John Mata Jr. February 06, 2024 Buyer’s Guides
Photos by brAndon burRell
The Ford F-150 Lightning was and still is a very exciting performance-based pickup model. The inaugural 1993 first-gen model was introduced as a direct response to take on two hopped-up rivals in the OEM performance truck segment—the GMC Syclone and the Chevrolet 454SS. This was a grand time when consumers were introduced to a factory-direct combination of muscle car action in the shape of a pickup truck. Mix this in with the beginning stages of the custom sport truck scene in the early ’90s, and we had the makings of a perfect storm within the custom auto industry. The days of trucks serving as mere oafish utility vehicles were officially over from this era forward.
There’s so much to love about this first-gen F-150 Lightning, and that sentiment has been evident across the board—including from GM purists.
While many customized first-gen Ford Lightnings have surfaced since their initial release, we have yet to see an example of one built like the truck David Shulman and his daughter Madison have put together. Their ’93 is the epitome of throwback retro vibes fused with modern street aesthetics. Those familiar with David’s name know that he does not play around when it comes to the vehicles he chooses to buy and build. He’s a man who enjoys the finer things in life, and when the time comes to get down to work on a new ride, half measures are never taken.
When David tracked down a Lightning he was interested in purchasing, he was relieved to find that it was parked somewhere in Florida that wasn’t too far from his front door. He would’ve had an issue venturing much farther out of his way to retrieve the truck if need be, but luck was on his side this time around. This afforded him the luxury of giving the truck a look in person without making much of an effort. What David found was a very clean, solid, and original 1993 Ford Lightning that had only see two previous owners. There really wasn’t a reason to not buy it, especially after negotiating a good starting price point that would work great for the full frame-off project he had envisioned.
While the Lightning models come lowered about 2 inches from the factory, this ride height just wasn’t going to be low enough for David and Madison. With that in mind, they instead checked the Ford in with Jake McKiddie and the team at Phat Phabz in Choctaw, Oklahoma, for their full custom treatment, which would start with the fabrication of a full custom chassis. This front-to-back frame package features a lock-to-lock turning radius with adjustability of up to 14.5 inches of lift to free up large diameter wheels for unobstructed drivability. Front 2600 Air Lift Dominator air bags along with a parallel rear four-link setup topped with Firestone sleeve ‘bags make for comfortable cruising at just about any speed. This all comes with the highly desirable ability to lay the Lightning down on the ground, tucking the 22-inch front and 24-inch rear Hot Rods By Boyd wheels up into the body with ease.
Building the frame from scratch bought David some time to arrange for the factory 5.8L engine to be plucked and rebuilt. To assist with this, he turned to Gerald Brand of Brand Racing Engines in Oklahoma City to tear the Lightning’s factory-equipped powerplant down and beef it up from the inside out. Along with the general gutting and cleaning process, Gerald outfitted the V-8 with Diamond pistons, Crower camshafts, Scorpion roller rocker arms and lifters, as well as created full custom air intake and exhaust systems. The result of the engine rebuild process netted a better-than-stock, still-numbers-matching engine that has the capability to rumble meaner than ever before.
When it came time to finish off the inside of the bed, the custom bead rolled panels that make up the walls and floor portions were coated in Line-X to give the Ford a contrasting pop of color while creating a useable cargo space to comfortably haul around valuable supplies or a stack of Christmas gifts from Santa.
Before the engine was replanted underneath the hood, the bay was treated to a set of tubs and bodywork to get it prepped for its final stage of paint. The same process was also rolled out to the rest of the Ford’s exterior landscape, as the body was shaved clean of the drip rails, cab seams, and wiper cowl. These alterations, as labor intensive and necessary of a skilled hand as they are, cleaned up the Lightning’s façade enough without performing too many modifications. To further change up the frontend a few degrees, a custom front air dam/bumper was created, and a GrantFab roll pan was utilized to better round off the rear. These mods to the Ford gave David and Madison’s truck a one-of-a-kind appearance without calling attention to every single tweak that has gone into streamlining its appearance. Only those who are very familiarized with these first-gen Lightning models will pick up on everything included in the truck’s exterior restyling.
Since the F-150 Lightning was originally made available in red from the factory back in 1993, David felt that recovering the truck with a fresh coat of red paint would go a long way to staying true to the truck’s roots. Ryan Kidd at S&R Designs in Fort Smith, Arkansas, was approached to handle this portion of the project, and the color he suggested was Infra-Red from Orion Automotive Finishes—an excellent shade to run with. The color was also been applied inside of the engine bay, as well as on the large spokes on the wheels. When it came time to finish off the inside of the bed, the custom bead rolled panels that make up the walls and floor portions were coated in Line-X to give the Ford a contrasting pop of color while creating a useable cargo space to comfortably haul around valuable supplies or a stack of Christmas gifts from Santa.
Instead of doubling down on the inclusion of red paint inside of the cab, the restyling of the interior takes a cue from the bed as far as the hues used. Aside from the wrapped Hot Rods by Boyd steering wheel, the majority of the cabin was done in black to promote a chill and subdued environment for cruising. Innerworx in Sarasota, Florida, joined the project to handle all the truck’s upholstery needs, and Eric Ryan at Advance Audio Concepts in Pompano Beach, Florida, lent a hand by customizing the dash as well as wiring up the full stereo system featuring a Stinger Heigh10 infotainment head unit. Since the weather can get a bit hot and humid for the Shulman family in Florida, working in a Restomod Air A/C system was an absolute must before the project was considered complete.
In right around nine months after the Lightning project kicked off, it was finished just in time to debut at SEMA 2022. The response from show attendees was extremely positive, which wasn’t a surprise to anyone involved in the build process. There’s so much to love about this first-gen F-150 Lightning, and that sentiment has been evident across the board—including from GM purists.
Madison wasn’t old enough to drive the truck back when it was first unveiled, but by the time you read this, she will have her license in hand. While we’re sure David has taught her to practice safe, responsible driving habits, we’d like to give others sharing the road with her a little slice of advice—don’t give her a reason to flex on you. Surely, she has gotten the hang of harnessing and unleashing the true power of her truck by now. Consider that your one and only warning.
David and Madison Shulman
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Wheels & Tires
Body & Paint
Interior & Stereo