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Oil Field Trash
2,643 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Lightning and HD Modding 101

Lightning/Harley Modding 101

So you just bought your Lightning or Harley Davidson Edition, and you're ready to start modding it for more horsepower because you want to beat all the Coyote Mustangs and Corvettes in your town, but you don't know where to start. This is supposed to be a guideline to get you up to speed, without having to spend 6 months reading random threads on LR, LG, or God help us, FaceBook.

About me. I don't claim to be a Lightning guru, or to know everything about these trucks. But I joined NLOC (the site we were all at before LR, LG and FB) way back in 2004. I bought my first Lightning in 2007. Since then, I've owned one Gen 1, six Gen 2's, and three HD's. That's ten of these money pit trucks, plus another regular F-150 with a Lightning swap, bringing the total up to 11! I've had trucks with stock engines, mildly built engines, fully built engines, centrifugal superchargers, Eatons, Kenne Bells, Whipples, and turbos. In 2013, I got tired of paying for crappy tunes from "tooning shops" and began teaching myself how to tune my own junk with the help of a couple other Lightning owners who tune as well, and a whole lot of reading and experimentation. Since then, I've tuned dozens of Lightning's, with everything from bone stock no pulleys, to built Whipples, Kenne Bells, and twin turbos. When I started playing with Lightning's, I did very little of my own wrenching primarily due to time constraints with my carreer, but these days, I do 99% of my own wrench turning, I still let others build transmissions, perform alignments, weld, and do machine work, but that's it. Point is, I'm by no means claiming to know everything about these trucks, but I've been around the block with 'em a few times.

Disclaimer! Some of the information below is fact, much of it is my personal opinion. It may not always be 100% accurate, and you may not agree with it. That's fine. Many of the examples and "rules" I quote in the following information are generalities. There's always an exception to the rule, and I'm sure everyone can cite an example that proves me wrong on almost every single point. But these examples and roadmap are for the 90% of Lightning owners, not the 10% and one hit wonders. They're just guidelines. Additionally, if what you read here causes you to spend too much money, I'm not responsible. If anything you read here, or anywhere else I post, causes your truck to break or malfunction in any way, I cannot be held liable.

Be Like.JPG

Basic Stock Block Recipe and Recommendations

When I and others refer to a stock block, we mean you do not have forged rods and pistons installed in the shortblock of your truck. This can either be a factory motor, rebuilt, replacement, junkyard, whatever. If it doesn't have forged rods and pistons, that's what we mean.

The reason this is important, is the factory connecting rods in our engines are known to be the weak link in power production. Above 450-475rwhp, these rods tend to not be able to take the combustion pressures, and fail, usually spectacularly taking out other components with them. So when I refer to stock block limitations, this is what I and others are referring to. It's not cheap or easy to build your shortblock with stronger forged rods and pistons, often costing thousands of dollars in parts and machine work alone, much less labor, but many many many have done it. If your goals are beyond 450rwhp, you should primarily focus on "going built" before buying big superchargers, fuel systems, etc.

Before You Mod

So if I were starting fresh with a stock Lightning, here's what I would do first and foremost. Maintenance. I'd start by removing the supercharger and cleaning the intercooler, adding an oil separator, replacing the spark plugs with either stock Motorcraft plugs gapped around .045" if I wasn't going to put a larger pulley on the supercharger, or something like NGK TR6's or Autolite XP103's gapped around .032" if I was planning on upping the boost. The higher the boost level, the colder the plug and tighter gap you want to run. TR6's are colder than stock plugs. I'd also clean the MAF, and if in excess of 100k miles, I'd be putting in new front O2 sensors. Clearly change your oil. Also be sure that your intercooler pump is functioning. I would also definitely put a new fuel filter in it. Boosted engines MUST have proper air/fuel ratio, and if you have a dirty fuel filter restricting flow and fuel pressure, this can lead to catastrophic engine failure. In fact, I change my fuel filter EVERY time I change the oil. Overkill? Definitely. But fuel filters are cheap, engines are not. I would also ascertain if the rubber elbow at the lower rear of the lower intake (turkey pan) has corroded or not. If it hasn't yet, it certainly will. You can either replace the elbow, or simply plug the lower intake with a 3/8" NPT plug, remove that line from the lower intake to where it tees into the passenger side PCV lines. Other maintenance might need to be addressed, such as transmission fluid and filter changes, other engine, supercharger, and rear end fluids, depending on condition and mileage.

Getting Started

This is quick list of mods, in order, that I would perform to a stock Lightning or Harley truck.

Pulley, Belt, Plugs, MAF, Must Tune
Cold Air Intake - Should Re-Tune
Ported Supercharger - May Re-Tune, Not Required
Intercooler Cooling Upgrades
Traction Bars
Valve Body
Full Exhaust - Should Re-Tune
Throttle Body and Plenum - May Re-Tune, Not Required
Higher Stall Torque Converter - May Re-Tune, Not Required


The best bang for the buck mod by far, is a lower pulley swap. A 6# lower pulley can usually be had new for $200, or used for around $100. For more information on pulley sizes and ratios with both stock and aftermarket superchargers, see the Superchargers post. Obviously you'll need a new belt when performing a pulley swap, and if you don't already have a colder, tighter gapped spark plug than stock, you'll need to install those as well, such as NGK TR6's gapped around .032". You should also install a larger aftermarket MAF such as an SCT BA2400 or BA2600, or a DiabloSport MAFia. See the Tuning post for more information on those. After those things are installed/purchased, you will NEED a custom tune made for the truck. Not all trucks are the same, even if they have the exact same modifications, so I reccomend a custom tune for your truck. This are generally uploaded to the trucks computer by an SCT device such as an X2, X3, or X4. Again, see the Tuning post for more information.


Next up I would add an aftermarket "Cold Air Intake". JLT makes a nice one, as does JLP. After altering the MAF placement as these usually do, you should have your truck re-tuned. It is not absolutely required, but is reccomended. You could also do this modification at the same time as the pulley and MAF, and only tune once.

Ported Blower.jpg

Next, I would want to have the supercharger ported. See the Supercharging post for more information on that, but reccomended current vendors include Jokerz Performance, Stiegemeier, and Texas Speed Lab Performance. A re-tune after the porting the supercharger is usually not required, but can be done in order to fully realize gains.


Heat Exchanger.jpg

Next, I would want to focus on cooling down the intercooler fluid. All this spinning the supercharger faster makes the blower create more heat. It's simple physics, when you compress air, a byproduct of that is a rise in temperature. When the charge temperatures reach a certain point, the computer in your truck will start reducing ignition timing to prevent engine killing detonation. The cooler you can keep the charge temperatures, the less power killing timing reduction will occur. You can go as mild or wild on this as you like. I'd start with a larger intercooler reservoir, such as one made by JLP or LFP. Then I would delete the stock existing hard intercooler piping on the passenger side of your supercharger by replacing it with 1/2" or 5/8" hose. Next I would add a larger heat exchanger (behind the lower grill) with one made by AFCO or LFP. Finally, I would consider upgrading ALL the intercooler coolant lines to 5/8" or 3/4" hose, and installing a higher volume intercooler pump such as a Mezeire or Jabsco. Additionally, if I wanted to go all out, I would replace the intercooler itself with a unit by Trick Performance, and if I was building a track focused truck, I'd move the reservoir and pump itself to the bed for better weight transfer and distribution. Another option here, but generally associated with a reduction in your air conditioning performance, is a Killer Chiller, which uses your air condition system to cool off the intercooler fluid. No tuning is required after cooling modifications.

Traction Bars.jpg

Next, with all this new found power, I would add a set of traction bars to the rear suspension. You can use Metco's, Cal-Tracks, Stifflers, JLP, JDM, LFP, BroncoBeater, whatever method best suits you to help control wheel hop. See the Suspension post for more information on the differences in these traction aids. No tuning is required after suspension modifications.

Valve Body.jpg

Next, I would want to firm up the shifts and help put this power to the wheels faster. This is best done by installing an aftermarket valve body, made by BlowerSlut, thePunisher, or Factory Tech. If you're not spinning tires on the 1-2 and 2-3 shifts yet, you definitely will be after installing one of these. It's like a "driver mod" for a stick shift car, only for an automatic. Your transmission will shift faster and harder, and believe it or not, it's actually a good thing for the transmission, reducing the shift time and resulting in less clutch wear. No tuning is required after a valve body install.

Full Exhaust.jpg

Wow, I'm only just now mentioning exhaust? Yep. The factory exhaust is actually not all that restrictive. It's quiet yes, but not very restrictive at these mild power levels (below 500 rwhp). Deleting the cats helps remove some restriction here, as does a good cat-back exhaust. Don't use Flowmaster crap, use a straight through design such as Bassani, Magnaflow, etc. Better yet, buy an actual aftermarket cat-back system made for your truck, as it will likely have mandrel bent tubing instead of pinched up local exhaust shop bends. If you're ready for headers, now's the time. Don't waste your money on shorty headers, but buy long tubes. My favorite for a stock block truck are Dynatech's. They are well made, and are the easiest installing long tube header made for our trucks. Don't forget your O2 sensor extensions when installing long tube headers! Tuning after installing long tube headers is recommended, as you have moved the position of the front O2 sensors.

Throttle Body.jpg

Another one you might be amazed I'm just mentioning, is throttle bodies and plenums, as these are a lot of owners first modifications. The stock throttle body isn't all that restrictive in an Eaton M112 setup. The gains most people claim to feel by installing one on an Eaton, come from increased throttle response, not from power gain. Good aftermarket throttle bodies are made by Accufab, LFP, and Magnum Powers. You can also port your stock plenum, or add an aftermarket C&L or JLP sheetmetal plenum if you like. You won't see huge gains on a Eaton with these modifications, but you will see some. Tuning after these modifications is not required, but can help with drivability if you have problems.


The next thing I would add, takes a bit of work. That's an aftermarket higher stall torque converter. This won't make you any faster on the street, but when paired with a sticky tire at the track, can really decrease your 60' time, resulting in an overall quicker ET. Popular manufacturers are Precision Industries and Circle D. You don't need or want some huge 3000 rpm stall, a simple 2400-2600 rpm unit will give you the best results. You should also upgrade your transmission cooler at this time, and a re-tune will yield the best results.

Why isn't _______ listed?

Because it's not needed at this point.

You don't need larger fuel injectors at this point, because your stock 42# injectors will support a little over 500rwhp.

Twin Wallbro 255 fuel pumps SHOULDN'T be needed. The stock fuel pumps, if in good condition with a clean filter, will support just about anything an M112 Eaton can make, unless you add nitrous to the equation. If your stock pumps are in poor condition, weak, worn out, or a split y or hose, then they will not be enough. At this point, rather than simply replacing them with new stock pumps, go ahead and install twin Walbro 255 pumps. More on fuel systems in the Fuel Systems post.

You darn sure don't need big lopey camshafts yet. I understand you want to impress your friends by sounding like a 10 second Lightning, but why sound awesome, and run slow? Such a disappointment. It's like walking into a party with the hottest girl you know, to make everyone jealous, but it turns out she's your sister and you can't date her. It's dumb. On top of that, they're not going to help you make any more power right now. Beyond that, they are difficult, time consuming, and expensive to install. You're looking at $600 for the cams, another $100 plus for proper valve springs, retainers and locks, and if you pay someone to install them for you, they're going to charge many hundreds of dollars. By the time it's all said and done, you've got $1500+ in a cam swap, just to sound cool and be slow, when that money can have you more than halfway towards a built shortblock, with which you can ACTUALLY go fast!

You don't need an aftermarket supercharger like a Whipple or a Kenne Bell at this point either. Your stock Eaton M112 supercharger can make more than enough power to scatter your rods all over the street. Yes, there are some efficiency gains to be had by upgrading, but not much. You are much better off taking that money and investing in a built shortblock or fully built longblock. You'll make more power with an ported stock Eaton M112 on a built shortblock than you will with a 2.3L Whipple on a stock block.

Oil Field Trash
2,643 Posts
Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)

So your buddy told you to run a 10# lower on a 3.6LC Kenne Bell on your otherwise stock Lightning, 'cause it'll make like elventymillion horsepowers or something. You need to read this before pulling the trigger.

Basic Rules


Air + fuel + spark = boom. The fuel needs to stay at a fairly constant ratio to the air, so adding more fuel by itself will not result in a bigger boom. Adding more spark can, to a limited extent until you have too much of it, but the big gains here are to be had by adding more air. The faster you can spin that magic part, the more air the supercharger will move. So why doesn't every Lightning still have the stock supercharger on it, and just spin the piss out of it? Because each supercharger has an efficiency range. Once you get out of that efficiency range (which is different for each model supercharger), you hit a plateau where the supercharger will not move any more air. Spin it too fast past its maximum efficiency range, and all it will do is shift the power lower in the rpm range, while creating excess heat. That's why almost all upgraded superchargers get increasing larger in size, so they will move more air. More air + more fuel + spark = bigger boom.

We increase the speed of the supercharger (more magic above) by changing the pulley ratio that is spinning it. A larger lower pulley, will increase the supercharger speed. A smaller upper pulley will also increase the speed. A smaller lower, or larger upper, will decrease the speed. It's simple math. Lower pulley diameter, divided by upper pulley diameter, equals pulley ratio. Make this ratio a larger number to spin the supercharger faster. Multiply that ratio by the speed of the lower pulley (engine speed), to come up with the supercharger speed. See the chart below for some of this already done for you. The white boxes are standard pulley sizes for the stock supercharger, they grey tinted charts for typical aftermarket supercharger pulley sizes.

Pulley Ratio Chart.JPG

Eaton M112 (Stock) Supercharging

Eaton M112.jpg

Your stock supercharger is an Eaton M112 roots type supercharger. It is not the same as the Eaton M112 found on 03-04 Cobras, but is similar, and many parts do interchange. It's displacement comes in at 1.8L. It is obviously the least powerful of the bunch listed here, but Lightning's everywhere are running 12's on it, and even a handful in the 11's.

The biggest gains, as with all superchargers, come from spinning it faster, to move more air. This is generally done by increasing the size of the lower pulley. Sadly, all manufacturers adopted describing the lower pulleys by the approximate boost gain, not the diameter. This is inaccurate, because those boost gains are not the same from one truck to another, especially if high flowing exhaust, ported heads, cams, ported supercharger, etc, are thrown into the mix.

Significant gains can be had by porting the stock supercharger case, primarily the inlet. Some of the better supercharger porters currently around are Jokerz Performance, Stiegemeier, and Texas Speed Lab Performance.

More, less significant gains, have been had by porting or upgrading the upper plenum (ported, C&L, JLP), and by replacing the throttle body with a higher flowing unit such as single blades by SVO, LFP, Accufab, Magnum Powers, etc. The stock twin bore throttle body can usually flow more than enough air for an M112 Eaton. The gains most people see from upgrading to a single blade throttle body at this point, are mainly due to throttle response. I'm not saying don't upgrade your throttle body on an M112 Eaton, but if you haven't ported the blower yet, more gains are to be found by throwing that throttle body money at porting the blower or finding a C&L plenum, than by buying the single blade throttle body.

Practical Application Stock Bottom End

It is generally considered that the maximum safe pulley combo on a stock supercharger with a stock bottom end is 3.16 pulley ratio, or a 6# lower with stock Lightning upper. Some have pullied harder and survived, many have pullied harder and joined the Motor Sploder Club. On a Harley truck, since the upper pulley is the larger 3.16" size vs Lightning 2.93", you can see in chart above, that an 8# pulley puts you a bit below the "safe" max ratio.

Practical Application Built Bottom End

You can pulley the M112 harder than a stock block truck, but I wouldn't recommend more than an 8# lower with a Lightning 2.76" upper. Spinning it beyond about 17,500 rpm tends to get the M112 out of its efficiency range, effectively turning it into a heat pump, with a bunch of low end torque, and little top end power due to being out of its efficiency range, and all that heat causing the computer to aggressively pull timing. This is especially true on the street.

Magnum Powers
Magnum Powers.jpg

The Magnum Powers supercharger is basically an Eaton M112 in a better case, so it's still a roots type. The rotor pack is moved forward in the MP case, to allow better inlet airflow at the rear of the blower. These superchargers can be spun harder than a stock Eaton M112, with less generated heat, but are still restricted, as they still use Eaton M112 rotors. Same 1.8L displacement as the stock Eaton M112. Gains are also to be had with these by porting, and with larger throttle bodies.

Practical Application Stock Bottom End

It is generally considered that the maximum safe pulley combo on a Magnum Powers with a stock bottom end, is the same as the stock Eaton M112, since a Magnum Powers is basically a ported M112 with a better inlet design. So a 3.16 pulley ratio, or a 6# lower with stock Lightning upper. Some have pullied harder and survived, many have pullied harder and joined the Motor Sploder Club. On a Harley truck, since the upper pulley is the larger 3.16" size vs Lightning 2.93", you can see in chart above, that an 8# pulley puts you a bit below the "safe" max ratio.

Practical Application Built Bottom End

You can pulley the Magnum Powers harder than a stock block truck, but I wouldn't recommend more than an 8# or 10# lower with a Lightning 2.76" upper. 10# would probably yield great iced down track results, but will probably generate too much heat on the street. Spinning it beyond about 18,500 rpm tends to get the Magnum Powers out of its efficiency range, effectively turning it into a heat pump, with a bunch of low end torque, and little top end power due to being out of its efficiency range, and all that heat causing the computer to aggressively pull timing. This is especially true on the street.

Eaton M122/H122
Eaton M122.jpg

The M122/H122 is the factory supercharger off 2007-2012 GT-500's. It's a roots type, and can be made to fit our engines by utilizing an adapter midplate made by Tgarlock or JPS, the JPS being the better one. These are a great budget blower upgrade. There isn't a lot of extensive track data on these blowers like there are with others I've listed here, but overall, they seem to perform well, falling somewhere between a Magnum Powers and a 2.3L Kenne Bell. It's displacement comes in at 2.0L. These superchargers often require limited wiper cowl modifications. Gains are also to be had with these by porting, and with larger throttle bodies. Trucks have run into the 12's and a couple in the 11's with this blower.

Practical Application Stock Bottom End

It is generally considered that the maximum safe pulley combo on a M122 with a stock bottom end, is a 2.91 ratio, so it's stock 3.00" upper and a 4# lower. Some have pullied harder and survived, some have pullied harder and joined the Motor Sploder Club.

Practical Application Built Bottom End

Like with all superchargers, you can pulley this thing until you get out of its efficiency range where it starts making more heat than power, which seems to come around a pulley ratio of 3.35, which is a 6# lower and 2.76" upper, or a 8# with a 2.9" upper. Don't be lazy, do some math. Lower diameter divided by upper diameter equals ratio.

2.3L Kenne Bell
2.3L Kenne Bell.jpg

The 2.3L Kenne Bell was the first twin screw made for our platform. It is no longer produced, but still available used. It's a good blower, but like all Kenne Bells, suffers from inlet restrictions as it uses a stock style plenum. JLP makes a larger sheet metal plenum which greatly alleviates that restriction. These superchargers definitely see a benefit from a larger throttle body. Reliability is its downfall, as its coupler isn't of the best design. Upgrades and rebuilds are available. Lightning's have easily run into the 11's and 10's using this supercharger.

Practical Application Stock Bottom End

It is generally considered that the maximum safe pulley combo on a 2.3L Kenne Bell with a stock bottom end, is a 2.7 ratio, so a 4# lower and a 3.25" upper, or whatever combination gets you close to 2.7 ratio. Some have pullied harder and survived, some have pullied harder and joined the Motor Sploder Club.

Practical Application Built Bottom End

Like with all superchargers, you can pulley this thing until you get out of its efficiency range where it starts making more heat than power, which seems to come around a pulley ratio of 3.25 WITH the JLP PowerFlow Plenum , which is a 8# lower and 3.0" upper, or whatever combination gets you close to 3.25 ratio.

Eaton TVS2300
Eaton TVS2300.jpg

The Eaton TVS2300 is the factory supercharger from 2013-2014 GT-500's. Like the M122/H122, it's a roots type, and can be made to fit our engines by utilizing an adapter midplate made by Tgarlock or JPS, the JPS being the better one. These are a fantastic budget blower upgrade. There isn't a lot of extensive track data on these blowers either like there are with others I've listed here, but overall, they seem to perform very well, falling somewhere between a 2.3L Kenne Bell and a 2.3L Whipple. Perhaps even almost equal to a 2.3L Whipple. It's displacement comes in at 2.3L. This blower can also benefit from upgrading the plenum/elbow and larger throttle bodies. Trucks have run well into the 11's on this blower, and it is certainly 10's capable.

Practical Application Stock Bottom End

Now there's not a whole lot of data of people running an Eaton TVS2300 on a stock block Lightning. But after looking at the pulley ratio's people are running, to keep your stock block together, you're going to want to keep this blower below a 3.0 ratio. About the max recommended for a stock lower end, would be a 4# lower and a 3.0 upper. The factory GT-500 upper pulley is 2.71". With a factory lower pulley, that puts you nice and safe at a 2.76 ratio, and a 2# lower with that upper gives you a tad over the threshold at 3.04 ratio.

Practical Application Built Bottom End

Like with all superchargers, you can pulley this thing until you get out of its efficiency range where it starts making more heat than power, which seems to come around a pulley ratio of about 3.4-3.5. The TVS2300 has also been known to eat itself if pullied too hard. The most popular pulley ratio for a good performer is a 6# lower and stock GT-500 2.71" upper, for a 3.41 ratio. You could also do a 6# lower and 2.6" upper for a 3.55 ratio, but that's pretty darn close to its limit, depending on what RPM you're shifting your engine at.

2.3L Whipple
2.3L Whipple.jpg

The 2.3L Whipple is arguably the most popular aftermarket supercharger for Lightning's, and my personal favorite, for a reason. It's a twin screw design, has relatively low charge temperatures, and is very reliable. There are two versions of it, with rotor and bearing upgrades seen on the Gen 2 versions. The compressor number starts with W3A if it's a Gen 1, and 140- if it's a Gen 2. No plenum upgrades are needed to work this blower hard, making it a great bang for the buck. However, gains in power and outlet temperatures have been seen by increasing the throttle body and intake elbow size. Probably the best aftermarket choice for a Lightning primarily driven on the street. Trucks have run deep into the 11's, all over the 10's, and even into the 9's on this baby Whipple, making it more than enough blower for 95% of Lightning owners, with great street manners to boot.

Practical Application Stock Bottom End

It is generally considered that the maximum safe pulley combo on a 2.3L Whipple with a stock bottom end, is a 2.7 ratio, so a 4# lower and a 3.25" upper puts you at 2.69. Some have pullied harder and survived, some have pullied harder and joined the Motor Sploder Club.

Practical Application Built Bottom End

Like with all superchargers, you can pulley this thing until you get out of its efficiency range where it starts making more heat than power, which seems to come around a pulley ratio of 3.25, which is a 8# lower and 3.0" upper, or whatever combination gets you close to 3.25 ratio. There are quite a few who have pullied harder to a 3.5 or 3.55 ratio. Opening up the throttle body flange for a Magnum Powers Big-O and larger intake tube and filter definitely makes a difference in the more aggressive pulley ratios.

2.6L Kenne Bell
2.6 Kenne Bell Stock.JPG

The 2.6L Kenne Bell is arguably the second most popular aftermarket supercharger available. It's a twin screw design, and is completely different from the smaller 2.3L Kenne Bell, but has relatively high charge temperatures, and is reliable. However, it performs about the same as the smaller Whipple out of the box, only with higher charge temperatures. To make it shine, a larger, expensive sheet metal plenum, throttle body, and intake from JLP are needed. To fit this plenum, the wiper cowl must be modified. Once these upgrades are applied, the 2.6L KB does outshine the smaller Whipple especially at the race track, but still tends to build a lot of heat on the street. Probably the best aftermarket choice for your "standard" built, track focused trucks for 90% of Lightning owners. Below is a picture of the JLP PowerFlow sheet metal plenum needed to really work this blower. An oversized throttle body and intake tube are also needed. These superchargers have taken Lightning's into the 11's, 10's, and even 9's.
2.6 Kenne Bell JLP Plenum.jpg

Practical Application Stock Bottom End

It is generally considered that the maximum safe pulley combo on a 2.6L Kenne Bell with a stock bottom end, is about a 2.5-2.6 ratio, so a 6# lower and a 3.75" upper puts you at 2.47, while an 8# and 3.75" puts you at 2.6. Some have pullied harder and survived, some have pullied harder and joined the Motor Sploder Club.

Practical Application Built Bottom End

Like with all superchargers, you can pulley this thing until you get out of its efficiency range where it starts making more heat than power, which seems to come around a pulley ratio of 3.25, which a 10# lower and 3.25" upper comes out to 3.23 ratio, or whatever combination gets you close to 3.25 ratio. There are quite a few who have pullied harder to a 3.5 or even more, but the blower makes a TON of heat at those kind of pulley ratios. Upgrading to the expensive JLP PowerFlow plenum and oversized throttle body and intake tube are pretty much required to spin this blower hard.

3.4L Whipple
3.4L Whipple.jpg

The 3.4L Whipple is another popular aftermarket supercharger upgrade. It's a twin screw design, and is essentially the bigger brother to the 2.3L Whipple. It also has two versions, with rotor and bearing upgrades seen on the Gen 2 versions. The compressor number starts with W4A if it's a Gen 1, and 200- if it's a Gen 2. Unlike the smaller Whipple, the 3.4L suffers many of the same problems as the 2.6L Kenne Bell. Primarily high charge temperatures and restrictive plenum design. With the stock plenum, it performs similar to the smaller Whipple and 2.6 Kenne Bell. Expensive aftermarket larger sheet metal plenums, throttle bodies, and intakes are around, made by either WMS, Trick Performance, or ArRaceTech. Like the 2.6 Kenne Bell, these larger plenums help it breathe when pullied aggressively, and lower the charge temps, but they also require wiper cowl modification. Once these upgrades are applied, the 3.4L Whipple can perform better than the 2.3L Whipple and standard 2.6L Kenne Bell, and similarly to the 2.6L Kenne Bell also with plenum, throttle body, and intake upgrades applied. Below is a picture of one of ArRaceTech's larger plenums. These superchargers have taken trucks into the 11's, 10's, and even a couple into the 9's.

3.4 Whipple AR Plenum.JPG

Practical Application Stock Bottom End

Well, it's honestly not a very good idea to run this mammoth 3.4L supercharger on a stock lower end. Even with a stock lower pulley and the 4" upper the big Whipple comes with, so a 1.87 ratio they still make 17+ psi of boost on a stock motor. That's about as far as you want to push a stock block. You're much better off with a smaller supercharger.

Practical Application Built Bottom End

Like with all superchargers, you can pulley this thing until you get out of its efficiency range where it starts making more heat than power, which seems to come around a pulley ratio of 2.5, which is a 4# lower and 3.5" upper, or stock lower with a 3" upper, or whatever combination gets you close to 2.5 ratio. There are quite a few who have pullied harder to a 2.6 and 2.9 ratio, but the blower makes a TON of heat at those kind of pulley ratios. Upgrading to an expensive aftermarket plenum and oversized throttle body and intake tube are pretty much required to spin this blower hard.

Other Superchargers and Turbos

Big KB.jpg
I won't get into the more exotic supercharger upgrades like the 2.8LC Kenne Bell, 3.2LC Kenne Bell, 3.6LC Kenne Bell, 2.9L Whipple, 4.0L Whipple, etc. If you're looking to run one of these blowers, then hopefully you're not reading this Lightning Modding 101, you need to be in class 201 at least! Neither will I go into turbo swaps, as that's class 301!

Oil Field Trash
2,643 Posts
Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Inlets and Intakes

Intakes and Inlets




There are a huge number of intakes, or "Cold Air Intakes" available for these blower set ups, as they all utilize the stock style setup. What you want here, is an intake that is durable, but primarily, has a way to shield the air filter from the engine bay heat. Open filters flow great, but they suck in a lot of hot engine bay air, especially at low speeds. Most air intakes on the market today have some sort of heat shield in place, but some of the older versions of the same intake don't. I don't particularly like the AEM, because of the MAF placement.

This is what you're looking for, something along these lines where the filter is shielded from the engine bay.

JLT Installed.JPG

This is what you don't want. You say, "Oh! Look how huge is filter is!" That's great, it really is. The bigger the filter the less restriction, but his MAF is clocked up not sideways like it should be, and there is nothing to prevent that filter from sucking all the hot air it can find. You see, there's this hole in your driver fender, that Ford put there specifically for the engine to draw cooler air from. JLP air boxes and others take advantage of that. This random filter stuck on the end of a nice C&L elbow, is a good 4" away from that source of cool air, and it's doing nothing but sucking hot air from the engine bay.

Bad Intake.jpg

Of course those of you with aftermarket superchargers, have more limited options when it comes to intakes, but you still want the same thing overall. A large intake, with a big shielded filter. Whipple's come with their own, Kenne Bell's come with their own as well. You M122/TVS guys, you're on your own piecing something together.

Throttle Bodies

Let me preface this next bit by saying, on a stock block truck, while there are power gains to be seen with everything mentioned below, they are not huge and significant. Your money is better spent of a quality cold air intake, porting your blower, bigger pulley, intercooler mods, exhaust, traction bars, etc. before spending money on the next items. I'm by no means saying not to perform these mods, I'm just saying your bang for the buck is less that some other mods you may or may not have yet.

Single blade throttle bodies definitely flow better than the stock one. LFP claims their single blade throttle body flows 1089 cfm. Other good brands to install are Accufab and Magnum Powers. You can also have your stock throttle body ported, but be careful not to go too far with it or you'll create idle problems.

Throttle Body.jpg

After installing your new throttle body, the following steps should be taken to make sure it is adjusted correctly. Start your truck, let it get up to operating temperature. Now unplug your IAC valve. If your truck dies, the throttle blade is closed too much. Open it up a little using the set screw, and try again. If you can't immediately hear a difference in engine RPM, because it stays the same, the throttle blade is open too much. Close it a little using the set screw, and try again. What you want, is for the rpm of the engine to drop, but not die. This means the IAC valve and the computer are able to do their job of controlling the idle speed. So say you're idling at 700rpm, you want to unplug the IAC and see the engine speed drop to say 550-600rpm, but not die. After you've set the set screw, you need to adjust the throttle position sensor. You're looking for about .98-99 volts with the throttle closed, but not above 1.0 volts. You can measure this with a multimeter, a handheld code scanner, or even your handheld tuner. You adjust it by loosening the screws, and clocking the throttle position sensor. You may need to drill out the holes on the sensor itself to get enough movement.

When pushing any of the common aftermarket superchargers hard on a built engine, an upgraded throttle body is highly recommended. Fit the largest one you can. 2.3L Whipples can fit the Magnum Powers Big-O with some modification to the throttle body flange. 2.6L Kenne Bell's have a couple of mammoth throttle bodies to choose from supplied by Kenne Bell/JLP, when using the JLP PowerFlow sheetmetal plenum. 3.4L Whipples have a couple of mammoth throttle bodies to choose from as well, which one depending on which aftermarket sheetmetal plenum you go with.


Let me preface this next bit by saying, on a stock block truck, while there are power gains to be seen with everything mentioned below, they are not huge and significant. Your money is better spent of a quality cold air intake, porting your blower, bigger pulley, intercooler mods, exhaust, traction bars, etc. before spending money on the next items. I'm by no means saying not to perform these mods, I'm just saying your bang for the buck is less that some other mods you may or may not have yet.

There are limited options for plenums no matter your blower. Stock M122 Eaton's, Magnum Powers, and 2.3 Kenne Bells all use the stock style plenum. You can either have your stock one ported, locate a used C&L plenum as they are no longer in production, or spring for a JLP PowerFlow sheetmetal plenum. The 2.3 Kenne Bell really loves having that JLP plenum, and boy does it make that blower scream!

C&L Plenum for Eaton M112, Magnum Powers, 2.3L Kenne Bell

C&L Plenum.jpg

C&L Plenum installed on Eaton M112
C&L Plenum Installed.jpg

JLP PowerFlow Sheetmetal Plenum for Eaton M112, Magnum Powers, 2.3L Kenne Bell
JLP Sheetmetal Eaton.jpg

JLP PowerFlow Sheetmetal Plenum installed on 2.3L Kenne Bell

2.3 Kenne Bell JLP Plenum Installed.jpg

2.3L Whipples, well, you're pretty much using the stock Whipple plenum, or you're doing something custom. Don't worry, 9's have been achieved on this plenum! Significant gains are still to be had, by opening up the throttle body flange for a Magnum Powers Big-O throttle body, and using a larger intake tube and filter.

Magnum Powers Big-O Throttle Body Installed on 2.3L Whipple

2.3 Whipple Big O.JPG

Magnum Powers Big-O Throttle Body with JLP 2.6L KB Thunder Tube and Intake Box Installed on 2.3L Whipple

2.3 Whipple Big O Installed.JPG

2.6L Kenne Bells, the only available upgrade is the JLP PowerFlow plenum. It's awesome, and almost a requirement to wake up this supercharger or get any really good numbers out of it. With this plenum, you should use an aftermarket MASSIVE throttle body.

JLP PowerFlow Sheetmetal Plenum for 2.6L Kenne Bell

2.6 Kenne Bell JLP Plenum.jpg

JLP PowerFlow Sheetmetal Plenum for 2.6L Kenne Bell with Kenne Bell Throttle Body and JLP Thunder Tube and Intake Box Installed on 2.6L Kenne Bell

2.6 Kenne Bell JLP Plenum Installed.jpg

3.4L Whipples, there are a few options available for upgraded plenums, but only one that can still be purchased new. WMS and Trick Performance used to make sheetmetal plenums for this supercharger, but they no longer do. The only one to still produce them, is ArRaceTech, and they are a phenomenal work of art. With these, you should use an aftermarket MASSIVE throttle body.

3.4L Whipple ArRaceTech Plenum

3.4 Whipple AR Plenum.JPG

3.4L Whipple WMS Plenum Installed

3.4 Whipple WMS Plenum Installed.jpg

Oil Field Trash
2,643 Posts
Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
Fuel System

Fuel System

Stock Fuel System Function

Your stock fuel system can support quite a bit of power with a few simple upgrades. Everything discussed below, is assuming premium pump gas (91 or 93 octane), or even race fuels with a stoich value at or near 14.08:1 to 14.7:1. If you're planning on using a fuel like e85, then subtract about 30% from all these horsepower figures.

Here's how a stock system works. The fuel pumps pressurize and pump the fuel from the tank, through the filter and feed fuel line, to the driver side fuel rail, to the passenger side fuel rail, through the fuel pressure regulator, and back down the return fuel line to the hat and tank. The fuel pressure regulator holds the fuel pressure from the pumps, feed line, and rails at a CONSTANT base pressure of 39.15 psi above the manifold pressure. So when there is zero pressure on the lower intake manifold, your fuel system holds a fuel pressure of 39.15 psi, let's call it 39. At 5 psi of boost, or 5 psi on the lower intake, fuel pressure is raised by the regulator to 44 psi, at 10 psi boost, it's at 49 psi, exactly 10 psi above that base pressure of 39. But the pressure difference across the injector is always the constant 39 psi. With 39 psi of fuel pressure, with 0 psi on manifold, the pressure difference is 39. With 49 psi of fuel pressure, with 10 psi of boost, the pressure difference is 39. That should be a constant. This is programmed in the computer, as our computers can't read actual fuel pressure, it assumes there is always a pressure difference across the injector of 39.15 psi.

This is a chart of how the fuel pressure, manifold pressure, and pressure difference across the injector are supposed to relate to each other. You can see, that as manifold pressure (boost) rises, so does fuel pressure rise equally to the boost, keeping the pressure differential across the fuel injector the same base 39 psi.


At idle and part throttle, the full volume of both pumps is much more than enough to maintain that 39 psi differential, so the computer reduces the voltage to the pumps in those conditions, because the full flow isn't needed. It does this by triggering a relay, which sends the current to the pumps through a resistor, located by the Intercooler pump, to reduce the voltage the pumps see. At a lot of throttle and WOT, the full volume of the pumps is needed, and the computer switches that relay back, bypassing the resistor, and sending full 12v voltage to the pumps, getting maximum fuel volume.


If I were going through a gradual build over the years, these are the fuel system upgrades, in order, I would do to my Lightning. Next to each upgrade, I have listed the approximate rwhp the fuel system can support at that point. This is not the power each component can support, but the power the entire fuel system can support after each upgrade, including the previous upgrades. The amount of power each individual item can support is noted elsewhere in this article. For instance, dual Walbro 255 pumps can support approximately 675 rwhp, but next to them in the following list is written 500 rwhp, because dual 255's in conjunction with stock lines, rails, and injectors, can only support that.

Stock Fuel System with Good Fuel Pumps - 425-450 rwhp
Dual Walbro 255's and '97-'98 Fuel Rails - 500 rwhp
Siemen Deka 60#/hr Injectors - 625-650 rwhp
-8AN Feed and -6AN Return Lines - 675 rwhp
DW 88#/hr Injectors and a 3rd Walbro, or dual 340 Pumps - 700 rwhp
Aftermarket Fuel Rails and Regulator - 800 rwhp
ID1000 Injectors - 900 rwhp

Fuel Pumps

Walbro 255's with Stainless Y Connector
Twin Walbros.jpg

First thing to upgrade is the fuel pumps. Stock fuel pumps are normally enough to support 425-450 rwhp, if they're in good shape. So for your basic Eaton M112 powered stock block truck, stock pumps should be all you'll ever need. I've tuned many trucks with ported Eaton M112 blowers and a 6# lower, where the stock pumps supplied adequate fuel, even in colder temperatures. Only when you exceed about 450 rwhp, or when your stock pumps are no longer healthy, is a fuel pump upgrade required.

Now I've tuned a few trucks, where with only a 6# lower stock pumps couldn't keep up with fueling demands. Why is this? All of these were trucks with excess of 100k miles, and the stock fuel pumps were worn out. This can also occur if the fuel lines inside the fuel tank are split, or the Y connector itself is split. In this case, as well as trucks projected to make over 475 rwhp, I advise going ahead and upgrading to dual Walbro 255's instead of replacing the stock pumps. Be sure to also replace the Y connector with a metal version. LFP makes a good Walbro 255 upgrade kit with a stainless Y connector. But twin 255's come with their own potential headaches.

First of all, the Walbros run hotter, and should not be driven under 1/4 tank of fuel regularly. They can do it, but it decreases the life expectancy of the pumps. There has also been occasions where they blow the stock fuel pump fuse under 1/4 tank, due to running hot and drawing more amps. So with twin Walbro's, keep it above 1/4 tank.

Secondly, the 255's don't like being run on reduced voltage like the stock system does at part throttle. It decreases their life expectancy. Additionally, when the stock reducing voltage system is left alone, many owners report a hesitation, and bouncing fuel pressure at moderate throttle, where the stock system can't decide between reduced voltage and full voltage. Also, the higher amp draw of the Walbros, can overload the voltage dropping resistor, causing it to overheat or become damaged. For these three reasons, when running the twin Walbro 255's, they should be run at full voltage all the time, bypassing the voltage dropping part of the system. This can be done two ways, either in the tune, or by physically jumping the relay by removing it and placing a jumper wire in place.

'97-'98 5.4L 2v Fuel Rails

97 Rails.jpg

But running the twin Walbros full voltage at idle and part throttle can bring it its own issues. The increased fuel volume at idle and cruising throttle, can be too much for the otherwise stock fuel system to handle. Unable to get rid of the excess fuel volume, the pressure increases, and overruns the regulator, resulting in higher fuel pressure than desired at idle and cruise. The restriction is both in the stock fuel pressure regulator itself, as well as in the stock fuel return line size. Alleviating either of these issues, usually results in appropriate fuel pressure. You can either run fuel rails off a 1997-1998 2v 5.4 equipped truck (F-150, F-250, Expedition, or Navigator) as they use a different fuel pressure regulator. This traditional 2-bolt style regulator also opens up the possibility of many more aftermarket adjustable options. This style regulator can better bleed off the additional fuel volume the twin Walbros provide. The other option, is to increase the size of the fuel return line with an aftermarket -6AN fuel hose. Either solution, usually results in proper fuel pressure at idle, cruise, and all operating conditions.

When the fuel pressure regulator is overrun by the twin Walbro 255's, the fuel pressure difference across the injector is higher than the desired 39 psi at idle and cruise, but as fuel demand increases with more throttle, and the regulator is able to keep up again, fuel pressure differential across the injector goes back to the desired 39 psi. But remember, our PCM's don't read fuel pressure, and they assume that the pressure differential across the injector is a constant 39.15, but it isn't when the regulator is overrun. Now since these conditions occur during closed loop fueling, the PCM is able to keep the desired A/F ratio close to 14.7:1 by using feedback from the front O2 sensors, but it can result in poorer driveability, and poorer fuel economy. This can be tuned around with a custom tune, but many tuners don't take the time to do this. Even if they do, it's still and band aid, and not correct. You want to see a constant pressure differential across the fuel injector of 39 psi, no matter the vacuum, boost, or throttle position. There are two solutions to this problem. With proper tuning, they are not required, but are recommended in order to keep the pressure differential across the injectors of 39 psi.

You can see in the following graph, what can happen to fuel pressure when the regulator is overrun with too much fuel volume. See how the pressure differential across the injector is no longer the same 39 psi it should be? Your computer in your truck is assuming that it is.


Other popular pump upgrades are DW 300's, and Aeromotive 340's. Both of these should be used with upgraded fuel pump wiring and larger aftermarket fuel lines, discussed below.

Fuel Injectors

Now we'll talk about fuel injectors. Here are some of the more popular ones. The stock 42#/hr fuel injectors with adequate fuel pressure and volume, can support about 500 rwhp. So chances are, if you've got a stock block truck, you won't be eclipsing that, and there is no need for larger fuel injectors, provided your fuel pumps are in good condition and can supply adequate fuel pressure and volume to them. Siemen Deka 60#/hr fuel injectors with adequate fuel pressure and volume, can support about 650-675 rwhp. DW 88#/hr fuel injectors with adequate fuel pressure and volume, can support about 750-800 rwhp. If you're making more than that, I don't think you're reading this article for help on sizing your injectors, but Injector Dynamics ID1000's, ID1300's, ID2000's are popular among others.

Let me say, please do not use Siemen Deka 80#/hr injectors. They suck. Yes, they flow a lot, and they're fine at WOT, but they do not all respond alike in a pulse width under 2ms. They also have a bad transition point from low to high slope. They can work, and I'm sure you know someone who says they have no complaints about them, but in my opinion, they're just a crappy injector. Consider DW 88 #/hr injectors if that's about the sizing you're looking for.

Stock 42#/hr Injectors
Stock Injectors.jpg

Siemen Deka 60#/hr Injectors
60 Injectors.jpg

Injector Dynamics ID1000 Injectors
ID1000 Injectors.jpg

Larger Fuel Lines

The next part of the fuel system to upgrade after the pumps, is not the rails. Stock or '97-'98 fuel rails can support about 700 rwhp! The stock feed and return lines can only support around 625-650 rwhp. Upgrading to a -8 AN sized fuel feed line, and a -6 AN fuel return line, with stock or '97-'98 rails and dual Walbro 255's can support about 700 rwhp. You can either modify your stock fuel hat to accept AN fittings, or JDM sells a billet dual hat with AN fittings already built in. Fore Innovations also makes a billet triple pump hat with AN fittings already built in. Many vendors offer pre-built fuel systems, such as JDM, JLP, and WMS. Or of course you can piece together your own.

AN Lines.jpeg

Fore Triple Fuel Pump Hat
Fore Hat.jpg

Fuel Rails and Fuel Pressure Regulators

After bigger pumps and lines, the stock or '97-'98 fuel rails become the restriction above fuel requirements of 700 rwhp. Aftermarket rails such as those made by Metco or Aeromotive (or their knockoffs) are available. They both work great, however the Metco rails allow for easier changing of the coil packs.

Metco Fuel Rails
Metco Rails.jpg

When using either of these rails, an aftermarket fuel pressure regulator must be used. Now when plumbing these rails in, you have a choice. Series, or parallel. The stock rails are fed in series, with all the fuel flow going through the driver side rail, then the remaining flow going through the passenger side rail, before going to the fuel pressure regulator. You can plumb aftermarket rails in like this, and as long as you have adequate fuel pressure and volume, there will be no problems. However, it is a better idea, just in case you start to run out of fuel pump, and don't notice your passenger side is going lean because your wideband or fuel pressure gauge is installed on the driver side, to plumb them in parallel. A y-block is used to split the main feed line, supplying each fuel rail at the same time, two more lines coming off each fuel rail, to either another y-block, then to the fuel pressure regulator, or both lines directly into the regulator providing it has two ports available.

Aeromotive Pro Series Fuel Pressure Regulator

Aeromotive Pro Regulator.jpg



Fuel Pump Wiring

All larger than stock fuel pumps can benefit from upgrading the wiring powering the fuel pumps. Twin Walbro 255's are okay using stock wiring, and normally do not cause any issues, however, they can still benefit from upgraded wiring. All other pumps larger than the Walbro 255's, should have upgraded wiring run to them. The reason for this, is because these larger fuel pumps draw more current (amps) than the stock pumps. Stock wiring, is meant for the amp draw of stock pumps. Pumps larger than 255's can even pop the fuel pump fuse almost immediately, due to their high amp draw.

Upgrading the wiring is simple. You run large gauge wire directly from your battery to the area of the fuel tank, with a fuse installed as close to the battery as possible, sized just over the maximum amp draw of all your fuel pumps combined. Install a simple 4-pin automotive 12v relay (rated for the appropriate amp draw of all your fuel pumps combined) near the fuel tank, with its constant power hooked to the new wire from the battery. The relay ground should of course be grounded. The switched output of the relay should connect to your fuel pumps using larger than factory wire. Use the factory fuel pump power wire to trigger the relay on, by connecting it to the switched 12v input on the relay and done. This can also be done using a fuel pump controller from Fore Innovations such as the FC2 or FC3.

Fore Innovations FC3 Fuel Pump Controller

Fore FC3.jpg

Oil Field Trash
2,643 Posts
Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)


Cooling on these trucks is not just about making sure it doesn't overheat, but making and maintaining power. It depends on which cooling system we're talking about, as our trucks are equipped with two, entirely separate cooling systems.

Engine Cooling

Electric Fans

Electric fans can be a great upgrade to freeing up some horsepower in your truck. Instead of using the engine to turn the stock clutch fan, which takes power, you install electric fans. In reality, this frees up about 10-11rwhp, allowing that power to be transferred to the wheels, instead of being used to drive the stock clutch fan. Sounds great! Let's do it!

Hold on, electric fans may not be for you. First of all, they take an incredible amount of electrical power to run. That's less electrical power available to run your engine, fuel pumps, or sound system. A simple fix for this, is to install a larger capacity alternator and upgraded wiring. Secondly, aftermarket electric fans are not known to be the most reliable. Sometimes the fan motor itself goes out, this is easily remedied by using a take off fan from an OEM vehicle, such as the popular Mark VIII fan. However often, it is the aftermarket fan controller that isn't up to the task. Be sure to use a good fan controller with wiring and relays that are up to the task of handling an electric fan(s). But my biggest concern with electric fans, is the cooling capacity itself. Nothing, I repeat, nothing cools as well as the stock clutch fan. Do you operate your truck in environments where maximum cooling is desired? If you live in the South, like I do in Texas, these hot summers can really take a toll on my engine cooling system. Up North in Yankeeland, it's not so bad. How do you use your truck? Is it a street truck or daily driver that goes to the track a few times a year? Or is it a garage queen that goes to the track every weekend? For that quick blast down the track, electric fans are fantastic, you want every available horsepower around. But for a daily driver, do you really want the decreased cooling capacity and reliability of electric fans?

Basically, if it's a race truck, or a street truck in an area with milder summers, electric fans are a great upgrade. If it's a street truck where it gets stupid hot during the summer, you, your engine, and your AC system are probably better off with the stock clutch fan. Personally, even though I live in Houston, TX, my race truck has electric fans. My fully built and Whippled street truck, still runs around with the stock clutch fan.

Flex-A-Lite F-150 Electric Fans
Flex A Lite.jpg

Water Pumps

There are five commonly used water pumps on Lightning's. Ford kept revising them over the years, plus the "upgrades" we like to install. They are all interchangeable as far as the engine is concerned. If you're using the stock clutch fan, it must be a Lightning specific water pump, as it has the extended shaft the fan clutch mounts to. The 03-04 with the shroud ring is the best of the three, but is no longer available from Ford, or any aftermarket.

99-00 Lightning - Cast iron, heavy duty, 8-bladed impeller with no shroud
01-02 Lightning - Cast iron, 7-bladed impeller with no shroud
03-04 Lightning - Cast iron, 7-bladed impeller with a shroud

Popular options, if you are running electric fans that is, because these pumps don't have the extended shaft to mount the fan clutch to.

Navigator - Aluminum (weighs less), 7-bladed impeller with a shroud
Cobra R - Aluminum (weighs less), 7-bladed impeller with no shroud

The Cobra R pump actually has a smaller impeller than any of the others listed. It can increase horsepower, because the smaller impeller takes less power to drive it, but it actually cools less. According to Tim Skelton, it's right on the edge, and he and others have done away with it, because it's not worth the risk.

Navigator Pump on Left, 01-02 Lightning Pump on Right

Navi vs 0102.jpg

Intercooler System

The second cooling system on your truck, is designed to only cool down one thing. Air. As our superchargers compress the air (boost) a byproduct of that compression is heat. That's simple physics, nothing you can do about that. Hot air, tends to lead to pre-ignition (detonation), so less spark advance (timing) can be run with hot air, resulting in less horsepower. Cooling the air back off, more spark advance (timing) can be run, resulting in more horsepower. So Ford placed an intercooler directly underneath your supercharger, inside the lower intake, to do just that, cool the air off after the temperature has risen since it was compressed. This is done by circulating coolant through that intercooler. The heat is transferred from the air, to the coolant, which after leaving the intercooler, goes back to the intercooler coolant reservoir. The pump then takes the coolant from the reservoir, and it runs through the heat exchanger (located behind the front bumper) in order to get rid of some of that heat, before the coolant goes back through the intercooler itself again, to cool down the air charge and take on more heat again.

Problem is, the system can't get rid of the heat it absorbs as quickly as the heat is made. So the coolant gets hotter and hotter, and the air charge temperature gets hotter and hotter, especially after repeated wide open throttle runs. This is known as heat soak. Now remember how I said that hotter air, cannot take as much spark advance (timing) as cooler air? The stock computer in these trucks knows this, and so as the air charge temperature (ACT) gets higher and higher, it reduces timing, reducing horsepower. It also knows that as the ACT gets lower and lower, it can increase timing, increasing horsepower. This is controlled by a number of different tables and multipliers inside the programming of the stock computer. I have tried to simplify it as best I can with the explanation below.

From the graph below, you can clearly see that as the air charge temperature (ACT) gets higher, the ignition timing (Advance) gets lower. The truck increases and decreases timing automatically, based on the temperature of the incoming air (ACT). If you can manage to get your ACT below 108*, the computer is actually adding timing to what is commanded in the base timing table. At any ACT above 108*, the computer is subtracting timing to what is commanded in the base timing table. The cooler you can get this air to be, the more power your truck will make. This is done automatically by the computer.

ACT (Air Charge Temperature)/IAT2 vs. Spark Advance (Timing)

ACT vs Advance.jpg

Timing Change from Commanded
Actual Change at WOT and 3000 rpm.jpg

Now there are three different tables that control ignition timing based on ACT. It changes for every temperature, throttle position, load, and engine rpm. Needless to say, it can get a little complicated. For this example, I chose wide open throttle, at 3000rpm, and maximum load. This is from the factory stock tune in an NLP2 computer, so from a 2003 Lightning. As you can see in the graph above, the computer is actually adding ignition timing below 108* ACT, and reducing it above 108* ACT. The misconception that the computer doesn't pull timing until 150* is false, but I can see how that conclusion was reached, if you simply glance at one of the tables. If you take the time to actually calculate it out, it starts pulling timing at 107.7* to be precise.

Actual Timing Change from Commanded
Added Timing.jpg

In this table above, I am showing specific values of the graph above, from the stock tune, for amounts of timing to increase or decrease, at 3000rpm and WOT on an NLP2, depending on the ACT. You can see where the idea that it doesn't start pulling timing until 150* came from, as on this table it's not until 150* that the number becomes negative. But it's not a switch, it doesn't go from adding 4.5* timing from 50-150*, and all of a sudden reducing 3.3* of timing from 150*-174*. It interpolates between the values, so at say 125* ACT, it's pulling 1.35* of timing from commanded. At 108* ACT, is the only time it is actually doing commanded ignition timing. Below that, it's adding timing, above that, it's pulling timing.


So we can clearly (I hope) see that high ACT temperatures kill power. We want to keep those ACT temperatures as low as possible. But the more boost and air we throw at the engine with bigger pulleys and larger superchargers, the higher that charge temperature becomes. The solution to high charge temperatures and to heat soak, is to decrease the intercooler coolant temperature.


Larger aftermarket reservoirs such as those made by JLP, LFP, Trick, and Canton, don't actually do anything for cooling down the intercooler coolant. What they do, is enlarge the capacity of the intercooler system itself. Think about trying to boil water on the stove. If you put 1 cup of water on the stove for 5 min, and you put 5 cups of water in another pot on the stove for 5 minutes, which will heat up faster? The pot with 1 cup. Given long enough time, they will both reach the same temperature in the end, but the 1 cup pot gets hotter faster. It's the same thing with the intercooler system.

By increasing the size of the system, and the volume of coolant in it, the coolant will heat up slower in the enlarged system. So after one WOT blast in the stock system, your intercooler coolant temperature might reach 100*. But after one WOT blast in an enlarged system, your intercooler coolant temperature might only reach 70*. Means when you start that next WOT blast, you're starting out with cooler coolant with the enlarged system. Do enough pulls, and they'll both reach 100*, but it takes more of them with the enlarged system. Essentially, a larger intercooler reservoir delays heat soak, but does nothing to prevent it.

A huge advantage of a larger aftermarket intercooler reservoir, is they have larger caps/lids than the stock one, and you can pack the thing full of ice when you are at the race track and trying to squeeze every last horsepower out of your combo. This cools that coolant down to 35* or so, and can pull a lot more heat out of the intercooler, cooling down that air charge temperature as much as possible

JLP Street Intercooler Reservoir

Heat Exchangers

Larger aftermarket heat exchangers, such as those made by AFCO, Fluidyne, and LFP, do actually increase the cooling capability of the intercooler system. They cool the intercooler fluid down more than the stock heat exchanger, before the fluid is pumped back into the intercooler itself, making it possible for the fluid to pull more heat out of the air charge, lowering its temperature, making more power. Adding electric fans to the heat exchanger aids it even more at cooling the fluid down, but generally only at low speeds and in traffic.

AFCO Single Pass Heat Exchanger
Heat Exchanger.jpg

Intercooler Fluid Hose Size and Pumps

Up to a certain point, the quicker you can move that intercooler fluid through the intercooler, extracting heat, and replacing that fluid with more cool fluid, the cooler your air charge temperatures will be. Take wind chill in the weather for example. What feels colder to your body because it's whisking away your body heat? A 1mph wind, or a 20mph wind? That 20mph gust of wind sure feels a lot colder than that 1mph wind. Why? Because more air is traveling over your skin, and whisking away your body heat. Same principal applies with the volume of the intercooler fluid. To an extent, the quicker you can replace that fluid that's already been heated by the air charge in the intercooler with fresh cooled fluid that hasn't been heated up already, the lower the air charge temperature will be.

The stock system has a restriction in the hoses that reduce coolant flow volume. It is the hard lines next to the supercharger on the passenger side. The ID of these hard lines is less than the ID of all the other hoses and fittings in the system, and restricts the flow. Replacing these hard lines with 5/8" heater hose will increase the volume in the fluid flow.

A highly debated topic, is to replace all of the intercooler lines with larger 3/4" lines. It is said that since the inlet and outlet sizes of the stock intercooler and heat exchanger are only 5/8", that 3/4" lines doesn't help increase the fluid volume rate. Ehh, I think it does. The longer you flow through a given size hose or pipe, with the same pump driving the flow, the less the volume/min becomes. If you put a 2 feet of hose on a water pump, it will flow a certain amount of volume/min. If you put 20 feet of that same diameter hose on the same water pump, it will flow less volume/min that the shorter 2 foot hose. That's fluid dynamics. So even though the 5/8" connections on the stock intercooler are present, which is the greater restriction? A few inches of 5/8" with less restricted 3/4" hose before and after, or many feet of 5/8"? Who knows. To my knowledge, no one has actually fully tested accurate volume/min. with all 5/8" hose and again with all 3/4" hose in our trucks. I just go with the 3/4". If you have an aftermarket intercooler, heat exchanger, pump, and reservoir all with larger than 5/8" fittings, the choice is clear. Go with 3/4" lines.

Intercooler pumps that can pump a higher volume/min. of coolant are a great upgrade too. Mezeire and Jabsco both make popular pump upgrades. The Jabsco is my choice, but requires a custom way to mount it.

Jabsco Intercooler Pump


The 99-00 Lightning's came with a 9-row intercooler. This intercooler is known to leak, and there was a recall years ago by Ford, to upgrade the 99-00 Lightning's with the newer 10-row intercooler as found on the 01-04 Lightning's. Few people upgrade from the factory 01-04 10-row intercooler, however Trick Performance does make a rather expensive upgraded unit, with 11-row's. Owners have reported over an 11* average drop in air charge temperatures when using this Trick Performance Stage 3 intercooler. When you look at the table listed above, depending on the actual ACT, that 11* drop can make over a 2* difference in spark timing advance alone! Well worth the money for those looking for every little bit of horsepower they can find.

Trick Performance Stage 3 Intercooler on Left, 01-04 Stock 10-row on Right
Trick Stage 3.jpg

Killer Chiller

The Killer Chiller is an awesome modification. All this heat and cooling we're talking about, isn't there a factory something on your truck that makes things cold? Oh that's right, your AC system! Why not use that to help keep these air charge temperatures under control? The Killer Chiller does just that. It uses the AC system in your truck to cool off the intercooler fluid. Now, it's a bit expensive, and requires discharging and recharging your AC Freon. But it does work great! It's other downside, and the reason I don't have one as I live in Houston, TX, is it does take away from your AC system some. The newer versions, if charged correctly using the correct Freon, aren't as bad, but there's no way around it. Your in cab AC will suffer some, if not a lot, by installing a Killer Chiller. But your air charge temps going into your engine will be great!

Kinkaid Performance Killer Chiller
Killer Chiller.jpg

Oil Field Trash
2,643 Posts
Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)



Our stock transmission is a Lightning specific 4R100. Most 97-03 F-150's use a 4R70W, but we got a 4R100. All 99-02 Super Duty's also got the 4R100, but it is different internally than the Lightning 4R100.

Our transmission in stock form is generally pretty strong, with exceptions of course. Most of the time, even with a modded, pullied stock block combo, our transmission will last past 100k miles. I've even seen heavy Harley trucks, built and spraying nitrous, towing other trucks around, not break the stock transmission with 185k miles on it! On the flip side, I've seen Lightning's break a stock transmission with under 100k miles with a stock block truck. But generally, if maintained properly with supporting mods, they'll last for quite a while, even getting beat on.

A Note for Owners with a 2001 Model

For 2001, Ford changed to a mechanical diode type sprag for the intermediate clutch in all 4R100 transmissions. This change was supposed to save Ford $4 per transmission. As it turns out, it cost them money, because this part fails. Brand new trucks were having the transmission fail before even leaving the factory. The conditions where this happens are as follows, in a quote from Blue Oval News:
Last Thursday Ford's Livonia, Michigan PTOATC discovered that if the engine's RPM went up to 4,600 and then the throttle was released and then applied again under wide open throttle the mechanical diode would fail. Later that night the theory was tested at the Michigan truck plant on seven different Expedition and Navigator models - all experienced transmission failure.
These transmissions are identified by a J1 code on the side of the transmission, on the build tag. These are commonly referred to as "J-Code" transmissions, and clearly are not as strong as others. This only applies to some of the 2001 model year Lightning. More information on J-Code's here.

Valve Bodies

The valve body, is inside the transmission, but easily accessible if you drop the pan. It is the physical control unit of how your transmission shifts. Upgrading to a modified valve body is the modern, better equivalent of a shift kit. It's like a "driver mod" for a stick shift car, only for an automatic. Your transmission will shift faster and harder, and believe it or not, it's actually a good thing for the transmission, reducing the shift time and resulting in less clutch wear.

There are many things that affect the feel of your shifts. Traction bars, higher stall converters, stiffer rear springs, and lighter wheels/tires all make the shifts feel softer. No traction bars, stock converters, soft rear springs, and heavy wheels/tires all make the shifts feel harder. So take that into account when buying your valve body. An otherwise stock truck on 20's or 22's with a very firm shifting valve body, can feel like it's slamming into gear, compared to the same truck with the same valve body, with traction bars, stall converter, stuff springs, and 18" or lighter wheels.

Valve Body
Valve Body.jpg

Higher Stall Converters

An aftermarket, higher than stock, torque converter is an excellent mod to your truck for the track. It doesn't make any more power, but it applies it differently at low rpm, and in high horsepower trucks, helps to maintain that throughout the rpm range.

After lots of trial and error, it seems the magic stall speed for our supercharged trucks is around 2400-2800 rpm. You do not need a big 3000 rpm or 3500 rpm stall converter, it will actually slow you down. In fact, my choice is a 2400-2600 rpm stall. New high quality torque converters with whatever stall speed you like can be purchased from reputable vendors like Circle D, or Precision Industries (PI).

A common misconception about higher stall converters, is if you get a 2400rpm stall, your truck won't move until 2400rpm. That is completely false. The stock stall is around 1200 rpm. Do you have to rev your engine to 1200 to move? Nope, you just take your foot off the brake, and you start moving. Same with a higher stall torque converter.

How do torque converters work? Imagine you have two household fans facing each other. If you turn one on, the air it pushes will spin the other fan blade right? That's how torque converters work, the first "fan blade" is connected to you engine, the second to your transmission. As the blades connected to the engine spin, they move the ones connected to the transmission, only torque converters use transmission fluid, not air to spin the blades. Now unless electronically locked, which isn't happening when you floor it from a stop, and you don't want it to, the engine side blade will always be spinning faster than the transmission side blade. How much faster the first fan (engine) spins until the second fan (transmission) is forced to start spinning is called the stall speed, which is determined by the pitch of the fan blades. When the engine speed (rpm) approaches the stall speed of the torque converter, either the vehicle will be forced to start moving, or if not allowed to (holding the brakes), the engine rpm will stop increasing and hold at the stall speed of the torque converter.

When you floor it from a standstill, assuming you have adequate traction and your tires aren't spinning, your engine rpm will instantly shoot up to the stall speed of the torque converter. This is called flashing the converter. It will hang there for a split second as the speed of the second fan (transmission side) struggles to catch up with the speed of the first fan (engine side). Once it has begun to catch up, engine rpm will continue to rise with transmission rpm, and therefore tire rpm, with it.

Now why are aftermarket, higher stall speed, torque converters such a good mod? So say your truck makes 150 rwtq at 1500 rpm, and 300 rwtq at 2500 rpm. Which torque figure is the one you would want applied to the drive train and tires to accelerate the fastest? Clearly the higher torque value, produced at 2500 rpm. Remember how when you mash the gas to the floor from a stop, how the engine rpm will instantly jump up to the stall speed of the converter? A converter that stalls at 1500 rpm on this engine in the example, will only be sending 150 rwtq to the tires, while a converter with a stall speed of 2500 rpm will be sending 300 rwtq to the tires.

In the graph below, you can see that either the stock converter, or a 2400 rpm stall converter both end up applying the same torque to the rear tires, but with the higher stall speed of the aftermarket converter, that torque is applied earlier, because it allows the engine to be in an operating range that makes that torque, sooner.

Torque Applied to Rear Wheels by Torque Converters
Stall Converter.jpg

So at the drag strip, when you're all good to go with your drag slicks or drag radials, on that sticky surface where you can maintain traction, a higher stall converter will get you moving faster off the line. Rule of thumb, is for every 1/10 of a second you can get off the line faster, it equates to 2/10 of a second in your overall 1/4 mi ET. If you ran say a 12.3 sec ET with a 1.8 sec 60' time, and you were able to reduce that 60' time by .2 seconds by installing a higher stall torque converter, then according to that rule of thumb, your new ET would be 11.9 sec! You're not making any more power, but you are using more of the power you have available while launching.

However, a higher stall converter is not going to help you on the street if you're just spinning your tires when launching from a stop. It's actually going to make them spin more! Higher stall converters are perfectly usable on the street, you just have to retrain your foot to give it less throttle right at the start, and ease into it as you accelerate in order to keep the tires from spinning.

After lots of trial and error, it seems the magic stall speed for our supercharged trucks is around 2400-2800 rpm. You do not need a big 3000 rpm or 3500 rpm stall converter, it will actually slow you down. In fact, my choice is a 2400-2600 rpm stall. New high quality torque converters with whatever stall speed you like can be purchased from reputable vendors like Circle D, or Precision Industries (PI).

A torque converter with a moderate stall speed such as 2400-2800 rpm is perfectly street able. Not the best choice for towing heavy loads though, as they do create more heat than a lower stall speed converter.

Precision Industries (PI) Torque Converter


Keeping your transmission at the right temperature is absolutely key to making it last for years and years. Our stock transmission cooler is "okay" at best. If you tow, drive in a lot of stop and go traffic, or have a higher stall torque converter, a transmission cooler upgrade is vital to making that transmission last.


Popular upgrades, which almost bolt right in like they were designed for our trucks, are certain Ford units designed for other trucks! The factory transmission coolers from a 99-02 Ford Super Duty with a 7.3L or V10 are quite a bit larger than ours, and do a fantastic job of keeping our transmission temperature from getting too high. The V10 cooler is slightly larger than the 7.3L cooler, and my personal choice. Bypassing the transmission fluid from going through the radiator is okay, especially in warmer southern states, but keep in mind there is such a thing as too cool of a transmission. So try and refrain from beating on it until the transmission is up to temperature, which will take longer with the radiator bypassed. In the winter in northern states with the radiator bypassed, it may not ever get up to operating temperature with a Super Duty transmission cooler installed.

Super Duty V10 Transmission Cooler Top, Stock Transmission Cooler Bottom


A larger capacity transmission pan, functions kind of like a larger capacity intercooler reservoir tank. It doesn't really help cool the transmission any more (okay, maybe a tad bit due to increased surface area), but it enlarges the total fluid capacity of the system. It's harder to boil 3 cups of water than 1 cup of water remember? Most larger pans, really only increase the fluid capacity of the system by about 5-10%. Not a whole lot. The popular "4x4 pan" only increases capacity by 1qt, and decreases your ground clearance by a whole lot. B&M and Moroso both make larger capacity transmission pans that don't affect ground clearance.

Moroso 4R100 Transmission Pan
Moroso Pan.jpg

Built Transmissions

When your stock transmission finally gives up, or you know you're about to apply big power to it, and want to upgrade it before it dies, you'll go shopping for a "built" transmission. You pretty much get what you pay for on these. Chances are, your local transmission shop who is quoting you $1500 to "build" your transmission, isn't going to install the strongest parts in it. BlowerSlut, of A-1 Transmission, a highly recommended transmission builder, says that amount of money doesn't even cover his cost on the parts he installs in even a basic transmission build, much less labor. So if you're only paying $1500 for a "built" transmission, and that doesn't even cover the cost of all the good parts, are they giving you parts for free and doing all the labor for free as well just because they like you? Or is it just not as good of a transmission? Everyone's smart enough to figure that one out.

Oil Field Trash
2,643 Posts
Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)


Full Exhaust.jpg

So an aftermarket exhaust is almost every Lightning and Harley Truck owners first modification. Why? Because we all want to hear that throaty V8 roar! It makes us sound faster to ourselves as well as others. It's even one of my favorite first mods, but honestly, the stock exhaust flows quite well to power levels of about 400 rwhp!

There are 3 major components to the exhaust system.

The exhaust manifolds/exhaust headers bolt onto the cylinder heads, and connect to the mid-pipes on the other end.

The mid pipes connect to the exhaust manifolds/headers on one end, and the cat-back on the other end. Stock has 4 catalytic converters, aftermarket or custom mid pipes may have 2 or no catalytic converters as part of the mid pipes.

The cat-back connects to the mid pipes, and ends at the exhaust tips. This consists of the muffler, tailpipes, and exhaust tips.

Now I'm not going to into custom exhaust shop built exhausts, since they can be so different. I'm just going to talk about some of the more popular aftermarket exhaust setups. A big advantage of a pre built exhaust setup, is mandrel bent piping, which flows better than typical exhaust shop crimped up bends. So keep that in mind when buying an exhaust. A good aftermarket set of pipes will flow better than most exhaust shop built pipes. You honestly don't want a bunch of kinked up restrictive bends in your exhaust, like pictured in the first picture below. You want nice uninhibited bends and welds like in the second picture below, which is a Bassani cat back exhaust system.

Typical Exhaust Shop Bends

Bad Exhaust.jpg

Nice aftermarket, Bassani, Bends

Good Bassani.jpg


New factory (Ford) exhaust manifold/header gaskets are about the best you can get. If you replace an exhaust gasket, or are installing headers, use Ford gaskets if possible.

Stock exhaust manifold bolts suck on the other hand. They frequently rust and break off in the head, in addition to causing clearance problems. Use aftermarket exhaust bolts if possible, such as those made by ARP or Stage 8.

If you're having something custom done, try and make sure you use mandrel bent piping to avoid unnecessary restrictions. Some exhaust shops (rare though) can mandrel bend their own piping, otherwise buy an aftermarket system or buy individual aftermarket mandrel bent pieces.

Silver colored anti-seize makes a great exhaust sealer when using slip on connections.

Don't let your transmission or O2 sensor harnesses come into contact with any part of the exhaust. Always be sure these electrical wires are secured out of the way, and as far from the hot exhaust as possible! This is especially true when installing long tube headers!

Stock Exhaust Manifolds and Shorty Headers

The stock manifolds aren't really a restriction until about 500 rwhp. There is no "need" to upgrade to headers until you exceed that power level. Just like SBTB's, I'm not saying don't put headers on your 400 rwhp truck, I'm just saying that your money is better spent on other things like a larger lower pulley or ported blower at this power level.

Stock Exhaust Manifolds

Stock Manifolds.jpg

Shorty headers have an advantage of being able to bolt directly up to your existing mid pipes, but they really don't provide hardly any benefit over the stock manifolds. Generally, don't waste your money on shorty headers such as those made by Bassani, Flow-Tech, or others. They do flow a little better than the stock exhaust manifolds, but have none of the cylinder scavenging benefits long tune headers have. If you're going to spend money on headers, you may as well get headers that do more than simply flow better.

Bassani Shorty Headers

Bassani Shorties.jpg

Long Tube Headers

Long tube headers, in addition to flowing better than the stock exhaust manifolds, also help to provide better cylinder scavenging. Without going too deep into fluid dynamics, the slight pressure increase of the exhaust flowing out of one cylinder and through the primary, is followed by a slight vacuum right behind it that helps to pull/scavenge the exhaust gases out of the other primary header tubes. Long tubes are designed for this effect, and to maximize it, equal length primaries are best.

When installing long tube headers, the front exhaust O2 sensors are moved further downstream in the collector. The stock wiring harness will not reach the relocated sensors, and you must find a way to make them reach. I cannot stress enough, do not simply cut the wires in your stock harness and crimp on some longer bits of wire. The voltages these wires carry as sensor readings back to the PCM are very very precise, and absolutely dictate how your truck runs in closed loop fueling mode (part throttle and idle). You can cut and solder, but that's very tough to do in the tight space you have, so I highly suggest simply buying some O2 extensions available from almost any online performance shop.

My favorite 2.5" collector long tube header are the Dynatech's. They're my favorite because they are the easiest to install. OBX long tubes are a cheaper knock off of the Dynatech design. Other good brands include Kooks and Pacesetter.

Dynatech Long Tube Headers

Dynatech Headers.jpg

Front O2 Sensor Extensions


2.5" Mid Pipes

Popular aftermarket mid pipes for stock exhaust manifolds or shorty headers are made my Bassani. They can be purchased with or without catalytic converters. They are nice mandrel bent pieces.

Long tube headers will not bolt up to factory or Bassani mid pipes. Popular models are made by Dynatech, OBX, Pacesetter, and Kooks. It's best to purchase mid pipes made by the same company as your long tube headers for best fitment. They are all available with or without catalytic converters.

Bassani Mid Pipes

Bassani Mids.jpg

Dynatech Mid Pipes

Dynatech Mids.jpg

2.5" Cat-Back

There are many aftermarket cat back systems available. The most popular is the Bassani cat back, but other models are made by Magnaflow, JDM, Borla, and Flowmaster. It should be mentioned that the Flowmaster muffler, is a restrictive design. These popular cat-back systems can be used with either stock manifolds or long tube headers, as they connect to the mid pipes.

Bassani Cat Back

Bassani Cat Back.jpg

Big Boy and 3" Exhaust Systems

Bigger than 2.5" exhaust systems show the most benefit when in excess of 650 rwhp. There are a couple systems available, such as the JLP COMP R, and ARH. These systems have a larger primary tube sizes, as well as larger pipe diameters. The JLP COMP R exhaust has been around forever, and sounds awesome. It's primary tubes are also equal length (the only equal length headers made for our application) which helps with exhaust scavenging. But a downside is the primaries are installed individually with a slip on collector, which often results in exhaust leaks. The ARH system has bigger primaries than even the COMP R, but not equal length. Which is better, larger primaries or equal length primaries is debated. The ARH system is not plagued by the slip on collector like the COMP R is.


COMP R.jpg



Catalytic Converters

It's quite popular to remove or eliminate catalytic converters, as that is the most restrictive part of the exhaust system. Thought should be given to this though, as it is illegal to remove these emissions devices. If you do elect to remove or forgo them (which I do), be sure you have a way to pass the annual vehicle inspection. You'll never pass visual, but with proper tuning, you can pass the OBDII computer checks.

If you do have your catalytic converters removed from your stock mid pipe, and a straight piece of pipe welded in their place, be sure to check out the exhaust shop's work after they're done. I recently worked on a truck for a guy, who bragged that he just had his cats removed. When I looked at the work, they had replaced the stock 2.5" piping with 2" piping, with some gorilla looking welds. He was better off with the stock cats than the junk they put on his truck in my opinion.

Oil Field Trash
2,643 Posts
Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)

Tim Skelton's Truck Version 2.0

There are so many ways to modify the suspension on these trucks, it's mind boggling.

Let's start off with general ride height stuff. Slammed trucks look good, and if you're all about that look and not going fast, go ahead and install your 11/15 drop, 'cause I'll be the one showing you tailgate at every starting line. Slamming your truck as low as possible, on stock style suspension does not let the suspension work properly and allow for proper weight transfer when you launch. It does look pretty good I must admit, but when it comes to drag racing, you're not going to get proper traction, and then you'll be asking why. The fastest Lightnings around on leaf springs are mildly dropped. But but tbone, I see pictures of this race truck that runs 7's and his bumper is only 1" off the ground! It works for him! Yeah, he's got more money tied up in his suspension and chassis than most of our trucks are worth complete. Drop $30k on your chassis and suspension, and you too can be like that!

Oh, and it's not all about buying a bunch of fancy components and your truck will magically start pulling 1.3 second 60' times. When I was actively racing my Gen 1, I would always tease the Gen 2 guys who had more money in their double adjustable QA-1 shocks than I did in my whole suspension. Many Gen 2 guys spent thousands on drag springs, fiberglass leaf springs, double adjustable QA-1 shocks, just to go out and cut a 1.6 second 60' time, while my Gen 1 was running around cutting 1.4 second 60' times on stock springs front and rear, with some non-adjustable Bilstein shocks. But I also spent hours playing with pinion angles, various long bar pre-load settings, tires pressures, and launch rpm. It's not always about what components you have, but how they are set up and adjusted.

Speaking of drops, I'm not going to measure drops in 2/4, 4/6, etc. I will specify what each component will lower your truck by, but when it comes to a complete suspension system, almost nothing achieves its advertised drop, some are less than advertised, some are more than advertised, and multiple components work together differently.

Front Suspension

Coil Springs

Factory SVT springs on a Lightning are pretty good springs! They are a little bit higher spring rate, with about 1" less ride height than F-150 or Harley Davidson springs. They ride decently, and handle pretty decently too. Many people have cut .5 to 1.5 coils on these springs to achieve a small amount of drop, with little ill effects. The springs are a linear spring rate, not progressive, so ride quality changes are negligible from cutting your springs. I prefer not to cut any spring if possible, but I've done it, and it's okay to do. If you just need another .5" of drop, you can simply remove the rubber isolater above the coil.

Most aftermarket drop springs will negatively affect ride quality. You can achieve anywhere from 1.5" to 2" of drop with an aftermarket spring. It's not considered a good idea at all to cut coils off an aftermarket drop spring if you like your spine, as most are a progressive spring rate, it will make the ride even worse! There are many aftermarket alternatives, such as Ford Racing, Eibach, DJM, Ground Force, Belltech, Hotchkis, etc. Pick your poison.

For increased handling and cornering ability, the only springs that are really available today for new purchase, are the Hotchkis coil springs. They will drop the truck about 1.5". We used to have more options, like Roush or custom made Ruslow springs, but they are no longer available to my knowledge.

Hotchkis Coil Springs
Hotchkis Coil Springs.jpg

There are two popular options for drag racing coil springs that will help to further promote weight transfer. Both of which ride pretty good, but you're sacrificing cornering ability for straight line launch weight transfer.

The first are the JDM drag springs, which when new are so long, they tend to lift the front end of the truck. Almost everyone cuts a coil or two off these to achieve the ride height they want. These are great for 4-600rwhp trucks looking to launch hard. But above that power level, they tend to start promoting wheelies, which are awesome photos, but are actually slowing you down. If you're using your power to go up, you're not using it to go forward.

Another option, is standard Ford springs off a 2wd V6 F-150. They are an intermediate step between stock springs and JDM drag springs, and many have switched from the JDM drag springs to these V6 coils when they need better weight transfer than stock, but the JDM's are too much (pulling the tires off the ground).

Control Arms

The factory Lightning and HD control arms only differ from regular F-150's in that they have a steering stop, to prevent our 9.5" wide wheels from rubbing on the control arm at full steering lock.

There are a couple lowering options for control arms. The ones still produced are made by Western Chassis and DJM. Both are slightly heavier than stock, but are a great lowering option as they don't affect ride quality or turning radius. Sometimes they do require a special sway bar end link from MAD Enterprise so they don't eat up sway bar bushings. They also don't have steering stops like the factory control arms, so if you don't install some, you're likely to rub the inside lip of your wheel on the control arm. The DJM arms, while advertised as a 2" drop, are really more like a 3" drop. Upper DJM arms are not required, and do not do anything for lowering, but do aid in proper alignment of the front suspension when using drop lower control arms.

DJM Lower Control Arms
DJM Control Arms.jpg

Drop Spindles

Drop spindles are another popular option, as they don't affect ride quality either, but they do significantly reduce steering travel and turning radius. They also require some machining where the ball joints bolt up to clear stock wheels. Belltech drop spindles achieve about 2" of drop.

Belltech Spindles
Belltech Drop Spindles.jpg

Alignment and Clunk

When messing with the front suspension, before going to get your alignment, you should purchase aftermarket alignment cams, as they provide much more adjustability than factory.

Another thing to do, especially if you're removing lower control arms, is install what are known as clunk washers on the passenger side. These are available from Metco Motorsports or Lightning Force Performance. Supposedly due to manufacturing ease, the hole the lower control arm bolt goes through on the pass lower control arm, is slotted, while the bolt is round. Clunk washers install in this slot, making the hole round, and preventing an unwanted clunk noise from happening.

METCO Clunk Washers
METCO Clunk Washers.jpg

Rear Suspension

Leaf Springs

So like every Ford pickup ever, we have a leaf spring rear suspension. Lightning's have different springs than regular F-150's, and different springs for 99-02 trucks and 03-04 trucks. The 03-04 truck springs are stiffer and have a 1" higher ride height than the 99-02 springs, for greater load carrying capacity. It's always been said that the '03-04 springs had an extra leaf in them compared to 99-02 springs, but as it turns out, they don't. The leafs themselves are a little bit thicker than 99-02 leafs, accounting for the increased ride height and weigh carrying capacity.

Harley trucks have the same leaf springs as regular 2wd SuperCrew F-150's.

You can modify the factory springs, by removing what is known as the overload leaf, which is the 2nd from the bottom in the leaf pack. This will lower the truck about 1.5", and will make ride quality better. However it will make your truck more prone to wheel hop and axle wrap. This should really only be done if you have some sort of traction aid installed (like long bars/traction bars). Removing more than this one leaf, will result in very bouncy ride with little to no weight carrying capacity, and is not recommended.

Popular aftermarket leaf springs are made by Hotchkis and FAF. The Hotchkis leaves are designed to increase handling, so they are rather stiff. While they are designed for handling, they do work very well for drag racing as well. FAF springs are somewhat softer than stock springs, but their big advantage is they are made of fiberglass, and provide significant weight savings. Roush used to make leaf springs for our trucks, but have not for a long time. Hotchkis and FAF fiberglass springs will lower a '99-02 Lightning about 2.25", and an '03-04 Lightning about 3.25". It is recommended that FAF fiberglass springs should generally not be used if you use your truck as a truck much, like heavy hauling or towing.

Hotchkis Leaf Springs
Hotchkis Rear Spring.jpg

Drop Shackles

Another, extremely popular way to modify the rear suspension for a lower ride height, is with aftermarket drop shackles. These are made by a variety of companies, including Belltech, DJM, and JLP. They all have multiple mounting points, allowing for relatively easy ride height changes and adjustability. JLP branded drop shackles allow for the most adjustability, and the most amount of rear drop. The advertised ratings for the amount of drop achieved by drop shackles is not accurate. True drop amount is actually about half of the advertised drop amount on all drop shackles.

JLP Drop Shackles

Drop Hangers

Another way to lower the rear of your truck, is with aftermarket drop hangers. The most popular models are made by Belltech and DJM. Let me say, these things are a pain to install, as you have to grind out a lot of large stock rivets, but they work great for lowering the ride height. However, they really tend to throw the pinion angle way out when combined with other rear lowering products. Sometimes you can order a very large shim to correct the pinion angle, but others have found the only solution for them was to cut the spring perches off the axle, and re-weld them to achieve the correct pinion angle. So due to how difficult they can be to install, and their tendency to throw pinion angle way out, I do not like drop hangers.

Adding Aftermarket Components

Now let's talk traction bars. If you want to achieve the best 60' time at the track with anything above stock power levels, and want to keep your rear differential and u-joints in good shape, you need some kind of traction device. Whether you choose a slapper bar like Lakewoods, a short bar like Cal-Trac's or Metco style, or a long bar style like those made by JLP, JDM, LFP, Stifflers, or BroncoBeater, you need something.

Slapper Bars

Slapper bars, made by Lakewood, are fairly easy to set up, and help limit axle wrap and wheel hop, but not as well as traction bars. If not installed correctly, they can have very adverse effects on ride quality.

Short Traction Bars

Cal-Trac and Metco style short bars have been proven to work great on leaf spring equipped cars, but with a few exceptions, they don't seem to work as well on our trucks. They do aid in preventing wheel hop, but do not provide any weight transfer advantages. They are also difficult to adjust to work just right. They do have an advantage of not significantly decreasing ground clearance.

METCO Short Traction Bars
METCO Traction Bars.jpg

Long Traction Bars

The most popular option, because they flat out work over and over again, with little effort in setting up, are the long traction bar style made by JLP, JDM, LFP, Stifflers, and BroncoBeater. This style both prevents wheel hop/axle wrap, but also provide some additional weight transfer by turning that rotational energy of the axle trying to move, into a small amount of upward lift at the point where they are attached to the frame. The greater the angle they are installed at (ie, higher ride height), the greater this weight transfer effect is.

I spent hours before making this post, applying all sorts of engineering thinking, diagrams, and calculations to different brand and length long bars mounted at different ride heights, and different points of adjustability, trying to prove that one is better than the other for achieving optimum weight transfer. After hours of this, I really didn't have any significant findings like I thought I would. I just KNEW that shorter bars like Stifflers weren't going to provide as much upward lift as longer bars like LFP and JDM. That's not what I found. The increase in angle in how the shorter Stifflers bars mount, makes up for their shorter length and reduction of leverage. The only significant thing that changes how well long bars apply weight transfer, is the angle the bars are mounted, so, ride height. The more lowered the truck, the less weight transfer any long traction bar applies. Keep that in mind if you're using your truck to drag race a lot.

58" and 54" long traction bars like JDM, JLP, LFP, and BroncoBeater work great, but they do decrease ground clearance. I personally have never had an issue with ground clearance on any of these traction bars, and I've owned 3 of those brands. My trucks have never been "slammed" either. The lowest I've had mine, is Hotchkis rear springs with drop shackles, so approximately 4" from stock '03-04 ride height.

Stiffler's traction bars, mount further back and higher on the frame, giving greater ground clearance. I've also had these, and was pleased with them. They are ideal for a slammed truck where ground clearance is a concern.

Stiffler's Traction Bars
Stifflers Traction Bars.jpg

Panhard Bar

Another rear suspension add on, is a panhard bar. Due to the nature of leaf springs, especially when utilizing longer than factory drop shackles, under hard cornering, the rear axle moves laterally (side to side), upsetting handling and often making un-anticipated changes in rear suspension geometry. Panhard bars are great for eliminating this effect, and bolt to the rear differential, and sideways to the frame. Panhard bars don't do much for drag racing, but they don't hurt it besides the added weight. They can make a large difference in cornering ability however.

BroncoBeater Panhard Bar
BroncoBeater Panhard Bar.jpg

Sway Bars

Lightning's came with Lightning specific front and rear sway bars. No other F-150, including Harley trucks were equipped with rear sway bars. Adding Lightning sway bars to a Harley trucks really makes them handle significantly better.

There are upgrade options as well. Both Hotchkis and Hellwig produce upgraded front and rear sway bars. According to Tim Skelton, the Hotchkis sway bars are stiffer, AND lighter than stock sway bars. 82% stiffer and 3 lbs lighter in front, and 26% and 3 lbs lighter in rear. The Hellwig bars, are much stiffer, but at a weight penalty, at 105% stiffer and 10 lbs heavier in front, and 144% and 8 lbs heavier in rear. Do some research if you have an aftermarket differential cover before buying a rear sway bar, as sometimes there are clearance issues.

Hotchkis Sway Bars
Hotchkis Sway Bars.jpg

Wheels/Tires to Come!!!

Oil Field Trash
2,643 Posts
Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
Electrical and Tuning



Our trucks are very sensitive to electrical fluctuations. They are amperage hogs, especially once you've increased the electrical draw with bigger fuel pumps, electric fans, and maybe even a banging stereo. If the voltage varies or drops too low at wide open throttle, or even at idle, you can experience many problems. The PCM and sensors NEED to have good stable voltage in order to work correctly. This need is two-fold, voltage supply (alternator output and properly sized wiring), and good quality grounds.


Stock wiring is good for stock current draw, but don't forget to upgrade this wiring as you add aftermarket electrical components.

Upgrades in size and quality of positive wiring from the alternator to the starter solenoid, and from the battery to the starter solenoid are generally all you need as far as positive wiring upgrades. These ensure your alternator and battery can supply the proper voltage and current to the system at all times, and not be bottlenecked when current demands are highest like at wide open throttle.

You simply can't add too many grounds. Two of the major ground cable upgrades are adding another or replacing the stock battery ground cable to the firewall. This helps to ensure the PCM has a solid ground to activate all your injectors and coil packs, as well as a good ground reference for all your sensors to base their readings off of. Adding a ground from the block to the frame, also helps to ensure all your sensors have a good ground reference to base their readings off of, as well as a good ground path for your alternator.

HD-Circuitry (Harley356) sells an excellent kit for upgrading all necessary wiring cables while leaving the battery in the stock location. I personally have run this kit on two different trucks I've owned, and have nothing but good things to say about it.

Battery and Battery Relocate


Your battery is a key part of your electrical system. Not only does it start the truck, it also serves as a kind of capacitor when heavy electrical load's are applied, and the alternator just doesn't quite have the juice, say at wide open throttle, or idling with all your lights, fans, A/C, and stereo on. As an FYI, if your instrument cluster gauges sweep every time you turn the key on, your battery is likely in need of replacing. They will sweep if you've disconnected the battery, but if they sweep without you having disconnected the battery, the battery should be replaced.

So what battery to use? Honestly? Stock. That's right, a stock replacement Motorcraft MAX. I remember a few years ago, when these trucks were hitting 7-8 years old, guys posting that their factory battery finally died, and asking what to replace it with. Umm, dude, if your last battery lasted you 8 years of daily driver duty, put another one of those in! The Motorcraft batteries are actually really good batteries. Don't waste your money on an Optima. They got their reputation years ago when they were awesome, they've since been bought out, and the quality has gone way down, but they're STILL riding that reputation from way back when. If you absolutely have to make your battery a "mod", buy a Sears DieHard Platinum or an Odyssey.

Relocating the battery to the rear of the truck is a great upgrade, as it moves that heavy battery from the front of the truck where we have too much weight already, to the rear to aid with traction. But if not done properly, a battery relocate can wreak electrical havoc.

To do it properly, it requires more than just an extension of the stock battery cables. As distance increases (more cable), so does resistance, so the cables should be larger than stock size, to reduce this increased resistance as much as possible. The relocated battery should ground to the frame in the rear, but also ground to the firewall up front as well, as the ground path from the PCM, to firewall, to frame, through the frame to the relocated battery, is unreliable and will create an inconsistent ground path. You don't want that for your PCM or sensors.

For both safety, convenience, and per NHRA rules, you should incorporate a battery cut off switch when you relocate the battery. To follow NHRA rules, flipping this switch should turn off the vehicle, which means you need to run your alternator output all the way back to the positive post on your relocated battery, that way when you flip the switch, the truck doesn't keep running off alternator power alone. If you're not concerned about following NHRA rules, then you can simply run the alternator output to the starter solenoid. I should mention there is a way to have the alternator shut off without running the charge cable all the way back to the battery, but it can lead to shortened alternator life, and it's not the "right" way to do it, so I won't tell you how.

Proper NHRA compliant relocation and good grounding of the battery will result in 3 long cables. Positive from cut off switch to starter solenoid, positive from battery to alternator, and negative from battery to firewall. Short run cables include positive from battery to cut off switch, and negative from battery to frame. Don't forget you should also have a large (and I do mean large, like 300 amp or so) fuse installed on the positive cable from the battery, as close to the battery as possible.

HD-Circuitry (Harley356) sells an excellent kit for relocating the battery addressing all required and recommended cables, both with and without a cut off switch. Again, I personally run this kit (with the cutoff switch) on my Gen 2 Lightning, and have nothing but good things to say about it.



The stock 130a alternator works quite well, and is very reliable. If you have a lot of current draw (aftermarket items), it's a good idea to upgrade to a higher amp alternator. Brands are highly debatable, although I personally have had great results with PowerBastards. When upgrading the alternator, you should install a larger alternator to starter solenoid cable at a minimum.

Wiring Aftermarket Items

Any added on aftermarket electrical items should be powered by a relay, whether that be gauges, electric fans, or HID headlights. Relays are actually pretty simple, although they seem to confuse some people. A relay is really nothing more than an automatic switch. You have the two things you want to connect, say a power source and the item you want to power, say a fan. The other two pins are what control whether or not the source and the item are connected. There is an electromagnet inside, that when has power applied to one pin, and ground to another, connects your source to your item. Five pin relays have one more pin, that is what your source is connected to when they electromagnet is not powered.

Pin 30 - Source Power (Usually a fused connection to the battery)
Pin 87 - Switched Power (Connects to whatever it is you're powering)
Pin 85 - Coil Ground
Pin 86 - Coil Power
Pin 87a - Switched Off Power


Now, whenever +12v power is applied to 86, AND ground is applied to 85, the relay will connect 30 to 87. On a five pin relay, when either power from 86 or ground from 85 is not applied, pin 30 is connected to pin 87a.

Note, to trigger the relay, 85 must be powered, and 86 grounded. But you can do it either way, you can leave it always grounded, and put your switch on the power side, or always powered and put your switch on the ground side. Another note, they relay doesn't have to connect power to something, it can connect a ground to something as well.

Once you wrap your head around how they work, you can do some pretty neat stuff. For instance, I used a 5 pin relay, to re-purpose cruise control and horn buttons for nitrous control a time or two. When you press the cruise control button, it actually sends a ground signal down the wire, not power. Cut the cruise control button wire, connect the button side to 30, the other side to 87a. When the relay isn't powered, the cruise control button does normal things. Power the relay by applying ground to 85 and power to 86, and now the cruise button is connected to pin 87, which I ran to pin 85 on a separate relay controlling a nitrous solenoid. So cruise control works normally, until you flip a switch activating the first relay, and now pressing the cruise control button triggers a big old nitrous hit. Pretty neat stuff I think.

Anyway, use relay's. Figure out how they work either from what I've written here, or from



I will describe how I like to wire power to aftermarket gauges. I draw main power for them from the positive terminal located just behind the under hood fuse box. This terminal draws power directly from the battery/alternator, so you should install an in line fuse directly after it. From that fuse I run main power to pin 30 of my new relay under the dash. Pin 85 of that relay I ground under the dash, and pin 87 is connected to the +12v wire of any and all gauges I'm connecting. Then I use a single "add-a-fuse" from the dash fuse panel to trigger the relay to turn on the gauges when the key is on, running to pin 86 of the relay. You can connect this "add-a-fuse" to fuse number 1 (15 amp) for the gauges to turn on only while the key is on, or fuse number 30 (30 amp) to do the same thing, but maintain power while cranking as some gauges require. Dimming illumination power can be tapped from fuse 16 (20 amp).

SCT FireWire for Datalogging Wideband or Other 5v Sensor


While I'm on the subject of gauges, let me outline how to properly connect your wideband to datalog. All of these connections should be soldered and heat shrinked in order to get the best possible signal with minimal voltage drop and resistance.

If you use the SCT FireWire cable, then it's pretty straightforward. Connect the analog output wire of your wideband to either Analog 1 or Analog 2 positive inputs on the FireWire cable. Be sure to ground the Analog 1 or 2 (whichever you choose) ground, as well as the main FireWire ground to the same grounding lug your wideband itself is grounded to.

So if using most any Innovate wideband, you'd be connecting the Yellow wire off the wideband (Analog output) to the Orange (Analog 1 input) on the SCT FireWire cable. You would then tie in the Blue wire on the SCT FireWire cable (Analog 1 ground) and the Black wire on the SCT FireWire cable (ground) together, and grounding them to the same spot you grounded the Black wire off your Innovate Wideband. Now your wideband is ready to be datalogged via an SCT handheld tuner.

The SCT FireWire cable is recommended, but you can use any cable and simply cut one end off and strip the wires, however wire colors are not the same industry wide, so you'll have some trial and error ahead of you in figuring out which color goes to which.



Well here's a BIG subject. Tuning. I can't stress how important this is. Almost every major power improving modification you do to your truck will require tuning changes. Major change in boost level? Tune. Change in MAF sensor? Tune. Change blowers? Tune. Majorly change intakes? Tune. Long tube headers? Tune. Cams? Tune. Injectors? Tune. You get the idea. If in doubt? Tune. Or ask on here if you're unsure whether or not your new mod needs a tune change or revision.

Selecting a Tuner

This is one of the most important decisions you'll make on your truck, is who's tuning it. Not all tunes are created equal! I can't stress enough the importance of having a reputable LIGHTNING tuner tune your truck. Just because a tuner did a "great" job on your buddies SVT Cobra, does not mean they know what they're doing to safely maximize the tune in your Lightning or Harley Truck. The only thing the same between a Cobra and a Lightning is they're both modular motors, and came factory with an M112 Eaton supercharger! 2v vs 4v heads and cams, weak factory rods vs. strong factory rods, return fuel system vs returnless, automatic vs manual, heavy vs light, long stroke vs short stroke. All of which require different tuning methods and changes. The transmission alone, is a lot more than just shift points, A LOT more! A fully tuned transmission can pick up 2-3 tenths in the 1/4 mile over a stock tuned transmission.

Again, I can't stress enough to use a proven reputable Lightning tuner. When talking to your potential tuner, ask how many Lightnings they've tuned. Ask what some of their stock block Eaton trucks are running in the 1/4. Ask how many 10 second or faster Lightnings they've tuned. Then ask how many are still running.

If they've only done 5-7 Lightnings, their Eaton trucks are running 13's still, or only high 12's with every bolt on known to man and a negative DA, or they've never tuned a Lightning with more power than you're expecting to make, I suggest you move on with your search and find another tuner.

Some of the better Lightning shops I know of, are JDM, JLP, and WMS. They all do remote e-mail tuning as well. Some of the better Lightning tuning individuals who tune remotely are Eric Korn, Kevin McDonald, and dol00svt. In an attempt to be thorough, but try and stay humble, I do as well, but it's not my full time job so there's a wait, and I'm only in the Houston area, I don't do remote tuning. Other reputable tuning shops that don't do remote as far as I know, are TSS and PSI.

Getting Ready for a Tune


For custom tuning using SCT software/products, you'll need an SCT handheld tuning device, such as an X2, X3, X4, LiveWire, LiveWire TS, or iSTX. If you don't already have one for your truck, you can purchase a new one online or from your tuner, or used. When purchasing a used handheld, verify that it is not locked to another vehicle (married). Handhelds can only load a tune into one vehicle at a time, so you can't use the same handheld to tune both your Mustang and your Lightning at the same time, that would require 2 handheld programmers, one for each. It doesn't really matter which one you have, they all write to same tunes. The tuning is done on a laptop, and the handheld is simply the mechanism for loading the tune to the truck. Like it doesn't really matter if you use a landline or a smart phone to make a phone call, you're still talking on the phone and having the same conversation. The only things I will say, is if you're datalogging with these devices, all of the ones I just listed have a significant advantage in datalogging over the X2.

There are a number of things that you as the owner need to make sure are right, in order to get the best tune from your tuner. Basic things like a clean fuel filter (if in doubt, change it), no butt crimped electrical connections on sensors, fresh fuel, a clean intercooler, clean air filter, no vacuum leaks or exhaust leaks, fresh plugs that are properly gapped, and if being remote e-mail tuned, a properly connected wideband that you can datalog.


I prefer to use Innovate widebands, so the following directions on wiring and ground offset calculations are for when using an Innovate wideband. I have however, included formulas for other popular wideband brands and models.

Now that you've got the wideband wired correctly to datalog, you have to configure the datalogging software. In SCT LiveLink, you have to set the equations to turn the 0-5v voltage reading your wideband is outputting, to numbers that make sense such as Lambda or Air Fuel Ratio.

Here are a few equations for commonly used wideband.

Lambda: (0.20462*v)+0.5
AFR: (3.008*v)+7.35

Lambda: (.1364*v)+.683
AFR: (2*v)+10

Labda: (.10884*v)+.68027
AFR: (1.6*v)+10

Lambda: (.11905*v)+.68027
AFR: (1.75*v)+10

Here is a screenshot of LiveLink Gen II showing where to enter the equations. Innovate LC-2/LM-2/MTX-L/DLG-1 equations. Analog 1 and 2 are showing equations in Lambda with ground offset (read below) accounted for. Analog 7 and 8 are just showing the base Lambda equations, again, shown for Innovate widebands.

Analog Equations.jpg

Another optional thing to do in order to ensure wideband accuracy, is to take into account the ground offset. All sensors, measure voltage by comparing it to ground. Your wideband itself may be outputting say 2.00v, but after it goes through all your connections both positive and ground, the handheld, and your laptop, the reading may actually be 2.04v. That is a difference of .12 AFR. Not a HUGE difference, but a large enough one where I would like for it to be corrected if I'm basing the tune of this engine off what that reading is telling me. All data logged readings would be off by that amount. To correct this, simply temporarily command your wideband to output the same voltage all the time regardless of sensor readings, datalog that voltage only, temporarily removing your whole equation, and just replacing it with v. Compare it to what it's supposed to be, what you told your wideband itself to output. So in the previous example, you command your wideband to output say 2v, but you log it as 2.04v, the difference is .04v. In your wideband equation, simply add or subtract whatever amount is needed to make your actual datalogged voltage be what you're commanding, so subtract .04 from the voltage reading before any other calculations take place, then re-program your wideband back to outputting it's normal voltages based on what it's reading from the sensor. The resulting lambda equation for an Innovate wideband in this example would now be: (0.20462*(v-.04))+0.5.

In the above screen shot, look at the equations for Analog 1 and 2. They include taking ground offset into account.
Note the changes to voltage are made inside the parentheses.

After you've done this, don't forget to change your wideband back to outputting varying voltages based on what the sensor is reporting from the exhaust!



This, hands down, is the best mod I've ever made to any of my trucks! And it's actually more of an owner mod than a truck mod. Buying the SCT Pro-Racer software and learning how to tune my own junk, is the best move I ever made in playing with these trucks.

I don't care who you take your truck to for a tune, they're going to spend what, a few hours tuning your truck at the most? If they're tuning on a dyno, can they simulate all the real world driving conditions your truck will see? Can they perfectly dial in a cold start on a 90* day? Do they care as much about your truck and how it performs and drives as you do? The answer to all those questions is NO!

I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but no tuner cares as much as you do about your truck and it's tune. You can take as little time, or as much time as you want to dial in your tune. Another Lightning owner that self tunes I know, has literally spent years tweaking the tune on one of his trucks, and boy does it show.

Before I learned to self tune, it didn't matter which tuner I took it to, there was always something I didn't like. Maybe I didn't like how it cold started from Tuner A, maybe I didn't like how the trans shifted from Tuner B, maybe I thought Tuner C wasn't as aggressive at WOT as I thought he should. Never was I satisfied until I took matters into my own hands and tuned it myself. On top of that, when a new part came in, I get to install it immediately, and then just go tune for it!

SCT Pro-Racer package, the software that enables you to tune your own truck, MSRP's for only $349. That's less than a single tune from pretty much any tuner! There are many Lightning owners that self tune that are more than happy to assist you while you learn how to do your own. On top of that, LaSota Racing has a book that practically teaches you step by step how to tune your own truck, with many Lightning specific pointers in their book entitled The Ultimate Ford EFI Tuning Guide, which is available for $75.

Oil Field Trash
2,643 Posts
Discussion Starter #10 (Edited)

Going "Built"

Going Built.jpg

I could write a whole novel on this subject alone, but this is Modding 101, so I'm going to try and keep it short and sweet (although I totally failed upon going over this). Going "built" has the general definition in the Lightning community of replacing the rods and pistons with aftermarket forged pieces, and often porting or upgrading the cylinder heads and changing the cams. I'm not a big fan of the term, as it doesn't really mean anything. One guy's idea of a built motor might just be a rod swap, the next guy's idea of a built motor is the typical Manley rods/pistons, ported heads and off the shelf cams. Yet another guy's idea of built motor is a Darton sleeved big bore aluminum block with a billet Bryant crank, billet rods, custom pistons, etc. See, a "built" engine means different things to different people. So let's talk about what's what.

When I give power numbers or ratings, these are ESTIMATES. You simply can't put an accurate number on what a given component will hold power wise, when some trucks weight 3900#'s, and others weight 5500#'s. RPM, vehicle weight, and a million other things can affect this number. When you read on someone's website that their shortblock is capable of holding 1000hp, first of all, that's generally crank horsepower, not rear wheel horsepower. Second, they're trying to make a sale. It's advertisement after all right? Third, like I said above, you just simply can't put a blanket statement of "this rod or piston will support xxx horsepower". Is that in a 3000# car spinning 5000rpm N/A, or is that in a 5000# truck spinning 6800rpm with 26psi of boost? Very different things.



So we’re FINALLY on the topic of the engine itself. Remember a few posts up what I said the weak point of the factory motor is? Rods. Unlike the 03-04 Supercharged Cobra’s who got Manley forged rods from the factory, the Lightning engines were made to make do with regular old rods like you’ll find in any old 5.4 out of a F-Series, E-series, or SUV. Nothing special. In fact, the only thing to differentiate a Lightning engine (I’m talking valve covers down here) from most regular F-150 or Expedition 5.4’s, is the pistons. Our engines were actually treated to a larger dish (lower compression ratio) forged aluminum Mahle piston. But that's it. The factory Lightning Mahle's are 4032 aluminum alloy, which isn't as strong as say the 2618 alloy used in something like Manley pistons. Compared to a regular F-150 engine: Same heads. Same cams. Same rods. Same valvetrain. Same timing components. Same oil pump. Pistons are the only difference. Not saying it's advisable to slap a stock Expedition 5.4 in your truck, as that piston upgrade is desirable, but there's really nothing fancy about a Lightning engine. Wanna get specific? Here are all the differences in the engine (lower intake manifold and up, like supercharger, not included). Pistons, harmonic balancer, supercharger crank pulley, timing cover. That's it. I've already discussed the pistons, but the balancer is obviously different so it can connect to the supercharger crank pulley, to drive the supercharger belt. The timing cover is a little different, and also shared with E-Series vans. The idler pulley bosses are reinforced, but you can use the standard F-150 timing cover as well.

Now sometimes, the crankshaft is different. There are 5.4 equipped F-150's and Expeditions running around out there with cast crankshafts. Personally, I've torn down a number of F-150 5.4's and never even seen one. Every 5.4 engine I've torn down has had the same forged crankshaft as the Lightning's, but they are out there! So be wary of that if you're shopping for a used 5.4 to be a core for your engine build. If you look at the crank, you can find the forging number on it. What you're looking for is the letters "WF", which stands for Woodhaven Forge, where the forged cranks were made.

How "Built" Do I Go?

Three Blowers.jpg

So now that we've established the differences in a Lightning engine and a regular F-150 engine, let's move on to making the engine stronger. The first thing to consider, above all else, is your goal. Not your wet dream, but your realistic goal. We all want 1500hp Twin Turbo big bore 4v 5.8L engines. It's not within the realm of possibility for most of us. So let's be realistic. The one I see a lot, is owners say, "I wanna make 800rwhp". And then they build a 550rwhp setup and never upgrade because that's all the budget allows. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the budget only supporting a 550rwhp build! The error comes into overestimating the goal, and you might have spent good money on parts that are needed to support an 800rwhp, but aren't at 550rwhp, and you could have either saved money, or put that same money somewhere else and ended up with a 600rwhp build. So be honest with yourself. What is the actual, feasible, realistic goal? Is it 550rwhp? 650rwhp? 700rwhp? 800rwhp? 1000rwhp? Keeping in mind the higher that number, the more you'll have to spend behind the motor, in transmission, driveline, and suspension upgrades to support that number. Fuel system stuff too. Is it an 11 second time slip, a 10, a 9 second ET? And last but certainly not least, the blower. Can you honestly afford that 3.2LC Kenne Belle or 4.0L Whipple you're eyeballing that might be needed to support your inflated power goal? Or is it more likely you'll run the stock Eaton for a while, and next year jump on a used 2.3L Whipple deal when it pops up, and be content with that? I'm not trying to sound condescending, I'm just saying, be honest with yourself when planning your engine build, and match components that will work well together, and you'll have a much better off combo in the end. No one cares if you have billet rods and custom pistons, but stock heads and an M122 on top, when you get beat by a 2.3L Whipple truck with nothing but a rod swap, some heads and custom cams. He still beat you, and you spent the same amount of money, he just planned his build better. Anyway, enough said on that, I feel like I'm rambling now.

Efficiency Upgrades Like Heads and Cams

Ported Heads.jpg

I expect to get some flak on this topic, as I'm going to say some things that a lot of people may disagree with. There's not a lot of evidence in the Lightning community for this, as to support this claim, one would have to run stock cylinder heads, then change to ported or aftermarket heads with NO OTHER CHANGES like compression, supercharger, or pulley ratio's.

It's been noted, that Ford positive displacement supercharged engines, like the Lightning's, 03-04 Cobra's, and GT-500's don't have near as significant of a power increase from things like stroker kits, ported or aftermarket cylinder heads, cams, even headers or air intakes as their normally aspirated, centrifugal supercharged or turbocharged brethren, or other platforms that are N/A, centrifugal, or turbo like small block Ford or GM LS engines. Why is this? I'm going to attempt to explain.

On an engine with a positive displacement supercharger, like a twin-screw or a roots type (that's what Lightning engines are by the way), the primary control of the air coming into the engine, is that supercharger. Ever wonder why a stock M112 Eaton is said to be a 1.8L, yet Kenne Belle makes a 2.3L supercharger that is the exact same external dimensions? The "size" given to blowers, refers to how much air by volume the supercharger will move in one given revolution of its lobes. So you spin the M112 Eaton one time, it moves 1.8L of air. You spin a 2.3L KB or Whipple one time, they move 2.3L of air, so on and so forth. Engines are just big air pumps that happen to consume the oxygen in the air while they pump. The more air that goes in them, the more power they make. Is anything starting to click yet? On a N/A vehicle, what get's the air into the engine is the vacuum the engine produces during the intake stroke of each cylinder, so the more open and easy flowing you can make that passage, the more air it can consume. Your lungs suck in air right, so try breathing thrown a soda straw, then try breathing through a snorkel tube. Much easier to breathe, with much more air through the snorkel tube right? That's an age old analogy for N/A motors. Let's tweak it now, to reflect an engine with a positive displacement supercharger, where something else besides the intake stroke is moving the air into the engine (the supercharger). Take your air compressor hose with a blow nozzle on it. When you press that button, it moves a set amount of air right? Now stick than in the soda straw and breathe through it (don't really, imagine). A LOT more air than before right? That's the effect of boost. Now do it again with the snorkel, it's pretty much the same amount of air as through the soda straw, even though the snorkel is way bigger. Obviously that's because the air compressor/blow nozzle is what's controlling the air going in.

It's the same type of thing with a positive displacement supercharger and your engine. The blower has primary control of how much air is coming into the engine. This is NOT true of centrifugal superchargers or turbochargers. A wastegated turbo for instance, will move air until that air reaches a certain level of boost, then essentially hold that level of boost. It could be moving a small amount of air to hold 10psi of boost in a small engine at low rpm, or a large amount of air at 10psi of boost in a large engine at high rpm. A turbo is regulated by the boost pressure (actually exhaust backpressure, but work with me here), not the air volume. A positive displacement supercharger is regulated by the air volume, not the boost pressure.

But surely ported heads and cams and stroker kits do something in the way of performance, even on a positive displacement supercharged engine? Yes, they sure do, but they are second order effects. It takes power to turn that supercharger, and the more resistance it has to fight against (boost) the more power it takes to turn it. So if it's moving a set volume of air per revolution, and you free up restriction after the blower by ported heads or cams, it still moves pretty much the same amount of air, but the resistance to that air is less, so the boost (being nothing but a measurement of restriction) drops, because the restriction is less, and the blower doesn't have to work as hard to move that air into the engine, and takes less power from the crank to do so, and therefore, more power to the wheels. As a byproduct of compressing anything, heat is created, and temperatures rise. If the blower doesn't have to compress as much (boost lowers), air charge temperatures also lower, creating a denser aircharge for more oxygen and cooler temperatures for more ignition timing.

So yes, ported heads, cams, stroker kits, full exhaust, etc, do increase power on a positive displacement supercharged vehicle, but due to second order effects of efficiency, not due to allowing massive increases in air consumption to increase like on an N/A vehicle. That is part of why a Lightning isn't going to pick up 150rwhp off of heads and cams like a small block Ford or an LS engine will. So how do we get those power gains? Easy, use the supercharger to move more air into the engine. Pulley it up harder or put a different supercharger on it that will move more air per revolution. Lightning engines get those same huge power gains that N/A engines get off heads and cams, by simply changing the pulley ratio on the supercharger to cram more air into the engine!

The higher the boost pressure, the less efficient the supercharger, the greater these second order effects are felt. So a Lightning with an M112 Eaton making 15psi will likely only see small power gains from ported heads and cams. But a Lightning with a 2.6L Kenne Bell making 24psi will see much more power gains from ported heads and cams.

Here is a fantastic link/write-up on this topic on Modular Fords, and it gets much more technical than I have here if you're into that kind of things. Equations and tables and graphs and dyno results. Please give it a read if you're still unconvinced before sending me a raging message because you think I said ported heads are worthless, because I didn't say that. Go back and read. Effectiveness of Engine VE Changes with a Positive-Displacement Supercharger

Everything I've discussed so far, is increasing efficiency AFTER the supercharger. What about BEFORE the supercharger? Like ported blowers, bigger plenums, throttle bodies, air intakes, etc. Do those modifications, no matter the combo. All that compressed air your supercharger is trying to shove down your engines throat, has to come uncompressed for somewhere. If your supercharger is trying to suck air (inlet side) through that soda straw, it may not be able to move as much air as it's supposed to. Give it the snorkel, or as much air as you can possibly give it on the inlet side, the more efficient it is and the better it works. You literally can't have too large of an air volume on the inlet side of the supercharger.

Oil Field Trash
2,643 Posts
Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)

Strength Upgrades



This is the FIRST thing you need to look into upgrading, as this is far and above the weakest point of the factory motor. For a budget build, something like stock GT-500 rods can go a long way. They're cheap, readily available, and can support around 600rwhp. Generally, the next step up is what you'll find in 90% of "built" Lightning's. Good old trusty Manley forged H-beams. These will easily handle 650rwhp in typical Lightning's, and can be stretched as far as around 800rwhp with the ARP-2000 rod bolts. If you're looking to make beyond that, you don't need to be reading "Modding 101", you need to be having a conversation with an engine builder. But there are multiple options available to take 4 digit power levels, and they don't necessarily end with _anley.



Contrary to some people's ideas, for probably 90% of "built" Lightning's, the factory crank is all you'll ever need. Don't believe me? How about John Mihovetz of Accufab Racing, a man who over the past 20 years, has been the first to run an 8, then a 7, then a 6, and finally a 5 second 1/4 mile using Ford Modular engines? He rates the factory forged 5.4L crank to 1300-1350 horsepower!!! Now granted, that's flywheel horsepower, so figure around 1000rwhp. Umm, that's a lot. So why does everyone think they need a Cobra Jet crank? It's no stronger. It'll hold the same amount of horsepower, because it's the same crank from the #1 main on back. Here's why SOME might want to consider a Cobra Jet crank. The harmonic balancer bolt style. The factory balancer bolt threads into the snout, and ends about halfway back to the #1 main. The Cobra Jet/GT-500 balancer bolt threads in all the way to the oil pump flats. This adds a lot of stability to the crank snout, especially in a supercharged application. The bigger or harder the blower is being turned, the more this becomes a benefit. But not every motor out there needs this. If you're not going to exceed, I'm gonna say about 700rwhp on a blower, you don't NEED a Cobra Jet crankshaft. Plus or minus on that power figure whatever you feel comfortable with. Chances are, if installed and torqued properly, someone running an M122, 2.3L KB, 2.3L Whipple, etc does not need a Cobra Jet crankshaft. If you're trying to spin up a 3.2L, 3.4L, 4.0L, etc HARD, then you do need to consider a Cobra Jet crankshaft or similar. The size isn't all that matters, just because you have a 3.4L Whipple, if you're only making 18psi, that's not what I mean. I mean spinning it hard, 24+ psi of boost. That's when you really start needing it. And I'm not talking turbo applications either, in a turbo application, the Cobra Jet crank provides zero strength to your motor over the stock Lightning forged crank. But it is an upgrade, to any supercharged 5.4L application, don't get me wrong, I'm just saying that you may not "need" one.

There's a number of things that can be done since the Cobra Jet crank is no longer available for those that need it. You can have a machine shop modify the stock crank to accept Cobra Jet crank style balancer bolts. Because the rest of the crank is the same! You can go even further like many of the hardcore Terminator guys do, and drill and tap for a 9/16" stud all the way back to the #1 main. And there's billet. But if you're shopping for a billet crank, you're likely not reading this "Modding 101".



The factory forged aluminum Mahle slugs aren't all that bad. They are a 4032 aluminum alloy. Probably good to around 550-600rwhp with proper ring gap. That being said, most people, and it's not a bad idea, upgrade them if they have the motor apart. The typical upgrade is again, Manley Platinum Series forged pistons (2618 alloy). They're available in multiple bore and dish sizes, and are a pretty stout piston. I'd rate them to the 750rwhp range. There are many other similarly priced options out there that are probably a little bit better piston, such as Wiseco, Diamond, etc. I'm not going to get into crown thickness and how far down the top ring is, and definitely not into "zero-deck" stuff etc. Just know there are tons of options out there, but the typical Manley pistons 90% of the guys out there run, are generally a good option.

Efficiency Upgrades

Cylinder Heads


First of all, do you need a cylinder head upgrade? If you're only trying to achieve 550-600rwhp, depending on the blower you're using, probably not. The smaller aftermarket blowers such as the 2.3L Whipple and Kenne Belle varieties, should have no problem achieving that kind of power figure even without ported or aftermarket heads. If you're looking to go beyond that, consider some head work. That being said, ported or aftermarket heads will make any power goal easier to attain than untouched stock cylinder heads. If you were ever going to make a cylinder head upgrade, now is the time, while the engine is apart. I've heard many times, guys who say they're just going to build the shortblock for now, and upgrade the heads later, and very very few of them ever go back to do so. And I don't blame them, it's a hard decision to take apart a perfectly good running engine to do that upgrade, and it'll cost you more in labor (or time), gaskets, and possibly timing and valvetrain components to go back and do it later. If you think you want heads, but can't afford it just yet, consider waiting a couple of months if possible until you can.

On the flip side of that, putting ported or aftermarket cylinder heads on a stock shortblock is not a wise decision in my opinion. Yes, there are some power gains to be had, but you run the very real risk of damaging or destroying those expensive ported or aftermarket cylinder heads if those stock rods let go.

Before you ask, as of this time, there is no cheap or easy way to put 4v heads on your Lightning, so let's not even go there. I promise, your "why hasn't anyone thought of this before" idea of Navigator heads and a stock Lightning intake manifold or even GT-500 intake manifold is not an original idea, and it's nowhere near as easy as you might think at the beginning.

That being said, there are plenty of good 2v head options out there. Our trucks have Windsor casting PI heads, but there are also Romeo casting PI heads out there. The ports and combustion chamber are the same, and the heads are easily interchanged, but neither offers a performance advantage over the other. If you swap to Romeo heads, that's fine, you'll just need different valve covers, and either drill and tap the 4 (on each head) timing cover holes from 8mm to 10mm. Or snag some OEM or Trick Flow 8mm timing cover bolts, add a washer or two on one of them, and voila. That timing cover bolt size thing applies to Trick Flow heads as well. Romeo heads also use a different bolt pattern valve cover than our factory Windsor heads. Trick Flow heads are dual drilled for either valve cover bolt pattern. For the longest time, there was no aftermarket cylinder head available for modular motors, so everyone had to port the factory heads. With all that porting, they got pretty good at it, and thank goodness, there's a fair bit of material to work with. Places like CNCPerformance, TEA, Fox Lake, JDM, JLP just to name a few of the big ones (there are many more) have great CNC programs for factory PI heads. Don't necessarily discount your local performance machine shop either. If you have access to a really good performance machine shop that's been around a few decades, they've probably got a couple guys working there who really know how to hand port. Nothing wrong with that, and it can probably save you a bit of money. While you're in there porting them, oversized valves are a great investment, and let's just assume you're already getting 'em checked out and rebuilt with new guides, seats, seals, etc if they need 'em.

If you're going to run PI heads, and they are factory 4-thread spark plug castings, now is the time to look into spark plug inserts. These are installed by drilling out the existing spark plug threads, tapping them for a larger thread, and using a threaded insert to bring the hole back to size. There is plenty of information and opinions out there about this. Some swear that a cheap steel heli-coil insert is good to go. Others say that other style inserts, whether steel or aluminum are good to go. Here's my take on it, and this is an opinion, like most of this thread is anyway. Aluminum lock'n'stitch or nothing. I won't run a steel heli-coil insert in any engine I build. I won't run any steel insert in any engine I build. I even have reservations about aluminum TimeCert inserts. Lock'n'stitch is the way to go. Not only are the inserts aluminum to prevent the insert from becoming a hot spot in your combustion chamber promoting detonation like a steel insert can, but after installation of a lock'n'stitch insert, a small hole is drilled into the side of the insert, and a pin is pressed into that hole, mechanically locking the insert in place so it can never back out. Problem is, it's not the easiest thing to find someone capable of doing this repair, as the full kit from lock'n'stitch costs $1200 (ask me how I know lol). However, lock'n'stitch will rent you this kit for much much less, or they will insert the heads for you for about $80/hole. Alternatively, since lock'n'stitch is the only Ford recommended way to repair a blown out plug, your local Ford dealer likely has a lock'n'stitch kit, and you may be able to take your heads to Ford to have them inserted.

Aftermarket Trick Flow heads are a fantastic cylinder head upgrade. They flow even better than your typical ported PI heads. Some seriously worked over PI heads do flow right there with the Trick Flow's though, but the cost and effort to do all that to the PI heads generally isn't worth it when Trick Flow's are ready to go sitting on the shelf. Trick Flow heads also have some design upgrades over PI heads, such as thicker decks, improved combustion chamber design, and 10-thread spark plug holes. While I haven't addressed cams yet, hear me on this loud and clear: Camshafts designed for PI heads, which include most of your off the shelf offerings from companies like COMP Cams and Crower, will NOT work optimally or well in Trick Flow heads. When Trick Flow designed these heads, they altered the position of the intake valves and the camshaft itself slightly, and in turn, that changes up the valve event timing. To take full advantage of Trick Flow heads, you must run camshafts that have been designed to take these features into account. If not, you're leaving power on the table, and a not just 10hp either. When Trick Flow heads first came out for these trucks, a lot of people put 'em on, and it was noted, that the Trick Flow headed trucks were slower than their PI headed brethren. This was because everyone was running PI cams in Trick Flow heads. Once everyone realized the differences, and started running Trick Flow specific camshafts in their Trick Flow heads, we really got to see the advantages and it wasn't long before the Trick Flow headed trucks were outperforming the PI headed trucks. But this didn't happen until people started using the right camshafts! L&M has an excellent write up concerning this:



Now, finally, even though I mentioned them in the very first post of this thread, let's talk about camshafts. The biggest nastiest sounding camshafts you can get your hands on, probably won't make the best power on your combo. I'm sorry to burst your bubble. A lot of owners want their truck to sound like it's about to die it's chopping so hard, but that's probably not going to make you maximum power. Generally speaking, the nastier it sounds at idle, the higher the rpm you're gonna have to spin the motor in order to realize the power gains. And let's face it, most of us aren't building high rpm screamers here, nor should we be. These are heavy vehicles, that need low end grunt to get them moving off the line. That's one reason we're not building 8000rpm motors generally for these trucks. Others include PCM processing speed, coil pack energy delivery, piston speed in our long stroke 5.4's, valvetrain and timing component stability, etc etc. What you need, are camshafts that are more tailored to that kind of engine. Yes, you can and will have some lope or idle chop, but usually not an insane amount.

When it comes to camshafts, there aren't just a ton of off the shelf ones that work perfectly for us. Most off the shelf ground cams were designed for Mustangs that weigh 1000# less, with manual transmissions, and generally, for 2v heads, without positive displacement superchargers. I prefer to have custom ground camshafts made, rather than use off the shelf. By doing so, you can get the perfect camshaft for your combo, blower, boost level, fuel, weight, converter stall speed, gear ratio, etc. For your perfect usage, daily driver, street/strip, or race truck. And custom ground cams are barely any more expensive than the off the shelf varieties. Companies like COMP Cams or Bullet will custom grind you cams for your setup. Better yet, have a guy by the name of Todd Warren spec you some camshafts. He's a two time Engine Masters Challenge winner, and helped to build a 720hp, 666tq, 5.4L based engine, NATURALLY ASPIRATED! Most of us can't achieve those kind of number with 20psi of boost, much less N/A! Guy knows his stuff, find him online by the user name N/A SVT or on Facebook.

But really, consult your engine builder and your tuner for camshaft selection. Don't just take one guy's word for it, talk to both the guy building the engine, and tuning the engine for input.

If you are stuck on using off the shelf grind cams, all three of COMP Cams grinds work pretty well. The XE262-AH's are great for a DD that sees some racing and doesn't want to turn real high rpm, the XE270-AH's are a good all around cam for a street/strip and even race truck with a typical "built" motor and 2.3L Whipple or 2.6L Kenne Bell, and the XE278-AH's sound great at idle, and really pull up top, but do lack some low end grunt.

The "Little" Stuff

So now that we've addressed the major components of your new engine, let's talk about the "little" stuff that can nickle and dime you to death, that most guys forget about when building their first engine.



ARP bolts and studs are a great upgrade throughout your engine. Most of the factory bolts are TTY (torque to yield) one time use only anyway, so you'll need to be purchasing new Ford fasteners for most things anyway. Generally, the ARP upgrades are only a little more in the grand scheme of things.

ARP Main Studs are a great upgrade. Highly recommended if you're building any performance engine.

ARP Head Studs are offered in two major varieties. ARP 8740 fastener material, and ARP 2000 fastener material. The 8740's are generally enough of a fastener to hold your heads in place to about ~25ish psi. Many claim to have taken them much higher than that. I'm of the opinion that most who claim they weren't enough at 20psi and blew a head gasket, probably weren't installed correctly, were over-torqued and stretched at some point, or the block/heads weren't true. However, ARP 2000's aren't that much more, and there are no ill effects besides the $100 price increase to using them. Another option, is GT-500 Ford head bolts. While they are still one time TTY use, they have been known to hold as high as 30psi of boost, when installed to GT-500 torque specs.

ARP Camshaft Bolts are a good investment as well if you're using aftermarket camshafts, especially if using adjustable camshaft sprockets.

ARP Harmonic Balancer Bolt, I'm just going to say to use, no matter what. Keep in mind if you're using something other than a factory balancer, a lot of times those aftermarket balancers use a different length bolt, which they should come with. Cobra Jet crankshafts also require a different bolt, and many use either the factory or ARP options. For those with a Cobra Jet crank, who want the ultimate in bolt on stability on their crank snout, contact Kinetic Motorsports in Houston, TX. They worked with ARP and designed and patented a very very nice ARP 2000 material harmonic balancer stud for use with the Cobra Jet crankshafts. They hold the patent on it, and you won't find it for sale anywhere else, but it is a very nice piece. I've visited with the guy over there who designed it as that shop is local to me, and it's worth every penny.

Most aftermarket rods will come with ARP rod bolts standard, if they don't, talk to your machine shop or engine builder and order some. Most also have ARP 2000 material offerings as well, which I would spring for if trying to exceed 600rwhp.

The passenger side fixed timing chain guide was revised at some point, and if you find that your factory bolt is too short, you can get the updated bolt from Ford, or take your factory one to your local hardware store and find a suitable longer replacement. The factory bolt is metric Class 9.8, so don't use a Class 8.8 bolt here, try and find a Class 9.8 or 10.9 to replace it with if needed.

For every single fastener in your engine, whether it's a main stud, timing chain guide, oil pump, head stud, camshaft cap, etc, use the recommended torque value for each and every fastener, and torque sequence if there is one. If you're using ARP fasteners, use the torque spec and lubricant as supplied/recommended by ARP. If you're using a factory fastener, use the factory torque spec. Inside your engine is not a time to use the German "Gutentight" torque system. Torque to spec! If you don't have the right range torque wrench, buy or borrow one.

Valvetrain and Timing


You're going to want to make sure your valvetrain is up to the task asked of it in your new, probably higher power, more boost, and higher rpm engine. For the most part, besides valve springs, our stock valvetrain and timing components are up to the task of the typical "built" motor. It's not so much a power level, but the rpm you plan to spin it to, and the aggressiveness of the camshafts that play the most into valvetrain and timing component selection. Two step's and bouncing off a rev limiter are VERY hard on timing components.



Valvespring's are critical. For the most part, you should follow the recommendations of your camshaft supplier for this. Do keep in mind, some of the more mild off the shelf cams, as I mentioned earlier, were made for N/A engines, and may specify a valvespring for such, maybe in the area of ~90# seat pressure. While such springs are rated for the higher valve lift of the camshaft, they are not what you might want in a supercharged application. Stock valve springs are in the 90# seat pressure range, and usually aren't much good past about 18-20psi and 5500rpm. You're going to want to upgrade to a stiffer spring, probably in the ~120# seat pressure range. Again, consulting your camshaft supplier is probably your best bet here. While often with mid range springs, stock spring retainers and locks are adequate, upgrading is not a bad idea. With your higher pressure springs, ~150#+ it's practically required. Some valvesprings can use stock or stock dimensioned retainers and locks, some require a different retainer and lock. This will be specified by the spring manufacturer. Often times those springs will come with upgraded retainers and locks.



The stock followers, or rockers as those from a pushrod background commonly call them, are actually pretty good. Unless you're planning on spinning past 6500rpm, the stock units are generally good to go. That being said, a relatively cheap upgrade is to use Ford GT/GT-500 followers. They weight 5g lighter than the stock ones, have increased stability due to design at higher rpm's, and have smaller oil bleed off holes for the lash adjusters, which increase oil pressure in the cylinder head and cam bore by approximately 25%. The clearance between the stock lash adjuster and the GT followers is close. I know that .550" lift cams will clear, but if your cams have higher lift than that, definitely keep an eye on that clearance, and consider GT exhaust side lash adjusters.

Lash Adjusters


Similar thing with the stock lash adjusters, or lifters as those from a pushrod background commonly call them. They're pretty stout in stock form. While no significant upgrade, Ford GT exhaust side only lash adjusters can be used in place of the factory ones. When running FGT lash adjusters, you MUST use FGT followers as well. If you don't, severe oil pressure issues will develop.

Timing Chains


You really only have two options, OEM Ford, or Cloyes stock replacement, which are reported to be just as good/strong as OEM.

Timing Chain Guides


The stock units are pretty good here as well. I wouldn't, and haven't hesitated to use factory guides in 500, 600, and 700hp engines. Yes, billet guides are available from places like MMR (bleh). Billet guides can help keep the timing chain, and therefore cam timing, more stable in the upper rpms (I'm talking 6500+ here). Two step's can be rough on the guides as well. If you feel you must upgrade the guides, start with the curved guide.



Factory OEM Ford or Cloyes tensioners work great. That being said, there are two versions of both. Early modular motors and early Lightning's used cast iron tensioners, while later models moved to a plastic tensioner. You most certainly want the earlier style cast iron tensioners, on any level of built motor you are building. They are still available from Ford, and Cloyes makes a replacement cast iron tensioner as well. Don't use the plastic ones! It's not a bad idea, especially if using a two-step, to grind the last couple teeth off the ratcheting mechanism of the cast iron tensioners, so that it won't lock into a fully tensioned position and stay that way forever after. You can read more about this modification and the reasoning behind in on or in Sean Hyland's book "How to Build Max-Performance 4.6-Litre Ford Engines", or even from Mihovitz at Accufab.

Camshaft Sprockets


If you are using stock Windsor PI camshafts, your only option is factory sprockets, as they are pressed on. If using Romeo style camshafts, whether stock or aftermarket, they take a bolt on camshaft gear. You can use stock OEM Ford camshaft sprockets, or an aftermarket adjustable camshaft sprocket. If choosing to use an adjustable sprocket, stay away from the COMP, Fidanza, OBX, MMR, or any other sprocket that uses that design. It does not provide sufficient clamping force to prevent the cam gear from moving. The best would be the old Mod Components adjustable cam gears, however they have been discontinued for years now. The only adjustable camshaft gear I would run, is the Cloyes, and using an ARP camshaft bolt. The design is different, and instead of using 6 small bolts to hold the cam gear in place, the Cloyes sprockets use the clamping force of the main camshaft bolt to keep the sprockets from moving. More about adjustable bits and degreeing of camshafts two sections down.

Crank Sprocket

Crank Sprocket.jpg

The factory crank sprocket is a good piece as well. Cloyes does offer a billet steel upgraded piece. Trick Flow offers two piece crank sprockets that can be used to degree the camshafts in. If using any two-piece crank sprocket, whether factory or aftermarket, it is advisable to modify the crank snout keyway to a full length square cut tool steel key, instead of the shorter Woodruff key the crank's use factory. In fact, the key modification isn't a bad idea even if using a one piece crank sprocket. Additionally, two piece gears, once finalized in place, should be welded or pinned together. More about adjustable bits and degreeing of camshafts in the next section.

It should be noted that there are two different styles of even the factory one piece crank sprocket. This is due to different crank trigger wheels being used. The thick, cast iron, crank trigger wheels will use a thinner crank sprocket. The thin, stamped steel, crank trigger wheel will use the more common thicker crank sprocket. There are issues with both trigger wheels. The thick cast iron one has been known to fly apart into multiple pieces when subjected to very high rpm. The thinner (later style) stamped steel trigger wheel has been known to wear and become loose at the keyway. I think this issue is really only seen on engines where the balancer torque was incorrect. The later style, thin, stamped steel trigger wheel with the thick crank sprocket is generally considered the way to go.

Degreeing Your Camshafts


This is not a required step, but a recommended step. It's one of those little things that can help make the difference between a good running engine, and a great running engine. Factory camshafts are known to be off as much as 4* from the centerline. Aftermarket camshafts have been known to be off as much as 7* from the centerline. In an extreme example, it's possible to have one cam advanced 7*, and one cam retarded 7*, making the two camshafts 14* off from each other. Most of the camshafts I've seen, have only been off 2-3* for what it's worth, but it's still a good thing to do! I'm not going to detail this process in this thread, as this is only "101", and there are many online tutorials available. It will require a few specialty tools, and involves some easy math, but it's well worth the effort in my opinion.

There are three ways to degree the camshafts. The first method is old school from before adjustable aftermarket components were available, and takes a fair amount of time and trial and error, but is the most solid and reliable. That is to grind and shim the keyways in factory Romeo bolt on style cam gears.

The second way, is to use Trick Flow adjustable crank sprockets. As mentioned earlier, if using any two-piece crank sprocket, whether factory or aftermarket, it is advisable to modify the crank snout keyway to a full length square cut tool steel key, instead of the shorter Woodruff key the crank's use factory. In fact, the key modification isn't a bad idea even if using a one piece crank sprocket. Additionally, two piece gears, once finalized in place, should be welded or pinned together.

The third way, is to use adjustable camshaft sprockets. As mentioned earlier, if choosing to use an adjustable sprocket, stay away from the COMP, Fidanza, OBX, MMR, or any other sprocket that uses that design. It does not provide sufficient clamping force to prevent the cam gear from moving. The best would be the old Mod Components adjustable cam gears, however they have been discontinued for years now. The only adjustable camshaft gear I would run, is the Cloyes, and using an ARP camshaft bolt. The design is different, and instead of using 6 small bolts to hold the cam gear in place, the Cloyes sprockets use the clamping force of the main camshaft bolt to keep the sprockets from moving.

Going "Built"

"Dang tbone, that's a lot of information to digest, and I don't understand half of what you're saying, 'cause I've never seen inside a modular Ford motor!" Here's my advice, and what I did years ago. Get on CraigsList, and find you an old used 5.4 with 200k miles on it. I think I paid $200. I took it into my garage, and tore it apart, piece by piece, taking note of everything I could, just so I could learn how mod motors went together. Chances are, you could even use this $200 CraigsList engine to become the basis of your new built engine if you're so inclined to tackle it yourself. There is plenty of information online about building one of these, and even a couple books written about it (mentioned earlier). Find you a good local performance machine shop that's been around a long time, and they can probably help you along with almost anything I've mentioned here.

"Dang tbone, that's more than I wanted to deal with. I just wanna put it on my credit card and be done with it." By all means, that's how most people do it. Call up any of the vendors on here, JDM, BG Racing, JLP, WMS, etc, and they'll get you squared away. Do be aware, some of this "little" stuff isn't included in the advertised price you see online. They can all do every bit of what I've mentioned here, and then some, but it'll cost extra.

Stock block 11 second club
10,556 Posts
Great contribution to the community tbone :bigtu. Sub'd so its easy to find and re-post.

Premium Member
5,751 Posts
Excellent thread! Good job on putting it all together.

246 Posts
I'm on my 5th Lightning (3rd gen2) and after all the modding and racing I've done I still found this write-up to be very informative and interesting. Well done!

Spanking Viper Trucks
2,118 Posts
:smt023 Awesome write up!

Oil Field Trash
2,643 Posts
Discussion Starter #19
Updated with Intakes and Fuel System posts

1,007 Posts
Is this what happened to my buddy Andrew post marriage? Writing about lightnings instead of building them? At least your as good of a writer as builder!
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