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John Hennessey’s twin-turbo Ferrari 458 is 738 hp of rolling hyperbole: Motoramic Drives

23 August 2013

The Ferrari 458 Spider: An emotional roller coaster, brimming with eccentricity, brought to earth as one of the finest supercars the Prancing Horse has ever delivered. Its capricious character keeps the driver honest, and its effervescent personality enthralls. So why would you ruin it by adding more power?

That’s the question I sought to answer last week in Pebble Beach, as John Hennessey and his Hennessey Performance revealed his latest creation — a 738-hp, twin-turbo Ferrari 458.

Keen enthusiasts will recognize the Hennessey name, as he offers performance upgrades for practically every vehicle on the market — even a Ford Taurus. In recent months, the company’s claim to fame has been its Venom GT, partially based on a Lotus, and arguably (if you ask Hennessey himself) the fastest road car in the world.

I’m not opposed to insane tuning, like with the Venom GT. In fact, I welcome it. But adding power to a Ferrari 458 seems, well, pointless. To me, tuner cars should be Nissan GT-Rs and Cadillac CTS-Vs—all of which Hennessey tunes to great acclaim. Both, admittedly, needn’t be touched, but for those that want the ultimate in performance, cars like these offer the perfect platform. Messing with a Ferrari feels like sending your dish back to Thomas Keller for not having enough spice; surely Ferrari's chefs know what's best for their creation.

So what about this Ferrari? Would an owner having just shelled out close to $300,000 on a shiny Italian supercar really have it tuned?

By simply adding two turbos, each with a mild seven psi of boost, power from the 4.5-liter V-8 rockets from 562 hp to 738 hp. Other than some cooling work and a reflash of the Ferrari computer controls, that’s all Hennessey has done. (Oh, and added some custom black wheels.) There are no suspension tweaks, no ride height adjustments, no braking upgrades, nothing. It’s just more raw power.

I fired the engine, readying for my drive. It didn’t rattle. It didn’t clatter. It’s like my wife’s mashed potatoes, perfectly creamy and without lumps. (Most of the time.)

Heading onto the roads around Pebble Beach, even the noise at idle stunned. Ferraris always sound symphonic, yet the whistle from the turbos adds a visceral character. And the first time I laid into the throttle, the thought came to mind: Holy mother of all that is evil, what is this thing thou hast thrust upon me?

Even a 5 mph throttle blip was enough for Pebble Beach-area law enforcement to warn that it would toss the Hennessey into the impound lot if I disturbed too much peninsular peace. The Hennessey causes passersby to leap through bushes, over gates, and ditches; barging young children, pushing grandmothers, and kicking the homeless; just so as they can get a glimpse at what’s making this heavenly sound. One expects Michael Schumacher or Fernando Alonso, and from behind the wheel, you feel like them.

Depressing the gas pedal further only morphs those passersby into terrified, leaping objects, as they retreat back to where they came--fearing the 458 has mutated into a extraterrestrial lawnmower. The entire backdrop turns to a blur, and you don’t even notice the remnants of chaos left behind. Nor the Lamborghini you left in a ditch. Or the 15 police cars chasing behind.

You want to keep stabbing the throttle. You want to shriek in pleasure, and yet wail in terror. This car is unimaginably fast. At little over 3,000 lbs., it sprints to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds. It’ll continue up the quarter mile in 10.5 seconds. It’ll blow your eardrums. And from the outside, you’ll appear jaded and pretentious. Like a Kardashian, only infinitely cooler.

The car remains way too fast for the road. Never will you use the machine for what it’s designed. In my run around the winding roads of Pebble Beach, I barely reached full throttle — and I couldn’t without endangering others. So what, you may ask, is the point? Why spend $59,995 on adding something that, based on all known rationality, doesn’t need adding?

The answer’s simple: Because it makes you feel alive.

Thrill seekers jump off mountains and swim with sharks, while children snort pepper and kick each other in the groin; all with an aim to experience that same rush. This car eradicates hangovers, clears consciences and ruins hair. It’s what the spirit of driving entails. It’s why we love it. It’s what we once imagined that supercar on our bedroom wall would feel like from behind the wheel. In fact, it may be more surreal than even a 14-year-old’s undefiled mind can imagine.

No, you don’t need to add turbos to a Ferrari—in the same way you don’t need that new iPhone. A stock Ferrari 458 is perhaps the greatest car on the market, but Hennessey’s tweaks make it every childhood fantasy. Short of driving a meteor, or a nuclear missile, or the Batmobile (or perhaps a Venom GT), the Hennessey 458 is the craziest, most ludicrous machine in the world. It makes the term “hyperbole” obsolete.

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