Panoz Auto Developments – The Road Cars
Part 1 - The History

dailysportscar.comEver since Don Panoz brought the ‘Batmobile’ GTR-1s to Le Mans in 1997 the marque has become beloved of sportscar racing fans worldwide. This manufacturer has always done it differently, with its front-engined format breaking the mould, first in GT1, and then with the LMP Roadster in LMP900.

Despite the fact that the effort was up against the Audi steamroller, there were some remarkable successes for the team, race wins in Europe and North America lifting the spirits of fans on both sides of the Atlantic.

dailysportscar.comThe GTR-1 (including the unique hybrid ‘Sparky’, the body for which the factory still holds, but the chassis now no longer exists after being converted to an LMP and destroyed in an accident) was followed by the equally popular LMP Roadster and then the less successful ‘Alien’ LMP07, the factory then reverting to an updated version of the earlier roadster, before commencing the current Esperante GTLM GT2 programme two years ago.

Alongside the racing efforts there is of course the road car business, and a successful and popular enterprise it is too: the “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” ethos is alive and well here.

Under the tutelage of Daniel Panoz the company has grown from a standing start in 1989 to a fully equipped factory that turns out stunningly engineered sportscars, ones which put many other longer established exotica to shame.

dsc accompanied Team LNT’s Lawrence Tomlinson on a tour of Panoz Auto Developments’ impressive 100,000 square foot assembly plant near Hoschton, Georgia (in the build-up to Petit Le Mans), to see what sets these cars apart from the sportscar pack.

dailysportscar.comJohn A. Leverett, Panoz’s Head of Sales and Marketing (his son John M. is the company’s R&D and Engineering director), first showed us the factory’s small museum, with a fascinating selection of the landmark cars from the company’s short but eventful history.

First up was the 1990 Panoz Roadster, the company’s first born road car, based on a Frank Costin chassis design purchased by Panoz as part of the liquidated assets of the Irish Thompson Motor Company. It is an aluminium bodied (as with all of the Panoz road cars) and stainless steel chassis’d car, and it started the Panoz heritage in the way the company has continued ever since - with a Ford V8 up front (a 5 litre version in this case).

The museum car is the Roadster used by Father and Son, Don and Danny, to tour Europe.

The company soon decided to take a step up though, and the outwardly similar Panoz AIV – Aluminum Intensive Vehicle – was next on the stocks. As its name implies, this car has “aluminium everything” and switched to the Ford SVT 4.6 litre V8.

All in all 500 of the Roadsters and AIVs were built and Leverett proudly reveals that at least two of these have over 100,000 miles on them.

The museum car is a 1999 version, actually the last car built before the company moved up yet another step to introduce the Esperante in 2000.

Before we get to the Esperante though, there are a couple of ‘specials’ to whet the appetite.

dailysportscar.comFirst up is the bright purple Panoz GTR-1 road car. This car was purchased (very briefly) by UK TV personality Noel Edmonds – it was repurchased by the factory immediately after Edmonds had driven it to the 1997 Le Mans 24 Hours. No mean feat in itself as the ‘road car’ is actually a racecar with a road car interior.

Lawrence Tomlinson tried it for size and declared it “actually rather easier to get into than the TVR Cerbera Speed 12.”

The all conquering 2002 Esperante Trans Am racecar was alongside, one of only two ever built (the other still races but now carries a Jaguar XKR body). The car dominated the Trans-Am Championship to such a degree that it was banned at the end of the season. But during that season, taking on seven ‘factory’ Corvettes and six ‘factory’ Mustangs, it won both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles, Tony Ave and Boris Said ensuring that the car was on the podium at every single race that season.

dailysportscar.comFinally (almost) was a sectioned Esperante chassis, showing clearly where the factory has applied advanced engineering techniques to construct an immensely strong chassis, with super-light “superformed” aluminium bodywork.

Standing alongside were two shining V8 engines representing the two baseline engine specs. fitted to the Esperante.

Both are hand built by Ford SVT as 4.6 litre, V8, 4 cam, 4 valve units, the ‘base’, normally aspirated, motor producing a healthy 300bhp and the supercharged unit fitted in the Esperante GTLM pushing out a heady 420 bhp (conservatively estimated!).

“That engine is a stunning piece of work and with the (six speed) Tremec ‘box it just rips the horizon, ” said LNT’s Lawrence Tomlinson. He should know, having imported a GTLM convertible into the UK alongside the first two (of a planned three) GTLM racecars, to replace the TVR T400Rs in the team’s LMES (and elsewhere) racing armoury.

Leverett explained that the supercharged unit can easily be uprated to quite spectacular power outputs. How does 650bhp in a car weighing just over 1.5 metric tonnes grab you?

The factory turns out an average of around 125 Esperantes per year, the car featuring an incredibly clever, all-bonded chassis (no welds), with aircraft grade alloy chassis, and with bolt on crumple zones, the car meets all US Federal safety standards (of which more in Part II).

The Esperante is currently on sale in the USA, Canada and Mexico, but there are plans afoot to introduce the car to the UK market

Just outside the museum was the small production facility for the Esperante one-make race car, with a new chassis under construction. This model is a simple and sturdy club racer, again with the obligatory V8, and comes in “any colour you like as long as it’s white” (or green!). One major plus for the ‘impoverished’ club racer is that the Thermoplastic body can be replaced completely for just $1400. A rare racing bargain!

Variants of the car can be found at the Panoz racing schools (which have taken a total of 90 cars) and at the Marlboro Penske Race School (a further 16 cars), but club racers have flocked to the car too: a total of 75 cars have been privately purchased. Two have so far made their way to Europe, one written off in a crash in Germany and the second, a car familiar to dsc readers, currently runs in the Dutch Supercar Challenge. Are there perhaps plans afoot for more to cross the pond?

Full details of the final occupant of the ‘museum’ cannot be revealed here, but suffice to say that Panoz is not sitting still: the next step forward, codenamed ‘Abruzzi’, will see even more advanced technology and exotic materials utilised in what deserves to be a car that even more people have heard of worldwide.

With the efforts of the factory race team now supported in Europe by Team LNT, perhaps that might happen sooner than you think?
Graham Goodwin

Part 2 (here) covers the Panoz production facility. Here are some of the customer cars on display at Road Atlanta.


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