Note: Back in the summer of 2004, I was invited by Panoz Automobiles to their home in Atlanta, GA (USA) to test both versions of the Esperante, one normally aspirated and one with a supercharger. Here are my unedited accounts from the old test.
– It’s not often that a new car company makes its way into Canada, however in the last few years, we have seen Kia and more recently Mitsubishi make their way onto our shores, hoping to end up on our driveways.
The most recent addition is perhaps the most exciting of them all. I am referring to Panoz cars.
The first thing people ask after attempting to pronounce its name correctly is, what is it?
In a nutshell, Panoz Auto Development is a low-volume American car company, that basically opened its doors way back in 1988. Their first production car, the Panoz AIV Roadster made its debut in 1990.
The Esperante has been on sale since the year 2000, however production only really started to pick up in 2003. However, 2004 will be their record production year with
170 cars expected to roll off the line. That is really miniscule numbers, I mean, even Ferrari makes more cars than that in a month than Panoz does in a whole year. So the buyer of Panoz cars are definitely going to get an exclusive car, but is there anything more to it than that?
Well that is why I made the trip to Atlanta, GA to visit the factory and drive the cars to
see what they are all about.
The first thing you’ll learn is, that this is not like any other car made in America. The production techniques might look old school, but the materials used are nothing but modern. The chassis is made from aircraft grade aluminum, the body is also made of
aluminum, the interior is trimmed in the finest leather and for additional trimming, you can choose between wood or carbon-fiber finishes.
The options carry on in respect to the engines too. You can either have the normally aspirated 4.6 liter, V8 from the Ford SVT boys, producing 320 hp, or the
supercharged version of that engine which produces a silly grin inducing 420 hp. You get transmission choices too, you can have a four-speed automatic, a five-speed manual or a six-speed manual gearbox.
The point behind Panoz cars is to built the best small volume cars on the planet, and to prove that even an American car company can build a proper sports car, that can handle the corners like the very best cars from Europe.
I was allowed to drive the cars on both the roads around Atlanta and on the track at Road Atlanta Raceway. The handling really comes as a pleasant surprise. American
cars usually have a mushy chassis, just drive a Corvette C5 convertible, and you’ll know what I mean.
The Panoz however feels light on its feet, and can really be tossed into corners in ways I just wasn’t expecting it to, but am glad it did. It can bite you, but the limits are quite a bit higher than you might expect.
While the handling might be top notch, the go power is not all that spectacular. The base engine only has 320 hp, and while the GTLM versions have the more muscular 420 hp, it’ll still be left behind by the Dodge Viper SRT-10 with 500 hp, which just happens to cost a whole lot less also.
Performance numbers hence are respectable, yet not spectacular. The regular Esperante should sprint to 100 km/h from stop in 5.5 seconds, and tops out at 255 km/h, while the GTLM should do the same sprint in 4.7 seconds and top out at 285 km/h.
The gearbox certainly won’t be the reason you’d buy this car. The Tremec manual gearboxes on offer (same as in a MG X-power SV) are so notchy that they need a
map to get guided into the next gear slot, especially third gear. Perhaps the gearbox is the biggest sour note in regards to this car.
Then there is the price, which started at $115,000 for a base coupe, most convertibles are around $125,000, and a GTLM can be as much as $165,000. That is a lot of money for a car that comes from a manufacturer not many people know about.
This might sound like I disapprove of Panoz cars, but the truth is far from it. Despite their shortfalls, the Esperante manages to do what most of today’s sportscars fail to do, and that is to offer something quite unique. It felt special being in this car, and it would put a smile on my face every time I went for a drive. It might not be perfect, but perhaps its idiosyncrasies add to its character. Then there is the rarity factor, having a car that would make people point and look, and not running into another one on the road, adds to its appeal.
So this is how I look at it, if you are a first time millionaire, you probably won’t be interested in this car. However, if you’ve had your Porsche’s and Ferrari’s and want to try something different, then take a very close look at one of these. Who knows, maybe one day it’ll find a home on your driveway too.