From an impossibly quick Mitsubishi to the new Venom F5 hypercar, John Hennessey has been tuning and building wickedly fast cars for 30 years.
When John Hennessey wanted to compete in the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb in 1991, he did what every diehard car nut has done since the invention of the motor car – he modified his daily drive Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4 into something else altogether.
The addition of high-flow turbochargers, an improved exhaust system, the addition of a performance chip and an adjustable turbo boost system saw his daily driver 3000GT’s power output grow by around 150hp (112kW) to 450hp (335kW). That was enough to propel the 3000GT, now dubbed VR-200, from 0-60mph in just 4.6 seconds.
Hennessey used his VR-200 to contest Pikes Peak where he finished 10th. His big break came at the Bonneville Salt Flats in the F-Production/Supercharged Class, his two-way average of 176mph (283km/h) a new record. Hennessey’s name was on the map, and he hasn’t looked back.
That Mitsubishi 3000GT was the first of around 12,000 cars built or modified by Hennessey since then, his name now synonymous with horsepower and performance, leading to the Texas-based company celebrating its 30th birthday this month.
“At the end of 1991, looking back at that year of motorsport, I realised I’d learned the first rule of auto racing – if you want to make a small fortune in racing, start with a larger one! To continue my passion, I knew I’d have to find a way to pay for it,” he recalled.
“So, I thought, if Carroll Shelby and Alois Ruf could make a living by building and modifying cars then maybe I could too – that’s how our company began.”
Hennessey used the occasion to pick the 10 most influential and important cars to come from the company’s workshop over the last 30 years. Unsurprisingly, he nominated the original gangster Mitsubishi 30000GT as a starting point.
It wasn’t long after his first foray into performance tuning when Hennessey turned his attention to the beast that is the Dodge Viper. Even in standard trim, the V10-powered Viper oozed charisma and muscle in equal measure. But that wasn’t enough for Hennessey who extracted ever more power from the V10 in a succession of Viper models. It began with the 1993 Dodge Viper Venom 500 which, as the name suggests, was good for 500 horsepower (373kW), a healthy increase on the standard 400hp (298kW) the unmolested Viper made.
Successive models and generations saw power outputs ever on the rise, culminating in what is surely one of the most brutal muscle cars ever created – the 2005 ‘Fly Navy’ Dodge Viper Venom 1000.
Because 8.3-litres of V10 power isn’t enough, Hennessey added twin turbochargers to the third-gen Viper, resulting in a slightly ridiculous 1100hp (820kW) and an even more ludicrous 0-200mph (0-322km/h) time of 20.3 seconds.
And that’s no exaggerated claim, the time the result independent testing by Road and Track magazine which, for good measure, put a Bugatti Veyron through the same run. Result? The Hennessey Viper was four seconds quicker. Ouch!
Hennessey’s reputation for extracting more horsepower wasn’t lost on the state of Texas. When authorities wanted to mark the occasion of opening State Highway 130, linking the city of Austin with the Circuit of the Americas racetrack, it enlisted the help of Hennessey to come up with something special.
The Texan native duly obliged, taking a regular Cadillac CTS-V Coupe and its 6.2-litre V8 and waving his horsepower wand over the internals to come up with a twin-turbocharged 7.0-litre V8 spitting out 1244 horsepower (927kW).
Hennessey used his chimera to good effect, using the Cadillac for a government-sanctioned high-speed run on the new stretch of State Highway, closed to the public of course. How fast? Try 355km/h, not a bad way to celebrate the opening of a new road leading to a new Formula One race track.
Another closed highway in Texas provided the backdrop for the 2013 Hennessey Chevrolet Corvette C7 HPE600 to break the 200mph (321km/h) barrier.
The standard C7 Corvette was no slouch, its 6.2-litre V8 making a healthy 339kW. But that wasn’t enough for Hennessey, who added a high-flow supercharger, new engine management electronics and a beefier intercooler system to extract 605 ponies (451kW in our metric language) from the ’Vette. That helped hurtle the Hennessey C7 down a closed stretch of highway at speeds in excess of 200mph (321km/h), the first C7 Corvette to achieve the feat.
A year later, Hennessey set what would ultimately be an unofficial speed record, pro driver Brian Smith reaching a speed of 270.49mph (435.31km/h) in his Hennessey Venom GT on a 5.1km long stretch on runway at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
The achievement might have seen the Venom GT claim the title of world’s fastest production car, its 270.49mph eclipsing the existing record of 269.86mph (434.29km/h) held by the Bugatti Veyron.
But, to claim a world record , a car must complete two runs – one up and one back – on the same stretch of road. NASA bureaucracy intervened, however, the space agency refusing to allow Hennessey to complete the second run. Another sticking point was that Hennessey had only produced 29 Venom GTs to that point, a single unit short of the 30 required to be eligible for the record.
World record or not, doesn’t diminish the prodigious speed of the Venom GT. To get there, Hennessey took the body of a Lotus Exige and crammed it with a Hennessey-tweaked LS7 7.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 making a slightly unhinged 928kW.
While it might not have claimed the title of world’s fastest production car in terms of top speed, it did claim another record, its 13.63-second run from 0-300km/h making it the fastest accelerating production car in the world, according to Guinness World Record.
Sensing the winds of change, Hennessey turned his attention to the world of trucks for the first time with the VelociRaptor 600. Based on a Ford F-150 Raptor, once Hennessey was done with it, the VelociRaptor pumped put 600 horses (474kW) and could accelerate from 0-60mph (97km/h) in a scant 4.2 seconds. And it could still lug all your work gear in the back.
No such convenience for 2017’s The Exorcist, a Chev Camaro-based 1000 horsepower (745kW) muscle car capable of completing the dash from 0-60mph in a slightly frightening 2.1 seconds. That gave The Exorcist the mantle of most powerful muscle car in the world, according to Hennessey.
In terms of output, the Hennessey Chev, with its 745kW and 1129Nm bested the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon’s 603kW and 972Nm and 2.3-second run to 60mph. Brutal.
It’s not just horsepower Hennessey likes to play with, certainly not when looking at his next creation, the 2017 Hennessey Ford VelociRaptor 6x6. Yeah, why make do with four-wheel drive when you can have six wheels sending power and traction to the ground?
And what power it is, certainly when customers opted for the 600 horsepower (447kW) upgrade to the incumbent’s 3.5-litre V6 EcoBoost engine which already made 450 ponies (335kW) in standard trim.
It wasn’t just the addition of two extra wheels that made the VelociRaptor 6x6 special, Hennessey Performance adding upgraded Fox shocks, big 20-inch wheels, and revised bumpers as well locking-diffs on both rear axles. The price for all this six-wheeled, six-hundred horsepower goodness? A cool US$349,000, or around $448,000 of our dollarbucks.
Hennessey Performance stuck with Ford for its next creation, the 2018 Hennessey Ford Mustang GT Heritage Edition. Created to celebrate Hennessey’s 10,000th car, the addition of a large supercharger boosted outputs to 602kW and 918Nm. Top speed was rated at 321km/h.
That v-max pales into comparison compared against Hennessey’s most ambitious project yet. The Hennessey Venom F5, a bespoke 1354kW / 1617Nm hypercar capable of hitting 500km/h, according to Hennessey. Just 24 examples of the US$2.1 million (AUD$2.7 million) hypercar will be made.
Powering the F5 is a bespoke – co-developed by Hennessey and Pennzoil – 6.6-litre twin-turbo V8, with the enticing moniker of ‘Fury’. It’s married to a carbon-fibre monocoque chassis, the whole package tipping the scales at just 1385kg.
Hennessey claims some sparkling acceleration numbers: from 0-100km/h in 2.6 seconds, 0-200km/h in 4.7 seconds, 0-300km/h in 8.4 seconds and 0-400km/h in 15.5 seconds. Top speed should easily exceed 500km/h, with the long gearing of the seven-speed automatic transmission ensuring the monstrous V8 won’t hit its 8200rpm redline until an estimated 537km/h. For context, the current record for the world’s fastest production car, the Koenigsegg Agera RS, stands at 447.19km/h. The inevitable speed record attempt awaits.