When an order is placed, Hennessey buys a Lotus donor car, which is then shipped to Delta’s base at Silverstone where they strip it back to a bare bonded aluminium tub. Essentially this means everything forward of the windscreen and aft of the rear bulkhead is Hennessey. The tub is then prepared to receive the new front and rear structures, along with a roll-cage to increase rigidity and safety. The carbon bodywork is painted and then the whole package is flown to Texas where Hennessey installs the powertrain, brakes and suspension before shaking the car down, setting it up and delivering it to the customer. This process takes between six and eight months and the car costs $1.2million (£750,000), plus local taxes.
The heart of the Venom GT is its engine. While it shares its 7-litre capacity with GM’s LS7-series production motors, it is a bespoke build, with a strengthened block and custom internals. The turbo installation draws upon Hennessey’s huge experience of extracting massive power from what were originally naturally aspirated engines. The results are staggering, with peaks of 1244bhp at 6500rpm and 1155lb ft at 4200rpm. Even more gobsmacking is Hennessey’s assertion that the motor is good for a safe 2000bhp. All this power and torque hits the road via a standard(!) six-speed manual gearbox and rear axle assembly taken from the Ford GT. Wow.
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Our first glimpse of the Venom GT is at Ellington Field. Formerly a military base used exclusively by NASA, it now accepts civil aircraft, but it remains at the heart of NASA’s training activity, with pilots in the astronaut programme keeping up their flying hours in dart-like T38 jets. If Hennessey wanted a bit of the ‘right stuff’ to rub off on the Venom’s record attempt, Ellington is just about perfect.
Two Venoms have been rolled out onto the runway: a steely grey coupe that will be used for the record runs and a black Spyder that’s owned by Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler. It’s the latter car we’ll be driving, both at Ellington and on roads close to Hennessey’s Sealy HQ. For now though, all eyes are on the grey car. Perched on jacks, its Michelin Pilot Cup tyres wrapped in gently humming warmers and umbilical cords running back to laptops, it makes for a deeply impressive sight. The carbonfibre body is obviously closely related to the Exige, but the extra width and length lends the Venom GT an exaggerated look, its steroidal muscularity sending its attitude off the scale.
When it fires up, the whole airfield seems to fill with an unholy rumpus that’s part dragster, part jet fighter. When test driver John Kiewicz blips the throttle, the note changes to a hard-as-nails V8 holler, with sharp, urgent stabs of noise firing from the sawn-off exhaust stubs like sonic buckshot. It’s as sensational a supercar soundtrack as I’ve ever heard: not musical like a Carrera GT or exquisitely tortured like a Pagani 760RS or Aston Martin One-77, but meaty, malevolent and utterly unique.
Like most motorsport Guinness World Record attempts, this effort comprises hours of standing around punctuated by vivid bursts of intense action. The Hennessey crew spends plenty of time perfecting the traction control settings and boost management, using test launches up to 150mph to gauge traction before making further tweaks. When Kiewicz makes his first full pass, we’re stood by the edge of the runway, roughly at the half-mile mark. The way the Venom GT leaps from the start, then apparently accelerates faster and faster with every gear is extraordinary. The percussive thwack as it comes by – already at more than 200mph – is enough to part your hair, then stand it on end as the Venom disappears in a haze of pulverised runway dust. It takes just a few more runs for the 0-300kph record to be in the bag, with a jaw-dropping, VBOX-measured, Guinness-verified two-way average of 13.6sec.
Data from the fastest run contains many more extraordinary figures (see p58). However, the fact that sticks in my mind is that from launch it continues to accelerate with increasing intensity until it reaches a peak of 1.4G at 112mph, which is when the minimally intrusive, hugely effective traction control finally relinquishes its electronic hold and the ECUs finally deliver all 1244bhp and 1155lb ft with total conviction. From here it pulls with similar urgency up to and beyond 200mph. This thing scrambles Koenigseggs for breakfast, eats Veyrons for lunch and flosses with Pagani Huayras. And ominously, Hennessey has a 1500bhp Venom GT2 waiting in the wings…
The sun is dipping behind the hangars when my time comes to try the Venom. Having seen the violent and explosive pace of the record runs I’m more than a bit intimidated, but the snugly familiar confines of the re-trimmed Lotus cockpit bring some sense of reassurance. The clutch is heavy, but the gearbox is just as sweet as it was in the Ford GT, and the engine feels far more tractable than I was expecting. I don’t want to light the thing up in first gear, so I pull away like there’s a police car behind me, find second gear and then floor it.