While creating Panoz Auto Development's flagship Esperante, company founder Dan Panoz and his team somehow found time to cook up a "spec racer" version. This car, the Esperante GTS, was an affordable turnkey competitor for Sports Car Club of America and National Auto Sport Association events, not to mention the recently established Panoz Racing Series.
Features included a specific body composed of 15 "thermoformed" alloy panels, plus a 430-bhp Ford Motorsports 5.8-liter racing V-8, an eight-point integrated roll cage, high-speed aerodynamic enhancements, and a race-ready weight of just 2700 pounds. Cars like this competed with distinction all over the land and won Panoz the 2002 B.F. Goodrich Trans-Am Manufacturers Championship.
Still available through the small Panoz dealer network (some 50 outlets in major metro areas), the GTS has seen between 50 and 60 copies as of early 2006. The figure is some 200 for another racy early days variation. This is the GTR-A ("Road Atlanta"), a "trainer" for students at the family racing school. It was only to be expected from a company with a Ferrari-like devotion to raceworthy street cars engineered with track-tested technology.
That ethic produced a new Esperante announced in early 2003: the limited-edition, high-performance GTLM -- "LM" for LeMans. By this time, the "classic" Esperante was also available as a "carbon-roof" coupe -- basically the convertible with its folding roof and mechanism exchanged for a lightweight bonded-and-fastened carbon-fiber canopy.
The GTLM also offered this choice, but arrived with its own long-nose/long-tail styling shaped to enhance high-speed stability. That was in order, because the engine was a supercharged 4.6-liter iron-block V-8, basically the latest twincam, 48-valve SVT Mustang Cobra unit tuned for an advertised 420 bhp (versus 390), though the dynamometer showed quite a bit more. There was only one transmission this time, the stout Tremec T56 six-speed manual.
Taking advantage of Esperante's inherent design "modularity," the GTLM introduced an improved rear-suspension assembly. This comprised a new subframe developed with Panoz partner Multimatic, Inc., and featuring lighter, tubular-steel lower control arms bolted to aluminum uprights; new "motorsport-oriented" suspension geometry; and damping by double-isolated coil-over spring/shock units, similar to those up front.
Panoz claimed this setup cut unsprung weight for better handling and also reduced noise, vibration, and harshness, this despite an upgrade from 17- to 18-inch alloy wheels (on P255/45ZR tires).
Weighing less than 3400 pounds, the GTLM performed impressively: 4.2 seconds 0-60 mph, 12.8 seconds at 109.4 mph in the standing quarter-mile, no less than 180 mph all out, and 0.98g on the skidpad (versus 0.92). All this plus EPA-rated fuel economy of 17 mpg city/25 highway and the same plush furnishings as the "unblown" version.
The LM was also treated to more heavily bolstered seats and purposeful aluminum-billet cockpit trim. Cars like this don't come cheaply. The price tag: some $121,000, reasonable for such an exclusive high-speed gran tourismo.
Panoz unveiled the Esperante GT in early 2004. This was basically the GTLM convertible or coupe with the base-model powerteams and an in-between initial price of just over $96,000 to start. Performance was in between too, the factory claiming 4.9 seconds 0-60, 13.4 at 107.3 mph in the quarter-mile, 155 mph tops, and 0.96g lateral acceleration. Production, meantime, had been inching upward, reaching 110 retail units in calendar 2003, then 135 each in '04 and '05. That might seem low, even for a "exotic" marque, but every Esperante is hand-built by a dedicated workforce of about three dozen employees. The main news for 2005 was extending the GT/GTLM rear suspension to the standard Esperante, though Panoz also expanded color, trim, and sound-system choices. Also added that year were Recaro's new "Style Top Line" seats -- optional for base models and standard otherwise. Prices crept up, partly due to rising materials costs but also because of constant improvements, such as a revised rear-end structure making extensive use of carbon composites.
Meanwhile, the redesigned 2005 Ford Mustang allowed Dan to redesign his car's firewall/bulkhead/A-pillar structure, again relying on carbon composites to make it lighter yet stronger in concert with a new, integral "backbone" transmission tunnel. "I'm using more expensive material," he told AutoWeek in 2004, "but I'm losing a ton of labor in processes and assemblage, and I'm handing the buyer a better product."
Dan also had to contemplate an eventual change of engines, as the SVT V-8s were out of production by 2005, though he had stockpiled enough to get him through for a while. Meantime, he managed to roll out a racing GTLM, which scored its first major win in early 2006 with a class victory in the Mobil-1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Last but not least, Panoz has already started thinking about his next car. As Lyons reported in 2004, it's to be called Abruzzi, after the region in Italy that was home to Dan's grandfather. Dan will say nothing more about it and has announced no introduction date.
The Panoz saga is still unfolding, but it bears the hallmarks of a long-running story filled with more high adventure on the track and more high performance for the street.