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A-Z Supercars: Hennessey Venom GT

Veyron power and speed in a mutant Lotus bodyshell, that’s the venom GT

Texas-based Hennessey Performance has long been celebrated for extracting big power from American muscle-cars, but in the last few years it has also become famous for a Veyron-trumping Lotus-based supercar.

So ask yourself this question. What would a Lotus Exige be like if it had 1244bhp? Undriveable would be one answer. A crash looking for somewhere to happen might be another. But possibly, just possibly, the biggest thrill anyone has ever had at the wheel of a road car is the right one. That’s what Hennessey believed, anyway, when they stretched and the baby Lotus to accommodate a massively uprated version of the 6.2-litre V8 from the Corvette ZR1. There are three states of tune. Merely ‘very scary’ gets you 725bhp, then there are two twin-turbo versions with either 1000bhp or the full OMG 1244bhp.

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The team behind it are all steeped in motorsport, coming from Formula 1, Le Mans and Bonneville backgrounds. So it’s no surprise to find that the Venom’s bodywork and wheels are carbonfibre, that there’s an adjustable rear wing, active aerodynamics and adjustable suspension, too. Tyres are Michelin Pilot Super Sports – a massive 345/30 on 20in rims at the rear. Discs are carbon-ceramic, gripped by Brembo six-piston calipers at all four corners.

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Company boss John Hennessey describes the Venom GT as ‘the supercar I have always dreamed of building’. Constructed in Britain, and with a chassis developed on our roads, the Venom GT might also just turn out to be the Veyron Super Sport driver’s worst nightmare.

Hennessey Venom GT driven

So you think you know the Hennessey Venom GT? Plenty of people do, apparently. At least that’s the impression you get if you delve through forum posts or YouTube comments on the subject. Sift through the piles of cyber detritus and the collective ‘expert’ sentiment is that it’s little more than a stretched Lotus Exige with a big Yank V8; a bastardised ‘bitsa’ that excels in a straight line, but sucks around corners. Isn’t it amazing what you can learn from playing Forza Motorsport before your mum sends you to bed?

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Call us old-fashioned, but at evo we prefer to actually drive a car before expressing an opinion. Frustratingly that’s always been a problem with the Venom GT, for while Europe’s pre-eminent hypercar makers Bugatti, Pagani, and Koenigsegg are but a short-haul flight away, and friendly owners of Veyrons, Huayras and Ageras are on evo’s office speed dial, Hennessey are based in Sealy, Texas, and there are currently only eight Venom GTs in existence.

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So you can imagine our excitement when John Hennessey called to ask if we fancied witnessing the Venom GT make an attempt on the 0-300kph (0-186mph) Guinness World Record for street-legal production cars. When he added we could drive it on a smooth 1.6-mile military runway and then on quiet Texan country roads, we had three flights to Houston booked before he put down the phone.

> Bugatti Veyron Super Sport video review

The story of how the Venom GT came to be is brilliantly bold and refreshingly simple. Having spent the best part of 20 years making Chrysler Vipers go obscenely fast, culminating in a Veyron-trouncing test conducted by respected US magazine Road & Track in 2007, Hennessey got to thinking what could be achieved if he slotted his twin-turbo Viper powertrain into a truly light mid-engined platform. After joking he should put the motor in a Lotus Exige, one thing led to another and the in-house design team produced a rendering of what the car might look like. Hennessey liked what he saw. The itch was about to be scratched.

Six years later and with the help and investment of Hennessey’s business partner Don Goldman, that dream is a reality. In that time the Chrysler V10 was dropped in favour of Hennessey’s twin-turbo take on the lighter, more compact and ultimately more powerful 7-litre Chevy LS7 V8 small block. With the help of UK firm Delta Motorsport, Hennessey refined the design and aerodynamics of the car, creating bespoke front and rear structures, suspension, brakes and carbonfibre bodywork.

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