Overdrive

Operating a performance engineering company and a rare car collection has its challenges, but the toughest - and most rewarding - job is raising funds for charity.


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Ken Lingenfelter wasn’t looking to own and operate a performance engineering firm, but following the death of his cousin, pro driver John Lingenfelter, in a racing accident, he all but inherited the company. “I had just sold my title insurance business (in 2003) when John’s brother, Charlie, asked if I could buy the engineering company,” Lingenfelter says. “I’m hopefully living up to John’s legacy and keeping his racing heritage alive.”

Raised in an automotive family, Ken Lingenfelter started racing at drag strips and on road courses as a teenager. “When I was 16 years old, I got an Oldsmobile 442, and then quickly got into Camaros,” he says. “My dad was a Fisher Body executive who was involved in the development of the Oldsmobile Toronado. I spent a lot of time with him as a kid, just tagging along and soaking it all in.”

The love affair continued through his adult life, and today Lingenfelter owns more than 200 muscle cars, exotic racers, and luxury sedans, including a Lamborghini Reventon, Bugatti Veyron, and Enzo Ferrari. Roughly 30 percent of the collection, housed in a large warehouse in Brighton, consists of Corvettes. There’s a rare ’53 Supercharged Corvette convertible, a ’55 Duntov Test Mule (the first powered by a V-8), and a 1990 Corvette bought at auction (Penske team owner Roger Penske presented the car to driver Rick Mears following his Indianapolis 500 victory; Mears later donated it to a charity).

Apart from the collection, Lingenfelter co-owns and operates Lingenfelter Performance Engineering in Decatur, Ind. The company offers a range of services including engine-building, prototype development, and durability testing. It also creates and upgrades sports cars and luxury sedans.

A Cadillac CTS-V off a dealer lot boasts 566 horsepower, but when it’s equipped with a Lingenfelter supercharger system, the engine generates 750 horsepower. “You can go to the grocery store, or take it to the dragway and blow everyone away,” Lingenfelter says. The upgrades, which include Camaros, Corvettes, and Cadillacs, range in price from $48,000 to more than $100,000. The company also restores older vehicles, in partnership with various specialists across metro Detroit. 

While his day job has its perks, Lingenfelter, in memory of his cousin, tries to give back to others. He encourages charities and nonprofit organizations to host fundraisers and other activities at his warehouse using his exclusive collection as a draw.

Most recently, the Lingenfelter Collection was part of a unique auction at the Moulin Rouge Chocolate Jubilee, held at the MGM Grand Detroit in late October. The annual event, which raised $875,000 (up from $750,000 the previous year), benefited the Alz-heimer’s Association’s Greater Michigan Chapter in Southfield. 

Mindful of fundraising challenges during a down economy and a donor base accustomed to standard auction items, the association charted a different course. “A group of us came together and set down the challenge: What can we do to develop one-of-a-kind experiences and unique auction packages?” says Danialle Karmanos, honorary chair of the Chocolate Jubilee with her husband, Peter Karmanos Jr. “It worked because everyone was part of a team — including active management — that, at its core, is built on the pillars of honesty, ethics, and integrity.”

One of the silent auction packages, dubbed “Ride in Style,” included a private tour of the Lingenfelter Collection, above left, a photo shoot with the cars, a $2,000 Neiman Marcus gift card, and two tickets to the 2012 North American International Auto Show’s Charity Preview.

Assisting the Alzheimer’s Association and others is what’s important, Lingenfelter says.

“The more we can help people, the better,” he says. “It’s what John would have wanted.” db

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