It was back in 1991 that John Hennessey got married and modified his daily driver, a Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4 so he could enter the Nevada Open Road Challenge (finished fourth) and the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, and make speed runs on the Bonneville Salt Flats (setting a class record 177 mph) and the Silver State Challenge (overall winner, again averaging 177 for the 90-mile distance).
Even with all that, Hennessey and his newlywed, Hope, found time that year to start a new business (he had been in the environmental remediation business), and 30 years later, Hennessey Performance of Sealy, Texas, has produced more than 10,000 high-performance vehicles for customers.
As part of its 30th anniversary celebration, Hennessey Performance shared its “top 10 cars of all time:”
“At the end of 1991, looking back at that year of motorsport, I realized I’d learned the first rule of auto racing – if you want to make a small fortune in racing, start with a larger one!” Hennessey said in his company’s anniversary news release.
“To continue my passion, I knew I’d have to find a way to pay for it. So, I thought, if Carroll Shelby and Alois Ruf could make a living by building and modifying cars then maybe I could, too – that’s how our company began.”
In the beginning, working out of a rented garage with one other employee, Hennessey modified turbochargers and intake and exhaust systems for the 3000 GT, its cousin, the Dodge Stealth, and the Toyota Supra and Mazda RX-7.
Two years later, he created the 500-horsepower Dodge Viper Venom 550 for a customer and also produced an aftermarket hardtop for Dodge’s exotic V10-powered roadster. Hennessey helped found the Viper Club of America, and his shop rolled out the Venom 600, and then the 650, which in 1997 posted a top speed of 203 mph.
By the turn of the century, the Venom 800 and 1000 models were ready, the shop staff grew to 5 employees, and the Hennesseys had 5 children, at which point John Hennessey retired from racing.
But while he left racing, he didn’t leave race tracks and in 2004 bought the Lonestar Motorsports complex, a drag strip with return roads that he turned into a test track with a 30,000-square-foot production facility (staffed in 2021 by 50 employees and by students at the Hennessey Tuner School).
A Venom 800 won a 16-car supercar challenge staged by Car and Driver magazine, a Hennessey-tweaked Ford GT hit 234 mph, and in 2009 development was under way on the purpose-built Hennessey Venom GT, which a Chevrolet LS9 V8 would propel to more than 270 mph.
In 2012, Hennessey headlines continued with the Texas Toll Road SH130 being christened with the Hennessey Cadillac VR1200 hitting 221 mph and the Hennessey Camaro ZL1 running 204.
At The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering in 2018, Hennessey unveiled his own 1,600-horsepower F5 engine, which was designed for a new Venom supercar scheduled to launch during 2021.
Hennessey has shared an hour-long anniversary video podcast: