LAS VEGAS - Blackjack tables running full tilt, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is Vegas, baby.

And like this town they call Sin City - and its promise of power and wealth with a roll of the dice - Ford Motor Co.'s latest venture into Special Vehicle Team (SVT) territory holds the hope of recharging a sport-truck market where all who've tread before came up short.

Or should that be supercharging the sport-truck market?

Unlike Vegas, the F-150-based Lightning isn't about glitz and facade. It's a truly no-frills vehicle with a single-minded purpose: performance.

Although it revives the name, the 1999 SVT F-150 Lightning isn't Ford's Lightning of old. With a cranking 380-hp supercharged 5.4L SOHC V-8, SVT's new truck punches light years ahead of Ford's last attempt at a sport truck, the comparatively wheezy, 240-hp Lightning, circa 1995.

"Things that don't add to the performance of the vehicle we don't add," says Thomas Scarpello, SVT marketing manager. That's why the Lightning only will be available in a standard-cab, short-bed, two-wheel-drive configuration (an SVT insider does admit all-wheel drive might be a future possibility).

Like all SVT projects, Ford started with a stock product, the highly successful F-series pickup. Then it engineered enhancements from the ground up, from massive 295/45R18 tires to a unique powertrain.

The 5.4L Triton SOHC V-8 is intake-assisted by the largest Eaton Corp.-supplied supercharger on the market. Its peak 8 lbs. of boost help propel the Lightning with 440 ft.-lbs. (597 Nm) of asphalt-eating torque. To accommodate the extra wheel-spinning might, the 5.4L is mated to a transmission modified with parts borrowed from the 4-speed automatic usually coupled with Ford's work-oriented 7.3L Power Stroke turbodiesel. The beefed up 4-speed has stronger internal components and a higher torque rating, which obviously was necessary in light of the supercharged V-8's prodigious torque ouput.

Stopping duty falls to four-wheel discs lifted from the F-250 Super Duty. The 0.16-in. (4-mm) thicker discs - 12.1-in. (30.7-cm) rotors up front and 13.1s (33.3-cm) in the rear - ensure brake fade is nearly eliminated.

The Lightning also cuts a striking profile, sitting atop a suspension lowered 0.5 ins. (1.3 cm) in the front and nearly 2.5 ins. (6.4 cm) in the rear, and SVT-exclusive 5-leaf rear springs (compared to the standard F-150's 3-leaf springs) and stiffer front coils.

Combine the Lightning's track numbers - which better even Porsche AG's Boxster's - with a 5,000-lb. (2,270-kg) towing capacity, and it's difficult to argue with either half of its sport-truck claim.

Ford will build only 4,000 Lightnings yearly, no more than the last model. And the company remains a little cagey about pricing, but most of the talk seems to snap back towards a base price "under $30,000." But this Lightning is a serious contender with a real shot at remedying the compromised legacy of the last generation of sport trucks.