By on March 23, 2020

Rare Rides previously featured the weather-inspired SVT Lightning, an effort that saw Ford add a healthy dose of power and sporty handling to its full-size pickup.

Today we’ll have a look at Lightning’s smaller sibling, which is named after the same weather event: the Ranger Thunderbolt, from 2002.

Much like the Lightning, the Thunderbolt had its roots in a standard Ford truck. The truck in question was the very long-lived third-generation Ranger, built from model years 1998 to 2012. The truck was updated on three occasions through its life, in 2001, 2004, and 2006. Today’s 2002 wears the updated 2001 refresh treatment, which included a new grille, headlamps, and slightly revised tail lamps. But Ford knew Ranger customers wanted more sports from their compact pickup, and signed a deal with SLP Performance Parts.

The Thunderbolt package was always installed prior to a Ranger’s delivery to a dealer, and was covered by the warranty. New trucks traveled from St. Paul, Minnesota or Edison, New Jersey to Kentucky, where SLP worked on them for about a week. SLP offered three different levels of Thunderbolt alteration, plus an additional Performance Package for those of truly sporty intent.

All SLP-modified Rangers were black, red, or white. Base packages included the Thunderbolt badging, hood scoop, some color-keyed trim to include the cladding, grille, bumper, and extended front fascia, as well as some headrest stickers. This could be upgraded with fog lamps, a vinyl tonneau cover, and a spoiler at Level I. Level II layered on the Performance Package, while Level III added a hard tonneau cover with an optional hoop-style spoiler. Other a la carte options included two different Thunderbolt wheel designs, a Handling Package, tape stripe graphics, body-colored custom bumper, and themed floor mats and key chains.

The thunder part of the special model was achieved via the Performance Package. SLP replaced the air intake under hood and modified the exhaust into a dual outlet system. This was available on the Vulcan V6 for 160 horsepower, or on the Cologne 4.0-liter V6 for 222 horses. Seemingly all examples were rear-drive.

Thunderbolt was available in 2002 and 2003, but there’s no information to suggest they were made beyond those two years. No word on which engine powers today’s truck, but given it has all the optional extras, the 4.0L is a good bet. The stock wheels were replaced with some awful period-correct ones, and the tail lamps are AutoZone specials too. Yours in Florida for an optimistic $12,000.

[Images: seller]

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19 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Shocking 2002 Ford Ranger Thunderbolt...”


  • avatar
    R Henry

    Never seen one. I am fairly certain the mods to the exhaust prevented their sale in CA.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Never seen one either. The AutoZone (or eBay?) taillights have got to go. The ad doesn’t say that the seller has the original Thunderbolt wheels, so I wonder if they’re the original owner.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Whee ! .

    I’m guessing the suspension mods helped a lot .

    I’m loving my little 2001 Ranger base model with the wheezy 2.5 liter i4 engine but the rear ends skips around quite a bit when I romp on it , softer rear would help but I plan to work it so that’s out for me .

    -Nate

  • avatar

    Now you need to find a Dakota lil red express or warrior. Those first gen Dakota were remarkably good handling trucks. To save Money the first gen viper used several of the Dakota front end parts.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    If I had had a V6 under the hood of my ’97, I would have probably been far happier with it. Fun to drive but simply too weak, especially in hot weather.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Oh, yes… and even with the 2.3L four, it was a little tail-happy on rough roads. I put about 250# of bagged sand back at the tailgate and it settled a lot of that down… but still needed more than 112 horses.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard of these. Always gratified when Corey manages to find something totally new to me.

    But it’s like all the worst tropes of late ’90s tuning in one truck.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Instead of my Ranger Splash I could have had this? Now I’m sad. Ditch the wheels, graphics and silly spoiler and I am in love.

    For those that are wondering about the extra power from the 4.0l V6: it didn’t help much. My Ranger Splash had the same powerplant. Towing my small 16 foot boat (=2,000lb) in flat FL caused it to ping on regular fuel if you attempted to run both the engine and A/C. By ’02 I had moved on to 4.7l V8 Dakota Quad Cab which I still drive to this day.

  • avatar

    And I JUST NOW NOTICED the vanity plate.

    It brings even more Florida into this equation.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Nice looking little truck. I’ve never seen one and up until today, did not know they existed.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Corey sure can find them, like the others I never knew this existed

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    I guess pimpin’ IS easy.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    There was even a Ranger GT model available before this front end redesign. I remember seeing it when I was buying my first new Ford back in the mid to late 80’s. It was a very boxy Ranger with molded plastic addons – it was not a dealer thing – actual production version.

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