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AN INTERVIEW WITH
JOHN LINGENFELTER

by TOM BENFORD

This article originally appeared in the
June 1998 issue of
Vette Magazine

1998 TOM BENFORD

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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 John’s C/ED drag strip race car and for a few fellow racers. After several successful years of racing, Lingenfelter’s reputation and notoriety spread and LPE starting producing high performance engines for the general public, which quickly became the company’s 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. LPE’s 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 third place.

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 Vette’s interview with him.

Legend: T. = Tom Benford                     J. = John Lingenfelter

  1. 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 wasn’t the one used in the car on its over-254 mph run. Would you care to provide a rebuttal?

  1. Well, the only thing I’d 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.
  1. OK, fair enough. You’ve 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 you’ve done. Why is the bow-tie small block your favorite engine?

  1. I think it’s mainly the ease of getting components for it plus the fact that it’s 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.
  1. What kind of Chevy engine did you have in it?
  1. 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 ‘60’s.

  1. So you’ve always been a Chevy engine fan?
  1. Yeah, you know, I mean, basically just for the ease of getting components and being able to work on it. When you’re sixteen years old you’re 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.
  1. 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?
  1. 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 it’s easier to attain the power level with a larger cubic inch engine. You don’t 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.
  1. 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?
  1. 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 it’s not so much the performance gains - most of the gains, we feel, are in reliability. In the street there’s 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.
  1. 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?
  1. 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 it’s difficult for us to do much because it’s a long way out there.
  1. So that was it for Bonneville?
  1. Yeah. Other than the peripheral satisfaction you get, it’s difficult for us to do much with it.
  1. I understand you’re involved with Chevrolet in a Pro Stock Truck program now. Is that factory sponsored?
  1. 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 it’s actually going to be an Eliminator Class program in the NHRA and they’re going to run twelve national events. The truck that we’re going to race has a full sponsorship from Summit Racing Equipment.
  1. What engines are the Chevy trucks using?
  1. 358 cubic inch small blocks.
  1. Are they fuel injected or normally-aspirated?
  1. They’re carbureted - dominators.

  1. Are you getting the kind of ETs and speeds you want?
  1. Yeah, they do pretty well. We ran 7.64 with the truck last year in the quarter mile. The speed was 175 mph.
  1. Excuse the pun, but that’s really hauling.
  1. 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. We’re doing the engine development along with Chevrolet Motor Sports’ involvement.
  1. With that power to weight ratio it sounds like it might be a hairy ride . . .
  1. Oh, no - it’s 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 it’s a fairly long wheelbase and the vehicle is very stable at high speeds.

  1. What do you think the top end will be when you’re finished with it?
  1. 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.
  1. Typically when you build a small block, what’s the average red line for the engine?
  1. Well, if we’re going to build a package, we try to look at the usage first. On most street small blocks it’s somewhere between 6,000 and 6,500 RPM most of the time.
  1. And you feel that people can wind them that tight and they’ll stay together?
  1. Oh, sure, with the components we use.
  1. In my youth I trashed several 283s and 327s at far less revs than that . . .
  1. 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.
  1. In addition to your performance kits, you also offer complete crated engines. Who, typically, purchases these crate engines?
  1. Most of our advertising is directed toward the street market with limited race involvement. We enjoy the racing and there’s a lot of technology to be learned, but most of our marketing is directed toward the street market with a little bit of marine.
  1. How long have you been involved in racing?
  1. The first actual NHRA race I was in was in 1968.
  1. 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?
  1. The big thing is electronic fuel management and electronic engine management. If it wasn’t for that it would be very difficult to meet the emissions requirements.
  1. 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?
  1. Right, exactly. However, on the C5 it’s only stroked, because you can’t bore the engine.
  1. Is the C5 a real hot area of business for you now?
  1. Yeah, we’re picking up a lot of interest in it. We’re 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 we’re doing and you don’t know what kinds of problems might arise. We don’t want to have a lot of product out there before we have some evaluation of it.
  1. What type of performance increases with regards to horsepower and torque to you anticipate with your mods to that engine?
  1. We’ve typically seen between 10 and 20 horsepower more than we saw with the LT4 engines.
  1. And that’s just from stroking it with no other mods?
  1. 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.
  1. How is that available - are you selling it as a components-exchange thing?
  1. No, we normally do it as an installed package.
  1. So a customer would have to bring the car to your facility and leave it with you for how long?
  1. Usually it takes us between 6 and 8 weeks.
  1. I know several people who are driving ’97 and ’98 C5s who wouldn’t want to part with them for that long.
  1. Well, at this time of year it’s not a big deal.
  1. I guess that depends on what part of the country you’re in.
  1. Right.
  1. You offer lots of different bolt-on performance kits. Is anything currently available for the C5?
  1. No, we don’t 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 aren’t 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 we’re 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.
  1. Will you be offering chip packages, too?
  1. No. Actually, the stock programming is real close to being the ultimate as far as performance goes.
  1. When do you project the availability of these bolt-on mod kits for the C5?
  1. Probably about mid-1998 - the summer.
  1. Do you have any price points for them yet?
  1. They’ll be in the same price structures as the stuff we’ve had for the LT1 and LT4s.
  1. Are those kits still selling well?
  1. Oh, yeah - real well.
  1. What do you have for the LT5?
  1. We have some very significant packages for the LT5. We’ve probably done as much or more with those as anyone else in the country. You can check it all out in our catalog.
  1. 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?
  1. No, we’re not going to do any new chassis or other stuff like that - we’re going to stay on this track and continue doing what we do best.
     

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