The Shocking 2002 Ford Ranger Thunderbolt
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.