From an article in CarAndDriver Magazine about ten years ago:
Our second Supercar Challenge begins on page 42 of this issue. We spent two days at Michigan International Speedway flogging 15 machines from the top U.S. purveyors of performance. We not only evaluated the cars' performance but also reported their reliability and the comfort and refinement they offer in street driving.So, if you have a burning desire to own one of these rockets, you simply write a check to the speed merchant of your choice, and a few months later you're driving a supercar, right? Well, that part of the ride can get a bit rough once in a while.
For example, in April 2001, according to a detailed Internet posting, one eager buyer sent his Dodge Viper GTS, with a check for $122,500, to Hennessey Motorsports in Houston. The check was for converting his stock Viper into a Hennessey Venom 800 Twin Turbo, and it was supposed to be delivered in 12 weeks. Later, the buyer sent an additional $20,000 to pay for a further horsepower boost to 1000. But the owner didn't get the car back in 12 weeks. In fact, some 10 months later, in February 2002, no work had been done on the car-and worse, according to the buyer, several parts had been removed from his stock Viper and sold off! This owner has since filed a lawsuit against Hennessey seeking the return of his car, his $142,500, and the usual "punitive damages."
Another customer with a long-overdue Venom says he went armed with a video camera to confront John Hennessey at his Houston shop. Hennessey reportedly had the customer arrested for making "terroristic threats."
There is, of course, no place in the world where talk is cheaper than on an Internet message board, and a few lurid posts hardly constitute proof of wrongdoing. So I went to the Web site of the Houston Better Business Bureau (Houston Better Business Bureau Homepage - Houston and S. Texas BBB) and searched for Hennessey Motorsports. The BBB reported 12 complaints filed against Hennessey in the past 36 months, of which seven were in the past year. Of the 12 complaints, only one was listed as resolved. To put this performance in context, I ran checks with the local BBBs of every participant in our Supercar Challenge. Just one other complaint turned up, against AutoThority, and it was described as "resolved."
Then I went to Dun & Bradstreet, the financial research firm, where for $117 I purchased a comprehensive report on Hennessey Motorsports. For comparison, I also purchased a report on the well-known Lingenfelter Performance Engineering. The report indicated that LPE was financially sound, with no liens, lawsuits, or judgments pending against it. In contrast, the Hennessey report revealed that courts have four times ruled against the company and that there are 10 lawsuits currently in various stages and three liens. The D&B report also provided a "Financial Stress National Percentile" rating, measured on a 1-to-100 scale, with 100 being the best possible score. Hennessey's company had a rating of one. (LPE had a 79.)
Hennessey first attracted our attention about 10 years ago when he souped up a Mitsubishi 3000GT to run in the Silver State Classic, the flat-out race in Nevada. We were very impressed with our drive of that car-he was only 28 then-as we were later with his first fortified Dodge Viper, which we tested in September 1993.
Between that first Viper and the Venom 800 Twin Turbo in this issue, we've tested three progressively faster Venoms. None of them ever broke. Every one endured our brutal battery of tests, including top-speed runs up to 207 mph for the '99 Venom 560R.
In addition to producing fast, reliable machinery, Hennessey is a kindred spirit, a good guy, delighted with the performance he's achieving and always planning to go even faster. We've always had fun when he's delivered a car to us. His frequent trips from Houston to Ann Arbor to deliver his cars also impressed us. You might think supplying test cars to obtain editorial coverage in the world's largest car magazine is a no-brainer business decision, but many cash-strapped tuners can't afford to invest time in a magazine test (the Supercar Challenge took three days total, plus travel) that provides no immediate cash return, no matter what the long-term benefits may be.
Hennessey's history of building and delivering strong-running cars was completely at odds with the widely circulated rumors about customer dissatisfaction. But the BBB and D&B reports suggested that it was time to ask Hennessey a few questions. When we raised these matters, Hennessey declined to go into any details about cases that were in litigation, but he did admit some problems in the recent past.
"I have to say that there have been issues in being able to deliver cars on time. We're building our fourth set of turbo headers and down pipes, and that particular system has taken longer to get out. I used a supplier [for the turbo exhaust manifolds], and they're out of business. I paid them a six-figure sum of money way back when and got little out of it."
What about the complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau? "When I've gotten a complaint from the BBB, I've tried to resolve it with the customer, but I did not go back and respond to the BBB with some sort of follow-up. That's something that, in retrospect, I should have done and still can do."
What about the D&B report? "We have had our ups and downs in the business, and without getting into specifics, if there's been a judgment in the past, we have had to pay to take care of it. We'll continue to make an effort to resolve any issues and keep moving forward."
How can you reassure your customers? "Generally, now we're not scheduling the work into the shop until we have all the parts ready for the car. That way, the car only comes into our shop when the work is being performed. Ultimately, the best PR for me is delivering a car that performs and then the customer goes out and tells everybody he's happy with it."
Word of mouth will certainly be key to Hennessey's future success. Meanwhile, it's worth remembering that buying one of the road burners we write about in this issue is more like commissioning an artist to paint your portrait in oil than buying a mass-produced car from a mainstream dealer. I recommend plenty of research, clear communication regarding costs and expectations, and a large dose of patience.
"Supercars Can Bite as Hard as They Can Run" -- Csaba Csere
He also ripped off a buddy on a SRT Viper Ram owner on a engine upgrade. $50,000 and all he ever got was a blue cloud smoke screen exhaust. Most of us in the USA know this crook. He deals with the overseas market now where they havent a clue who it is.
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