When I drive a car, I can tell in the first 5 minutes what demand the public will have for modifying that vehicle and if there are areas on the car that would need to improve performance. If manufacturers made perfect cars I wouldn’t be in business. Part of my job is to find out what areas they didn’t address.
Tell us about your experience manufacturing composite parts?
Composites are a tricky business. There are many essential carbon fiber parts on the Hennessey Venom GT supercar because I believe that composites are the future of lightweight components for cars. We conceptualized the Venom GT a few years ago and wanted to make it stronger without continuously upping the horsepower. Instead, we incorporated more carbon fiber parts, which made the car lighter but also cooler looking. That was an essential part of the design since aesthetics play a huge part in the acceptance of supercars in the race car industry. We’re moving towards manufacturing our own composite parts to lower our costs importing, so we’re in the shopping market for an autoclave.
What are some of the other ways your company is interested in composites?
We started a school at our facility in Sealy, Texas approximately four years ago to teach car enthusiasts how to modify cars. Our 14-week program covers the fundamentals of modifying cars, and soon we’d like to start an advanced tuner course dedicated to composite work. It could be a course to get people interested in working with us and to teach auto enthusiasts about building custom composite components. So we can influence the next group of performance technicians and our next group will understand composite components.
What would help to bring more composite parts into your market?
Composites are certainly already a huge part in the automotive aftermarket and performance industry. It all depends on the vehicle and volume to bring more composites in. As for my personal use, once composites become more of an economical option then there’s much more we can implement in our designs.
How have things changed since your team created the Hennessey Viper for Car & Driver?
When the Dodge Viper first launched in the 1990’s, it was just another car coming into the shop. But we started getting recognition within the Viper community for our work. The office phone blew up after the Viper GTS came out and we had at least 35 Vipers in the shop. We never would’ve anticipated the potential or enthusiasm for one type of vehicle. But that’s how we built our business – we were known as the “Viper guys.” In 2007, we wanted to start filtering away from just that image. Our journey has been successful but we never would’ve done it without the Viper community. The 2013 Viper will be out later this year and we already have a few orders from customers interested in work on their future cars.