My friend Shane and I were watching the NASCAR Truck Series race broadcast from Mosport in Canada this afternoon, and I'm sure like many of you, when we get together the conversation rarely hops off of cars. He adores the Lightning, and has wanted one for years—and we both agree that the "jellybean" F-150 was one of the most attractive generations of the ubiquitous truck.
I was saying how my favourite "look" for a truck would be a modern engine in a regular cab, short box, rounded F-150…lowered, of course, on black steel wheels. (C'mon, as much as we all fantasize about flinging a Gordini around Col de Turini, I'm sure we all harbour secret crushes on more mundane vehicles…)
"Someone should just make a truck that looks like a NASCAR race truck," I said.
"That's like the NASCAR Edition F-150 that Ford did" he said.
"What do you mean, 'NASCAR Edition'?!"
"Black, lowered, steel wheels…1997 or 1998, I think…?"
And he's right. How did it slip past my radar? Was the 1998-only F-150 special edition overshadowed by its more powerful and better-handling big brother, the Lightning? Well, not likely—it was made in only 3,000 units, came with a silly decal package, and was sold mostly in southern U.S. states. Back in 1998, this was built to commemorate both Ford's role as the official truck of that stock car series, as well as the series' 50th anniversary. But it's pretty great, right?
A new Chevrolet Colorado pulled up next to me a few lights after this generation of F-150 had, and I remember thinking how the new "mid-sized" design easily dwarfed a former "full-size" model. Now just a rare beast and probably not worth saving, the remaining NASCAR Editions are…what, exactly? A competitor for the equally sporty Toyota Tacoma X-Runner?
With a modified engine computer, 1-inch drop, ROUSH air dam, ROUSH side exhaust (moved behind the rear wheel for production), and styling changes like a custom mesh grille made it an attractive-looking package. Apparently, a few other options were available, including a manual transmission and hard tonneau cover, but most ended up with the 4.6-litre V8 (~220 horsepower!) and a four speed manual. But sadly, there's no real way to tell if an F-150 was originally a NASCAR Edition—there's no special numbering system or VIN.
And then it dawned on me: there's no way in hell even this ROUSH-modified and nearly 20-year-old "sports" truck could keep up with a standard, modern, mid-sized pickup, in power, capability, or handling. Still, one problem remains: it won't look like this.