Affinity for Speed

Four decades after he was expelled from high school for drag racing, Ken Lingenfelter landed a brand-new LaFerrari.

Affinity for Speed 1
April 10, 2015

One of the first of 499 Ferrari LaFerraris to be produced was recently delivered to renowned car collector Ken Lingenfelter. Yes, that Lingenfelter, owner of the famous Chevrolet tuner Lingenfelter Performance Engineering. How, you might wonder, did a Chevy guy become one of Maranello’s chosen few? By being a Ferrari guy, too.

“I believe in setting business goals and objectives,” Lingenfelter told me during a recent visit to his suburban Detroit, Michigan office. In 1995, he decided to reward himself when such a goal was achieved by buying his first exotic car—a Ferrari, naturally. “But the first time I got behind the wheel of that F355, I wasn’t really certain I liked it as much as I thought I would,” he admits, due to the angle of the steering wheel, the gated shifter and the car’s handling compared to the muscle cars he was most familiar with. “But I learned to love it!”

Since then, Lingenfelter’s purchased many more Ferraris, seven of which currently reside in his 250-car collection. You can read more about this sizeable fleet on page 49, but all of these machines were acquired for the best reason possible. Says Lingenfelter, “I buy the cars I like. A lotta guys collect all convertibles or all Fords or all Corvettes, but these are all just cars I like. Thank goodness, when we have events with the collection a lot of people like the same cars I do.”

GROWING UP AS THE SON of a General Motors’ plant executive during the height of the muscle-car era, I developed a love of these cars,” Lingenfelter explains. “I also have an affinity for speed and performance that got me expelled from Dearborn High School. Why? Three reasons: One, I won a race in a ’69 Camaro against a Ford-driving classmate; two, because it was a GM car; and three, because racing was banned on school grounds.” [For those readers not familiar with the intricacies of American muscle cars, Ford’s headquarters is located in Dearborn while General Motors (home of Chevrolet) HQ is in Detroit.—Ed.]

This strong competitive spirit mixed well with Lingenfelter’s business acumen. At age 22, he founded a service company in the real-estate industry and was off to the proverbial races. In 2003, at age 50, he sold that company, which had grown from three employees to around 3,000, for a tidy sum. Lingenfelter then did what you might expect from a lifelong muscle-car fan: He began to buy the very best muscle cars (especially GM brands), which now make up about 30 percent of his fleet. But he wasn’t through.

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While he started with the F355, and later worked his way through a 360, a 575M, a trio of F430s, including a Scuderia, and a 599 GTB (“I think there’s one or two I missed,” he says, apologetically), Lingenfelter soon set his sights on Ferrari’s supercars. His 288 GTO was the first Ferrari in the collection as it exists today.

“I’d go from one Ferrari to the next one to the next one,” he explains. “I wasn’t displeased with any of them—I was as excited as anything with that F355—I just needed to get one out of the way to make room for the next one. But when I went to buy the 288 GTO, I was actually on a hunt. I had always wanted one, mostly due to the exquisite styling, and I spent a considerable amount of time looking for a good one. I bought this car on January 31, 2007.”

The GTO was quickly followed by an Enzo and an F40. “At the time, the Enzo was the top supercar on the market,” recalls Lingenfelter. “I was completely captivated by the style and the exotic appeal of the car. There’s just something special about driving that Enzo, and it might be the way people look at you when you go by them.

“I still get a kick every time I slide in the seat and turn that thing over, it sounds so amazing,” he continues. “I’m a sound guy, coming out of the muscle-car era, and the louder the better. I cheat just a little bit because the Enzo has a Tubi exhaust, but that’s what people do with these things.”

What about the obvious gap in his supercar lineup? “I looked real hard for an F50, but it never worked out,” Lingenfelter says. “Twice I was in a pre-purchase inspection with my mechanic and an F50, and he just kept shaking his head and pointing out things that were wrong. In hindsight, given the way they’re selling these days, I wish he’d let me buy one. I still want one, but they are kind of priced out at this point.”

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In 2008, Lingenfelter purchased Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, which had been started by his second cousin, drag racer and engineer John, back in the 1970s. (John Lingenfelter died in the early 2000s, due to injuries suffered in a drag-racing accident.) This set off another round of acquisition as Lingenfelter began buying Corvettes, which now make up roughly another third of the collection.

There were more Ferraris to come, however, including a 599 GTO. “The style of the 599 was already a hit when supercar power and appearance enhancements were added,” he says, “so it had to be part of the collection. I added a special paint option, so it is painted the same color as the F1 race cars. It is simply beautiful, has amazing performance and is a blast to drive.”

With all this horsepower on hand, Lingenfelter’s 328 GTS comes as a bit of a surprise. “It’s not the fastest or the best-handling,” he admits, “but I’d always wanted one. It was the looks, I guess, and that the 308 was everywhere, always on TV. I happened upon this car at an auction. It was owned by a Ferrari collector who’d pampered it. It was in perfect shape and had only 10,000 miles on it, so I bought it.

“It’s funny, I could sell it today for about twice what I paid for it,” he adds. “Who knew that was coming? But I won’t. I don’t buy these cars as investments. If they go up, great, and if they come down a little, that’s fine, too.”

The penultimate Ferrari on hand is Lingenfelter’s daily driver. “The FF is truly an amazing car and practical enough to drive daily, as I do,” he says. “The all-wheel-drive capability makes it a year-round car, no matter the weather. I had winter tires put on right away and just left ’em on. I’ve driven it in snow and ice and it’s been flawless. It doesn’t handle snow like my Escalade, but I’m confident I can take it anywhere.”

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More than just a daily driver, the FF is also a family car. “We have a home on Lake Michigan,” says Lingenfelter, “so my wife and I, our 15-year-old daughter and the dog all get in, we put our bags in the hatchback, we use the cupholders and we go.” Clinging to the rear window are a set of whimsical stick-figure decals representing each family member. While these are common on minivans, this may be the only Ferrari they’ve been applied to.

Before our discussion turns to the latest and likely greatest Ferrari in his collection, I ask Lingenfelter what comes next. “The problem is, I like them all,” he says. “I’m always keeping my eyes open for something that looks good. EBay, online stuff like that, is addictive to me; I’m always watching something. At the moment, I’m on a march for a 308 GT4. The styling just grabs me, so I’m gonna grab one. And I’d like to add a California, if I can find the right combination.”

WHEN THE LAFERRARI WAS INTRODUCED at the 2013 Geneva International Motor Show, it was already sold out—even though production had not yet begun. Needless to say, one does not buy a LaFerrari by walking into a dealer and plunking down a black AmEx card or writing a seven-figure check. No, this is done the Italian way: You don’t choose to buy a LaFerrari, Ferrari chooses to let you buy a LaFerrari.

The official word is that Maranello carefully vets its finest customers, but rumors abound about the minutia used to determine eligibility. The process, which starts with Ferrari dealers around the world nominating their best clients, appears as arcane and inscrutable as voting for the next Pope.

In addition to submitting potential buyers’ names, dealers reportedly augment their recommendations with dossiers concerning reputation, status and the number of Ferraris owned (or previously owned) to show the prospects’ belief in, and loyalty to, the Ferrari brand. Executives in Maranello review all the information—former chairman Luca di Montezemolo reportedly approved each of the 499 buyers—then the submitting dealers learn if their top customers will get a LaFerrari.

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“There was something pretty cool about Ferrari letting me know I could buy one,” says Lingenfelter. “I mean, you have to let them know you’re interested, but they approached me first. I’d like to tell you how they decide, but it’s a mystery to me. I’ve heard that they appreciate how we show the cars, that there’s a charity aspect to the collection and that I’ve tried many different models.”

Although Ferrari’s options list for its regular-production models is extensive—a few years ago, I spent several hours with a friend as he and a product specialist worked through an endless variety of details using paint chips, leather swatches and the dealer’s computer configurator—Lingenfelter doesn’t remember a lot of choices with the LaFerrari. “I think they pretty much packed the car with everything you need,” he says. “The dealer and I sat down, went through it and that was that; it didn’t take very long. I wouldn’t buy that car in anything but Ferrari red, and I’m very pleased with the black roof on my car. I did struggle over the black or regular wheels, and I’m glad I went with regular.”

Lingenfelter’s LaFerrari was scheduled to be delivered prior to the opening of the annual Detroit Auto Show (a.k.a. the North American International Automobile Show). The timing offered an interesting public-relations opportunity during an important automobile industry event, so a big coming-out party was planned. Lingenfelter’s dealer, Cauley Ferrari in West Bloomfield, Michigan, would host the black-tie charity gala, during which the keys to the LaFerrari would be officially presented. A few hundred Ferrari fans, enthusiasts, media and customers would be in attendance.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided not to cooperate. The LaFerrari was being air freighted from Maranello to Chicago, Illinois, from where it would be trucked to Cauley. Then, two days before the gala, a huge snowfall hit the Midwest. The LaFerrari arrived in Chicago more or less on schedule—and then it disappeared!

A substitute LaFerrari was quickly flown in and presented at the party, and, a few days later, Lingenfelter’s car arrived at Cawley. To date, no explanation has been forthcoming: The car was gone, then it appeared and that’s it. This strange state of affairs simply adds a little more mystery and folklore to an already storied vehicle.

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The winter weather has played another unfortunate role in Lingenfelter’s LaFerrari ownership experience. “It’s gorgeous and looks absolutely amazing, but I haven’t been able to drive it yet!” he exclaims. “I’ve moved it around the dealer showroom a little bit, and I’ve heard it start and idle, but I haven’t gotten it out on the road and been able to wind it out yet. While I’ve seen videos of the car being driven and it sounds wonderful, that’s it.”

For my last question, I ask Lingenfelter to tell me about his favorite Ferrari driving experience. After a long pause, he replies, “It was probably the first drive in my Enzo. That was pretty breathtaking for me. Anyone who’s spent any time around one, spent any seat time in one, will understand what I’m saying.

“But you know what?” he asks. “The first drive in the LaFerrari, that’s gonna be something special, too.”

THE LINGENFELTER COLLECTION

Ken Lingenfelter’s privately owned, selected and curated collection of exceptional cars is not housed in a stunning architectural structure of museum elegance. Instead, over 180 of the 250 vehicles he has acquired over the past few years reside in a 40,000 square foot industrial warehouse in a suburban town near Detroit.

Lingenfelter describes the collection as “one-third muscle cars, one-third Corvettes and one-third exotics.” That summary doesn’t fully describe the scene, which seems to run the performance gambit. Among other vehicles, the collection includes: a ’38 Ford, a mid-year 427 Chevy Corvette coupe, a ’69 Chevy Camaro Z28, a Dodge Coronet convertible (with a Hemi engine, of course), a Plymouth Cuda AAR, an El Camino, a mid-’70s Greenwood Corvette, a Buick GNX, a DeLorean, a slant-nose Porsche 911 Turbo, a Plymouth Prowler, a BMW Z8, a Ford GT, a Saleen S7, a Bugatti Veyron, a Lamborghini Reventon and more high-power Lingenfelter Performance Engineering machines than you can count on two hands. You can see these and many more of the cars online at www.thelingenfeltercollection.com.

The owner-curator is constantly in the market for vehicles to expand the collection. If he’s not at home or at work, he’ll probably be found at an auction, shopping on eBay (where he’s bought 50 or more vehicles so far) or on the Internet, networking and searching for cars. Cars, of course, that he likes, cars that he loved as a kid and is now, as an adult, able to share with others.

Here’s the punch line: The Lingenfelter Collection isn’t open to the public but it’s almost always in use for the public good. Lingenfelter puts on numerous special events and exhibits to raise money for charitable institutions, organizations and schools, as well as worthy causes such as breast-cancer research and helping wounded veterans. “What we do is almost a full-time job,” he says. “When we do charity events, and we have a lot of them, we almost always bring the Enzo. It’s been one of the main attractions in the collection, and we make a habit of starting it for everyone to hear.”

Lingenfelter also sponsors a “Cars and Coffee”-style two-hour event every Saturday morning during the summer months. Held at a company-owned site in the suburbs of Motor City, it has grown over the last few years from a few cars to over 450 cars per week, and has raised through donations enough food to feed 20,000 families in need.

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