Panoz Auto Developments – The Road Cars
Part 1 - The History
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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”
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
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)
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?
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
is currently on sale in the USA, Canada and Mexico, but there are
plans afoot to introduce the car to the UK market
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!
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?
Part 2 (here)
covers the Panoz production facility. Here are some of the customer
cars on display at Road Atlanta.