Opportunity Knocks: Roush takes the edge off the wait for the next SVT Lightning MAC MORRISON (Photos by Jim Fets) Published Date: 8/16/04 It’s past midnight on a warm summer night and suburbia is fast asleep. Most of it, anyway. The mall rent-a-cop roves the parking lot in a light-bar-equipped Geo Tracker. First thought is: "No good," but just then he loops around and motors to a distant blacktop, likely for a nap. Perfect timing. Five minutes later he hotfoots it across the lot, alerted to our presence by the distant thunder of tortured rubber and a cumulus of white smoke that envelopes a near light pole. But it’s too late. We’ve spun donuts, recorded acceleration times, and we’re out of his jurisdiction into the night before he can wag a finger. Considering the tool for this immature tomfoolery, the seizure of such a brief opportunity is appropriate. With Ford’s new SVT pickup launch more than a year out, the Roush Performance (www.roushperf.com ) crew grabs its chance and delivers a hot rod F-150 to Fordistas who just can’t wait for the Lightning storm. Roush builds several F-150 packages, from a Tejon appearance upgrade to the company’s most popular version, the Stage 1, which adds a Roush-designed suspension to the mix. Stage 2 gets a dual side-exit exhaust. All upgrades are available for 4x2 and 4x4 XLT, Lariat and FX4 models. This monster, a rwd XLT Stage 3, follows the building-block philosophy, as Roush rounds out its lineup by way of a Magnuson supercharger bolted to Ford’s 5.4-liter Triton V8. Roush cites improved performance as its main goal, but acknowledges that appearance runs a close second (if not an equal first) in the aftermarket game. Hence, the Stage 3 comes equipped with a nonfunctioning hood scoop, window banners and body kit. F-150s arrive complete at Roush Performance’s Livonia, Michigan, shop. Roush removes the factory seat covers and replaces them with custom, red and black-striped leather (other colors are available), but not before adding foam bolstering for support. Carbon fiber plates replace the stock, plastic dash and door armrest bits. The execution’s tastefulness is surprising, though we would live without Jack Roush’s signature embroidered into the front seatbacks. If street cred fuels your cardiograph, Roush’s exterior mods (and name) hit the mark. From construction workers to the 20 grad-party guests who swarmed over it, the F-150 Stage 3 received more thumbs-up and burnout requests than do much faster and swankier machines. The large chin valance, painted bumper, rocker panels, rear bumper cover and spoiler give the F-150 a Craftsman Truck-like look. Your presence is made the more conspicuous by giant, 285/55 BFGoodrich G-Force T/A tires mounted on custom 20-inch, six-spoke chrome alloys. We are often wary of such large amounts of unsprung mass, and the Stage 3’s bucking and jumping over moderate potholes and bumps does not allay our concerns. Larry Parker, Roush Performance president, says the Ford wheel bearings and Roush urethane suspension bushings will withstand the violent deflection, but your spine might tell a different story. The Stage 3’s suspension—while it improves handling and chassis response—contributes to the instability. Roush replaces the F-150’s front springs with 36 percent-stiffer coils, while the new rear leaf springs are 40 percent stiffer. Shocks are also new, as is a larger, 35-mm solid-front antiroll bar. The new springs drop the ride height by two inches up front, three inches in back. However, the Roush gains back one inch of overall vehicle height due to the wheel/tire combo. If you can live with the Richter scale-worthy impact shock, the lower stance and large tires provide a vast visual improvement over the canyon of space in the stock F-150’s wheel wells. There’s a lot of room under the hood, too, so Roush had no problem fitting a supercharger, which delivers six inches of boost, and a cold intake kit to the Triton. The back pressure-reducing exhaust features dual two-inch outlets instead of a single three-inch breather. Even with 405 hp at 5400 rpm and 480 lb-ft at 4200, the obscenely loud supercharger whine flowing over the exhaust’s baseline thump amuses more often than does the truck’s actual velocity. Perhaps this is the downside of a development program that saw the Stage 3 evolve from concept to completion in 18 months, in order to steal a march on SVT. Full-throttle launches produce momentary wheelspin before the tires hook up, but you need both billet pedals in classic brake-torque fashion to create serious smoke. The supercharger adds $5,000 to the $13819 Stage 2 suspension, exhaust and appearance package. This truck totaled $49,884. Power is certainly adequate to break the rear end loose through corners or in mall parking-lot spinout sessions, but if pure acceleration is your bag, wait until the Lightning arrives, or switch allegiances to Dodge’s 500-hp SRT-10. Roush was finalizing its performance claims as we went to press, but our best 0-to-60 runs, timed by hand and with an Escort Passport G-Timer, yielded results in the low-to-mid-seven-second range. Combined with the unique interior and exterior work, Parker says that will be enough for some buyers. "Our cars are for the enthusiasts who want to drive down the highway, look across three or four lanes, and they’ve got the only one." What of the enthusiasts who want to go as well as they look? "We’re working on our phase two, perhaps with an intercooler, which will probably come within six months. We’re going to have more opportunities before the next Lightning comes along." With more engine power and chassis refinement, Roush will have plenty of chances afterward, too.