The supercharged Ford Lightning, Chevrolet’s LS2-powered Silverado SS, and Viper-infused Ram SRT-10 were 380–500-horsepower juggernauts at a time when the average pickup was barely crossing the threshold of 300. Times have certainly changed. Save for Ford’s low-production, Ecoboost V-6 Tremor of 2014–15, the Big Three hasn’t offered a street-focused sport truck for a decade. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build your own.
What started as a trip to each manufacturer’s website to see who offered the most V-8 truck bang-for-the-buck, quickly showed that a few simple changes to basic work trucks could yield modern sport truck analogs. Best of all, the prices for these street-machines ended up right around $30,000—so long as you kept the options reasonable.
If V-8 power is what you’re after, then you’ll be looking at around $28,000 for a GM and Ford truck, and closer to $30,000 for the Ram. These prices will net you the single-cab/standard-bed configuration with rear-wheel drive, vinyl seats, painted steel wheels, and automatic transmission. As far as engines go, Chevy offers its mid-tier 355-hp Ecotec 5.3, while Ford and Ram offer their respective 395-hp rated 5.0-liter Coyote and 5.7-liter HEMI options.
Now, you could stop right there and be completely satisfied with a basic pickup-truck that would put a stock ’90s 454 SS or first-gen Lightning to shame, but add a few options and you’ll have a little hauler that has both sporty looks and tire-shredding capability.
The Ram Tradesman is the simplest setup. In addition to the 5.7-liter HEMI and eight-speed auto, add $95 for the 3.92 axle ratio and $495 for an “anti-spin” differential (FCA speak for limited slip) to achieve maximum off-the-line punch. Check the box for the chrome appearance package to add some additional flare and a set of 17-inch aluminum wheels. With Flame Red exterior and gray cloth interior, the finished product is barnyard-basic, but offers excellent tire-roasting potential for $31,560.
Next up is the Ford F-150, which wins the award for most camshafts and gears for the money with its DOHC 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 and 10-speed automatic transmission. The must-have options on this rig include the 3.55:1 limited slip rear end for $470 and the no-cost cloth interior upgrade. Although the sport appearance package—which comes attached to the power equipment group—might seem a little pricey at $2225, it adds some needed spice with body-colored bumpers, six-spoke alloy wheels, and a suite of power-operated gadgets. Final total is $32,385, which is not a bad way to make your sporty Ford truck dreams come true—just make sure to order it in Lightning Blue.
With only 355 horsepower, the Chevrolet Silverado may be down on power compared to the Ford and Ram, but it more than makes up for it in the attitude and customizations department. Plus, the $100 optional E85 setup nearly negates the discrepancy with a bump to 380 horsepower when running on corn juice. Other notable options include the 3.42 locking rear diff for $395, recovery hooks for $50, and totally-worth-it 16-inch, six-piston Brembo brake upgrade at $2795 (which would cost nearly five grand to purchase aftermarket). But it’s the looks category where the Chevy has everyone beat. Tick the $1750 box for the “Black Out Edition” to channel your inner Sith lord and you get gloss black paint, tinted rear glass, matte black grille and bumpers, and black 20-inch five-spoke wheels. Total cost is $34,080.
Regardless of your brand preference, you can have one helluva sport truck for around $30,000, an absolute steal considering the inflation-adjusted price of a then-new 380-hp 1999–2004 SVT Lightning would ring in at more than $46,000. Personally, I’d have to go with the bow-tie brawler. It may be the most expensive choice, but in terms of both form and function, it provides the best impersonation of a factory-produced muscle truck out of the Big Three’s current half-ton lineup.