Part Lotus, part Miata, part Ferrari, and all American - 2003 Panoz Esperante.

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Jun 6, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Part Lotus, part Miata, part Ferrari, yet all-American and somehow all its own, the Panoz Esperante proves that high-quality, low-volume GTs can be built in the U.S. and sold for less than $100 grand.

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    Danny Panoz and his works in progress on the Esperante assembly line. Ferrari, Audi, and now Jaguar aren't the only carmakers in aluminum-intensive construction.

    By Matt Stone
    Photography by Kevin Wing
    Motor Trend, May 2003

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    Daniel E. Panoz is a fool. Well, a car fool, anyway. And we mean that in the most engaging sense of the term. Another appropriate term might be "rabid enthusiast who lives and breathes cars 24/7."

    Example No. 1: Panoz has a '66 Mustang fastback that's been involved in three major accidents. Under normal circumstances, it would've been written off as a total loss. Yet, each time, he rescued the hapless, twisted Ford and restored it. In polished, measured speech that melds a life lived in both Ireland and south of the Mason-Dixon line, Danny Panoz muses, "I have a fortune in that car. Way more than it's worth. And I could've replaced it with a better one that's never been damaged. But if I did, then it wouldn't be my Mustang."

    Example No. 2: Panoz is an automobile manufacturer. By choice. A sure way to add stress to anyone's life--and risk turning piles of money into vapor. Just ask Henry Ford, Preston Tucker, John DeLorean, Carroll Shelby, or any of 500 others who've tried. It's on that note that Georgia-based Panoz Auto Development Company (PAD) proudly celebrates a decade in the car-building business this year.

    Understand this, right up front: The Panoz Esperante is not a kit car or a conversion based on anything else. PAD is a certified OEM, and the Esperante is a unique and purpose-built piece. Yes, there are "buy" parts in it, but a low-volume producer can't survive financially doing it any other way. Panoz summarizes the approach upon which the car was designed and engineered: "We developed our own stuff where it mattered, or where we wanted to do it our way. And when it didn't matter, or would be cost prohibitive, we went outside."

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    The Esperante was launched in mid-2001, and, technologically, its calling cards are aluminum and carbon fiber. Several elements of its chassis are composed of super-strong extruded alloy, and they're bolted and bonded to several substructures. One beauty of this methodology is that most frame pieces--including the side-impact crush- zone members--are replaceable in the event of damage. If there's any car that gives its all for the Esperante, it's the Mustang Cobra. Much of the "black metal" that makes up the Esperante's front floorpans, firewall, and windshield header--brutally expensive structures to develop and certify--comes from the Cobra, as does its 320-horse DOHC V-8, Tremec T45 five-speed manual transmission, certain front and rear suspension pieces, emissions gear, and electrical componentry.

    Even then, Panoz works over the sourced hardware to its own liking, and demonstrations of this are everywhere. The Cobra's differential, rear uprights, axles, and brakes are used as provided by Ford--but Panoz went for its own, higher-tech pushrod-actuated coil-over-shock absorber system. SVT-spec rack-and-pinion steering is employed, but it's mounted on stiffer bushings and tied to Panoz' own upper/lower control arms.

    Coachbuilt exotics have boasted lightweight aluminum bodywork for decades, but Panoz brings this cachet to an American car that doesn't cost over $200,000. In fact, the Esperante's panels are stamped by Superform USA in Riverside, California. Its European branch produces the bodywork for the Aston Martin Vanquish--a car that does cost over $200,000. The Esperante's softly curved, raw aluminum bodywork fairly glows in the light and is almost too pretty to paint.

    Fortunately, there's damn little paint underhood, just the well-coordinated ensemble of a big aluminum V-8 and more composite trim. Aluminum panels just ahead of the radiator housing carry the signatures of each Panoz team member who worked on the car; the optional carbon-fiber intake housing is a piece of art.

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    Sporty, luxurious, and comfy describe the cabin; stitched leather, body-colored carbon fiber, and machined aluminum trim dominate the look. The padded power top goes up and down easily, but when you hear the Esperante's mellifluous Magnaflow-muffled stainless-steel dual exhaust system, you won't much care about putting the top up unless you encounter a blizzard. This isn't a small car, and there's plenty of room for drivers of most any size. Power windows, doors, locks, and seats are standard. The oblong steering-wheel shape seems a bit odd, and the IP's place atop the center stack takes some getting used to, but otherwise, this is a comfortable and well-finished interior, refreshingly free of techy gadgetry.

    On the road, the Esperante is equal parts sports car, gran turismo, and muscle machine. It's about 300 pounds lighter than a Cobra coupe, and thus feels considerably more spirited. The engine is mounted low, well back in the chassis, and, as noted, burbles with polished-yet-muscular authority. Special shift linkage moves the shifter rearward in the cockpit, and it's well placed for a good row. It's difficult to believe there's any Mustang componentry in the steering, as it feels lively, communicative, with just enough power-assist; quicker, too. Cowl shake? Forget it. The structural integrity of these underpinnings is what gives the car a precise feel and also minimizes squeaks, creaks, and clunks.

    Panoz has done a good job with the Esperante's suspension tuning; it's firmer and sportier than an XKR, but not as taut as a Z06. The ride quality is smooth and supple without turning to mashed 'taters; you know what's going on with the road, without having to be reminded of every imperfection. There's a measured quantity of body roll, but the car's wide stance minimizes perception of it. The Panoz cleared our slalom course at 64.3 mph, on par with, well, an SVT Cobra. The hard-core corner chaser will want a firmer, edgier setup all the way around--there's more handling performance to be found in the chassis--but as is, it's sporty enough to be entertaining, yet supple enough for a long trip or for use as everyday transport. The ABS-assisted four-wheel disc brakes are easily modulated, but their 130-foot 60-0 stopping distance trails most of the GT pack by 10-20 feet.

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    Among the many things that impressed us was how well sorted the Esperante proved to be. It doesn't come with excuses, disclosures, special handlers, or a truck full of spare parts like so many "specialty" machines. We drove several examples; everything worked and nothing fell off. Panoz claims to have built and sold about 200 Esperantes to date. As with the best handcrafted goods, you can have one built just for you, choosing from among many interior/exterior/top colors, instrument panel materials, wheel designs, sound systems, and the like.

    Even though the look and basic structure of the Esperante aren't likely to change any time soon, evolution is ongoing. The company just switched from Penske to Dynamic Dampers shock absorbers, as Engineering Director John Leverett feels they deliver improved ride and handling. The current Cobra's IRS system will go out of production after the '04-model year, so Panoz is designing its own. A sport suspension/ rolling stock package is under consideration. A removable hardtop has just been introduced, and Danny is hot on the trail of the current Cobra's supercharged 390-horse/ six-speed powertrain.

    The notion of a handbuilt roadster with an exotic chassis and aluminum bodywork sounds expensive. While a base price of $88,950 isn't cheap in anyone's book, it's fully competitive with vehicles like the Jaguar XK8 and Porsche's Carrera cabriolet. And a helluva lot more unique, which has got to be worth something--especially to dedicated Car Fools who just won't settle for having what everyone else has. Like Danny Panoz.

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    POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
    Drivetrain layout Front engine, rwd
    Engine type 90° V-8, alum blk/hds
    Valve gear DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
    Bore x stroke, in/mm 3.55x3.54 / 90.2x90.0
    Displacement, ci/cc 280.8 / 4601
    Compression ratio 9.8:1
    Max horsepower @ rpm 320 @ 6000
    Max torque @ rpm 317 @ 4750

    Redline 6800
    Transmission 5-speed manual
    Axle/final-drive ratios 3.27:1 / 2.19:1
    Suspension, front Upper and lower control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
    Suspension, rear Upper and lower control arms, pushrod-actuated coil-over springs, anti-roll bar
    Brakes, front; rear 13.0-in vented disc; 11.7-in vented disc, ABS
    Wheels 17x9.0, cast aluminum
    Tires 255/45ZR17 BFGoodrich G-Force T/A

    DIMENSIONS
    Wheelbase, in 106.0
    Track width, f/r, in 60.9 / 63.2
    Length, in 176.3
    Width, in 73.2
    Height, in 53.4
    Curb weight, lb 3200
    Weight, f/r % 49.5/50.5
    Seating capacity 2
    Fuel capacity, gal 15.7

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    TEST DATA
    Acceleration sec
    0-30 mph 2.07
    0-40 mph 2.87
    0-50 mph 4.03
    0-60 mph 5.11
    0-70 mph 6.41
    0-80 mph 8.13
    0-90 mph 10.02
    0-100 mph 12.13
    1/4 mile, sec @ mph 13.60 @ 105.34
    Braking, 60-0 mph, ft 130
    600-ft slalom, mph 64.3

    Top-gear rpm @ 60 mph 1800

    CONSUMER INFO
    On sale in U.S. Currently
    Base price $88,950
    Price as tested $92,534
    Airbags Dual front
    Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 mile
    Powertrain warranty 3 yrs/36,000 mile
    EPA mpg, city/hwy 17/23
    Range, miles, city/hwy 267/361

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    Last edited: Jun 6, 2003
  2. phatmonky

    phatmonky Guest

    I want to be impressed, but I'm not :(
     
  3. ACURA TL-S

    ACURA TL-S OT Supporter

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  4. kaldurak

    kaldurak Gimme some sugar baby.

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    Nice.

    not Great, but Nice.
     
  5. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    It sounds like a car you have to really drive to appreciate, not one meant to impress by simply numbers, but by motoring pleasure.

    :dunno:
     
  6. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    How was it?

    They look pretty cool.
     
  7. BLoG

    BLoG Scented Meat

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    that's a lot of money for a car that will only run even with my truck in the 1/4 :o
     
  8. phatmonky

    phatmonky Guest


    Please, stop thinking so highly of your truck :o
     
  9. glide

    glide primer

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  10. wow, doesn't perfomr that well for the price and power :dunno: it looks cool but i dont htink the price is justified.
     
  11. God of Gamblers

    God of Gamblers OT Supporter

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    I was expecting some better numbers when I kept reading aluminum and carbon fiber, plus a big block V8. meh
     
  12. phatmonky

    phatmonky Guest

    big block?
     
  13. Dr_Trac

    Dr_Trac doh!@

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    3200lbs?! FUCK! how the fuck is it part miata?!
     
  14. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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  15. DasVWBabe

    DasVWBabe Make me feel tiny if it makes you feel tall, but t OT Supporter

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    I'd rather have an Esperante than that horribly produced joke of a car Carroll calls the Series 1. The Esperante was originally meant to directly compete with the Shelby.


    And I think it's beautiful. :)
     
  16. hondaluva

    hondaluva likes free hugs...

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  17. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    The styling is captivating.

    ...and for all the juvenile number whiners, a 390HP V8 is on the way.
     
  18. hondaluva

    hondaluva likes free hugs...

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    actually, after looking @ it, nevermind. But that Marcos sounds like a great peforming car. 320hp & 1050kg is not too shabby.
     
  19. Short Bus

    Short Bus Beep beep!

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    Yay for the Saturn Ion interior.
     
  20. phatmonky

    phatmonky Guest

    I wonder where that's coming from :eek:

    That means blower swap, fuel, and EMS = 700 hp itty bitty car :o
     
  21. DasVWBabe

    DasVWBabe Make me feel tiny if it makes you feel tall, but t OT Supporter

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    I met Donald and Daniel Panoz at the ownership of the first "production" Series 1 back in 1999/2000. A few of the Shelby techs took an Esperante for a drive around the LVMS - and returned with huge grins on their faces. I've only ever ridden in one - I'm dying for a drive.
     
  22. iZero

    iZero Guest

    Mustang parts galore + old Cobra engine + Ugly + $92,000 = Esperante
     
  23. hondaluva

    hondaluva likes free hugs...

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    :werd:

    Its a nice car... besides

    if you whiners could read, you could see that its not this car isn't really designed to chase Vipers and things. Its a luxury car people!
     
  24. Short Bus

    Short Bus Beep beep!

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    It's a nice car.... but gimme a Viper instead.
     
  25. smell my finger

    smell my finger strive nonetheless towards beauty and truth,

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    is Panoz build quality on par with porsche and jaguar though ?
     

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