Mid-Life Cruisin': It's Only a Crisis For The Competition.
By Matt Emry
Guys are funny. There are things that we need and things that we want. When Mike Stevens needed an pickup truck for work and the family, he went to the local Ford dealership. He had done his research, knew what he needed... and chose the '03 Lightning. Now far be it for us to question why a person buys the truck that he buys, but we can't really see anyone, even someone like Stevens who is a contractor, throwing two-by-fours in the back of a Lightning. Apparently, he couldn't either.
At first, it was his and wife Jeanette's intention to add some ghost flames, a cold air intake and an exhaust system that would make the truck sound as good as it drove. They joined the SVT Owners of America (SVTOA) and Ford Truck World and were soon attending shows. It was after participating in a couple of truck shows that Stevens really got the bug or as Jeanette calls it, "a mid-life crisis!"
With the encouragement of his wife and friends from Ford Truck World, the modifications on this '03 Lightning began. One modification led to another, ultimately leading to where me truck is today.
The first thing was to remove a few inches of ground clearance. This was done with a Western Chassis 2/3-inch drop by Autosport Performance of Escondido, California. With lowered suspension, you need lowered shocks. For this job, a set of Doetsch Tech Nitro-Slammer shocks were used. Another thing every performance-based truck needs is good brakes. The units now on the Lightning were made by a guy who knows a thing or two about good binders: racing legend Steve Millen. Stevens installed the Stillen/AP Racing six-piston brake kit to the front end of his Lightning, while the stock rear hats were replaced with Stillen/AP Racing drilled rotors.
Though it may be a hard decision for some Lightning owners when it comes to deciding on a wheel size, Stevens didn't have a hard time with his. He knew that he wanted to go big, so he went with 22x10-inch Boze wheels with the Lightning pattern. As Stevens wants his Lightning to still handle well, he chose to use a great tire. With the Pirelli 295/30ZR22 Scorpion Zero, Stevens has one of the best road tires made period.
And he is going to need every bit of those improved handling characteristics. When we tell you about the engine mods, you are probably going to agree with us that all of the mods he did to the suspension and brake systems will be pushed to the limits.
The Lightning comes stock with what is probably the most potent engine ever delivered to the truck world. The 33Oci "cammer" features an Eaton supercharger and overhead cams, and it gets its fuel from a SVT sequential fuel injection system. This is major horsepower in anyone's language, but it was not quite enough for Stevens. He had Autosport Perfonnance of Escondido, California, make a good thing better.
First Autosport did a little work to the blower, making sure that it had Gen5 impellers, and added a Metco under-drive pulley and belt system. A set of JBA short-tube headers was mated with a Bullet Exhaust system (that feature a set of stainless steel tips) to get the exhaust out as quickly as the polished APE stainless steel intake would allow air in. Also being added to the engine is a shot of cool, thanks to the Snow Performance methane/water injection system. Also detracting from the heat are such names as Interchiller Intercooler fans, Flex-a-lite Twinline Electric fans and a Meziere Enterprises electric water pump (with a billet pulley, no less).
Other pieces found on the engine aid in perfornance of another kind. The billet caps and covers for the engine were by Billet & Acrylic Fantasies of Vero Beach, Florida, while the polished billet radiator core support cover was fabricated by Underhood Specialties. Even the hose clamps found in the Ford are cool, as Python Designs Inc. supplied the polished billet hose clamps.
All of mese mods added up, and the Ford dyno tested a healthy 460 horses at me rear wheels.
It may have been the case previously that high horsepower trucks ran well but didn't measure up aesthetically, but it wasn't going to be like that at all for Stevens and his Lightning. He is lucky enough to live very close to Hot Rods & Custom Stuff in Escondido, California, so it was easy to have one of me best shops in SoCal (owner Randy Clark had a hand in building an F-100 Truck of the Year winner), do a little bodywork for him. First HR&CS shaved off all of me emblems, smoothed the tailgate and added a Street Scenes roll pan. Like a cherry on top, a Gaylord's X-2000 tonneau cover (with Speedster Wing) was installed, and it lifts remotely with the push of a button.
With the body done, it was time to paint on a little accent. One of me best stripers and flame painters on the left coast is Pete "Hot Dog" Finlan. Finlan, who has been seen on Monster Garage as one of Jesse James' posse and has painted many of James' West Coast Choppers, cut his teeth on San Diego-based hot rods and bikes and still does work out of Hot Rods and Custom Stuff when asked. He laid down some killer flames for this Ford, and it is just another example of his tallent. The paint he used to apply these were with House of Kolor Silver Blue.
Another really nice aspect of a stock Lightning is the interior. As it comes from Ford, it is nearly perfect. For Stevens, however, it needed a little something. That little something came in the form of a gigantic stereo system. It has a head unit (Alpine IV A D900), a hard drive (Alpine HAD 5460) and an equalizer (Eclipse 30-Band Competition Equalizer- EQ2102). It has main amps (JL Audio 450/4) as well as sub amps (JL Audio 500/1), and it even has a sub amp capacitor (Monster cables with a digital voltmeter). Getting that power transferred into sound waves was done with multiple MB Quart 6-inch, 4-inch and 2-inch tweeters. As if that isn't enough of an "oooh" factor, huge JL Audio 10-inch subwoofers sit inside enclosures with back-lit lighming-bolt- adorned billet grilles.
To get Stevens there and back, an Alpine NVD-A211 navigation system is used, and to keep the bad guys at bay, the Ford has a Clifford RSX3.5 alarm system (with remote start and GPS tracking). All of this was installed by the very talented Joe Maria and his team at Al & Ed's Autosound in Temecula, California. Don't forget them, as we will be talking about them again.
Though me seats are still the Ford SVT factory units, they have been covered with suede and now have carbon fiber inserts. In addition, the door panels and interior trim pieces have been covered in matching gray suede. One cool thing (or should we say hot thing?) is that the headliner has a flame pattern. Additional instrumentation consists of equally cool Auto Meter Lunar Series gauges.
Remember the guys from Al & Ed's Autosound in Temecula, California? Well, they did a little work in the bed too. In fact, there is an entire second stereo system installed in the bed! It again uses an Alpine head unit (a CDA 9827) and is run through multiple JL Audio amps on its way to the nearly identical MB Quart speakers, but for additional fun, Stevens had them install a Microsoft X-Box with wireless controllers. Stevens tells us that the Sharp Aquos 3D-inch LCD monitor installed into me bed has Automatic Lineal Actuators (whatever that means--we didn't want to ask and look dumb). Another thing that we are not sure about is why there is a Powerbright APS 600 Pure sine-wave power inverter in line while there are two 6O-amp lID-volt to 12-volt converters for the shore power plug. One thing we do know about is the pair of Optima yellow top batteries that has been tucked underneath the bed. They're yellow.
Speaking of the bed, a Cherry Show bed and tailgate by Bruce Horkey's Wood and Parts have been installed, while the bridge was designed by Mike Stevens.
As a young kid growing up, Stevens was fascinated with trucks. His first vehicle was a truck. When he met his wife, she drove a truck (it must have been love at first sight). And it seems as though he is drawn to them whether they are old or new. In the early years of married life, the husband and wife team restored a '61 Ford Ranchero. As their family began to grow and needs changed, so did the trucks that they owned. The Stevens have owned a lot of Fords, even a classic Mustang, and this Lighning is just another in a long line. But it is not a work truck--Mike Stevens bought a new '05 F-250 diesel for that. TB.