What does it take to own one of the finest performance automobile collections in the world? We sat down with Ken Lingenfelter to find out.
Many of you will recognize the name Ken Lingenfelter from the bonkers twin turbo Corvettes bearing his surname and family legacy that have dominated drag strips and track events for more than 25 years. But what you may not know is that he is the owner of one of the most comprehensive collections of performance automotive engineering in existence–The Lingenfelter Collection.
Ken Lingenfelter was–in his own words–“destined to be a car guy.” Today he owns more than 225 of the world’s most awe-inspiring cars, from a Bugatti Veyron to a Ferrari Enzo and from a Lamborghini Reventón to much, much more.
So, it’s hard to dispute his destiny. But, we at Advance Auto Parts wanted to delve into that statement a little more deeply–and here’s what we found out.
It all started with Matchbox cars
“By the time I was four or five,” Ken tells us, “I knew the make and model of every car that drove by and I may have had more Matchbox cars than any other kid in the country.”
His father was an executive at General Motors. He would come for dinner and then, afterwards, Ken would go back to the factory with him, where he absorbed the atmosphere of car development and testing.
“And then,” Ken says in a reverent voice. “And then, when I was ten years old, I saw a ’63 split window Corvette. If I wasn’t a 100% car guy before that, I sure was then.”
Ken’s love of vehicles continued through high school, when he was suspended for drag racing in front of the building (true story) and where he loved tearing down engines and rebuilding them in shop class. And, once that kind of passion hits, you just can’t, as Ken puts it, “shed it.”
From a few cars in a garage to a car collection
Some of the earliest cars that he owned include a ’77 Corvette Coupe and a 1969 Jaguar XKE (the latter of which is now gone to make room for other spectacular vehicles). Before he knew it, he had 25 cars that he stored in a warehouse.
“I had a pretty successful business,” he says, “and I sold it in 2003. I then bought Lingenfelter Performance Engineering [in 2008] and that gave me the opportunity to do much more and I ramped up collecting at that point.”
Lingenfelter Performance Engineering was previously owned by a distant cousin of Ken’s, John Lingenfelter–who won 13 NHRA national titles before dying of race-related injuries.
At the same time that Ken was purchasing Lingenfelter Performance Engineering , he decided he wanted a venue to help raise funds for charity, so he added to the warehouse, going straight back, so that the 12,000 square foot space was now 40,000 square feet. “My goal was to have a space big enough that we’d never have to move one car to get another one out,” Ken says. “But, that didn’t last long.”
Not 150 cars, 225 cars (but who’s counting?)
Although many sources online state that Ken owns approximately 150 cars in his car collection, he says that is inaccurate. In fact, he has more than 225 world-class vehicles; perhaps the confusion arises because only 160 to 170 of these cars can fit into the main warehouse during non-profit events. The rest need stored in an overflow facility located down the street.
“There are themes in my collection,” Ken says. “For example, I like GM products. I’m a GM guy. So that’s one theme. Approximately 30% of my vehicles are muscle cars and 30% are exotics. I love Corvettes and Lingenfelter race cars, especially ones that set records. We currently have two drag cars that attract a lot of attention. When people come to our place for charity events, they’ll say that those cars look familiar–and they should, since they’ve been out at the drag strips.”
Because he owns more cars than can fit comfortably into the main building during an event, he can customize which ones appear at a particular get-together. “We’re looking to display cars that will attract people, so if a Corvette group is having an event, as just one example, we’ll show more Corvettes.”
Did we say 225 cars? We meant 225+ cars (and growing!)
So, is Ken done buying? The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is as follows: “I’m going to keep going. I’m always looking, always trying to find something unique, such as one-off cars, something that’s a little wild in styling or a car that raced and set records. Because of that, eBay is tough to stay off of.”
One car in particular that has his eye, at the time of writing this post, is the 1988 Callaway Sledgehammer Corvette that his cousin John drove to set a world record in speed for a street driven, street legal car: 254.76 miles per hour. “John put his life on the line to set that record,” Ken says, “so I’d really like it. But it may go for more at auction than I’m willing to pay. We’ll see.”
The Callaway Sledgehammer is up for auction by Mecum Auctions in Kissimmee, Florida.
Using the car collection for good
“I’ve seen a lot of need in my life,” Ken says, explaining why he decided to build a venue that could be opened up for charitable events, “and now we have a venue where charities can hold fun events. I’m pleasantly surprised that all has worked out so well. We often focus on kids’ charities and hold major holiday events. Overall, these events range from black tie affairs to a Saturday night car club hangout.”
During one event that lasted from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., approximately 4,000 people filed through to ooh and aah over the cars. “That was pretty overwhelming,” Ken admits, “and a little scary at times. Fortunately the group kept moving through and now we know to limit the number of people.”
So, what does Ken do while these events go on? He helps, of course, however he can–and then does one more thing. “Since I’m a car geek,” he admits, “I like to look at people’s cars as they come in.”
Sometimes he sends cars to showcase at events, such as local car shows and charity events. “I get asked quite a bit,” he says, “and it’s hard to say no. Plus, you can’t just have cars sit. It can ruin them.”
What are Ken Lingenfelter’s favorites?
Ken loves Ferraris (the Ferrari Enzo is “truly” one of his favorites), he loves Corvettes, he loves the Porsche. “There is a car called LaFerrari that is coming out this year that will be a supercar. Ferrari selected people to sell them to and I was on the short list. In fact, I was one of the first 20 people to be picked so I’ve got one coming. It’s the ultimate in supercars.”
The LaFerrari is not just another supercar. It’s a hybrid 963 horsepower hypercar limited to only 499 planned production models. Looks like Mr. Lingenfelter’s car collection just even got more bonkers.
Editor’s note: What types of cars do you (or would you) collect? Let us know in the comments below. Also, visit Advance Auto Parts for the best tools and parts to keep your ride running right–whatever it may be.