Since the Special Vehicle Team stopped producing the Lightning pickup back in 2004, a whole generation of people have come into their own. With just under 40,000 trucks built across its 11-year, two-generation run, the Lightning is still a niche truck, but struck a powerful chord with enthusiasts. Proof of that staying power was the annual Southeastern Lightning Meet, which recently took place at the Ace Café in Orlando, Florida.
This annual event is a passion project organized by Tommy McGee, who is President of the Southeastern Lightning and Harley Club and also the Sales Manager at Palm Bay Ford. We attended last year’s event and were struck by the enduring love for the power pickup exhibited by the attendees and that carried over to this year’s show.
“As I was leaving and buttoning up the meet at Ace, another car club was coming in. The President of that club came up to me and had to find out how I got that many trucks from all over the states,” Tommy said. “He has to pull tooth and nail to get guys/gals from an hour away to come. I just told him that the Lightning owners’ passion runs deep, it’s not just about the trucks, but the eclectic people who own them.”
Perhaps it is the niche nature of the truck or simply its inimitable character that still draws fans and causes modern enthusiasts to add superchargers to Coyote trucks in an effort to emulate the second-gen Lightning’s supercharged 5.4-liter engine.
A Different Breed
“The Lightning owners are a different breed,” Tommy explained. “To take a 4,600-pound truck and make it fast, with outdated technology that can still compete with today’s new technology, is very tough. The Lightning owners know this and still keep finding new ways to make them compete, and mostly, who doesn’t love the whine of a blower in a truck going down the road? If you have not experienced it for yourself, go take one for a spin and hear that whine, you will be buying one the next day.”
Your author drove a few of the powerful trucks back in the day, and it was indeed a blast to drive a supercharged pickup. It was difficult to resist the siren’s song of the blower whine and resulting thrust, and the gas gauge seemed to react inversely to the speedometer. The first time we drove one, Tom Scarpello the SVT Marketing Manager was on the case and these days he resides in Florida where he is president of Revology Cars, which builds replicas of classic cars with modern powertrains.
“When I posted a surprise SVT visitor, the Lightning owners went crazy, it was all-abuzz. When Tom showed up, I don’t think he knew what he was in for. Every Lightning member had their SVT certificates and asked him to sign them, which he was honored to do,” Tommy enthused. “That is something you don’t get to have happen a lot. Tom even signed dashboards! I know he got a kick out of it all. He actually stayed there longer than he had planned and spent time with each Lightning member and their trucks asking questions and sharing his knowledge, and that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Special Vehicle Tom
Having Tom make an appearance at the meet was really special for those who love these trucks so much. We recall SVT being at its peak with a Cobra, Focus and Lightning in its portfolio, and Tom has a point of reference that only someone on the inside could provide.
“When it was introduced in late 1998 as a 1999 model, the SVT F-150 Lightning was like nothing else on the market,” Tom said. “There was literally no direct competition. It was an extremely well-engineered and well-built truck that offered amazing performance. The people who bought them were head over heels in love with them. It had all the hallmarks of a future classic, so it is no surprise the Lightning has such a following today.”
That following has definitely bonded the members of this club who gather each year to celebrate the truck and the unique souls that are drawn to keep them on the road and performing at a high level.
“My favorite part of the meet is everyone. This could not have happened without the Lightning owners passion and love to get together and be a family. To see everyone laugh, share knowledge, make new friends, rekindle old friendships; that is what makes me enjoy what I do,” Tommy said. “For instance, Sal Mennella who ran Power Surge Performance for many years and played a huge part with the aftermarket performance aspect of these trucks. He had been out of the Lightning world for 10 years plus, and he showed up and couldn’t believe that the passion and love was still there. It blew his mind. That is why I spend months putting these together, for that.”
You would expect the club president to enjoy the show, but even the ultimate SVT insider got a charge out of all that enduring Lightning passion.
“I enjoyed hearing the owners’ stories about things they have done with their trucks, and places they have been,” Tom added. “But I would have to say my favorite interaction was meeting a guy with an SVT Lightning tattoo. Nothing says commitment like a tattoo.”
These Lightning people are definitely committed, and Tommy is already planning next year’s gathering. It won’t be in the same spot, however. This club likes to keep things interesting.
“I like to change to the venue every year, along with the T-shirt designs, which I have to give a big thanks to Bruce Leymeister for helping out on a short notice, he did a great job. I’m trying to make this more of a family vacation-friendly meet, a destination if you will,” Tommy said. “Not knocking the other Ford events that hold events in the same places every year, but to me, that gets old. So every year, we go for a different location with different photo opportunities for each Lightning member to get a photo of their truck for memories to hang on the wall and different after-meet areas of entertainment with different crowds and something to look forward to.”
If you have a Lightning or you just want to check out the show, it sounds like next year’s event will be a good one.
“For 2018 we are looking at North Florida,” Tommy said. “I have three historical places that I am trying to set up, with even more surprises from retired SVT engineers with two possible Ford Performance engineers doing something special, as well a possible Lightning Spookfest I am trying to bring back, which may bring a couple TV stars as well.”
To stay up to date, you can visit the club’s Facebook group here.