How Panoz Cars Work

The Panoz A.I.V. Roadster, shown as a 1999 model, was an upgrade of the exotic maker's first vehicle.

A true "family affair," Panoz Auto Development Company was founded in late 1988 by sports-car and racing enthusiast Daniel Panoz with backing from his billionaire father Donald.

The elder Panoz (pronounced "PAY-nose") made a vast fortune from two pharmaceutical companies based in Ireland, where Dan was born in 1962. One of those companies developed the enormously lucrative transdermal patch familiar to many ex-cigarette smokers.

After training as a designer and engineer for the aircraft and aerospace industries, 26-year-old Dan Panoz applied for a job with Frank Costin's Ireland-based Thompson Motor Company, only to find it was going out of business.

But Thompson had developed an innovative chassis that Dan saw as a way to realize his dream of building a high-performance low-production sports car in the mold of Caroll Shelby's hallowed Cobra. To keep it affordable and practical, he decided to use off-the-shelf Ford components that could be easily serviced most anywhere.

While setting up a small factory near the family's U.S. estate outside Atlanta, Georgia, he worked with engineer John M. Leverett to develop a two-seater based on the Thompson chassis, though the eventual Panoz Roadster was entirely new.

The car included classic cycle-fender styling on a steel frame with a pushrod 5.0-liter Mustang V-8, five-speed manual transmission, solid rear axle, 16-inch wheels, and a 98.5-inch wheelbase. Sixty of these were built in 1990-96, and all were sold at a suggested price of $43,495, including canvas top and side curtains.

In late 1996, Dan invited Car and Driver to test an improved Roadster dubbed A.I.V. -- "Aluminum Intensive Vehicle." The term referred to a stout new "twin tier" spaceframe chassis made of extruded aluminum. There were many other changes, including a six-inch longer wheelbase, independent rear suspension (with unequal-length A-arms and coil-over shocks as in front), 18-inch wheels, fatter tires, and a big hood air scoop for clearing a taller engine, the 4.6-liter twincam V-8 from the latest Mustang SVT Cobra.

Car and Driver clocked 0-60 mph in a swift 4.8 seconds and a standing quarter-mile of 13.6 seconds at 101 mph. "It's like driving a Lotus 7 but with fewer rattles, twice the room, and twice the thrust," enthused tester John Phillips.

Despite its elemental nature, the A.I.V. was beautifully crafted. Each took 350 man-hours to build, a big reason why the price eventually reached $63,000. Even so, it came with a three-year/36,000-mile warranty, generous by "exoticar" standards. The factory would even send out a technician to work with a local body shop on a car unlucky enough to be crunched. Such personal customer service remains a PAD specialty.

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