Reviews

From the Archive: Ford Bronco White Lightning

ford bronco white lightning

Dick KelleyCar and Driver

From the March 1987 issue of Car and Driver.

Networking pays.

That’s our conclusion after hearing the story of how this one-of-a-kind “Ford Bronco White Lightning” came to be, and spending some time behind the wheel of it.

The truck is owned by Peter Schweitzer, the president of I. Walter Thompson, Ford’s primary advertising agency. During a Christmas lunch two years ago, one of Schweitzer’s staff was lunching with Dennis Schlueter, whose job title is Ford Domestic Special Order Engineer. Over glasses of methode champenoise and egg-nog, they wondered what it would be like to stuff a Ford Bronco with the go-fast parts and the styling of Ford’s full-sized hot-rod truck, the F150 Lightning.

A perfect guinea pig was at hand: Schweitzer’s newly leased Bronco. Three months later, he was the proud lessor of the world’s only Ford Bronco White Lightning, worked up by the careful hands of the mighty Ford Motor Company itself. Out of this deal, Ford got a real-life truck instead of just a charcoal-drawing concept tacked up on a wall. Schlueter, a truck enthusiast who also performs what he calls “feasibility prototyping,” had the Bronco body removed from the chassis and stripped bare. The tailgate was finished to remove holes for the chrome trim. All body parts, including the bumpers, grille, and extra Lightning panels, were then covered with a coat of show-quality white paint.

The 240 horsepower, 5.8-liter Lightning engine came from an F150 Lightning prototype and was linked to a revised four-speed automatic transmission. After fitting the truck with front and rear axle ratios of 4.10, the powertrain was installed. The tough part was fitting the F150 Lightning’s dual exhaust system in the cramped underside of the Bronco.

Dick KelleyCar and Driver

The Lightning’s seats and instrument cluster were installed, as was a JBL sound system. Ford styling felt the rear bumper looked too thick, so it was trimmed by 1.5 inches. A matching white cover for the spare tire was fabricated, and proper Lightning wheels and tires were fitted. Schlueter even had a Ford badge machined to cover the lock on the tailgate.

This Bubba-sized four-by-four will git like no other. Boot the throttle and kick down the transmission, and this Bronco heaves back while the big V-8 hoots to the redline.

This Bronco’s performance falls short of the F150 Lightning that we tested in August, for obvious reasons. With its four- wheel-drive system, the Bronco, at 5169 pounds, is nearly 700 pounds heavier than the F150 truck. Acceleration to 60 miles an hour took an extra 0.5 seconds, at 7.7 seconds. The Bronco’s braking and skid-pad performance was also less impressive than the Lightning truck’s, but by small margins.

Nonetheless, this Bubba-sized four-by-four will git like no other. Boot the throttle and kick down the transmission, and this Bronco heaves back while the big V-8 hoots to the redline. Yee-haw! Rush Limbaugh suddenly seems sensible. Primitive yelping suddenly seems irresistible, as does the urge to patch-out your neighbor’s lawn. If not, you’re either Clarence Ditlow, or dead.

Schlueter says the White Lightning has its fans at Ford, but no one should bet on a production date.

This Bronco bucks like no other, too. The athletic suspension from the rear-drive F150 Lightning was not added to the four-wheel-drive Bronco. Tall trucks can get spooky with sticky tires, and Ford wanted to leave plenty of body roll in the Bronco to keep drivers well aware of approaching tire slip. Which begs the question of a two-wheel-drive Bronco, which would sit lower. Ford already makes such a truck in South America, but doesn’t offer it here. A two-wheel-drive Bronco Lightning would be even more fun than this one.

If F150 Lightning pricing applied, this truck would run about $30,000. Schlueter says the White Lightning has its fans at Ford, but no one should bet on a production date. The truck got an enthusiastic response at trade shows, and as a result, a lookalike monochrome styling package on the Bronco will be offered soon.

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