(Full Disclosure: Lime Rock Drivers Club was nice enough to invite Mike Spinelli and Roger Garbow up to the track for seat time in the Hennessey Venom GT and an unbelievable selection of hors d'oeuvres. While Mike was able to take a few top speed pulls, the Venom ran out of gas before Roger could get a run or two in. Next time, Roger.)
In a world where 707 hp V8 family sedans are available at your local Dodge dealer, it would seem as if we are living in a period of unrestrained excess. But in reality, fuel economy standards are getting tighter and most of the world's automakers are using hybrid technology to achieve super car performance. Porsche's 918 Spyder is putting out 887 combined hp, Ferrari's LaFerrari puts out 949 hp and McLaren's P1 has 903 hp and a top speed of 217 mph.
But, specialty car builders don't have to deal with CAFE standards. Which brings us to John Hennessey in Sealy, Texas. John makes power the old-fashioned way: by strapping two turbos onto a 427 cubic-inch Chevy LSX engine and shoehorning this monster mill in a stretched and widened Lotus Exige chassis. Which sounds pretty crude until you see this beast in person. The finished product is much more Ironman than Frankenstein. The concept sounds cartoonish but when you see it in person it just looks awesome. The bloated fenders and stretched wheelbase somehow work and give the car some serious presence.
Under the rear bonnet, the boosted engine churns out a ludicrous 1,244 hp in a chassis that weighs about 2,700 pounds giving the Venom GT a mind-blowing power-to-weight ratio of 2.205 lbs/hp.
The Venom GT features a monocoque of carbon fiber & composite/aluminum hybrid while the brakes are 6-piston Brembos. Even though the car is RWD, acceleration is eyeball flattening with a ¼ mile time of 9.92 sec. @ 163 mph. All this is great, but what is it like from the inside? Mike Spinelli was lucky enough to strap into the passenger seat for a taste.
The Hennessey Venom GT is either the fastest production car in the world, or it’s not. It depends on whom you ask. There’s no doubt that on February 14, 2014, the car in which I’m now sitting hit 270.14 miles per hour on a runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That’s a fact. The instruments confirmed it.
Former Michelin test engineer Brian Smith was at the wheel that day, as the Venom bested its nearest rival, the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. This is where things get weirdly technical.
Despite its big top-speed number, the Venom’s Florida run didn’t meet the Guinness Book’s criteria for a sanctioned world record. NASA officials wouldn’t allow the requisite second pass in the opposite direction to obtain a two-way average speed. That means, for now, John Hennessey’s supercar has an asterisk next to its formidable V-max.
Then again, so has its rival. The Veyron Super Sport hit its 268 mph ceiling in a state of tune unavailable to buyers, whose cars are speed-limited to “just” 258 mph. The stock Venom GT has no such limit. Thus, despite reaching ludicrous speeds, owners of both cars must be satisfied with off-the-books bragging rights.
Still, the Venom GT does hold a Guinness record for quickest production car. In 2013, this same, gunmetal gray Venom launched from zero to 300 km/h (186.4 mph) twice, for a two-run average of 13.63 seconds (13.18 seconds in a 4 mph tailwind, and 14.08 in a 6 mph headwind). That time beat the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport’s own scorched-earth acceleration figure by 7.7 seconds.
In the real world, such numbers seem arbitrary, particularly as we sit in pit lane at Lime Rock Park, waiting for the track to go hot. This car was set up for straight-line speed, so we won’t be breaking any lap records today. Show time will come as we round The Downhill, Lime Rock’s fastest corner, and the Hennessey rep at the wheel will pin the gas. Then, I will get a feel for the sheer brutality of the Venom’s acceleration. And it will be breathtaking.
The sound of the Venom GT’s 7.0-liter V8 burrows into your skin. Yes, it’s loud, but it also delivers a range of low frequencies that splatter across your liver. Those who have driven a Venom GT are a rare group. Hennessey only built 12 cars, an amount that makes the 450-strong run of Bugatti Veyrons seem like mass production. There’s no Venom GT test fleet for media, and so only the largest outlets have published drive reports. Even riding in one of these is a rare privilege.
We head out on our lap, warm up the car through Big Bend and The Uphill, and West Bend. Then, as we unwind from the final downhill right hander before Sam Posey straight, the driver rolls on the throttle. The $1.4 million Venom lets out a vicious shriek, and we leap from 50 mph to 155 in what feels like negative time space. Between upshifts, the dump valve liberates compressed air from the massive turbos, making the telltale chuff-chuff noises of 1980s Group B motorsports, the last era of unbridled, turbo-fed speed. My brains slosh against the back of my skull. It’s clear the Venom is doing something no other modern production car can do. Even at less than full potential, it is an impressive bundle of fast.
The Posey straight is less than a half-mile long, and before I can count to what? Four? Five? We’re into the braking zone. The Brembo brakes grab and slam us against the belts. That’s it. A tease, and yet anyone with even the least imagination for forward motion could extrapolate what could be, on the right day and in the proper hands. Even in small doses, the Venom GT is a surgical strike on four wheels.