I spent one glorious year in Texas after high school as part of an internship, a period of my life painted with deep blue cloud shadows marching alone over sun-baked, ant-infested meadows. Storms came quick, savage, and unannounced, visible from a long way off, but still tackling you like lions before you could get indoors. It’s a land that was never really tamed, just settled-upon, and anyone living there seems to enter into an unspoken agreement that you don’t mess with Texas, because Texas is bigger than you.
But if anyone were to tame the Lone Star State, tying her down and teaching her tricks, it would be Hennessey Performance Engineering. The Sealy, Texas based tuning house modifies cars, but unlike most tuners, adds more than a fuel injection remap, a hideous body kit, and an astonishing price tag. In fact, most Hennessey-tuned vehicles aren’t outwardly distinguishable from their production counterparts at all.
The VelociRaptor, their take on Ford’s already awesome Raptor, just sports a Hennessey banner across the top of the windshield, but nearly doubles the standard horsepower, depending on the model. And there’s the “Hammer Wagon,” Hennessey’s upgrade package for the brilliant Cadillac CTS-V Wagon, which adds over a hundred hp and gives the family-hauler a 3.8 second 0-60 time. But for their latest creation, they’ve started with something much smaller.
The first time I laid eyes on a Lotus Exige, it was during Jeremy Clarkson’s Top Gear review. Clarkson, normally skeptical and discriminating during his critiques, was visibly thrilled with it. It’s a beautiful car, basically a racing-tuned version of Lotus’ Elise. I was hooked from the start. I still want one, though I doubt I’ll get my wish, as it will be discontinued after this year in favor of newer, worse heavier Lotus models.
Hennessey must have been impressed, as well, because they chose the platform for the Venom GT, their newest hypercar. I use the term “platform” loosely, because though the Venom GT looks like an Exige, the frame had to be completely redesigned in order to fit the GT’s power source. You see, the mid-engine Exige had a 0-60 time of 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 155, and came with a 1.8 liter Toyota engine, supercharged to 245 hp, which is enough for a car weighing just over a ton.
It wasn’t enough for Hennessey, who began chopping up their Lotus. In the end, they had to build a custom frame about three feet longer than that of the Exige, because they needed the extra room for the LS9. Yes, this svelte, 2,685 lb two-seater has the 6.2 liter V8 from a C6 Corvette ZR1. A pair of turbochargers push that venerated mill up to 1,200 hp.
Now, we read numbers all the time, but what do they practically mean? Well, the Venom GT’s 0-60 time is 2.5 seconds, which means you’ll have no trouble mounting an on-ramp. It runs a 9.9 second quarter mile, which means you’ll need a helmet at all NHRA strips. It can reach 200 mph in 15.9 seconds, which means you can microwave a Pop Tart in the time it takes you to get to cruising speed on the Autobahn. (As an actual point of reference, a Bugatti Veyron needs 24.2 seconds to get to 200). And it has a theoretical top speed of 275 mph, which is more than one third the speed of sound.
So it may just live up to its maleficent name. As Jalopnik’s Matt Hardigree says, “This isn’t a car, man, this is the best way to die.” Despite the mid-engine layout and the countless hours the Hennessey crew spent in the wind tunnel fine tuning downforce, a Venom GT driver must still manage the reality that this little car puts down 1,200 hp and 1,155 lb-ft of torque. I would imagine it’s much like trying to fly an F-18 through a mine shaft.
That won’t stop professional racing driver John Heinricy from getting behind the wheel of the supercar coffin at this week’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, a famous time trial hill climb in West Sussex, England.
The Venom GT comprises a beautiful madness. But that’s exactly what we love about Hennessey. Where most mission statements incorporate buzz-words like “revolutionary” or stand on principals like “trust” or “reliability,” I can’t imagine Hennessey’s motto being anything other than, “We’re entirely mental, and we don’t want to get better.” It’s what makes them create things like the Hammer Wagon and the VelociRaptor. They stand as wild antagonists to what makes sense to a normal person, and we’re jealous.
So if they build to satisfy that wild antagonism, this ground-up project, at first a fun, manageable British sports car is at the end a dragon-wrestling superhero with no concern for collateral damage, epitomizes who they are.
Hennessey may not be as laid-back or accessible as her residents, but they’re every bit as big as Texas. Don’t mess with them.
Image courtesy of www.hennesseyperformance.com.