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Panoz Cars

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Panoz Auto Development (pronounced PAY-nose) is an American boutique marque.

The company has produced three basic models to date, one of which is not sold in the United States. An enterprise of Don Panoz, but run by his son Dan, Panoz Auto Development is part of a conglomeration of the Panoz family’s automotive interests; including the Road Atlanta racetrack, Elan Motorsport Technologies racing car manufacturing, and the American LeMans Series racing, uh, series.

Donald Panoz was born in February of 1935, in Alliance, Ohio. His dad, Eugene Panunzio emigrated to the United States from Avezzano, Italy. A champion featherweight boxer, Panunzio shortened his last name to Panoz upon his arrival in the States. Donald Panoz was a student at the Greenbrier Military School, and later served in the U.S. Army in Japan. Upon leaving the military, Panoz ran two drug stores in Pittsburgh, Penn. where he and his wife Nancy settled.

Panoz founded Milan Pharmaceuticals (later changed to Mylan Pharmaceuticals) with partner Milan Puskar in 1961. One of the projects the company worked on was a system for the time-release of medication through the skin—employing what would come to be known as the transdermal patch. Recognizing the potential of this methodology, Panoz proposed the company pursue development of the approach with vigor.

His board didn’t get it.

Panoz left the company in 1969.

Settling in Ireland, Panoz founded Elan Corporation specifically to develop the patch. Today, this device is most commonly employed as the nicotine patch to aid smoking cessation, though it has a number of other applications as well. Panoz’s company holds the patent for the technology, which ultimately made Panoz a very wealthy individual.

Broadening his business interests, in 1989, Panoz founded Panoz Auto Development and based it in Braselton, Georgia (a suburb of Atlanta) to handcraft custom sports cars. The brainchild of his son Dan, the first Panoz offering was the Panoz Roadster.

For the foundation of the Roadster, Panoz bought the rights to a chassis design by Frank Costin, who had originally intended to employ it in a car of his own design called the TMC Costin (a takeoff on the Lotus Seven). A former engineer with the de Havilland Aircraft Company, Costin was best known for adapting aircraft aerodynamic theories to automobiles.

However, Costin’s chassis design didn’t make it into production. In the end, the Panoz engineering team decided to go with a welded stainless steel tube frame for the first version of the car. The mechanicals from a 1992 Mustang GT were bolted to the frame. This included a 5.0-liter V8 engine, the output of which Ford quoted at 225 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission conducted the V8’s output to a solid rear axle with traction lock. Only the Panoz Roadster prototype used Costin’s rear suspension design, all the rest used the Ford solid rear axle.

Freeman Thomas, who had done design work for Porsche, Volkswagen, Chrysler and Ford, was consulted to pen the body of the roadster. Danny Panoz specified the revised version of the car to be made of as much aluminum as possible to keep it light. Superform USA produced the Roadster’s body panels from the lightweight material. Between 1992 and 1995, when the first Roadster went out of production, 44 cars were built.

Handbuilt and made to order, these were highly elemental vehicles. The original Panoz Roadster had no top, no radio, no heater, no air conditioning, and no power steering. Given the nature of the car—at its essence a sunny day plaything or a track day flyer—those items were really rather superfluous.

The second version of the roadster switched to the aluminum V8 Ford used in the 1996 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra. Additionally, the stainless steel tube frame was shelved in favor of an all-aluminum frame. This, in conjunction with the aluminum body, made the Panoz Roadster AIV (aluminum intensive vehicle) the first American mass-produced aluminum intensive automobile.

The AIV was also a bit more ”civilized” than its predecessor. It came with a tonneau cover, which could be snapped into place to protect the Roadster’s interior when the car was parked. The passenger compartment was also more nicely finished than before. Amenities included a heater, an air conditioner, and a radio. Given the new engine produced 305 horsepower, and given the lighter overall weight—thanks to the new aluminum components—the Panoz Roadster AIV cars were actually faster than the original Panoz Roadster automobiles, even though they were more comprehensively equipped.

A total of 176 AIV Roadsters were produced.

The Roadsters were followed by a more ambitious project—a full-on grand touring model called the Panoz Esperante. Based once again on Ford’s Mustang mechanicals, the Esperante—like the Panoz Roadster—was built by hand and primarily of aluminum for weight savings. However, where the Roadster was all about minimalism, the Esperante was a luxurious daily driver.

Several versions of the Esperante were offered, each with a varying balance of performance and luxury. In fact, in 2006, the Multimatic Motorsports team won its class at the Twelve Hours of Sebring with a Panoz Esperante GT-LM. That year, the England-based Team LNT won the LMGT2 class at the 24 Hours of LeMans in an Esperante GT-LM as well.

The street cars featured the same SVT Cobra Mustang engine previously used in the Panoz Roadster AIV; a 4.6-liter aluminum V8 producing 305 horsepower and 320 ft-lbs of torque.  The front-mid engine, rear drive convertible, featured an aluminum body, an extruded aluminum chassis with steel subframes, and a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic transmission was offered as an option.

Following the Esperante, the Panoz Auto Development Company offered its most powerful model ever. The Panoz Abruzzi “Spirit of LeMans” debuted at the 2010 24 Hours of LeMans race.

This time, the Panoz organization turned to Chevrolet for power—bolting in a 640-horsepower, 6.2-liter V8 Corvette racing engine producing 590 ft-lbs of torque. Where previous Panoz automobiles used aluminum bodies, the Abruzzi is skinned with a process Panoz literature refers to as REAM—Recyclable Energy Absorbing Matrix System. A composite material, it is said to be lighter than carbon fiber yet equally strong.

The styling of the handbuilt Panoz Abruzzi was penned in homage to the 1935 Delahaye Type 135. A limited run of 81 Abruzzi cars was planned, in deference to the 81 runnings of the 24 Hours of LeMans that would have occurred between 1932 and the Abruzzi’s planned final year of production—2013. Not certified in the United States, the Abruzzi is street legal in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America.