouldn’t be surprised that a car like that would have a lasting impact, but when Paul laid eyes on the SVT Lightning it changed his path yet again. However, he knew that such gratification would be delayed.
“I will never forget the first time I saw a Lightning. Coppell was known for having some wealthy families with kids who had expensive cars,” Paul reminisces. “The first Lightning I saw had a Darkside Racing sticker on it and, if I recall correctly, it was tuned by Speed Works, which later became HPP. The sound of the exhaust and the unmistakable whine of the Eaton supercharger caught my attention. It ruled the streets back then, but as a high school student, I knew it would be a few years before I could own one.”
With only 6,381 of these trucks built during the 2001 model year, and only 28,124 trucks built in total during the 1999-2004 Lightning run, they are relatively rare performers. Many of them were raced or driven hard, so finding a clean truck years later is a true challenge. However, fate was on Paul’s side. Of the 1,722 Bright Red examples produced by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team, one was nearby for years, and he finally managed to put his name on the title.
“I bought the truck from a doctor I worked with, who was retiring to Hawaii. He was the original owner and drove the truck daily since the day I met him. I always told him that if he ever wanted to sell it, I would be interested in buying it. The time came and I told him I could manage $10,000. We spoke about it, and he eventually said he has a buyer at $17,000,” Paul says. “Keep in mind, this is January 2019, right before the pandemic. I left it alone. Granted, I was disappointed, but two to three weeks later he saw me in the hallway and asked, ‘So are we going to do a deal or what?’ I replied letting him know I couldn’t do 17. He looked at me and said, ‘Nah, let’s do it for 10.’ To this day I have never driven a lifted Jeep faster than I did that day on the way to the bank.”
From Stock To Slick
After desiring a Lightning for so long, it’s easy to understand Paul’s excitement about finally owning one. However, that excitement may have clouded his judgment, as his initial plan to keep the truck in its original form didn’t stick.
“I told my wife that I would leave it as-is when I bought it. You can see how far that got me,” Paul says. “Initially, I took it to American Body Works just to get the hood painted. I expressed my vision of a clean Lightning build that didn’t push any crazy boundaries, but paid respectful tribute to the brand. I wanted the truck’s exterior to be subtle yet attractive, with a similarly styled interior. I desired 21st-century technology, without oversized gauges or any cutting involved.”
The result is a sleek, clean look that walks the line between racing muscle and street style. After its makeover, the truck wears a Cobra R-style carbon fiber hood balanced by a carbon fiber spoiler out back. With the front badge removed and the grille smoothed, it still carries the Lightning look, but cleaner. That theme continues with the smoothed and painted bed caps.
“I have to credit American Body Works for the entire transformation,” Paul says. “I gave Pat (the owner and a good friend) creative freedom to incorporate the styling cues he deemed fitting. He had a general understanding of my vision, and he ran with it.”
Finding a reliable shop is crucial for a build like this, and in this case, it allowed Paul to bring his vision to life, even exceeding his initial expectations.
“I mentioned to Pat that I loved the look ever since high school of the skinnies and bigs on the old-school Fox Body Mustangs. Back then, everyone had the 10-holes with the 4.5-inch Welds up front. I liked the wheels some people had on their Lightnings, but I thought the 17-inch skinny front-runner looked goofy,” Paul shares. “Speaking with Pat, he asked, ‘what if we could have Weld make a 20-inch for the Lightning?’ He had to talk me into it for like 30 seconds once he told me the price, I can honestly tell you, it damn near broke the internet. To this day, I still have people messaging me asking how to get them. The 20-inch Welds and the 15-inch beadlocks are definitely what catches people’s attention.”
Backing up the racy look of the big Welds and meaty Mickey Thompson’s is a combination that he estimates is just shy of 500 horsepower at the back tires — a limit he believes is safe for a stock-block truck. Delivering that extra steam is 2.3-liter Gen 1 polished Whipple and an open exhaust featuring ARM long-tube headers and a MagnaFlow cat-back system. Tuned by JJ at Woodbine Motorsports and Tyler Thieme, the combination is strong and reliable.
The Unikorn Namesake
“Ever since I got the truck, I’ve referred to it as the Unikorn. That was the truck I always wanted since high school, but I could never find one that hadn’t been abused. So, when I finally found one, it felt like finding my Unicorn,” he says. “I saw the polished Whipple for sale on Facebook and it was brand new and never installed. I figured the Unikorn deserved a polished horn, if you will. We swapped out the lower pulley for something a little more conservative considering the stock block, and I spent the better part of two weeks getting it polished up.”
Despite having nearly 500 horsepower and over 500 lb-ft of torque at his disposal, the large wheels and tires may still be considered overkill. However, having exceptional traction is not a drawback when driving a Whipple-boosted Lightning.
“The trolls on the Internet are quick to inform me that I do not need the beadlocks or the tires, and they would be correct,” Paul says. “But at the end of the day, I liked the way they look on the truck, and when the tires are hot, the truck has no issues with traction. It’s pretty funny leaving some higher-horsepower vehicles at the line. Granted, technology and top-end power don’t do well in my favor, but it’s fun.”
Despite its racy appearance, this Lightning isn’t so charged-up that it isn’t streetable, which was part of the plan.
“The build has always been focused on turning heads at car shows, doing proper burnouts, and above all else, being comfortable — especially taking my son to car shows and the track,” Paul shares. “The truck at wide-open throttle is stable and a blast to drive, but daily cruising to go to lunch is a mild-mannered, late-model truck that has ice-cold air conditioning and turns 2,600 rpm at 70 mph. I have to admit, though, it’s incredibly difficult not to drive the truck hard.”
It’s a challenge not to unleash the power of a stock Lightning, so it’s understandable that Paul wants to enjoy that exhilarating experience as often as possible. Whether he’s driving it aggressively or pulling into a local car show, his Lightning brings smiles to the faces of those who appreciate these Special Vehicle Team creations.
“The truck gets a lot of attention, which is saying something in the present times,” Paul says. “You have all of these high-horsepower builds, some that the car is shaking at idle. You have the new-body 5.0-liter F-150 coupled with a Whipple and 10-speed that would leave me like a Honda Civic, yet every time I pull up it gathers a crowd. To this day almost every time I drive it around the Dallas and Fort Worth area, I have someone that stops me at a light and asks if that is the Unikorn. I think my favorites are men and women my age showing their children the truck and mentioning the pickup of their childhood, or the famous Fast & Furious movie, which just goes to show you how meaningful the Lightning badge is. It’s so important that we leave this kind of legacy to the kids, and entertain their questions. We were all once those kids.”
With that in mind, Paul plans to continue enjoying the truck with his son along for the ride, but that doesn’t mean this project is different from any others. It isn’t finished, and one day he’d like to move to a Coyote engine and 10R80 automatic transmission combination. No matter what, Paul plans to keep burning gas in his classic Lightning.