BBC Autos

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Hennessey Venom GT: A record surplus of speed

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

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“I doubt Volkswagen is going to invite us to run at their track in Germany.”

John Hennessey, the Texas-based tuner of performance automobiles (“making fast cars go faster” is his company's credo), has reason to be a little smug. His Hennessey Venom GT recently set the production-car speed record, edging out the Volkswagen Group’s Bugatti Veyron SuperSport.

In the asterisk-strewn realm of speed records, the Venom GT’s run to 265.7mph (427.6kph) at a Texas airfield in February is not unblemished; the SuperSport was tested to 268mph, but Hennessey is quick to note that production versions of that car are limited to 258mph to prevent their tires from exploding.

Regardless of what Veyron defenders may say, Hennessey’s run, explored in depth in the April issue of Top Gear magazine, was the loudest salvo yet from a company that has fuelled garish horsepower fantasies since 1991. The question facing Hennessey is, quite literally, where to now? With two miles of runway to work with before reserving the last nine-tenths of a mile for deceleration, the Venom GT has few straightaways on which to discover its outermost limits.

“You can run at Bonneville,” Hennessey said, referencing the expansive salt flats in the southwestern state of Utah, “but that’s like running on the beach. We ideally would be testing next in another controlled environment, like the runway, which minimises risk of critters crossing the road.”

The on-board video of the attempt shows the test driver pump his fists as he decelerates from the record run, in a seeming display of exaltation. Hennessey explained this was not the case.

“Our goal was 270, which would have silenced the Veyron camp for good,” he said. “So he was actually mad. If you watch closely he had some trouble shifting from fourth to fifth. He was angry at himself. But you also see him up around 262, 263 adjusting his visor, which had fallen down. That goes to show how comfortable and stable this car is, even at those speeds.”

About that car: maximum output of 1,244 horsepower and 1,115 pound-feet of torque, with a curb weight of 2,743lbs (1,244kg). The Venom GT presents a perverse interpretation of the “Simplify, then add lightness” axiom of Lotus Cars founder Colin Chapman.

Based, incidentally, on the chassis and body of the Lotus Exige sports coupe, the Venom GT is limited to a total run of 29. “We’ve built and delivered eight, we have four on order, and we expect to sell out the run next year,” Hennessey said.

By the time the company locates a suitable straightaway, it may have already moved to Venom 2.0. “The Venom GT2 is coming next year,” Hennessey said. “Different roof, new headlamps, some other changes in store.”

Though he did not confirm a timeline, Hennessey noted that higher-horsepower versions of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette, which debuted at the Detroit auto show in January, are in the pipeline, as is a blown SRT Viper. New, Frankenstein-esque builds like the Venom GT are not on the immediate horizon, at least that Hennessey will admit to.

“I’m always looking at potential cars, but to do a standalone kind of car, it doesn’t make sense for us right now,” he said. “All in, we might have spent $4 million, $5 million on developing the Venom GT. The Pagani Huayra, you’re looking at least at $25 million.”

“Look, if the car is cool, and the performance potential is there, we’re always interested.”

To read more about the Venom GT’s record run, pick up the April 2013 issue of Top Gear magazine.