There's not a car enthusiast out there who hasn't conjured up his dream collection, weighing which models are most important and which ones would be acquired first. And if you're anything like us, you've probably driven past an empty warehouse or old brick industrial building and thought it would be the perfect location to house that collection—with vintage neon signs and dealership equipment as the perfect complements.
A few enthusiasts are fortunate enough to act on their dreams of the ultimate Corvette collection, and Michigan businessman Ken Lingenfelter is one of them. His jaw-dropping automobile collection includes about 150 cars, about half of them Corvettes.
If you've been paying attention (and reading this magazine), you're probably aware that Lingenfelter acquired Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (LPE) a couple of years ago. He is a distant relative of LPE's late founder, John Lingenfelter, but the familial connection had nothing to do with his acquisition of the company. He was an LPE customer and longtime Corvette enthusiast who just happened to have the same name.
Lingenfelter came from an automotive background—his father was a GM exec who worked for Fisher Body—and though he seemed predisposed to a career in the industry, it was the real-estate business where he found success.
"I was always a car guy and interested in designing them," says Lingenfelter. "Through my father, I participated in a program called the Craftsman's Guild at GM, where we would build future models of existing GM cars. It was a big contest with kids who were 11 and 12 years old, all the way up to 16-year-olds. It was a lot of fun, and I really had a great time with it."
Lingenfelter's real-estate settlement company was very successful through the property boom that started more than a decade ago. He sold it in 2003, ahead of the market peak, and stayed with the new company for the next five years. It was definitely the right time to be in the business, and, frankly, it paid off, enabling Lingenfelter to indulge his longtime automotive passions.
It was about 20 years ago that he began collecting cars, with the collection growing significantly within the past decade. And though not all of the cars he owns are Corvettes, they're the central component of the collection.
"I've loved Corvettes ever since I saw the '63 split-window Corvette for the first time," he says. "That car did it for me upside down and backwards. I've always identified with them and almost always have one as a daily driver. In fact, in the summer, my daily driver is a new ZR1. I could get into one of the Lamborghinis or Ferraris [from the collection], but the ZR1 is the car of choice. I really love it."
Inside the Collection
Lingenfelter's collection takes up residence in a rather generic-looking industrial building in an industrial park that could be one of the thousands found throughout the country. At a glance, the place might well package Styrofoam cups, not house 150 mouth-watering collector cars.
In fact, a walk inside the building reveals few clues. Sure, there are automotive-themed images on the walls, but like most other industrial buildings, the front is office space. It's when you walk through the doorway at the rear of the offices that a whole new world opens up—much like when Dorothy lands in Oz, and the movie turns from black-and-white to color. There are cars everywhere, and your eyes struggle to focus on only one at a time. That's difficult, because every car in the building is a specialty, one-of-a-kind, or super-rare model.
There are three "rooms" comprising the collection: European sports cars and exotics (including a Bugatti Veyron, a Lamborghini Reventón, and a Ferrari Enzo), American muscle cars, and, at the center, Corvettes. As we mentioned, it's a fluid collection, so the cars are parked sort of haphazardly, reflecting their constant movement to and from auctions, as well as transportation to countless cars shows and concours. Lingenfelter is a board member of the former Meadowbrook Concours d'Elegance, which has changed its name to the Concours d'Elegance of America, reflecting its historic move away from Meadowbrook Hall to the Inn at St. Johns, in Plymouth, Michigan, for 2011. His cars are regular fixtures at the prestigious event, and are also seen at shows throughout Michigan and around the country.
While all Corvette generations are represented, C1, C2, and C6 models make up the majority. The range includes everything from a '53 model to the newest-of-the-new ZR1, with all the major milestone cars on the timeline between them. Notable examples include:
&bull The only known supercharged '53 model
&bull The C1 Duntov "test mule"
&bull A big-block midyear previously owned by actor Nicolas Cage.
On the late-model side, there are several Callaway cars, a C4 Guldstrand roadster, a Pratt & Miller C6RS, and several Specter Werkes/Sports–built cars, including the blue twin-turbo GTR that was a hit at the 2009 SEMA Show and the subject of a VETTE cover story. The turbo system is an LPE item.
Lingenfelter's collection is an evolving entity. He is always buying and selling vehicles, but he tells us he is constantly on the lookout for significant models, concepts, and one-offs.
"There are so many great cars out there," he says. "It's thrilling to search for them."
Obviously, the photos of the collection say a lot more than our words could convey, so we're keeping the copy to a minimum here. We simply don't have the space to catalog every Corvette in the collection—and besides that, some of them are bound to have changed in the time it took us to photograph, write, and publish this story.
More than a dream in living reality, Lingenfelter's cars represent the payoff for an entrepreneurial work ethic that is classically American. To us, that makes it more inspirational than enviable. But no matter how you view it, it's a helluva great collection of some of the greatest Corvettes ever built.