Millenaries Rising

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The number of 1,000 hp road cars has been growing fast, and some of these vehicles have soared high above that benchmark.

On any given day at the Hennessey Performance workshop in Sealy, Texas, the company’s mechanics and engineers may be working on a Flying Spur, a 458 Italia, a 911 Turbo, or another wickedly fast vehicle, making it even faster through various modifications and tuning adjustments. Hennessey’s current showpiece begins as a Lotus Exige and is transformed into the Venom GT, which recently achieved what may be the fastest speed ever for a production car.

Plans for the Venom GT took shape in 2007, following a competition to determine which road car could accelerate the fastest from zero to 200 mph. Hennessey’s Venom 1000 Twin Turbo Viper, a significantly modified Dodge Viper, won by besting the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 by almost 4 seconds. Despite the victory, John Hennessey, the company’s founder and president, wanted to enhance the car’s performance. The most efficient way to do so would be to reduce its weight, but the Viper platform allowed for a decrease of only 200 pounds. More than that, and the vehicle would lose its road-car character. Hennessey knew that a 200-pound reduction would not drastically improve the car’s capabilities.

Hennessey suggested—initially as a joke—that his team install a Venom 1000 Twin Turbo engine in a Lotus Exige, a car built by a brand whose founder, Colin Chapman, believed that the best way to add speed was to add lightness. Hennes­sey’s company made renderings of a modified Exige—most noticeably, the car depicted was longer than the original model—but there were no concrete plans to build it until a customer learned of the project and committed to purchasing the first example. Since then, Hennessey has delivered 10 Venom GTs. The car is available in three versions—a 1,000 hp hardtop, a 1,244 hp hardtop, and a 1,244 hp roadster—and the starting price is $1 million.

In February, Hennessey brought a 1,244 hp Venom GT to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and watched as Brian Smith piloted it to a speed of 270.49 mph, besting the mark of 268 mph set in 2010 by a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. “I always felt like we could hit our goal of surpassing the Veyron for top speed,” says Hennessey. “I just didn’t know when.”

Guinness World Records does not recognize the Venom GT’s performance as a world record, because it requires a car to surpass the previous benchmark in consecutive runs in opposite directions. The Venom GT made just one run at the Kennedy Space Center. Also, Guinness does not consider the Venom GT a production car because Hennessey plans to build only 29 examples.

Bugatti may ultimately relinquish the production-car speed record, but it will continue to hold the distinction of building the first 1,000 hp road car—sort of. The Veyron 16.4 (16 cylinders and four turbochargers), which went into production nine years ago, generates 1,001 hp according to the metric measurement employed in Europe, but its output is only 987 hp according to the measurement system used in the United States. Since the Veyron’s release more than a dozen manufacturers have offered actual 1,000 hp vehicles. Some are clean-sheet creations, such as the Koenigsegg Agera. Others, like Hennessey’s Venom GT, are loosely based on a larger manufacturer’s production model. A driver may never have the need, opportunity, or nerve to test the full capabilities of a 1,000 hp automobile, but such a vehicle can nevertheless represent a technological achievement that is worth the investment for buyer and builder alike.

Twenty years ago, the McLaren F1 sat atop the supercar market. Indeed, powered by a 627 hp engine, the F1 set the record for the fastest production car by reaching a top speed of 243 mph (with its rev limiter removed) in 1998. That same year, Volkswagen committed to reviving the Bugatti brand in Molsheim, France, and developing what would become the Veyron.

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