Welcome back to Hobby Car Corvettes, our used Corvette resale shop located in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania. Over the past few months, we have been sharing posts detailing the contributions of many talented and brilliant Corvette influencers including Peter Brock, Harley Earl, Larry Shinoda, and Bill Mitchell. All of these men played essential roles in the evolution of the Corvette we know and love today. Along those same lines, there were also many influential men who took the Corvette, applied their creative innovations, and gave us Custom Corvettes. Today, we will visit the life and contributions of John Lingenfelter.
We actually have a special connection to John Lingenfelter here at Hobby Car Corvettes. He is a relation of ours through marriage, and Bob, the founder of Hobby Cars, was able to meet him years ago thanks to that family connection. That family connection has also shown us first hand how deeply loved and missed John is by his family. They were kind enough to share some of these childhood pictures with us, and it is clear how warmly they hold these memories of him.
JOHN’S YOUNGER YEARS
Right here in our home state, Lingenfelter was born on October 6, 1945 in East Freedom, Pennsylvania. His instant love for cars and speed was handed down to him by his father, a talented mechanic. He bought John his first go-kart, and his sister Jayne says he had a natural ability and won the first race he ever competed in. In the Lingenfelter home, everything became a friendly but fierce competition, and this became a huge part of John’s life.
John attended Penn State University for studies in mechanical engineering. Upon graduation, he immediately began work as an engineer for International Harvester, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, construction equipment, trucks, automobiles, and household and commercial products. He gained valuable experience and knowledge in this role, but quickly became restless. He knew his competitive drive and creative talents were destined for greater things.
Tired of grinding away in the 9 to 5 world, John began racing. In 1972, John won his first NHRA National in a Super Stock 1969 Camaro. In 1974, John left International Harvestor to devote every waking hour to racing, and eventually, customizing high performance automobiles.
With his background in engineering and deeply ingrained competitive spirit, John wasn’t merely interested in winning races. He was wildly passionate about the mechanics and engineering behind the machines. John’s successful racing career afforded him knowledge that contributed to his impressive ability to create custom high performance engines that would blow minds.
LINGENFELTER PERFORMANCE ENGINEERING
When John founded Lingenfelter Performance Engineering in Decatur, Indiana, his goal was to customize high performance engines for the masses, without having to make any sacrifices. As the company grew massively successful, they became known for creating custom cars that could also be daily drivers.
Over the years, LPE would go on to modify GM vehicles including F-Bodies (Camaro, Firebird), B Bodies (Impala SS, Caprice, Roadmaster, Fleetwood), CTS-V, GTO, Silverado, Suburban, Tahoe, Escalade, Denali, SSR, Hummer H2, and Sierra. Of course, what excites us most here at Hobby Car Corvettes, is the genius work he applied to the Corvette.
The employees of Lingenfelter Performance Engineering speak very highly of John. They speak not only of his genius, and his commitment to greatness, but also of his kind heart. John is said to have had visions, that he committed to whole-heartedly. He would write down his ideas, and work through any hitches or kinks until his ultimate goal was achieved.
LINGENFELTER & THE CORVETTE
John devoted much of his genius to customizing Corvettes. Already an impressive machine he admired and loved to drive, he knew he could take the Corvette to the next level of awesome.
John spent some time getting to know a valued LPE employee’s 1984 Corvette, and he was both impressed, and inspired. He knew they could take this spectacular machine to a whole new level. This led to the 1985 Corvette package.
LPE began offering mail order engines for street use and the success was massive. The Lingenfelter 1985 Corvette package was based on over-boring the stock 350 cu in (5.7L) Chevy small block to 383 cu in (6.2L). It also added specially designed Lingenfelter camshaft, pistons, heads and manifold and other add ons. These modifications nearly doubled the horsepower and greatly increased the torque.
Around this time, Lingenfelter was inspired by Chevrolet’s new Tuned Port Injection electronic fuel injection system for the small-block V-8. Already an impressive system that also allowed cars to retain comfort and daily drivability, he had no doubt he could increase the output of power.
After tuning the TPI system as far as it would go, he decided to take on a full redesign. Lingenfelter redesigned the manifold, runners, and plenum from scratch, which allowed for it to work with larger engines. In his modifications, while increasing the power was a major goal, it was also essential that it maintain the comforts of a daily driver and within emission laws. Once his design was complete, and all the boxes were ticked, he called his new intake manifold system the JL-1 Super Ram.
In 1988, Lingenfelter built a pair of twin-turbocharged 900hp 355-cu. in. small blocks for Reeves Callaway’s Sledgehammer Corvette. Once fitted with the Lingenfelter TPI-based system, the car recorded a 254.76 mph run in Ohio, and also drove to and back from the Track to Callaway’s headquarters.
In 1995, LPE found some new opportunities with the introduction of the C5 Corvette. With this, came the introduction of the Twin Turbo packages. Lingenfelter modified only 4 Corvette ZR1s to include the Twin Turbo 850 HP LT5 engine. This engine had custom forged pistons, billet steel connecting rods and a new fuel delivery system. LPE is known for having led the way in electronic fuel injection aftermarket adaptations.
One of these 4 cars was sold at auction for $42,500. The original owner of the first modified ZR1, Paul Denhert, sought out Lingenfelter to make these changes, and he was not disappointed.
Paul was quoted to have said
“When the boost comes on, all hell breaks loose. It feels like you’ve been shot out of a cannon!”
By the end of John’s racing career, he had made quite a name for himself. He held 13 NHRA titles and he was the first driver in his class to break the six-second quarter-mile barrier. Car & Driver is quoted to have said of John Lingenfelter:
“He is the most prolific purveyor of horsepower we’ve ever seen.”
After an unfortunate racing accident at the NHRA Sport Compact World Finals in Pamona, California, Lingenfelter sustained massive injuries, and slipped into a coma. John passed away on Christmas Day in 2003.
In 2006, John Lingenfelter was proudly inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame. This video includes kind words from LPE employees and John’s daughters.
On May 2, 2020, John will also be inducted into our local Blair County Sports Hall of Fame.
We here at Hobby Car Corvettes could not be prouder or more grateful for the inspiring work that John Lingenfelter did with our beloved Corvettes. His engineering genius, coupled with his unwavering commitment to winning, gave us many custom Corvettes worthy of praise.
Thank you for stopping by, and feel free to contact us here, should you ever been in the market for a gorgeous, and gently loved, Corvette.