AN INTERVIEW WITH
by TOM BENFORD
This article originally appeared in
June 1998 issue of Vette Magazine
© 1998 TOM BENFORD
JOHN LINGENFELTER - OCT. 6, 1945 - DEC. 25, 2003
Lingenfelter Performance Engineering
(LPE) is, in many ways, a typical American success story. The company had its beginnings
in a small shop in Decatur, Indiana, where John Lingenfelter and three associates started
building engines for Johns C/ED drag strip race car and for a few fellow racers.
After several successful years of racing, Lingenfelters reputation and notoriety
spread and LPE starting producing high performance engines for the general public, which
quickly became the companys largest and most important customer base.
LPE has produced thousands of engines for a variety of vehicles
including street racers, circle track cars, off-shore race and pleasure boats. In addition
to producing engines for customers in ten different countries, Lingenfelter has also built
engines for local ambulance and law enforcement agencies.
In 1985 the company began dyno testing for the development of
performance components for the then-new GM TPI fuel injection engine. LPEs dyno
projects included developing new intake systems, exhaust systems and complete engines.
John used his personal red 1986 Corvette coupe for in-car testing, and it competed at 210
mph in the Silver State Classic open road race in 1990 at Ely, Nevada where it finished in
Lingenfelter has been a major producer of performance improvement
components and engines for Corvettes and other GM vehicles for decades, and the C5 is
slated to receive the Lingenfelter horsepower touch as well. John talked about this and
other projects during Vettes interview with him.
Legend: T. = Tom Benford
J. = John Lingenfelter
Your corporate website states that Lingenfelter
Performance Engineering built the 1,200 HP engine that powered the Callaway Sledgehammer,
but Reeves Callaway said your engine wasnt the one used in the car on its over-254
mph run. Would you care to provide a rebuttal?
- Well, the only thing Id say is that the people that were there
and the people that were involved know the real answers and what the truth is. That will
suffice for me.
OK, fair enough. Youve been called "the Godfather of the
Chevy small block," a moniker and reputation that has been borne out by many years of
outstanding engine work youve done. Why is the bow-tie small block your favorite
- I think its mainly the ease of getting components for it plus the fact that
its a real economical engine to work with. And a lot of manufacturers are involved
in making products for it. You know, I just grew up around Chevrolets the first
vehicle I ever had was a 40 Ford with a Chevrolet engine in it.
- What kind of Chevy engine did you have in it?
Well, it had a little bit of everything in it; it had a 265, then it had
a 283, and then it had a 327 in it. This was back in the early 60s.
- So youve always been a Chevy engine fan?
- Yeah, you know, I mean, basically just for the ease of getting components and being able
to work on it. When youre sixteen years old youre looking for the most
performance for the dollar and Chevrolet was it. Plus the packaging back then - you know
it packaged well if you were putting it in something else.
- How do you feel the big block Chevy engines - the 396, 427, 454 - compare to the small
blocks as far as pushing them to the limit? Are they less reliable or less durable?
- At the limits they are, because you have more mass to deal with so you have higher
forces to deal with. But for a given power level larger engines are usually more durable
because its easier to attain the power level with a larger cubic inch engine. You
dont have to stress it to the same limits that you would to get a real high power
level out of a smaller cubic inch engine. In smaller cubic inch engines you normally have
to turn them harder to get the power level and you increase the stresses at that point.
- In an episode of Hot Rod TV that aired on TNN on cable recently they were
installing a plenum injection unit you designed on a 383 engine. Are you doing a lot of
tuned-port injection work these days?
- Sure, you know, because all of the late model performance vehicles are electronically
injected. Back in 1986 we started getting involved in fuel injection development and it
went on from there. But its not so much the performance gains - most of the gains,
we feel, are in reliability. In the street theres some increased performance because
you can design intake manifolds with tuned runners that have better distribution and make
some mid-range performance gains that definitely show up in track performance.
- If I remember correctly, you had produced a 355 cubic inch engine for some folks racing
at Bonneville a while back that was pushing about 1,500 HP - is that right?
- It was a twin turbo engine that put out 1,450 HP. Basically, we wanted to go to
Bonneville to see what it was like, but its difficult for us to do much because
its a long way out there.
- So that was it for Bonneville?
- Yeah. Other than the peripheral satisfaction you get, its difficult for us to do
much with it.
- I understand youre involved with Chevrolet in a Pro Stock Truck program now. Is
that factory sponsored?
- We have an associate sponsorship with them. Last year it was exhibition only; there were
two Chevys, two Dodges, two Fords, and we did the engines and I drove one of the trucks -
that was all Chevrolet-backed. But, as I said, that was basically just exhibition. Now
this year its actually going to be an Eliminator Class program in the NHRA and
theyre going to run twelve national events. The truck that were going to race
has a full sponsorship from Summit Racing Equipment.
- What engines are the Chevy trucks using?
- 358 cubic inch small blocks.
- Are they fuel injected or normally-aspirated?
Theyre carbureted - dominators.
- Are you getting the kind of ETs and speeds you want?
- Yeah, they do pretty well. We ran 7.64 with the truck last year in the quarter mile. The
speed was 175 mph.
- Excuse the pun, but thats really hauling.
- Yeah. 2,300 pounds and 358 cubic inches. The trucks are very similar to the pro stock
cars. Our truck is a 1998 S10 Chevrolet extended-cab pickup that Jerry Haas has done the
chassis for. Were doing the engine development along with Chevrolet Motor
- With that power to weight ratio it sounds like it might be a hairy ride . . .
Oh, no - its very stable. They [the NHRA] had to extend the
wheelbase; what they did was to compromise the wheelbase between Dodge, Chevy and Ford and
the wheelbase has to be 125 inches. So its a fairly long wheelbase and the vehicle
is very stable at high speeds.
- What do you think the top end will be when youre finished with it?
- Well, last year we hit 175 mph and I would expect that by the end of the season there
may be some trucks that are in the 178 mph range.
- Typically when you build a small block, whats the average red line for the engine?
- Well, if were going to build a package, we try to look at the usage first. On most
street small blocks its somewhere between 6,000 and 6,500 RPM most of the time.
- And you feel that people can wind them that tight and theyll stay together?
- Oh, sure, with the components we use.
- In my youth I trashed several 283s and 327s at far less revs than that . . .
- Oh, yeah. But with our normal street packages we use titanium valve spring retainers,
dual valve springs and stainless steel valves. You could use the engine for a circle track
engine if you change the oil pan.
- In addition to your performance kits, you also offer complete crated engines. Who,
typically, purchases these crate engines?
- Most of our advertising is directed toward the street market with limited race
involvement. We enjoy the racing and theres a lot of technology to be learned, but
most of our marketing is directed toward the street market with a little bit of marine.
- How long have you been involved in racing?
- The first actual NHRA race I was in was in 1968.
- Everything you build is emissions-certified in all 50 states. How do accomplish
squeezing out the extra ponies without polluting the air in the process?
- The big thing is electronic fuel management and electronic engine management. If it
wasnt for that it would be very difficult to meet the emissions requirements.
- Your 383 cubic inch engine is a favorite, in fact it was the heart of one of the project
cars in that TV episode I mentioned earlier. Does it start out as a 350 and you do a bore
and stroke job on it?
- Right, exactly. However, on the C5 its only stroked, because you cant bore
- Is the C5 a real hot area of business for you now?
- Yeah, were picking up a lot of interest in it. Were just finishing up our
development with it. The first time around with anything new like that we try to go slow
because we want to be sure of what were doing and you dont know what kinds of
problems might arise. We dont want to have a lot of product out there before we have
some evaluation of it.
- What type of performance increases with regards to horsepower and torque to you
anticipate with your mods to that engine?
- Weve typically seen between 10 and 20 horsepower more than we saw with the LT4
- And thats just from stroking it with no other mods?
- No, we fully port the cylinder heads, modify the intake manifold, do a little bit of
work to the throttle body, camshaft - you know, the complete package.
- How is that available - are you selling it as a components-exchange thing?
- No, we normally do it as an installed package.
- So a customer would have to bring the car to your facility and leave it with you for how
- Usually it takes us between 6 and 8 weeks.
- I know several people who are driving 97 and 98 C5s who wouldnt want
to part with them for that long.
- Well, at this time of year its not a big deal.
- I guess that depends on what part of the country youre in.
- You offer lots of different bolt-on performance kits. Is anything currently available
for the C5?
- No, we dont have anything "bolt-on" for the C5 at this point, for two
reasons: programming is a problem for the consumer, and normally people with brand new
vehicles arent the type of people who work on their own vehicles. As the cars get
older, you see more and more of the "hands-on" owner - people tend to do more
stuff themselves. But were going to have cylinder head packages and cam shaft
packages for it eventually, but we want to get some additional time on the components and
evaluate everything before we make them available.
- Will you be offering chip packages, too?
- No. Actually, the stock programming is real close to being the ultimate as far as
- When do you project the availability of these bolt-on mod kits for the C5?
- Probably about mid-1998 - the summer.
- Do you have any price points for them yet?
- Theyll be in the same price structures as the stuff weve had for the LT1 and
- Are those kits still selling well?
- Oh, yeah - real well.
- What do you have for the LT5?
- We have some very significant packages for the LT5. Weve probably done as much or
more with those as anyone else in the country. You can check it all out in our catalog.
- What are your visions for the future of LPE? Are you going to stay on this track to keep
current with technology and advances in the Corvette, Camaro and other GM performance
vehicles or are you going to get innovative in other directions?
- No, were not going to do any new chassis or other stuff like that - were
going to stay on this track and continue doing what we do best.
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