Lingenfelter Turns Back The Clock On Muscle Cars
In the last decade or so, GM, Ford and Chrysler have all ponied up, and all developed muscle car designs and powertrains worthy of their classic forbears. We are certainly living in a muscle car renaissance, but these mass production automakers are bound by safety and cost regulations that do not allow them to create unchained mechanical madness. That is where Lingenfelter steps in. John Lingenfelter (pronounced LING-in-FELT-er), was a prolific drag racer and engine tuner. Amidst his racing career, he created Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (LPE), constructing high-horsepower tunes of Camaros, Corvettes, Firebirds, and pretty much anything under the GM umbrella with a V8.
John Lingenfelter was critically injured in October 2002, doing what he loved – drag racing. He passed in December of 2003, but his dream lives on in Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, which has done its work on the latest Camaro, with a retro 1968 Conversion Kit, and a complete overhaul to bring the original Firebird Trans Am back to life.
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These people get speed, and few know speed and horsepower like LPE’s Vice President and General Manager, Mike Copeland, who saddled up with BoldRide for a game of 20 questions. Well, actually, six questions, but with really good answers:
BoldRide: Talk about the LTA and the Camaro Retro Kits package. The inspirations are obvious, but how did you arrive at these designs?
Mike Copeland: The LTA started out when the firebird was discontinued. Ken (Lingenfelter– surviving cousin of LPE’s founder) is a Pontiac follower. He loved the ‘71 super duty cars, and looked into it to see if we could adapt a current Camaro to that design. We did some rendering, and went about building a car. We never indented to sell it– it was originally a “what if.” The response was out of control. People loved them, and wanted to buy it. We had to go back and re-engineer for retail. Again, it was a decision driven by the passion of the enthusiast.
MC: We left the option for the 455 cu. in. engine with 655 hp. It has a functional shaker hood on them, so same feeling as the original. We even went and found the original interior material.
The Camaro retro kit is a much less involved project. When the Camaro was released, it was more modern than the other muscle car offerings. A lot of people wanted it to look more retro. That idea came about, we worked with some people to integrate the original '69 headlights and bumpers.
BR: What are the biggest challenges in taking on such strong design projects like the LTA and Retro Kit?
MC: The biggest challenge was to not destroy the lines of the car. Our goal is to enhance that. Every car has to be aesthetically pleasing. That is the biggest challenge- to make it look like it belongs. Changing taillights in the LTA is extremely expensive, including the cost of a new assembly that meets OEM expectations and safety. It is a large investment.
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BR: What other vehicles are out there that you would like to do a kit (aesthetic, mechanical, or otherwise) on?
MC: The OEMs are coming out with a lot of cool new cars, but we are continuing to focus on GM. The new Silverado and SS are offering a lot of opportunities. The Pontiac G8 was a car killed long before it should have been, and the SS on which it is based has us excited. Then there’s the new Z28– we’ll have packages for that. By the time you can buy, one we’ll have kits ready. Then there’s the C7, we’ve been all about the Corvette from day one. Engine components, suspension, body aero upgrades.
BR: Where do you see the aftermarket industry going with the prevalence of the Big Three muscle cars again?
MC: I see the market getting smaller as we go forward. Cars will become more complicated to modify. Direct injection and dual clutch transmissions are expensive to modify. OEMs are putting more power under the hood than they every have. 400 horsepower was once a big deal. Now cars are arriving to our shop with 400 horsepower and they are leaving with 600- and 700-horsepower. The competition will dwindle, but we’re in a strong position.
BR: You seem to have a penchant for reviving shuttered marques (a la, the LTA)– what make/model would you like to see resurrected?
MC: I think GM has an opportunity to do something with Chevelle nameplate. They talked about it but never did. With them eliminating Pontiac, there are plenty of makes that they will never get to bring back.
We’re able to go in and do the things that the OEMs can’t because were not worried about such mass sales.
BR: What is next for Lingenfelter?
MC: You’re going to see us continue to grow, we’ve focused on a number of ventures we’ve expanded the number of parts. We’ve gone form camshafts to electronics and nitrous systems. The nitrous system is one of the most technologically advanced on the market. You’re going to find our parts in a lot more places. We’re working very hard to take our products worldwide, about to announce international partnerships. Also, you're going to see a lot of new programs that people would not traditionally think of our name.
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Photo Credit: Lingenfelter