Hands On, Frame Off: Ford Lightning Gets Full Makeover

Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s Jonathan Blotzer forged his own path to modifying cars and has taken it farther than most. The self-taught enthusiast started off with Chevrolet Berettas, then daily drove a Buick Grand National for 11 years through the rain, sleet, snow, and hail, until he finally decided to part ways with it. After thinking about it, he decided to grab an SVT Lightning truck, and it’s his most modified vehicle yet.

“I always knew I would like to do something with cars, but didn’t really know anyone that had nice ones that had been modified,” Blotzer tells. “I kept finding myself drawn to cars that you don’t see everyday.” That certainly explains his affinity for the front-wheel-drive Chevy Beretta.

“I went to the Boys and Girls Club a lot and one of the cheerleading coach’s husbands had one and I thought it was cool,” Blotzer says of his turn in a turbocharged Buick Grand National. “I got one right out of high school and drove it every day for 11 years. It was a good car and is one of my favorite cars of all time.”


Although Blotzer had promised himself to not purchase another black vehicle, the Lightnings paint and low mileage lured him in. All photography by Mike Autrey – Night Adder Photography.

As happens with daily drivers, they get used and worn out, and one day the timing chain snapped. “I couldn’t get it running right and it sat for a year or so,” Blotzer says. “By this time, I had graduated college and bought a house. A good friend of mine asked if I would sell it. I didn’t know what to do with it next so I decided to move on.”

Struck By Choice

After he sold the Grand National in 2013, he began browsing to see what else was out there. Luckily, he came across a local listing for a black 2004 Lightning that had only 49,000 miles on the clock. “Right away I told my wife I was buying a Lightning, even though I had told myself I would never get a black vehicle again,” Blotzer says after seeing the truck in person. “This pickup was 100-percent stock.”

A set of well-modified 20-inch Sportmachine wheels set the Lightning apart from the rest.

Blotzer wasn’t worried about keeping the truck in its stock form and began modifying it to suit his own tastes. As most Lightning owners do, Blotzer opened up the intake and exhaust of the factory-supercharged machine with a cold-air intake and a Magnaflow system. Following the first round of modifications, Blotzer dropped the ride height of the SVT product and added aftermarket SVT Lightning replica wheels made by Sportmachine. These 20-inch versions of the Lightning’s original 18-inch hoops filled out the truck’s wheel wells more effectively, especially when the chassis was lowered to meet them.

Deep In The Frame

“The frame had the factory rubber tar on it,” Blotzer details. “So, I asked a lot of friends if I should leave it stock and keep the miles down or remove everything and start with a frame-off build” Once the vote was in favor of more miles and more labor, Blotzer proceeded with the frame-off modification process.


Blotzer went through the hassles of completely powder coating his frame. The Gold nicely offsets the factory black SVT Lightning.

“There have been a select few that have done it, and I’m probably the only one that has done a full nut-and-bolt replacement. If it’s stock, it has been anodized black and everything else is ARP,” Blotzer explains. “I took all of the hardware out and measured and photographed every piece, so I knew what length went where.”

As you might have guessed already, Blotzer did more than just clean and paint the frame during this time. The project kicked off just a few weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday of 2019, with his friend Kenny Smith offering his vehicle lift to accomplish the cab extraction. “I pretty much knew I wasn’t going to do basic black. If someone at a show sees a gold frame or something that stands out, it’s more impressive than just plain black and people realize just what you did.”

A combination of Stifflers and QA1 suspension not only give this truck the perfect stance, but also allows the 750 horsepower to meet the ground effectively.

Blotzer chose to have his frame powder-coated by Austin Wing at BA Powder Coating. “I went through stages where I thought I was going to do a basic version and then it got out of control,” Blotzer remarks. The Prismatic Gold hue that he chose is a great contrast against his Lightning’s shiny black exterior hue.

Going Beyond The Normal

“I had the cab off and said, ‘man don’t stop now,’” Blotzer explains. “I shaved and filled the firewall and did an intensive wire tuck. It had a lot more gold in the engine bay to begin with and I thought it was too much. Then I went in the complete opposite direction and did everything in black with only the new 2.9-liter Whipple blower in gold now.”


A 2.9-liter Whipple adorns the engine bay and raises the horsepower to a tire-smoking 750.

Part of this upgrade process was swapping out the stock Eaton supercharger for the more capable Whipple unit. At first, he was going to leave the supercharger in its factory black wrinkle coating, but that changed. “I was going to leave it black because of the texture, but one of the guys on the Lightning group posted his supercharger for sale. He had his painted through Whipple. It was yellow and not textured. I took the yellow one apart and had the powder-coater do it in gold, leaving the texture nice and smooth.”

To get the Lightning’s stance and look just right, Blotzer also decided to modify a second set of aftermarket wheels. “I bought one of their last sets and had the rears sent out to Weldcraft and widened to 11 inches,” he says of his second set of Sportmachine Lightning replica wheels. The widening wasn’t the only modification, as he also had the inner barrels polished, put an SVT logo on the barrel, and the powder-coated over that so he could remove the sticker and reveal a polished SVT logo on the inner barrel—talk about detail!


With the cab and frame suitably modified, Blotzer had another big upgrade in store for the pickup. It was time to give the Lightning a little more voltage and so Blotzer set the stock, low-mileage motor aside and purchased a fortified engine from a Lightning community member.

Lightning Fast

“I bought the engine from a super well known Lightning guy, but the engine started knocking at the dragstrip,” Blotzer said of the 5.4-liter’s short lifespan. Eventually, Blotzer and his friend Kris Orman rebuilt the short-block and topped it off with Trick Flow cylinder heads. Now tuned by Curtis at Archangel, Blotzer’s Lightning produces 750 horsepower and 750 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels on just 20 psi of boost.

“There was a lot of waiting around for parts to come in, since there was a camshaft shortage,” Blotzer says. Although the Lightning is currently running well, Blotzer has a goal of pushing 800 horsepower at the rear wheels, but is afraid the boost pressure is holding the valves open at 24 psi of boost.

“Eventually, we will pull the engine and fix whatever is the weak link,” Blotzer tells us.” “I’ll enjoy it for a while and maybe next winter do the upgrade.” Blotzer also enjoys not having to drive the Lightning every day like he did with the Grand National. “It’s totally opposite with the Lightning, it doesn’t go outside if there’s a chance of rain,” Blotzer says.

Creating A New Restoration Process

Thanks to support from a host of aftermarket companies, as well as some emotional support from friend Clint O’Dell, Blotzer succeeded in his plan to re-imagine his SVT Lightning. Since the frame-off and engine rebuild has been finished, he has continued to tweak his Lightning here and there. Last summer, he upgraded the braking system with Wilwood six-piston calipers and 16-inch rotors at the front and rear. We’re sure they fill out the big 20-inch wheels nicely, too.

While keeping busy with his own SVT, Blotzer has done other frame-off projects for other Lightning aficionados, as well, lending his expertise and creativity to others in the community. Maybe this might just become a trend, performing frame-off resto-modifications. We’ll have to wait and see, but judging from Blotzer’s project, it looks like a great idea.

About the author

Steve Baur

A lifelong automotive enthusiast, Steve Baur attended the University of South Florida for journalism and has worked as a technical editor and editor for numerous automotive publications for over 20 years.
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