1992 Lingenfelter ZR-1

The catalog notes on the 1992 turquoise ZR-1 that sold at Mecum’s Bloomington Gold auction in June were brief to the point of terse, but they said everything that needed to be said:

“Lingenfelter 475 hp package, 3.92 performance gears, Borla SS exhaust, Wilwood 6-piston brakes, FX3 suspension, dual removable roofs, complete maintenance records, well-maintained California car, 47,900 actual miles, 6-speed manual transmission, all available options, Bright Aqua Metallic with Black interior.”

CM Analysis


This car sold for $24,675 at the Mecum Bloomington Gold auction in St. Charles, Illinois, on June 28, 2008.

Corvette Market magazine likes to classify cars as being “well bought” or “well sold,” and this 1992 ZR-1 Corvette, modified by Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, was certainly well bought for those who want a secondary driver with huge performance and panache. CM auction reporter Dan Grunwald called it “an absolute steal” and counted it his Best Buy at the St. Charles auction.

The original cost of this loaded, Bright Aqua over black leather ZR-1 (27 in this color out of 504 built) was about $65,000. It was built November 25, 1991. The 475-hp/415-ft-lb LPE package cost an extra $16,000… huge money at the time, and in today’s dollars, $65,000 equalled a new Corvette ZR1 with money left over.

Lingenfelter has been in the motor tuning business for 30 years. Along with Mallett, the company is known for modification packages that turn docile production motors into monster street machines. The company also backs up its work with a three-year warranty.

According to its product materials, LPE modifies “GM F-bodies (Camaro, Firebird), B-bodies (Impala SS, Caprice, Roadmaster, Fleetwood), Corvette, CTS-V, GTO, Silverado, Suburban, Tahoe, Escalade, Denali, SSR, Hummer H2, and Sierra.” It has also produced engine packages for the Dodge Viper and Plymouth Prowler.

The fastest, most expensive car LPE has done is a 2006 Z06 Corvette with 1,109 rear wheel horsepower, priced at $289,000. One of LPE’s four-wheel-drive Tahoes with a 350-ci V8 bored out to 396 ci produced 500 hp and turned times equal to or better than 1984–96 Corvettes.

Lingenfelter powered the Sledgehammer

On p. 26 of the Summer 2008 issue of Corvette Market, I wrote about the Callaway Twin Turbocharged Corvettes, RPO B2K. In 1988, the world-famous Callaway Sledgehammer was designed and produced by Reeves Callaway—but the engine design and engineering were John Lingenfelter’s work.

The twin-turbo, electronic-fuel-injected 355-ci V8 produced more than 900 horsepower and was driven from Old Lyme, Connecticut, to Ohio in October 1988. After days chasing down an elusive misfire, Callaway had to fly to England. He came back with a bad cold and asked Lingenfelter to make the run on the Transportation Research Center’s 7.5-mile oval. Lingenfelter set a world record for a street-legal car at 254.76 mph. That’s 1.26 mph faster than a Bugatti Veyron—20 years ago.

Lingenfelter’s next project was a 355-ci V8 built for the SE Racecraft Firebird Trans Am car, which was aiming to set a Bonneville record. The car produced 1,400 hp and was expected to break the 300-mph mark. Six nitrous bottles were used not for induction, but to cool the intercoolers. The car turned 298 mph. In 2002, a Corvette Z06 LPE twin turbo ran 0–60 mph in 1.97 seconds.

Rock solid technology that stays together

Project after project has shown that LPE is capable of rock-solid performance combined with stay-together technology. It’s one thing to run huge numbers on a dyno, quite another to put them in street cars with pump gas and street tires and still turn in high-performance figures every day. Think about it this way: Since LPE’s work is guaranteed to stay together for three years or 36,000 miles—it’s built to last. You probably couldn’t do it yourself for anywhere near the same cost.

So what do you get for your money in the four- to five-week process? Original engines are removed, disassembled and sanitized. From that point, LPE completely balances, blueprints, and reassembles the block, heads, and injection system. Only the finest race-ready parts are used. To assure consistency and extremely close tolerances, several three- and five-axis CNC milling machines prepare the block and heads, followed by hours of hand-porting and -polishing. When completed, the finished engines are dyno tuned, reinstalled in the car, and road-tested before being picked up by or delivered to the owner.

NCRS member Tom Christman of Mecum Auctions raised a valid question about this car: For the same money, why not buy a Corvette that’s two generations newer, with the same or better performance, traction control, brakes, steering, suspension, and a much easier entry and exit? There are thousands of used Corvettes on the market. Why buy this one?

This ZR-1 represents a bridge between older technologies combined with aftermarket performance like today’s C5 and C6 Corvettes. It brings the owner reliability, experienced tuning, and interest among Corvette and auto enthusiasts everywhere the hood is opened.

Mallett, Callaway, and LPE are major players. When you drive one of their cars, every mile is a memory. There is a confidence in knowing you’ve got plenty of pulling power and that you have a wide safety margin to overtake anything.

Furthermore, once you get past 1984, most people have a hard time telling one Corvette from another. The open hood and badging on these “tuner” cars slow people down to stop, look, and listen to an owner’s stories. It’s not always about new stuff or actual value. A Lingenfelter Corvette supplies an intangible quotient that drives an owner to buy something different in a world of same.

Which is all a way of saying that financially, this was a very good deal for the buyer. And emotionally, in terms of rarity, personal satisfaction, and getting a seat near the top of the late-model Corvette pecking order, this was a screaming deal.