Lingenfelter Performance Engineering needs no introduction – for more than four decades, the company founded by the legendary John Lingenfelter has been pushing the limits of the internal combustion envelope, building parts, engines, and compete vehicles, and setting records in multiple motorsports disciplines. One area of LPE excellence that you might not know about, though, is their extensive lineup of performance electronics.
We sat down with Lingenfelter’s Jason Haines to get an in-depth look at their top products for controlling the flow of electrons, rather than air and fuel, and came away with a new appreciation of just how much expertise they have in this field. Here, in no particular order, are some of our favorite pieces of LPE wizardry.
We’ll start off with one of our favorites, a device that we’ve actually installed and tested ourselves on Project Y2k, our in-house 2000 Corvette. What’s it do? We’ll let Haines explain. “When the clutch is depressed on the car, it holds the RPM at a preset level, and lets the RPM climb when you get off the clutch. It’s an RPM limiter that engages and disengages based on the clutch or a separate button.”
While this sort of device is often called a “two-step” in the world of drag racing, it’s actually a single-stage limiter – your factory ECU’s normal upper RPM limit remains when the device isn’t activated. But as the name implies, it does more than just hold launch RPM.
“It also has the retard function,” Haines explains, “which combusts the air/fuel at a later (i.e. higher piston position) than normal.” Activated via a signal from a nitrous system, boost sensor, or a simple switch, the ignition retard can be binary (either on or off) and as much as 15 degrees, or it can be ramped in according to a 0-5 volt signal. “You’ve got the drag race guys that don’t want to have to have a different calibration for the street and for when they run their nitrous,” Haines adds. The LNC takes care of the timing retard for them so they have their optimized calibration for pump gas and street use, and then when they use nitrous the timing retard box takes the timing out for them. They don’t have to mess with having different calibrations for when they’re on nitrous versus the regular tune.”
LPE offers this ignition control for most of the different members of the Gen III/Gen IV LS family, and there’s no “universal” kit because these are true plug-and-play units that require no splicing of the ignition harness. “We’ve got a version specifically for the new direct injection engines,” Haines explains. “They don’t have the same harness connectors so we’ve gotta make a different one that’s specifically for them. The Gen V LT engines no longer have the dual connectors on either side of the engine; the wiring harness goes straight into the coils. The new Lingenfelter controller has to intercept the signal right at the coils.”
Some of the electronics LPE has developed aren’t necessarily “speed parts,” but they definitely are problem solvers. LS engines come in two basic “flavors” when it comes to the ignition setup, depending on how many teeth are on the reluctor wheel attached to the crankshaft. Factory ignition setups intended for one won’t work with the other, which can be a big roadblock for LS swaps pieced together from multiple sources.
Per Haines, “Out of all our electronics, the one that we sell the most of (and it’s probably the neatest to me just because it saves a lot of people a lot of time and trouble) is the crank trigger converter. That’s not really a racing product – it’s more of a ‘daily use’ product. If a guy’s got a good deal on an engine, or worse case he put the wrong engine in his vehicle, all of a sudden he needs to be able to run the new engine with the old electronics because he got mixed up between 58x and 24x. It’s a real saver for people like that, because if you don’t have this box, the alternative is you take the engine out, tear it down, take the reluctor wheel off, put the other reluctor wheel on, rebalance the crank, reassemble the engine, and put it back in the vehicle.”
While it might not be as sexy as some of Lingenfelter’s other gadgets, the crank trigger converter can save a lot of work. “In terms of being a ‘helping the customers out’ kind of thing and filling a need, that’s probably the neatest product we’ve got there,” Haines admits.
With so many supercharged cars and blower kits coming out of LPE, it’s easy to overlook how robust their nitrous oxide options are. One particularly advanced piece of nitrous hardware in the catalog is their NCC-002 Nitrous Control Center. For “dry” systems that provide fuel enrichment through the EFI, it can support up to four stages of nitrous, and it’s been designed specifically to play well with LS engines, though Haines points out that it will work in practically any fuel injected or carbureted application.
“We’re very proud of all the capabilities it has,” he says. “There really aren’t a whole lot of other nitrous controllers on the market that can take all the different inputs it can. It’s really designed to work with the guy that has a carbureted engine that wants multiple stages and wants a lot of programmability and control, but knowing us, what we’re all about late model EFI vehicles especially the GM stuff. So it’s also designed to accept the clutch position sensors and the clutch switches and the electronic throttle position sensor that new vehicles have and be compatible with all of that. Yet it will still work for someone’s 1960’s car that’s got a carburetor on it.”
The list of features the NCC-002 offers runs to two pages, but the big takeaways are progressive, independent control of both fuel and nitrous duty cycles for each of the two stages, the ability to directly control solenoids drawing as much as 30 amps each (60 amps total at once), programmability either as a standalone through the display or via laptop, and integrated datalogging.
Haines says, “For a lot of guys, when you’re at a track you don’t want to have to deal with a lap top. So the nice thing is that it’s got on-board datalogging, and you can make the changes to the settings right there on the screen from the keypad. So if you’re between rounds and you want to make a small change, you don’t have to go get the laptop from the trailer, bring it over, and hook it all up – you can just do it right then and there from the driver’s seat.”
“There’s a lot of guys that still don’t have data acquisition on their racecars, and this is just a quick way to see what your car’s doing going down the track,” Haines continues. “Just something as simple as the fact that a lot of guys with nitrous don’t realize just how much electrical current their solenoids are pulling. They datalog for the first time and realize what’s happening to their system voltage when that second stage kicks in on top of the first, and all of a sudden their alternators not keeping up and they’re at 9, 10 volts. They were wondering why it falls on it’s face at half-track. It’s because you dropped to 9 volts and the engine management’s not working properly, your coils aren’t working properly, your injectors aren’t working properly, and it’s time to step up on a bigger alternator. Without data logging you wouldn’t know that.”
Another hardcore Lingenfelter device for LS racers with “clutchless” transmissions is their Torque Cut Module. Per Haines, “That’s basically designed for the road racing guys and drag racing guys that have pro-shift type gear sets, where they want to be able to do a clutchless wide open throttle shifting. With those kinds of transmissions, you need to do a momentary torque cut to be able to get out of one gear and go into the next. So this is done a lot like the motorcycle guys have been doing for years – you just do a very momentary ignition cut and that briefly reduces engine torque, so now you have no load against the transmission gears. Now you can pull it out of gear and put it into a next gear, reapply the ignition, and now you’ve got full torque again.”
To compliment the torque cut module, LPE also offers “load cell” switches either as a standalone shift knob, or a component that can be integrated into your existing shift lever. “Some guys want a button on the top of their shifter, and they have to remember to push the bottom down as they pull the shifter out, and then you have to remember to let go of it. On top of that, those buttons are really inconsistent for how long the cut is,” Haines explains. “By having it tied to a load cell knob you don’t have to try to time a button or a toggle switch or something like that. If you want to really be consistent, by having a load cell shift knob when you pull on it is when it starts the cut, and then with the dials on our torque cut module you’d tell it exactly how many milliseconds you want it to do a torque cut. Most of the heavier vehicles that these are going in, you still need a fairly long cut – up in the 70 to 90 millisecond range. For a really light weight car with a really light driveline you might be able to get away with a shorter one. But there you can really dial in the length of the torque cut, and it’s very consistent every time.”
From the specialized world of full-race sequential gearboxes, we move to a gadget that practically any hot-rodder can use and appreciate. Much more than a simple on/off thermostatic switch, the TBRC has a lot of trick features built in. Haines says, “That’s the temperature controller we use to control the fans in all of our intercooler radiators. With that you can control a high and a low speed of the fans so they aren’t running when they don’t need to be if it’s a cold day out.”
The TBRC does much more than just radiator or intercooler fan control, though. It’s designed to accept input from a very wide array of factory and aftermarket sensors, and can trigger at user-selected temperatures over an extreme range. “There are other temperature controllers out there, but a lot of them only work within a very narrow temperature window,” Haines explains. “So they tend to be designed to control cooling fans that are your primary cooling fans – ours will do that too. But for an intercooler system you don’t want to wait until your water temp is 180-200 degrees before you turn the fans on. You want to cool it when the water temp gets to 120 or 130. Most of the other temperature controllers out there won’t do that.”
Another cool feature of the TBRC is an auto pump cycle mode for situations where it’s not practical to put the temperature sensor directly into the transmission, differential, or other part to be cooled, and you have to install the sensor “in-line” in the plumbing. To let the sensor see the true temperature of the fluid, the TBRC briefly runs the pump to push fluid past the sensor, then decides whether to stay on until the temperature is below the set point, or stop and wait a while longer before sampling the fluid again.
“If you have the sensor out in the cooler it’s always gonna seem like its cool unless you have the pump circulating all the time, and those pumps don’t last very long if you do that plus the pumps are really noisy,” says Haines. He also points out that with the two-channel output, you can set the TBRC to run the pump first on a transmission or differential cooler, and if ambient airflow isn’t enough to bring the temperature back down, to activate cooling fans as well.
One of the advantages of modern cars for those of us who like to modify them is that there are a lot more factory electronics to hack – There’s no need to wire up a dopey microswitch on the throttle quadrant to activate a nitrous system, for instance, when you can just tap into the OEM throttle position sensor signal. The same goes for brake and clutch position; modern ECU’s want to know what you’re doing with the pedals, and so there are already sensors available to repurpose. That’s where the CTAP switch comes in.
“That box will plug into the clutch position sensor, brake pedal position sensor, accelerator pedal position sensor, or your throttle position sensor and you can turn something on or off based on wherever you are in the travel,” says Haines. He also points out that the CTAP can be programmed to activate on a rising or falling 0-5 volt signal, depending on what the sensor outputs and what you’re activating.
“It’s really nice once you have that, if you want to be able to adjust to trigger just off of somewhere in the pedal travel, you can do that in one percent increments with our box,” Haines adds.
Our final piece of Lingenfelter electronic wizardry bridges the gap between the computer data that makes late-model engines run, and the analog world we inhabit. Haines, explains, “Almost all the newer vehicles from GM and from other manufacturers as well now use CAN, which is a computer network communications protocol. They use CAN to communicate between the different modules in the vehicle and to the dash, so that means there’s a lot of information available. The problem is you can’t just hook up to it with a volt meter or a standard analog gauge.”
The typical solution for getting a dash full of analog gauges working with an LS swap is to run a separate set of sensors in parallel with the ones the ECU uses, but by tapping into the CAN data bus, the CAN2-002 module can output up to four different analog signals, and you can use multiple modules per vehicle to get all the channels of data you need.
“We have one customer with a Fiero that’s running a LS engine, using CAN2-002 modules for running all the gauges, and then it also runs the fans, an electric water pump, and a couple of other devices through relays,” says Haines. “Well, that’s more than the four outputs that our box has, so they’ve got multiple boxes to run all those different things. They just tap into the same CAN signal – since they’re just passively listening on that CAN wire, you can have five of them if you needed that many outputs.”
The CAN2-002 can be programmed by the end user, or preconfigured by Lingenfelter with information provided from the customer about what ECU they’re using and what outputs they need.
Solutions for Every Electronic Application
Taken on its own merit, the LPE electronics division would be an aftermarket powerhouse all by itself. In conjunction with the rest of the Lingenfelter lineup, it makes for another razor-sharp arrow in the LPE quiver. No matter what you’re trying to do with your late-model GM engine, they’ve probably already figured out how to do it better, faster, and more reliably.