Ford's Ranger pickup has finally made its return to the North American market. But as we discussed in our test drive earlier today, if you're looking for a repeat of the old truck, the new one might not be it. If you're a truck buyer who really just wants a new-to-you old Ranger, then we might have just the ticket. Here's an extremely low mileage Ranger that's also a bit of an unusual special edition. It's our autoTRADER.ca Find of the Week. A 2003 Ford Ranger Thunderbolt.
This generation Ranger was a compact pickup that Ford introduced in 1992. Ford pulled production forward to let it launch in competition with Chevrolet's new S-10. This was the era when a compact pickup was still compact. That original Ranger also happened to be the base platform for what might be the most significant vehicle of that late 20th century. The Ford Bronco II. No. That's not right. Well, it was Ranger-based, but we mean the Explorer. The one that launched the SUV boom.
MORE RELATED ARTICLES
The third-generation of the Ranger launched in 1997, and continued until the end of production in 2012. It grew slightly to give buyers a larger cap, it modernized the steering, and it added a wishbone suspension instead of the Twin I-Beam of the older trucks. That 1997 model would get some cosmetic changes through its run, but was left largely unchanged during that time.
The Thunderbolt was a special version of the Ranger outfitted by SLP Engineering, the same company that added ram-air to Firebirds. They had a long history of modifying new cars that would be sold through official channels. The name Thunderbolt was a nod to Ford's own SVT Lightning F-150, which at the time offered up sportier looks, better handling, and a supercharged 5.4L V8.
This effort to turn the compact Ranger landed at what might have been the peak of automotive cosmetic customization, right around the time The Fast and The Furious franchise got started. SLP was nice enough to make this more than just a tape and sticker sports model, offering not just cosmetic enhancements but performance ones too.
The Ranger Thunderbolt was available in four levels. The Base model got you a non-functional hood scoop and a body kit, which had a rear roll pan, rocker extensions, and a front fascia extension as well as a body colour-matched grille and bumper, badges, exhaust tip, and turn signal mirrors. But it's rumoured SLP didn't actually make any base 'Bolts. Instead, buyers started with Level I that added fog lights, a soft tonneau cover, and rear spoiler.
To get the performance options, you needed Level II that added the Performance Package, a cold-air intake and catback exhaust system which helped boost power of the 4.0L V6 from 207 hp to 222. Torque remained the same at 238 lb-ft. While it didn't exactly turn the truck into a rocket ship, it could hit 100 km/h in about 6.5 seconds - a respectable number for the time. Contemporary road tests said that the improved airflow gave the truck noticeable improvements in its road manners too.
Finally, Level III, like this truck, added the hard tonneau cover.
The Thunderbolt was offered from 2001-2003, and all of them were XLT SuperCabs with black, red, or white paint. This truck appears to be a Level III, though fortunately it doesn't have the hoop-shaped wing that was an available option that's a little too "2001" for our tastes. Nor does it have the rear fender lightning bolt that on a red truck might have been the inspiration for Lightning McQueen's paint.
It's not one you might think of as a classic just yet, but it's definitely an unusual pickup. And this one, for sale in Watford, ON, comes from a collector with just 5,663 km on the odometer and the Thunderbolt floor mats still covered in plastic. The seller says that it was in storage for 15 years.
You can't have the Lightning without the Thunder(bolt), right? If you're looking for a very special Ranger, then our Find of the Week might be just what you're looking for.