2 August 2011

The Lingenfelter Collection: 190 exceptional cars

Like his more famous distant relative John before him, Ken Lingenfelter is as passionate about cars as any other gearhead out there and has been since the get-go. “My parents used to tell me that when I was four or five I would stand on the hump of our ’55 Chevy and name all the cars that went by: Ford, Dodge, and so on,” remembers the 58-year-old Michigander, who also still fondly recalls the very first time he set eyes on a 1963 split-window Corvette coupe — in his humble opinion a timeless work of automotive art. His first daily driver was an Oldsmobile 4-4-2, which he traded in after a few years for a 375-horse SS 396 Camaro. His first Corvette followed in 1977.

Today the main man at Lingenfelter Performance Engineering rides herd over 190 automobiles, making him one of America’s premier collectors, and not just due to quantity. These aren’t simply “cars,” they’re mostly thoroughbreds: exotic imports, historic American muscle machines, rare Corvettes. “I came from a GM family, but I do have an eye for everything,” he explained. “About 70 to 85 percent of the collection is GM, but there are some really great Mustangs in there, too. Heaven forbid that my [late] father could see all the European cars.”

Ah, but his true-red-white-and-blue dad would be more than proud of the Lingenfelter Collection’s ’66 Toronado, which the elder Lingenfelter helped shepherd into production while managing GM’s Fisher Body plant in Euclid, Ohio. Further demonstrating what a softy he is, Ken’s aforementioned ’77 Corvette remains in his collection, as does his first Cadillac Allante. Some guys simply can’t let go, but Ken clearly takes the cake. “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this thing to grow this big,” says the man who was just another mere mortal collector with an E-Type Jag in his three-car garage before his title company really got rolling.

He was 23 when he opened Metropolitan Title with three employees; his staff numbered about 2,000 when he sold out to a national firm 27 years later. Armed with some serious well-earned financial wherewithal, he set out in 2003 to assemble a truly significant collection, which today resides in a 40,000-square-foot building in Brighton, Mich. “I just kept adding and adding and adding. Some people say I need psychiatric help.”

Call him crazy if you will, but Ken knows a collectible car when he sees one. His goal all along has been to keep a balance of roughly 30 percent exotics, 30 percent muscle cars and 40 percent Corvettes. His European supercars are among his favorites, most notably his Enzo Ferrari, Bugatti Veyron and Lamborghini Reventon — not because of their sky-high values but because of the jaws that drop whenever he drives them, which doesn’t happen as often as he’d like. After all, there are only so many hours in a day.

Fortunately the Lingenfelter Collection — www.lingenfeltercollection.com or 248-486-5342, ext. 10 — puts on various tours throughout the year, with admission fees going to charities and groups like the Boys Scouts of America. Along with using the attraction to support great causes, Ken simply likes to show it off. “I can’t imagine not sharing these cars with anyone who’s interested.”

Spoken like a true car guy.

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