Ken Lingenfelter is an example of how the love of cars can run in a family. His father, Charles, was a plant executive for General Motors’ Fisher Body division in the 1960s, and he’d sometimes bring his son to the facility. This allowed Ken to get up close and personal with the cars being built at his father’s plant, inspiring him to do a little wrenching of his own as he got older. It wasn’t long before Ken was a dedicated enthusiast who was working any number of high-school jobs to support his hobby.
One of them was a position with a title company, which eventually led to a successful career in real estate. Indeed, it was successful enough that he was able to retire back in the early 2000s, afterward devoting his life to his real passion, the one inspired by his connection with his father. Today, Ken has an incredible collection of more than 250 vehicles and counting. His car collection supports another of Lingenfelter’s missions: helping others. The Lingenfelter Collection holds open houses for charities throughout the year, including the one recently attended by Carfax in Wixom, Michigan, to raise money for the American Cancer Society. And that’s just one branch of the Lingenfelter family.
Ken’s second cousin, John Lingenfelter, followed a totally separate path to become a top NHRA drag racer with multiple national titles to his credit. It was John who started Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (LPE), the highly accomplished aftermarket shop that’s particularly well regarded for its work with the Chevrolet Corvette and other GM products. Unfortunately, John passed away in 2003 after being injured in a race. Ken stepped in to purchase LPE and currently oversees that as well. Both the collection and the business continue to grow, with the Corvette remaining a particular focus of each. Which makes it a good starting point for us, too.
The Mule That Became Famous for Horsepower
The Lingenfelter Collection certainly has its share of rare cars, but perhaps the rarest is a truly unique example of Corvette history. Known as the “Duntov Mule,” it’s the exact 1954 ’Vette that was used to test out Chevy’s first V8 engine for production models. “Duntov” was Zora Arkus-Duntov, the engineer whose efforts earned him the title of “father of Corvette,” and “mule” is a term still in use today for pre-production test vehicles.
As for the vehicle itself, it was being designed as part of a last-ditch effort to rescue the original Corvette, which debuted in 1953 with an inline six-cylinder engine that lacked both power and customers. To remedy both problems, and directly compete with the V8-powered 1955 Ford Thunderbird, Arkus-Duntov decided to show off what a Corvette could do with that size engine. Starting with a 1954 Corvette and a V8 engine developed by proto-tuner Smokey Yunick, Arkus-Duntov made the obvious body modifications, including the vertical fin and the cover over the passenger seat. He also did some further work under the hood, where he installed a specially made camshaft and bored out the engine cylinders to increase displacement to 307 cubic inches; that’s about 5.0 liters.
The finished product flew to a top speed of 163 mph at testing in late 1955, and the same engine, in a different chassis, made a record pass of more than 150 mph in 1956 at Daytona Beach. Both the chassis and the engine were separated once testing was over, but a collector was able to reunite the first chassis and the power plant, and the restored car made its way into the Lingenfelter Collection in 2009. Meanwhile, every Corvette since 1955 has had a standard V8 engine.
Honoring Lingenfelter Rivals
Despite LPE’s premier status in the tuning community, the Lingenfelter Collection isn’t shy about hosting vehicles from other folks in the business. That includes a 1999 Shelby Series 1 sports car by Mr. Mustang, Carroll Shelby. To be clear, however, the Series 1 wasn’t a Mustang. With a clean-sheet design for its carbon-fiber body and a lightweight aluminum chassis, the Series 1 was supposed to elevate Shelby beyond the muscle-car ranks and establish Shelby American as a small-batch automaker in its own right. In the end, only 249 units were produced, all with a 4.0-liter V8 sourced through Oldsmobile. Yes, that sounds odd in 2017, yet remember, Olds was an engine supplier for Indy cars in the late 1990s, and the Shelby Series 1 was supposed to feature some version of that racing power plant. The street cars didn’t, though, leaving drivers with the same one then running in the Oldsmobile Aurora. Still, owners did enjoy 340 horsepower and 0-to-60 mph times of 4.4 seconds
Striking a little closer to home for Lingenfelter is the Callaway C16 Speedster, designed and engineered by another aftermarket name that’s closely associated with the Corvette. The C16 was the 16th “major automotive project” from Reeves Callaway’s company and was unleashed in 2005 to take on the hottest supercars of the time. The Speedster launched at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2007 as the flagship of the lineup, complete with a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that produced 700 horsepower and 660 pound-feet of torque. That engine gave it a top speed of 210 mph. Also indicating the Speedster’s more premium positioning: The car originally had standard luggage to match its leather interior, along with a pair of color-matched racing helmets.
The product mix at the Lingenfelter is a stated 40 percent Corvettes, 30 percent muscle cars and 30 percent exotics, and as you’d expect, many of the engines from the last group speak with an Italian accent. Consider the Ferrari trio shown here. Like the Lingfelters, the first two have a special family connection: Front and center is the last Ferrari personally overseen by that company’s founder, Enzo Ferrari, and in the middle is the car named in his honor after his death.
The former, the Ferrari F40, was created in 1987 to celebrate the automaker’s fourth decade. Beneath its sharply angled composite skin is a rear-mounted, twin-turbo V8 that could propel the F40 to speeds of more than 200 mph. The latter car, a 2002 Enzo Ferrari, extended the brand’s supercar credentials again, this time backed by the same aerodynamic principles used in creating the company’s championship-winning Formula 1 racers. Additional highlights include a 6.0-liter V12 engine that provides 660 horsepower, 484 pound-feet of torque and supercar-style butterfly doors. Barely peeking out behind the Enzo here, and better detailed in its solo image, is a car that epitomizes supercars of the early 21st century: the 2017 Ferrari LaFerrari.
The Ferrari LaFerrari has one of the company’s massive V12 engines, a top speed of more than 217 mph, and the ability to rocket from 0-to-60 mph in fewer than 3 seconds. Moreover, its exterior design is pure Ferrari, from its radical doors to F1-inspired bodywork. What really distinguishes the LaFerrari is that it’s the company’s first production model with a hybrid powertrain. Of course, like much about the car, its Kinetic Energy Recovery System is more tuned for efficient performance than plain old efficiency: The LaFerrari’s EPA grades, of 12/15 mpg city/highway, are nearly as eye-popping as its sleek shape.