To say the name John Lingenfelter is to say the word speed. He lived and breathed speed and the high performance GM vehicles that he tuned in his lifetime were a testament to that.
While Lingenfelter is known by many as a legendary tuner, he got his first taste of speed with the NHRA. Over his long and illustrious career as a drag racer he mustered up 13 national events titles (nine in Comp, three in Pro Stock, and one in Sport compact). He was also the first in Comp class to crack the six second mark in the quarter mile.
His racing career spanned four decades and although he never really officially retired he did begin to focus more on tuning later on in life. His tuning talents would ultimately be what would make him legendary in the eyes of so many.
Over 30 years ago Lingenfelter founded Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (LPE) and that name has since been synonymous with tuned up GM cars and trucks especially the Corvette. The company that still operates today has put out some of the fastest cars known to man all without changing the integrity of the vehicles. In other words, most LPE cars and trucks will not only flat out haul down a drag strip at blistering speeds, but they will also take you to the grocery store as well.
While Lingenfelter tuned some amazingly fast cars and trucks in his time there are the few that stand out and to no surprise they are Corvettes. In 1996 Lingenfelter took a C4 Corvette and tuned it using a 427 under the hood and that Vette saw top speeds of 212 miles per hour. The car was so amazing that it graced the cover of Car and Driver in June of 1996.
He would go on to tune a number of other Vettes and GM vehicles, but it was what he did a decade earlier that would cement his name in the Corvette chronicles forever. In 1988 he was contracted by Reeves Callaway to engineer a twin turbo engine for a C4 Corvette in a project that was dubbed “Top Gun.” Lingenfelter not only answered the call by helping engineer an engine that would get almost 900 horsepower, but he would also be the one to drive the Sledgehammer Corvette to a record 254.76 miles per hour on the test track.
Sadly it would be his passion for speed that would ultimately claim his life. On October 27, 2002 in Pomona California at the NHRA Sport Compact World Finals sponsored by Mazda while racing in the quarter finals he couldn’t hang on to his Cavalier and crashed hard into the retaining wall. Just one year later on Christmas day of 2003 Lingenfelter would succumb to complications due to subsequent surgeries that resulted from the accident at 58 years old.
Though John is gone the Lingenfelter name rolls forward; in a very fast way. In what would be a most fitting tribute to the man that started it all, in 2006 the folks at LPE took a 2006 Corvette Z06 and gave it twin turbos and other special tuning to produce a Vette that has 1,109 horsepower to show for it. You can’t help but think how that would have made Lingenfelter smile.