IT'S WHITE Lightning -- a white Ford F-150 pickup that moves with lightning speed and scares the devil out of anyone who gets in its way.

It's a big, muscular truck with a 240-horsepower V-8 that'll thump lesser vehicles. But it's friendly, until somebody tries to mess with it.

Take some of your District of Columbia pin-stripers, for example. Some of 'em believe their streets are best suited for limos, Volvos, Hondas and BMW automobiles. You put a full-size pickup in front of 'em, and they go ballistic. They gotta get around you, cut in front of you, do silly things like that.

Well, they can pull that kind of stuff with an ordinary pickup. But the F-150 Lightning ain't ordinary, not even when it's hauling a load of clothes for Martha's Table, a District organization dedicated to helping the homeless.

Some folks who saw me with the pickup and its cargo of boxes and plastic bags obviously couldn't stand the sight. They honked horns, rode my rear bumper and made illegal passes -- until Lightning struck. Va-va-voom! Made their hair curl, I tell ya. Made 'em show some respect, which is all most folks want, regardless of whether they're driving a pickup or reaching out to Martha's Table for help.

Background: Trucks -- pickups, minivans, full-size vans and sport-utility vehicles -- now account for nearly 40 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States. That's up from 10 percent since 1974.

Chrysler Corp.'s introduction of the minivan in 1984 helped spur truck sales. But, truth is, many folks already were moving in that direction, abandoning their family sedans for go-anywhere, haul-anything vehicles.

Stands to reason, then, that with all of those different kinds of people wanting trucks, there'd be a bunch of them who'd want a truck that's different. Hence, the F-150 Lightning, which is not a truck for everybody.

What we have here is truck as hot rod, a lovable beastmobile that has been lowered front and rear to improve its cornering ability.

The thing tracks like a sports car, even with an empty cargo bed, a condition that would make most pickups squiggly in the rear. Add 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, performance shock absorbers and that galumptious V-8, and you've got something that really hauls ... fast.

Anyway, the engine is rated 240 horsepower at 4,200 rpm, with torque set at 340 pound-feet at 3,200 rpm.

A four-speed automatic transmission with a shift interlock (to help eliminate inadvertent shifts from park to reverse) is standard, along with improved side-impact barrier protection and rear anti-lock brakes.

The truck can carry a 745-pound load and can be outfitted to pull a trailer weighing 5,000 pounds.

The rear-wheel drive Lightning comes in three colors: black, white and red.

Complaints: Something that seems to be inescapable in pickups -- night-time, instrument panel glare on the side and rear windows.

Pra ise: Overall engineering, construction and presentation. Excellent seating for three, with a center seat that can be folded down and used as a console. But the real deal is that the Lightning is just one hoot of a ride.

Head-turning quotient: Big, fetching rascal with a deep-throated growl. Gets attention.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Yo! Way to go! No complaints here. Braking was excellent.

Mileage: Well, um, ah, um, about 14 miles per gallon, combined city/highway. Fuel capacity is 30 gallons in two tanks. Estimated range is 400 miles on usable volume of regular unleaded.

Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette. Ford installed. Okay.

Price: Estimated base price is $21,700. Estimated dealer's invoice is $19,000. Estimated price as tested is $22,414, including $229 for the optional center seat and a $485 transportation charge. Please note that state prices are preliminary for 1995 and are subject to change.

Purse-str ngs note: Compare with sport versions of Dodge Ram 1500 and Chevrolet/GMC 1500 pickups.