The Lingenfelter Collection — Well Engineered

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 01/2013
  • posted in: Great Garages

Ken Lingenfelter’s dad helped develop the great Olds Toronado in the mid-‘60s. Today Ken’s Decatur, Ind.-based Lingenfelter Performance Engineering develops stirring crate motors, race and street performance cars, and Lingenfelter Motor Sports buys and sells collector cars.

His 200-plus-car Lingenfelter Collection in Brighton, Mich., will spin you around, too — 40,000 square feet of muscle cars, exotics and Corvettes and cars he and his team have built and raced.

While the collection is not open to the public, Ken regularly makes it available for open houses to benefit charities as well as for other philanthropic events. These groups include The Lingenfelter Foundation, major area hospitals, Breast Cancer Awareness (he lost a sister to the disease) and The Alzheimer’s Association (his father was a victim). Others are the Boy Scouts for pinewood derbys and fashion shows to benefit nonprofits.

Last year, he made it available to automotive enthusiasts on several occasions: These included the Hot Rod Power Tour participants and Street Rodder Magazine Tour participants, with all entrance donations going to charity.

“I have been a car enthusiast all my life,” says Ken, whose shop specializes in performance modifications of GM sports vehicles such as Corvette, Camaro, GTO, Cadillacs and trucks. “I am very passionate about performance cars, drag racing and road racing and have been a racer since I was a teenager.”

A native of Euclid, Ohio, he moved to Dearborn when he was 11. He grew up enjoying his family’s ’55 Chevy, dad’s daily driver to Fisher Body, where he was an executive. “Dad would come up home from work, then take me back to the factory at night while they were developing the Toronado,” he says.

“Dearborn’s Ford country, of course,” he adds. “I seemed to be the only one at Dearborn High School who drove a General Motors car.” Good cars, too: first, a 1967 Olds 442, then a 1969 396 Chevy and, later, a new 1971 396 Camaro.

His father encouraged him to participate in GM’s Craftsmen’s Guild, which encouraged young designers. “They’d give us blocks of wood and ask us to build models,” Ken recalls. “Then, we’d compete nationally against other guilds.” He didn’t win, but the experience completely won him over to cars and high performance.

After high school and college, when he was 23, he began developing a business career in title insurance. He sold the business in 2003 and began focusing on his real joy: fast cars and making fast cars faster and then faster still.

“I was always involved with drag racing — at the Detroit Dragway and other places — and autocross, or what was then called Can-Am,” he says. He started his car collection, slowly, in the ‘80s as he was raising children and expanding his real estate business.

During this time, he and John Lingenfelter, a distant cousin, became acquainted. The legendary winner of 13 NHRA drag racing titles — nine in Comp, three in Super Stock and one in Pro Stock Truck —, John was the first Comp driver to break the six-second quarter-mile barrier. With his experience and his intuitive horsepower-sense, he started Lingenfelter Performance Engineering in Decatur, building cars for himself and those for demanding racing clients.

Sadly, at the October 2002 Mazda NHRA Sport Compact World Finals in Pomona, Calif., he lost control of his Chevy Cavalier and crashed into the concrete retaining wall, sustaining serious injuries. He died Dec. 25, 2003, at 58. Ken was approached to assume control of the business, and in 2008 he acquired the company.

During his first five years of ownership, he has striven to build on the strong reputation of the company, focusing on GM products. One favorite product is the Lingenfelter LTA, which the company has created based on legendary Pontiac Trans-Am.

“We built the first concept on a 2010 Camaro base, took it to SEMA, and everyone said it was the best looking car out there,” he says. “It was an incredible hit, a throw-back to the great ‘Pontiac Super Duty’ cars of the ‘70s.” Appropriately, today’s LTA LPE-455 carries a robust 455-cubic-inch block, outputting at least 650 horses. One was just shown at SEMA, a convertible, and the company is planning on showing it in its booth at the Barrett-Jackson 2013 Scottsdale auction.

Highline Autos asked Ken to pick five from the 200 to discuss as representative of his “pure passion” for cars. “It’s hard to pick individual cars, although these are very special to me personally. There is a story behind every car in the collection and the effort to find the best example I could find of each.”

Lingenfelter, start your engines:

•2007 Bugatti Veyron — “This car is one of the highlights of the collection. The design, power and technology is unmatched in any other car. It’s the ultimate car, with 0–60 in two seconds. It’s two-tone blue on beige and has been shown at a number of car shows and concours events such as the Concours of America in Plymouth, Mich., and the Eyes on Design in Grosse Pointe, Mich. A great driver.”

•2008 Lamborghini Reventón — “It’s one of 20 that were built. This car’s design was inspired by the Rapture jet used by NATO, with the interior like a military simulator. It’s also a crowd-pleaser and has been to many shows across the country. It’s a great example of Lamborghini’s focus on style, performance and technology.”

•Duntov Mule Corvette — “This one-off white-on-red 1954 Corvette is referred to as the ‘Mule Car’ due to the fact that Zora Duntov himself used it to develop the performance capacities of future Corvettes. Smokey Yunick, member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and twice NASCAR Mechanic of the Year, built the V-8. Its styling is unique with a big wing from the windshield to the trunk.”

•1963 Split Window Corvette — “In many ways, I think this is one of the best Corvettes built. It’s the car that really inspired me as a kid and started my passion for racing and performance cars. Fuelie, silver on black.”

•1966 Oldsmobile Toronado — “The first Oldsmobile Toronado, Fisher Body, front wheel drive and absolutely beautiful styling. This one is a light blue color. I have so many memories connected with the car.”

For more information on The Lingenfelter Collection, see or call 248.486.5342. For Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, or call 260.724.2552.

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