We all know how projects go: a non-running vehicle or roller is purchased with game plans revolving around engine swaps and a mild horsepower build. While some actually stick to the original agenda, there are far more that end up going off the deep-end of hot rodding. What would have been a few weekends of work has turned into a few years, and something meant for the street is now being premiered at one of the world’s most creative car shows.
A few years back, Gary Thomsen found a project that piqued his interest — it was a 1999 Ford F-150 Lightning sans engine that he hoped would become the face of his company. After all, when your business is named The Truck Shop and you build custom trucks and sport utilities for a living, it’s nice to have an advertising write-off that pairs as a sport truck. Although Thomsen had some blasphemous engine swaps in mind, he would end up keeping his Lightning Ford-powered in the long run.
When Thomsen originally purchased the engine, his mind was on a different platform…until he saw that Ford had released the 7.3-liter Godzilla in crate engine form. Even though the engine mounts were already fabricated for a different powerplant, he saw the 445 cubic inch 7.3 as the perfect suitor to the Lightning’s engine bay. This would become one of the first Godzilla-swapped engines, and would test The Truck Shop and Thomsen’s patience, as everything was going to be custom fabricated to make it work. Instead of devoting labor hours toward the truck, the crew would spend weekends and after hours wrenching away on the single-cab Lightning.
The truck was far from stock already, but the Godzilla too would find itself under the precision scalpel of The Truck Shop. A Willis Performance Camshaft Package entered the engine, as a ProCharger D-1SC was installed on the exterior of the 7.3-liter behemoth. Exhaust gasses leave the engine through a pair of Stainless Works long tube headers before entering The Truck Shop’s true dual exhaust with X-pipe and MagnaFlow mufflers. the result is a sound that Thomsen can only describe as “amazing.”
While the original 7.3 was mated to a 10R140 in the recent Super Duty models, its use was geared to towing and industrial strength rather than performance. Thomsen realized he wanted the transmission to hold up to the torque the Godzilla engine emits, but didn’t want to deal with the sluggish gearing found in the 10R140. He decided that a properly cooled and controlled 6R80 would do the trick. To keep transmission temperatures to a minimum, -8 AN cooler hoses were run to a Derale trans cooler. A US Shift controller maintains shift points. A Stifflers transmission crossmember keeps everything in place as the power is transmitted to the rearend.
Although hidden from view due to the beautiful drop, the frame has been powder-coated. Stifflers front and lower front arms pair to a set of RideTech front coil-overs, as the rear is dropped through the use of QA1 rear coil-overs. The frame has been C-notched and includes a Reklez three-link rear suspension setup. Sitting behind the 24-inch Intro Split 5 wheels are a set of Little Shop Mfg 16-inch, six-piston front and rear brakes. A Wilwood Engineering master cylinder and proportioning valve replace the factory unit.
As the build progressed it became immediately clear that no corners could be cut. The aesthetics of the exterior and interior had to match the performance of the engine. Each piece of the puzzle required skilled labor to make the truck more than just another F-150.
The exterior work was handled by Thomsen’s friends at Smurfy Customs, with the body being soda-blasted and stripped. The engine bay was shaved with fender wheels added. The bed was also tubbed and Rhino-lined. Rounding off the body was a shaved rear bumper that cleans up the backside of the truck. Instead of trying to refurbish two-decade-old plastics and moldings, Thomsen went ahead and purchased new OEM units from Ford.
Once the exterior was handled, the interior became the next step in the process. Unfortunately, the tenth-generation F-150 and second-generation Lightning interior leaves a lot to be desired. Its business-only features require professional help in recreating them into something new. After three months and searching over 200 interior shops, it was a social media post from Toning Auto Interiors that would captivate him into a conversation with them. After reaching out to them, Thomsen found that his dream of keeping the OEM feel, but with a twist of custom, was possible.
What was meant to be a weekend toy and shop truck has turned into one of the most prolific and recognizable Ford Lightnings on the scene. During the build phase Thomsen not only learned lessons about the engine and chassis combinations, but how to market the products for other tenth-generation F-150 and Lightning owners looking to partake in the Godzilla fun. Needless to say, we love when we see those who don’t stick to the agenda showcase their final build form.