Panoz may not be a household name among most consumers, but this low-volume manufacturer is well-known among sports-car enthusiasts and racing fans.
Based near Atlanta, Panoz (pronounced PAY-nose) produced its first hand-built roadster in 1991, using an aluminum body on a steel tube frame. The A.I.V. (aluminum intensive vehicle) roadster followed in 1997, which was an upgrade of the original car. Panoz began racing in major endurance races such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans the same year and won the U.S. Road Racing Championship in 1998.
The latest offering is the Esperante, a roadster that goes on sale in May 2000 at a base price just under $80,000. Panoz plans to build 300 units per year, and the company says it already has deposits from more than 160 prospective buyers.
Graceful, flowing styling with a long hood and short rear deck give the Esperante the look of a classic European sports car, but flush oval headlights add contemporary touches in front. The rear-drive Esperante is built on a modular aluminum chassis, and the aluminum body is shaped by an aerospace industry technique called superplastic forming process that Panoz says is stronger and more uniform than conventional stamping processes.
The front section of the power-operated top is aluminum and the rear section is canvas, with the two pieces hinged in the middle so they lay flat on top of the rear deck.
Panoz says the hand-painted Esperante is available in any color a customer desires.
The Esperante has the requisite leather bucket seats and wood interior trim expected on a high-priced sports car, but it also has an unexpected feature: The gauges are mounted dead center on top of the dashboard, between the driver and passenger, and there is nothing directly ahead of the steering wheel.
Under the Hood
Panoz buys hand-assembled 4.6-liter V-8s from Ford for the Esperante. They are dual camshaft versions with 320 horsepower the same engine as the Ford Mustang SVT Cobra and they team with a five-speed manual transmission.
The relationship with Ford means the Esperante can be serviced at Ford or Lincoln Mercury dealers, in addition to the 40 Panoz dealers in the United States.