Motor Mouth: From sublime to ridiculous at 435 km/h

Somewhere, someplace, someone is contemplating buying a Hennessey Venom GT over a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. He will not choose the new 1,244-horsepower hypercar over the merely 1,200-hp Veyron because it is built in the United States. He — and it is always a he; those of the XX persuasion have far too much sense for such shenanigans — will not opt for Texas hubris over German engineering because the Venom is prettier, more comfortable or even better handling than the Veyron. And it most certainly won’t be because the Hennessey is a little more affordable than the Bugatti’s 2.5 million dollar MSRP.

Nope, what will get said plutocrat, oligarch or drug lord to fork over the requisite US $1 million is the recent news that a Venom GT, driven by former Michelin test driver Brian Smith, clocked 270.49 miles per hour racing along the Kennedy Space Center’s shuttle landing strip in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Watch the Hennessey Venom GT set a new speed record

Now, in and of itself, that’s a pretty impressive figure, especially converted into a metric-friendly 435.311 kilometres an hour. But what’s getting all the attention in the media this week isn’t the Venom’s turn of speed in absolute terms, but that it is faster than Bugatti’s formerly all-conquering Veyron. Indeed, much ado is being made of the fact that Hennessey’s twice-turbo road rocket is 0.63 mph faster than the most rapid of quadruply turbocharged Bugattis.

If that sounds like a petty advantage on which to rest laurels, then you’re in complete agreement with your normally horsepower-obsessed Motor Mouth. Not only is top speed the least significant of performance metrics for an automobile ostensibly designed for public roads (and let us now all bow our heads and pray that none of the nimrods that can afford such beasts ever try to replicate this feat on the street), but said advantage only climbs out of the fractional — to 1.01 — when we convert it into lesser kilometres an hour. Petty doesn’t even begin to describe two billionaires arguing over which of their multi-million supercars is faster when you just know that both probably soil their drawers every time they get it over half throttle (the Hennessey, though nominally faster, can’t be recognized by the Guinness World Book of records because it failed to make two-passes at its top speed). If anyone needs an automotive metaphor proving that the world’s income inequality issue has left the sublime far behind, this is it.

One could blame John Hennessey for further perpetuating such folly. Or Ferdinand Piech (the Volkswagen Group’s supervisory board chairman and the motivating force behind the creation of the Veyron) for starting it. But, the simple truth is that they can indulge themselves in such silliness because they know there’s some nouveau riche dot-com’er out there with nothing left do with his money, aching for a little automotive one-upmanship no matter how insignificant.

Bugatti shows off its $1.5 million Veyron at the Chicago Auto Show.

Bugatti shows off its $1.5 million Veyron at the Chicago Auto Show.
Scott Olson, Getty Images

And the upper end of the car market is literally awash in trinkets appealing to the fantastically well-to-do. Porsche, McLaren and Ferrari have all recently unveiled (the 918, P1 and LaFerrari, respectively) hyper-hybrids whose mega motors are only matched by their mega price tags. Indeed, there would be a fourth contender for the fastest “green” car on the planet except that Jaguar didn’t think the C-X75 could support the requisite MSRP because hedge fund managers didn’t think the Jaguar brand would cause enough envy amongst the hoi polloi.

Gallery: The 10 most expensive cars in the world

Nor is automobiledom’s price divergence limited to the uber-rich. The fact Tesla sold almost as many US $75,000 Model S’s as Nissan USA did $30,000 Leafs is less proof that electric propulsion is taking over from internal combustion than it is that the rich are getting a little self-righteous about their playthings. And one just has to drive by one of the newly constructed Porsche, BMW or Mercedes glass towers that pass as local dealerships in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal to realize that the Canadian reputation for modesty (yes, even amongst our wealthy) is under fire.

Don’t get me wrong, I will readily confess to a fondness for outrageous automobiles and, in the spirit of full disclosure, will further admit I will be overjoyed when I test the aforementioned McLaren P1 next Friday. Nor am I in any way renouncing my ardent belief in the power of the free market (though income-redistributing Liberals such as Chrystia Freeland certainly make an argument that Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics has failed the middle class). And there’s probably a valid historical argument detailing that laissez-faire capitalism — which is getting the blame for all this income inequality — is also the best route out of this economy-destroying morass.

But it doesn’t change the fact that two rock stars arguing the merits of 435.311 km/h versus 434.298 is surely a sign of some Joseph P. Kennedy-like economic apocalypse. Even the shoeshine boys among us can figure that one out.

The McLaren P1 at the Canadian International AutoShow 2014.

The McLaren P1 at the Canadian International AutoShow 2014.
Dylan Leeder, Driving

About David Booth