Between the rampant exotics and the lurking classics, it takes some seriously special sheetmetal to stand out in car-clogged Malibu. But this triumphantly conspicuous ride is John Hennessey's stab at the already imposing Ford F-150 Raptor, a wicked transmogrification of the offroad-effective 4x4 into an over-the-top six-wheeled, three-axle'd behemoth. And here I am, trying to keep this hulking steed centered in its lane on the gently winding Kanan Dume Road, when a carload of teenagers fills my rearview, dangling dangerously out of their tiny Mazda3 to gawk at my outlandish, $350,000 rig. Look at this thing. Can you blame them?
The Hennessey VelociRaptor 6X6 starts life as a fully loaded off-the-shelf Ford F-150 Raptor SuperCrew and undergoes extensive surgery that includes sawing and extending the frame rail around four feet, shifting the rear axle aft of a newly installed second axle, and replicating the remote reservoir Fox racing shocks across all four rear wheels which pivot off the frame and are linked by a leafspring setup. The rear differential can still be locked via a dashboard button, but now passes through an extra gearset that's been sourced from a third party supplier Hennessey prefers not to mention by name. Huskier tires add 1.5 inches of height, and along with the lifted suspension the overall altitude gain measures 8 inches.
The VelociRaptor's expanded proportions add about 1,000 pounds to the donor car's 5,697-lb curb weight. The newfound portliness is countered by engine enhancements that boost the 3.5-liter V6's output to 600 horsepower and 622 lb-ft of torque, more than 600 lb-ft of which is available between 3,600 and 5,200 rpm. Tweaks to mill include revised intake, exhaust, intercooler, and blowoff valve components, adding 150 horsepower. For those keeping score at home, internal testing at Hennessey's Texas facility recorded a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.8 seconds – not bad for a nearly 7,000-pound machine.
For what it's worth, Hennessey says the engine's internals weren't altered and that it was possible to coax more power out of the 3.5-liter engine, though the current mods are comfortable enough to warrant the 3-year, 36-month warranty. Also untouched is the 10-speed automatic transmission, which has handled up to 700 horsepower in previously modified Raptors. Hennessey says he's confident the stock transmission can handle the loads.
The VelociRaptor feels big – undeniably, in-your-face, no-way-to-ignore-it ginormous. Hennessey didn't want to lift the suspension any further because it wouldn't have been easy to climb into, and his point is well taken: climbing aboard requires a bit of a step up for my 32-inch inseam, but not so much that it's awkward. Apart from the elevated stance and a limited edition plaque on the dashboard, the 6X6 looks like any other Raptor from the inside.
But when you pull that gearshift lever into Drive it's crucial to keep in mind that this truck's diminished turning radius and elongated rump makes low-speed maneuvering a bit more tricky. Thankfully, Ford's 360-degree camera works as it should, as does its reverse monitor. You'll have to consider the vehicle's 23-plus feet of length when parking, as backing these 3.5 tons of truck into a parking spot creates a rather ponderous game of Tetris (with a touch of Alice in Wonderland dimensionality). There's surprisingly little overhang at the rear in order to keep as much mass towards the center of the vehicle, and that means the rear tires will touch concrete parking dividers sooner than you might expect – no big deal really, since they can squash virtually anything they pass over.
Once you've departed the parking lot and hit the road, things are surprisingly manageable in the über Raptor. Sure, there's the ongoing challenge of keeping this 86.3-inch wide beast centered in your lane, but there's also the strange power of intimidation over your fellow road travelers, which brings with it an inherent sense of control and confidence. With sufficient steering feedback and throttle response baked into its architecture, the VelociRaptor conveys enough information to the driver to keep it from being disconcerting during low-to-medium speed cornering.
But there's also a whole lot going on dynamically, especially since the ride is a bit stiffer than stock despite the slightly softer valving on the rear shocks. Visualizing how a two-axle vehicle addresses the road is relatively straightforward, since weight is constantly transferring between two axes: front/rear, and left/right. But imagining two sets of rear wheels articulating over bumps and road irregularities adds considerably more complexity to the equation.
How is the chassis managing those forces, how much is it flexing, and how are each of the axles managing the constantly changing damping loads and movements? My butt-o-meter was, admittedly, confused. But my rational brain did continuously remind my cautious instinct that there is more lateral grip than I might suspect thanks to those six massive contact patches keeping the truck connected to tarmac. After a couple runs up and down the fairly steeply graded Kanan Dume Road, the VelociRaptor started feeling more manageable and, dare I say, easy to drive. Three-point turns, however, still required careful planning, as did merging onto the highway due to the truck's enormous footprint and considerable momentum as it gets rolling.
Once you get over the 6X6's sheer size, the sound becomes the next element to capture your attention. Twin, side-mounted exhaust pipes belt out a bass-heavy soundtrack. Lay into the throttle and the decibels pour out generously, as does the acceleration. Though it's not supercar quick, the VelociRaptor has enough urgency to belie its size. That being said, in Sport mode I would have preferred the 10-speed automatic to downshift more eagerly in order to keep the engine in its sweet spot.
Overriding in manual mode and using the paddle shifters helps somewhat, but ideally the system would be a tad more aggressive without the intervention. I also noticed an occasional tendency for power transfer to pulse a bit during acceleration on uphill stretches, as though the throttle was alternating instead of delivering constant power. But the VelociRaptor nonetheless also manages to feel planted and secure as it negotiates large sweepers at highway speeds, and its brakes are effective enough to encourage a bit of right pedal bravery. Further stopping power is available with a 6- and 4-piston Brembo upgrade, to the tune of $25,000.