Michigan car charity events road back to life, led by this weekend’s Spring Cruise

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 6, 2022

Charities have struggled through two years of pandemic restrictions as popular, money-raising, live venues dried up with millions in potential donations lost. Auto industry events hosted by everything from the Detroit Auto Show to private collections are a backbone of charitable giving and spring 2022 is seeing a rebirth.

One of the most prolific is the Lingenfelter Collection in Brighton.

The sprawling collection of classic cars hosts about 60 charitable events a year for organizations like the American Cancer Society and The Pink Fund. The pandemic slammed on the brakes and its fund-raising efforts went from 60 to zero from 2020-2021. With the April 23 Spring Open House and this weekend’s Spring Cruise, the Collection is open and raising money again.

Ken Lingenfelter, owner of Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, sits in his 1955 Chevrolet Corvette Duntov Mule at his showroom in Brighton. It's among the classic cars that will be on view Saturday at the Lingenfelter Collection for an event supporting several Metro Detroit charities.

“Charities did a good job adapting during the pandemic, but you just can’t raise the kind of money virtually that you can in live events,” said Ken Lingenfelter, a car collector and CEO of Lingenfelter Engineering. He and his wife, Kristen, spearhead collection events.

“Our Spring Cruise this weekend alone will support the Covenant House in Detroit, Detroit Phoenix Center, Oakland County’s Haven Center, Lacasa Center in Livingston County, and four scholarships for Detroit Public Schools,” he said.

US News & World Report surveyed 163 national nonprofits that receive at least one grant from foundations that give $5 million or more annually and found that 58% of nonprofits reduced their services during the pandemic, 49% cut operational costs and 31% laid off employees.

The annual, back-tie Detroit Auto Show Charity Preview — generally acknowledged as the largest single-night fundraising event in the world — was shelved for two years. With ticket sales benefiting six children’s charities it raised more than $4 million annually pre-pandemic.

Michigan is not alone. The New York Auto Show’s annual charity event has not been held since 2019, including in April this year.

Lingenfelter’s Spring Cruise event Saturday starts at George Matick Chevrolet in Redford, where 300 Corvettes of all types and eras will gather. With a full police escort, they will then rumble 30 miles west on I-96 to the Brighton-based collection.

The 250-car toy store has a few eye-catching ‘Vettes of its own for attendees: a 1952 Chevrolet Corvair Motorama show car, ’55 Chevrolet Corvette Duntov Mule, and a new, mid-engine Corvette C8 that Lingenfelter Engineering co-developed with Cunningham Automotive to honor Corvette’s first Le Mans race entry in 1960. European exotics in the collection include Ferraris and a rare 2008 Lamborghini Reventon.

The Corvette room in the  Lingenfelter Collection in Brighton. Some 300 'Vettes will descend on the collection May 7 for a charity event.

The event follows a successful Spring Open House in April that attracted 3,500 people and raised tens of thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society. Both events had been dormant since 2019.

“The pandemic was really challenging,” said Chad Creekmore, senior executive director of the Michigan American Cancer Society. “We were able to be creative with virtual events, but we have been anxious to get back in person.”

The Michigan chapter typically raises more than $6 million a year from a variety of events, including Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, Relay for Life, Real Men Wear Pink, and the Detroit Select Golf Invitational at Oakland Hills. The Lingenfelter Collection’s spring event is the biggest auto-related fundraiser for the America Cancer Society in Michigan.

The first America Speed Festival at M1 Concourse in Pontiac last October ended the mega-auto fund-raiser drought with its sold-out Checkered Flag Ball. The event raised more than $100,000 to assist transportation-challenged Pontiac residents.

The Lingenfelter Collection opened its doors for the first time on March 19 with a charity fundraiser sponsored by the Detroit Athletic Club. The Detroit Auto Show’s Charity Preview is due to return Sept. 16 to Huntington Place, while the Detroit Grand Prix’s signature PwC Grand Prixmiere charity ball raising money for the Belle Isle Conservancy will kick off June 3.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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