Saturday, June 18, 2016

Ken's Kool Kars: The Lingenfelter Collection, Brighton, Michigan, June 18, 2016

Detroit is indeed the Motor City and there are all kinds of interesting car-related events to enjoy. Number 3 on our activities list was the Lingenfelter Collection, which is housed in an enormous building in an industrial park in Brighton, Michigan, around 40 minutes' drive from Detroit.  This collection, focused on high-performance cars, is not open to the public generally but several times a year the doors are rolled back in support of local charities.  We had come to Michigan for the Eyes on Design show held on Father's Day each year and Ken Lingenfelter support that event by offering an Open House at his facility the day before, allowing you to buy a ticket to both events at the same time.

We knew that we were in the right place as we pulled up and ahead of us was a pristine white C6 Z06 and a gorgeous Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, one of the few cars I would have taken instead of a Corvette.

As I understand it, John Lingenfelter was a successful engineer, tuner and drag racer who founded Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (LPE) in Indiana in 1973, concentrating on GM products with packages covering powerplants and induction systems.  Following John's death in 2003 as a result of injuries sustained at a drag race in California, LPE was taken over by a cousin, Ken Lingenfelter, who is the owner of the impressive car collection we had come to see.  Although I believe LPE is a successful enterprise, I can't imagine it spins off millions and millions; it appears that, judging from the value of the collection, Ken has made a great deal of money elsewhere and I heard some reference to mortgages somewhere.

Be that as it may, after we received a friendly greeting and paid our $15 we entered the clinically spotless garage/warehouse and were immediately greeted by an astonishing line-up of Ferraris, including a 288 GTO, an F40, an FF, 599 GTO, an Enzo, and a LaFerrari.  The latter, a very recent car, has been bringing in over $3 million at auction recently, and the others are not much cheaper.  All are in impeccable condition, as are all the cars in the collection.

Ferrari Enzo, with an F40 visible beside it

Ferrari LaFerrari--a really stupid name for an impressive machine

The next row of cars included some very unusual things, including the first Falcon F7 I have ever seen.  This Michigan-handbuilt exotic is powered by a Chevrolet 7 litre engine.

Falcon F7

The collection is quite diverse and above you will see a Lamborghini Reventon, the Falcon F7, a 2005 Ford GT and a Dodge Hellcat, along with the odd BMW, Porsche and Alfa Romeo.  And even a Shelby Series 1.  This car, the only one that Carroll Shelby came up with from a a clean sheet instead of modifying an existing car, used an Oldsmobile V-8 and had a very checkered production life, with 249 being built as 1999 cars and then, subsequent to the operation's bankruptcy after Shelby had sold it to other investors, another group of cars were sold in 2005 as components only after Shelby had repurchased the company for pennies on the dollar.  Unable to meet emission requirements for new car certification, a third attempt to build a series of these cars failed.

1999 Shelby Series 1
There were lots of other great cars, including an insanely hot-rodded 1972 Oldsmobile VistaCruiser station wagon (!) but what you really want to see at Lingenfelter's are the Corvettes, which make up 40% of the 200 cars in the collection.  80 Corvettes!!!

Zora Arkus-Duntov's 1954 Corvette "mule," the first Corvette to ever be equipped with the legendary small-block V-8

Here is a little video about the Lingenfelter Collection, highlighting the Duntov Mule:


First generation Corvettes (1953-1962), including several styling prototypes
A nice selection of "Mid-Year" Corvettes (1963-1967), a truly iconic design

C3, C4 and C5 Corvettes, including several C3 widebodies modified by John Greenwood
The C4 (1983-1996) is the Corvette nobody seems to like very much, with the possible exception of the exotic and very expensive ZR-1s and Callaway Twin Turbos, and the cheapest to buy today.  However, there are some exceptions.  In the photo above you see a 1995 Guldstrand GS90 Nassau Convertible, which used Corvette underpinnings (albeit with a supercharged engine) and a beautiful body.  It was offered by legendary Corvette racer and car builder Dick Guldstrand after the GS90 Coupe (using the more costly ZR-1 as a basis) did not sell well.  This was not much cheaper so in the end only six were built.  Here is a video about the car:

Greenwood-built Corvette C3s with aerodynamic wide bodies, an acquired taste perhaps
The other C4 of particular interest is the highly-modified Callaway Speedster, which was meant only to be a concept car at the 1991 Los Angeles Auto Show but interest was high enough that Callaway put the car into limited prodcution.  With a body designed by Canadian Paul Deutschman, the Speedster boasted a marvellous wrap-around windshield but also the twin turbo set-up on the "regular" Callaway Twin Turbo, giving the car 403 hp to match its speed looks.  10 of these cars were built and I love the colour of Lingenfelter's Speedster.

Not content with this, Callaway came out with the C16, based on the Sixth Generation Corvette, produced to special order from 2005-2013.  Available as a coupe or a speedster, Lingenfelter's car is the latter and even crazier than the C4 version, with 650 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque on tap.  The very approachable Ken Lingenfelter was speaking about the car when I caught up to him and heard him explain that the headrests on the C16 was where you could store your helmet!

Ken continued his personal tour with the evil-looking C6RS, an idea that must have seemed good at the time it was hatched in 2007.  Basically Pratt & Miller, who manage the Corvette Racing Team for GM, decided to build a street car based on their experience with the race-winning Corvette C6.R.  Many of the panels of a C6 Z06 were reworked in carbon fibre and the engine breathed-on to produce over 600 hp.  The interior had a great deal of hand-stitched leather but in the end the price for the car was an unpalatable $260,000 for something that still looked like a C6.  Then the nail in the coffin was the 2009 launch by GM of the ZR1 Corvette supercar, which had all the performance, if not the interior, of the C6RS for $100,000.  Instead of the 25 per year P&M expected to build, a total of seven were produced.  The first one, incidentally, went to Jay Leno and is ethanol-powered.

Pratt & Miller C6RS

There are lots of other cars to be seen in the collection--Ken Lingenfelter told me that it was too bad they could not open up one of the other buildings down the street with more cars in it!--but I really enjoyed this cross-section of Corvette history.  Unsurprisingly given Lingenfelter's connection to GM products, there were also a lot of modified Camaros but I was particularly taken with the nice hot-rodded Chevrolet panel delivery truck.

A memorable morning, indeed!  It is clear that Ken Lingenfelter enjoys opening up his collection to the public and the audience of serious car enthusiasts was very happy to be there.  Including us.  If you go the Lingenfelter Collection website, Open House dates are indicated as there are several during the year.

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