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The Panoz Esperante: When an American Race Car Company Makes a European Roadster

While 60s 2-seat convertible sports cars like the Sprite weren’t the pinnacle of performance, these roadsters were a lot of fun to drive. Enough that the formula lives on today, in cars like the Mazda Miata, Porsche 718 Boxster, and Fiat 124 Spider. And even though the Ferrari F50 was basically an F1 car for the road, it too had a removable top. There’s one more racing name, though, that got involved in the convertible sports car segment. That’s Panoz, with its Esperante.  

Panoz Esperante history

While it may not have much street-level brand recognition, Panoz has an extensive racing history. The Georgia-based company has multiple international podiums and victories under its belt, Forbes reports and competed heavily at Le Mans. Panoz is also one of the names behind the failed DeltaWing racer.

Panoz AIV Roadster
Panoz AIV Roadster | Panoz

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Outside of racing, the company has also produced several road cars. In fact, it’s technically already made a roadster: the Panoz Roadster. That car, though, was more of a hybrid between the Caterham Seven and the Shelby Cobra. It was fast, sharp, and fairly easy to maintain, but it was very minimalistic.

The side view of a green 2001 Panoz Esperante convertible
2001 Panoz Esperante side | Bring a Trailer

The Panoz Esperante, though, is a bit different, The Drive reports. Like the Roadster, it was powered by Ford V8s, Motor Trend reports. The base option was the 4.6-liter V8 from the contemporary SVT Mustang Cobra, which developed 305 hp and 320 lb-ft. The Panoz Esperante also used the Cobra’s independent rear suspension.

A burgundy-red 2004 Panoz Esperante GTLM Roadster
2004 Panoz Esperante GTLM Roadster | Bring a Trailer

The later GTLM model offered an optional supercharged version, rated at 420 hp and 390 lb-ft. Instead of the base Panoz Esperante’s 5-speed manual, the GTLM had a 6-speed. With that, it could go 0-60 in 4.7 seconds. Plus, it had upgraded lighter suspension and new bodywork with functional brake-cooling ducts.

The modern Esperante

While the Esperante name dates back to the late 90s, Panoz still makes it. The road-going models are available in Convertible, Spyder, and Spyder GT trim. There’s also a hard-top model, the Panoz Esperante GTS, but that’s exclusively for track use.

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Like the previous models, the current Panoz Esperante models feature aluminum-heavy construction. Only now, it’s supplemented by carbon fiber, though the suspension subframes are made of steel. Speaking of the suspension, it’s comprised of fully-adjustable coil-overs.

At roughly 3300 pounds, the Esperante isn’t quite as light as a Miata. However, it’s significantly more powerful. The current base Esperante engine is a 430-hp 6.2-liter V8, with a 6-speed manual and a limited-slip differential. That V8 can also be supercharged to 560 hp; there’s even a 750-hp engine optional available, DriveZing reports. And while the first Panoz Esperante models had a 4-speed automatic option, the company now offers a 6-speed paddle-shifted automatic.

The black-with-yellow-stitching interior of the 2015 Panoz Esperante Spyder GT
2015 Panoz Esperante Spyder GT interior | Panoz

Other standard features include Brembo disc brakes, leather upholstery, keyless ignition, GPS navigation, and satellite radio. The sportier Spyder and Spyder GT models come with Alcantara trim, integrated roll hoops, and 4-point safety harnesses. The GT also has a functional carbon-fiber front splitter and rear diffuser, as well as a side-exit exhaust.

But even the base model can be specced with carbon-fiber bucket seats, a carbon-fiber steering wheel, and extensive carbon-fiber trim. Plus, each Esperante is fully-customizable, from the exterior paint color to the interior stitching.

What’s the Panoz Esperante like to drive?

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The older Panoz Esperante models, especially the GTLM ones, are comparable to the contemporary Porsche convertible sports cars, MT reports. The brakes are fade-resistant, and the handling is very neutral. However, a contemporary Boxster or 911 convertible is more refined when it comes to normal commuting.

But, while the newer models are more luxurious, they’re still thrilling sports cars. The brakes are very effective, and the standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport grip the road well. The hydraulically-assisted power steering delivers a great deal of feedback, and the manual transmission shifts crisply. In addition, if you don’t find the standard V8 options sufficient, Panoz will fit your Esperante with basically any engine you want.

Pricing and availability

This level of customization doesn’t come cheap. A base Panoz Esperante Spyder starts at $159,000. The soft-top Convertible starts at just under $165k, while the Spyder GT starts at $169,900.

White 2020 Porsche 911 Cabriolet with red convertible top, seen from overhead
2020 Porsche 911 Cabriolet overhead | Porsche

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True, the Esperante does undercut the 572-hp 2020 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet, which starts at $183,600. However, even with the Sport Chrono Package’s launch control, Car and Driver estimates the non-Turbo 379-hp 911 Carrera Cabriolet could go 0-60 in about 3.3-3.5 seconds. And it starts at $112,000. Though, if you want a manual, you’ll need to step up to the AWD 443-hp $135,200 Targa 4S.

A rear shot of a black 2001 Panoz Esperante with the top up, next to some white storage units
2001 Panoz Esperante rear | Bring a Trailer

However, a used Panoz Esperante is considerably more affordable. While a 9000-mile 2004 GTLM recently sold on Bring a Trailer for $60.5k, $30k is the typical average price.

But, if you want a sports car made by a genuine racing supplier, IndyCar chassis supplier Dallara has a car for you. It’s the Stradale, and it starts at roughly $182k, Road & Track reports.

Unlike the Panoz Esperante, it doesn’t have a V8. Instead, it has a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, producing 395 hp and 369 lb-ft, Car and Driver reports. However, thanks to carbon-fiber-and-polycarbonate construction, it’s even lighter than the Esperante, Car and Driver reports. Though it helps that the windshield, roof, and even the doors are optional. Without any of that, or fluids, it weighs less than 1900 pounds. And it can go 0-60 in an estimated 3.3 seconds, Motor1 reports.

The Dallara Stradale is significantly more stripped-down than the Panoz Esperante. A/C is optional, and there’s no infotainment so speak of. It’s also not street-legal in the US.

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