If you've ever driven a Cadillac CTS-V, you know that the main problem is that it's not fast enough. The 98-pound weakling under the hood makes only 556 hp, barely enough to pull Bambi across the proverbial frozen pond. Fortunately, longtime speed merchant John Hennessey recognized the Caddy's noodle-armed feebleness and resolved to do something about it, creating the V700 package at his Texas skunk works. With a little old-fashioned hot-rodding, perhaps the CTS-V could be transformed into something that's not a plodding embarrassment to all America.
Normally I'm not obsessed with a car's numbers, but a tuner car is by nature defined by its numbers -- How much power? How fast? What are you getting that the guy with the stock, factory-warrantied model isn't? So when I get my hands on the Hennessey Cadillac V700 wagon -- a.k.a. the Hammer Wagon -- I ask John Hennessey if I can put it on a dyno and verify the horsepower claim. Sure, he says. I ask if I can take it to a drag strip. He says to let him know where to ship some street-legal Mickey Thompson drag tires. And can I throw a car seat in the back, use this thing for school runs, and possibly get Goldfish cracker crumbs all over the seats? Affirmative.
Test cars from tuners often come shackled to a company engineer, a professional apologist who's constantly tweaking software and explaining why that squirrel in the road back in Boise caused magnetic interference that's killing the torque curve under 3000 rpm. So I'm duly impressed that Hennessey hands me the keys, boards a plane back to Texas, and encourages me to do my worst. No babysitting.
On my first morning with the Hammer Wagon it seems to run rough at idle, stalling once before it warms up. But that's the extent of the foibles for the rest of my week with the car. After a salutary high-rpm throat-clearing on the dynamometer, the CTS-V happily loafs around town and does whatever menial tasks I ask of it, including hauling its own extra tires. You'll probably need new tires rather often with this car.
The V700 package burnishes Caddy's 6.2-liter V-8 with intake and exhaust work, a hot cam, a new supercharger pulley, revised engine-management software, an upgraded intercooler, and some flow work to the heads. I'm simplifying, but essentially Hennessey takes the Cadillac's detuned ZR1 engine and retunes it past Corvette levels and then some. As you might guess, the "700" in the title refers to horsepower. But when I go to the dyno, I find that the V700 doesn't make 700 hp. It makes much more than that.
On two separate runs, the CTS-V averaged 670 hp at the wheels. When you account for driveline losses, that means this engine is closer to 800 hp than it is to 700. And that's without the nitrous system, which is triggered by a sinister red button to the left of the steering wheel. I don't bother with the nitrous, on account of the car seems to get out of its own way pretty well without it.
I do, however, make frequent use of the Caddy's other piece of nonstock switchgear, a discreet toggle on the steering column that diverts the exhaust to a set of unmuffled pipes. Flicking the switch unleashes a sound that I would describe as NASCAR-like, except I don't think Dale Junior's Chevy is actually this loud. The exhaust bypass doesn't give you more power (Hennessey says the mufflers perform modestly better), but it's an essential piece of equipment if you value pure obnoxious silliness, which I do.
A couple days after the dyno's resounding affirmation of the V-8's rude health, I mount the Mickey Thompsons -- size 305/35-19 -- and drive two hours to Darlington Dragway. It's a cool evening with a thin crowd, so I have plenty of time to acclimate to the car and practice my gratuitous water-box burnout technique. Hennessey figures the Hammer Wagon can break into the high-ten-second range in the quarter mile, given the right launch. I've driven a lot of fast cars, but I've never run a ten-second quarter at the drag strip. An 11.00 is McLaren F1 territory.
My first few passes are in the low-eleven-second range, bona fide supercar stats. But on subsequent runs I don't shave much time -- one pass that feels pretty near perfect nets an 11.07. I decide to take a cheeseburger break and leave the hood open for a while to let the supercharger shake off some heat soak.
Post-burger, I pull to the staging lights afraid that tonight's not the night to bag my ten-second pass. Maybe I just don't have the motor skills to handle this motor. But after a particularly indulgent water-box burnout, I decide to brake-torque a little more aggressively off the line, since the tires are as grippy now as they'll ever be. When the Christmas tree flashes from yellow to green, I pop my left foot off the brake and go for it, the Cadillac slamming my helmeted head back into the seat with a monstrous open-piped bellow. Ten seconds or bust.
When I collect my time slip, it reveals that the Hennessey CTS-V wagon just ran a 10.98-second quarter mile at 126 mph. With a child seat in the back. For context, had there been a Ferrari 458 Italia in the opposite lane, it probably would've been a dead heat. That's quite an accomplishment for a car that costs $93,535 all-in, carries a warranty (three years/36,000 miles), and can accommodate a week's worth of groceries beneath its power liftgate.
Back at the spectator area, a local peers at my time slip and notes the stats at the eighth-mile mark. "You were doing 101 mph at the eighth?" he says. "This thing is the sleeper from hell." Another guy shakes his head and declares, "Watch out, Vettes." I throw my helmet in the back seat, head to a nearby gas station, and air up the tires for the drive home. As far as I'm concerned, the baddest family car on the road has nothing else to prove.