Well known to avid sports-car enthusiasts and racing fans, Panoz Auto Development came to life early in the 1990s by producing a roadster called the AIV (aluminum-intensive vehicle). The first roadsters were hand-built and had aluminum bodies atop steel tube frames. Headquartered near Atlanta, Panoz (pronounced PAY-nose) began to participate in major endurance races during 1998 and won the U.S. Road Racing Championship.
Joining the original roadster is the new two-seat, luxury rear-drive Esperante, which blends such contemporary styling touches as flush oval headlights with the overall look of a classic European sports car, centering on a long hood and short rear deck. The first Esperante prototype appeared at Detroits North American International Auto Show early in 1999. Not until February 2001 was the first car delivered to a customer by company founder and president Daniel Panoz. By that time, according to the company, nearly 400 deposits had been received.
In November 2000, Panoz announced that Trans Am racing versions of the Esperante would be available during the 2001 season. An Esperante GTS with a 385-horsepower, 5.8-liter Ford V-8 engine can be ordered for participation in Sports Car Club of America club events. Panoz also continues to offer the AIV model, billed as a pure open-cockpit roadster, for $62,500.
Riding atop a modular aluminum chassis, the Esperantes body also is constructed of aluminum and shaped by a superplastic forming process adapted from the aerospace industry. This method is claimed to produce stronger, more uniform results than the usual metal-stamping processes. In addition, the body panels are said to be more dent-resistant and able to accept paint more effectively.
The front section of the convertible top is made of aluminum, while the rear is hand-sewn canvas that is hinged in the middle so the top lies flat atop the rear deck. Esperantes can be hand painted to customer specifications. Esperantes have a fully independent suspension, all-disc brakes and 17-inch tires. Measuring 176.3 inches in length, the roadster rides a 106-inch wheelbase and stands 53.4 inches high.
Hand-sewn leather bucket seats for two blend with wood interior trim, a theme common to high-priced sports cars. Gauges are positioned at the center of the dashboard rather than mounted in front of the driver, which is customary in most cars. Standard features include a 300-watt Alpine CD stereo, cruise control, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, a tilt steering wheel and variable intermittent wipers.
Under the Hood
A hand-assembled, 4.6-liter dual overhead cam V-8 engine is supplied by Ford. Similar to the powerplant installed in the SVT Mustang Cobra, the Esperantes engine produces 320 hp and works with a Tremec five-speed-manual transmission. Because of this powertrain, Esperantes can be serviced at Ford, Lincoln-Mercury or the 50 Panoz dealerships in the United States. Two-man teams at Fords SVT (Special Vehicle Team) facility sign engine blocks. A limited-slip differential is standard. Panoz claims that an Esperante can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds or less, reach 100 mph in 12.6 seconds and run a quarter-mile in 13.7 seconds (reaching 103.5 mph).
Dual front airbags and antilock brakes are standard. The electronic stability system has a defeat switch.