Performance pickups used to be a thing. From the Chevy 454 SS in the early 1990s to the sports car like performance the Toyota Tacoma X-Runner was throwing down in the early 2000s fast trucks had their own little slice of the enthusiast market pie. Once, that kind of performance showed up in an unexpected place.
Back in 2003, engineers with Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) took a regular cab Ranger Flareside powered by a 2.4-liter I4 and got to work. At the time, SVT Engineering Director John Coletti and his team had a vision of making a performance truck using off the shelf parts to keep costs down, just in case it got approved for production. They already had an engine in mind: the 5.4-liter 380 horsepower supercharged V8 from the SVT Lightning. A modified induction system and exhaust resulted in more power than was available in the stock Lightning: 420 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque.
But that much power in a small pickup like the Ranger would mean extra bracing. So they boxed the frame rails and cross braced them for stiffness. To get the engine under the hood, the suspension was lowered two inches and control arms and steering knuckles were lifted from the SVT Lightning. A 3.73 rear axle from the Lightning as well as 18-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires and a heavy duty transmission from the F-Series pickups was fitted to the Ranger.
The interior was largely kept stock, save for some custom leather seats with yellow lightning bolts on them and body color trim on the doors. The result was a monster of a little pickup. When Motor Trend tested it, it ran the quarter mile in 13.8 seconds at 108 mph; MotorWeek did 13.5 seconds at 101 mph.
And while it was built to keep production cost low using a bunch of parts lifted from its Lighting big brother, SVT had no plans to actually build the thing. Head of SVT sales and marketing at the time Tom Scarpello confirmed as much to Motor Trend; they claimed there was no room for two performance trucks in the lineup. It’s more likely this was a 911/Cayman situation: the smaller vehicle came close to or outright outperformed its bigger sibling and Ford couldn’t have that. It is nice to think back on what could have been had Ford given us an SVT Ranger with that much power. A vehicle like that shapes automakers and their lineups for generations.