Well known to sports-car enthusiasts and racing fans, Panoz Auto Development came to life early in the 1990s as a low-volume manufacturer of a roadster called AIV (aluminum-intensive vehicle). The first roadsters were hand-built and had aluminum bodies on top of steel tube frames. Based near Atlanta, Panoz (pronounced PAY-nose) began to participate in major endurance races during 1998 and won the U.S. Road Racing Championship.
Production of the original roadster ended in 1999, but by then Panoz was busily working on a new two-seat, rear-wheel-drive Esperante luxury roadster that blends such contemporary styling touches as flush oval headlights. This lighting feature gives the Esperante the overall look of a classic European sports car. An Esperante prototype appeared at Detroits North American International Auto Show in early 1999. Not until February 2001 was the first car delivered to a customer, and that was done by company founder and president Daniel Panoz. By that time, the company says nearly 400 purchase deposits had been received.
Panoz buys hand-assembled, 4.6-liter V-8 engines from Ford. This power plant is similar to the one used in the SVT Mustang Cobra. The version in the Esperante produces 320 horsepower and mates with a five-speed-manual transmission.
As if the Esperante isnt rare enough on the road, Panoz is issuing a special edition in 2002. Known as the Magnussen Edition, its one of 10 Drivers Edition Esperantes in the works. Each will commemorate one of the drivers for the Panoz Motorsports team. This first model honors Danish racing-team member Jan Magnussen and features hand-selected suspension settings, brakes, wheels, tires, seats, trim, colors and other details, including a carbon fiber engine cover and special leather luggage. The list price is $116,265, vs. $88,950 for the regular Esperante.
No other significant changes are noted for the 2002 model year. As of early 2002, the company says a total of 65 Esperantes have been sold in the United States.
Esperante, the Panoz company notes, translates to hope or spirit and is said to be a fitting name for a vehicle with the soul to challenge the belief of what a sports car should be. Its called a vehicle for enlightened enthusiasts pure and simple.
Trans Am racing versions of the Esperante have been available. The Esperante GTS is fitted with a 385-hp, 5.8-liter Ford V-8 engine and can be ordered for participation in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) events.
Exhibiting classic sports car styling, the RWD Esperante features a long-hood/short-deck profile and elegant, flowing lines. Sitting atop a modular aluminum chassis are aluminum body panels shaped by a superplastic forming process thats been adapted from the aerospace industry. This superplastic method is claimed to produce stronger, more uniform results than the usual metal-stamping processes. These 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. The pieces are hinged in the middle so the top lies flat on top of the rear deck. The Esperante has a fully independent suspension, all-disc brakes and 17-inch Michelin tires on aluminum wheels. It rides a 106-inch wheelbase, measures 176.3 inches in overall length and stands 53.4 inches high. Each car can be hand painted to customer specifications.
Two hand-sewn leather bucket seats blend with wood interior trim, which is a common cockpit theme in high-priced sports cars. The gauges are positioned at the center of the dashboard rather than mounted in front of the driver. Standard features include a 300-watt Alpine CD stereo, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry and variable intermittent wipers. Cargo capacity is 11.6 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
Ford supplies the hand-assembled, 4.6-liter, dual-overhead-cam V-8 engine. Similar to the power plant installed in the SVT Mustang Cobra, the Esperantes engine produces 320 hp and 317 pounds-feet of torque and teams with a Tremec five-speed-manual transmission. Esperantes can be serviced at Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships or by the nearly 50 Panoz dealerships in the United States.
Two-man teams at Fords SVT (Special Vehicle Team) facility sign the engine blocks. A limited-slip differential is standard. Panoz claims the 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). According to the company, the Magnussen Edition can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and do the quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds.
Dual front airbags and antilock brakes are standard. The electronic traction control system has a defeat switch that deactivates the system.