We sit down with the famous Texan tuner to talk F5, Deep Space, Koenigsegg and the electric future over a massive plate of sausages
Juggling metric and imperial measurements have always been a struggle. And converting pounds to a weight us Brits understand is by far the trickiest. The only reference we have to something being weighed in ‘lbs’ is a baby. And, with my rough maths, John Hennessey has just ordered an average-sized new-borns worth of sausages, some heavyweight triplets of brisket, ribs and chicken and enough sides to feed a small-to-midsized army.
We’re in Hinze’s BBQ, a taxidermy and stained glassed smokehouse in Sealey Texas where the food is delicious but the lemonade furs your teeth to the point you think you’ve drunk a Pomeranian. Here – more than anywhere – felt appropriate to grill (or should it be grille?) the incredibly hospitable and enthusiastic John Hennessey on the Venom F5 and his plans for the future.
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TG: You announced F5 to the world in 2014. The car landscape has changed massively since then. Have the project’s intentions changed?
JH: No… And yes. No, it hasn’t changed as the original concept was to be the fastest car in the world – we’re still intent on that. I feel under pressure that I must beat Bugatti and I want the F5 to complete a two-way average of over 300mph. Some customers care about that, others don’t. But we said we’d do it and it’s part of our DNA. So we’re going to do it. That’s the no. The yes is that we’ve changed course slightly and made the decision to make the Roadster as we had so much interest. And there are possibly other variants coming in the future.
TG: When will we see the F5 do big, big 300mph-ish kinda speeds?
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JH: I think some perspective is useful to answer that. I believe Bugatti showed the Chiron in 2015, delivered a customer car in 2016 but they didn’t break 300mph until September 2019. So, from the first car to a top speed was three years. We’ve only just delivered our first car, so we don’t need to deliver some top speed news at the same time. But we’re consistently going fast in testing.
TG: With Venom you had years duking it out with Wolfgang Dürheimer and Christian von Koenigsegg – it felt like heavyweight boxing. But just like Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, the top speed race has slowed down.
JH: Top speed only becomes relevant when there’s rivalry. I wish Bugatti ran two directions, but I understand why they didn’t. For us, there’s less impetus and urgency as we want the whole SSC thing to blow over. To some people the perception is we’re in the same camp as we’re American, but we are building and delivering 12-14 cars this year – I have no idea what SSC is doing, it’s not my business.
TG: Are you happy with the F5?
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JH: Hell yeah. I built it to be the fastest, but also to be thrilling and a little bit scary at the same time. I’ve driven and owned a lot of fast cars. I drive a Tesla Model S Plaid daily and have a Porsche 911 Turbo S. They’re extremely fast cars, but I get used to them. I never get used to the F5 – it’s a road-going P51 Mustang with a Merlin engine.
TG: You’re open about the bread-and-butter Hennessey truck and car mod part of the business paying for the F5 project. But the two clients must be very different, right?
JH: Delighting billionaires is a challenge but also very satisfying. It makes you think differently, as it’s hard to impress people who have everything. That’s why I like things like the Treasure Chest – that’s bespoke and comes with a machined aluminum jewelry box, the F5 key complete with Inconel from Space Shuttle Endeavor, charger tow hook and a $5k merino wool car cover. They’re more surprised by that than the car as they’re not expecting it.
TG: There’s so much environmental and pressure to become electrified, do you feel it?
JH: I do feel like we have to progress and to be good citizens of the world. Sustainability is part of that journey but that’s not why we’re doing electrification. Electrification opens up so many doors in design and packaging that’s impossible otherwise. We couldn’t do Deep Space with an internal combustion engine. The skateboard chassis and motors provide exciting innovation potential.
TG: Ah, yes. Deep Space. The all-electric six-wheel-drive hyper GT with a diamond seating layout and over 2,000bhp. So far, I see that being four Herman Miller office chairs in a diamond shape with the dimensions of the car taped down on the floor in an office.
JH: You have to start somewhere. The six-wheel drive and diamond shape seating design was all my idea. Nathan (Hennessey Director of Design, Nathan Malinick) just built around it. And as you saw, it works. In fact, I’ve been thinking about going electric since the Model S came out. Now there’s Rivian and Ford now doing it, but how can we stand out? Deep Space was the answer; Longer wheelbase, bigger battery, six wheels, three axles and lots of traction. I can’t make a hypercar that 5,000lbs – that doesn’t compute to me. Rolls-Royce is an inspiration for Deep Space, we want it to be luxurious as well as fast.
TG: You like records. And electricity opens a new record book. Do you think Deep Space will be a record breaker?
JH: It’s totally a game I’d love to play. I’m all about competition, bragging rights and climbing the next mountain – that’s how we built our brand. With over 2,000bhp I would love Deep Space to be the fastest four-seater from 0-200mph. As we become more successful it’s easy to de-risk. I don’t want to de-risk. What’s that saying? ‘Fortune favours the bold’? Well, I believe in that: fortune favors the bold.