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Spending a day at the Hennessey Performance complex in Sealy

Spending a day at the Hennessey Performance complex in Sealy

Spending a day at the Hennessey Performance complex in Sealy

Located between Austin and Houston sits the sprawling Hennessey Performance complex in Sealy.

Many people have probably driven by and not given the big tan building with the red signature on one side any extra thought, but inside is a veritable Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory of automotive excess.

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Well-known among gear heads and elegant automobile fans, John Hennessey’s company has been making fast cars even faster since 1991, fabricating warrantied, track-tested high performance cars, trucks and even the occasional motorcycle.

Hennessey, 55, has made a career out of milking every last mile per hour and horsepower out of a car. On the company’s 143-acre property Hennessey’s team has produced cars for talk-show king Jay Leno, country-music superstars Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson, Aerosmith rocker Steven Tyler, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and a number of pro football stars including former Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams.

See what it’s like to drag race a Dodge Hellcat with a Jeep Grand Cherokee…

Clients are about 98 percent men, Hennessey says, but the love of cars is worldwide.

“I have been to Siberia, all over Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Mexico,” he says. “There can be all these cultural barriers but car people are all the same.”

He receives orders from the wealthy and obscure worldwide, including members of the royal family of Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Qatar. Millionaires next door looking for something impressive to call their own.

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Big spenders and car nuts know all about Hennessey’s work and they wait weeks and sometimes months to get their vehicles back with newly modified guts that can smoke lesser cars on the track. Hennessey’s team now builds about 15 cars a week. Car porn TV shows like “Top Gear” routinely drool over what Hennessey makes in Sealy.

A Hennessey Venom GT Spyder built for Tyler at a cost of $1.1 million sits in the Sealy showroom. It was auctioned for charity early last year and finally ended up back at Hennessey.

It sits idle just steps from the sales offices with a twin-turbocharged 7.0-liter V-8 capable of delivering 1,200 horsepower and 1,155 pound-feet of torque. The six-speed manual transmission can send the car from zero to 60 mph in just under three seconds.

Driver Brian Smith set the world record for the fastest production car ever built in a Hennessey Venom GT on Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Hennessey

Photo: Hennessey

Driver Brian Smith set the world record for the fastest production car ever built in a Hennessey Venom GT on Feb. 14, 2014.

Nearby, a 2018 Ford GT ’67 Heritage edition, worth more than $500,000, sits in quiet slumber. The car was hand delivered to Hennessey by a Ford representative in late March.

One of the prized vehicles in the packed Hennessey garage on the Saturday morning that Chron.com pays a visit is a 2018 ZL1 Chevrolet Camaro, which after a series of tweaks and upgrades by Hennessey’s people has been rechristened The Exorcist, a direct competitor to the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon.

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The Exorcist, with a pious logo and black and red paint job, is going to be limited to a production run of only 100. Even though Chron.com gets to ride in the Exorcist we don’t get to touch its top proven speed of 217 mph. Dodge’s Demon only has a top speed of 168 mph.

The garage is filled with cars with out-of-state plates, transported here for modification.

As of late, Hennessey says that he and his team have been modifying more and more trucks, including the popular Ford Raptor pickup.

Tastes are changing, Hennessey says, and he tries to keep with what consumers want. He didn’t know at first why anyone would want to modify a truck back in 2010 when the first Raptor came in. “One of our techs built a custom twin-turbo for it because we knew we could tune it,” Hennessey says.

A video on YouTube of the 800 horsepower truck on the dyno tuner went viral. Soon hundreds of inquiries came in and the Hennessey VelociRaptor was born.

The 2017 Hennessey VelociRaptor Ford Raptor Photo: Hennessey/Ford

Photo: Hennessey/Ford

The 2017 Hennessey VelociRaptor Ford Raptor

In the last year the average Raptor customer was spending up to $25,000 on souping up their trucks. Trucks and SUV builds are overwhelming the sports car demand, he says.

There is one guy he’d like to build a truck for: J.J. Watt.

“I would love to build a vehicle for J.J. Watt,” he says. “I think he likes Fords so a VelociRaptor would make perfect sense.”

Hennessey later says over a barbecue lunch that he is even mulling over doing something special with a Jeep Wrangler. Hennessey’s daily vehicle is a 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, which has received an HPE1000 4.5L supercharged upgrade.

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Chron.com gets to take it for a spin at the drag strip next door, the Lonestar Motorsports Park, home to a quarter-mile strip. Hennessey’s modified vehicles are tested and proven by professional drivers and technicians on the strip, which he purchased in 2005.

During weekends with good weather, the track is buzzing with amateur racers from across the region, with their specially tuned garage creations tearing down the track.

Next door to Hennessey is the Lonestar Motorsports Park, home to a quarter-mile strip. Hennessey's modified vehicles are tested and proven by professional drivers and technicians on the strip.  Photo: Craig Hlavaty

Photo: Craig Hlavaty

Next door to Hennessey is the Lonestar Motorsports Park, home to a quarter-mile strip. Hennessey’s modified vehicles are tested and proven by professional drivers and technicians on the strip. 

In the early ’90s, when Hennessey first started modifying Dodge Vipers to reach speeds that were unheard of, car companies were skeptical about the work.

“Once we started getting an established relationship with the manufacturers we started working together, and that was maybe a decade ago,” Hennessey says. “We now call each other for help and pointers when we need something.”

Car people gravitate towards other car people.

Read more about Chron.com’s visit to the Sealy garage next week in the Houston Chronicle…

Craig Hlavaty is a reporter for Chron.com and HoustonChronicle.com.

Published at Tue, 01 May 2018 19:55:30 +0000

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