The Panoz Roadster Is a Forgotten American Sports Car

Today, the Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, and Corvette are often what come to mind when you think ‘American sports car.’ And before that, there were cars like the Shelby Cobra and Daytona. However, not every American sports car is as well-remembered. Few remember the Cheetah, for example. And despite being significantly newer, not many remember the Panoz Roadster, either. But you absolutely should.

What is the Panoz Roadster?

Panoz Roadster VIN #2
Panoz Roadster VIN #2 | Panoz

If, when you look at the Panoz Roadster, you get shades of the Caterham Seven, you’re not terribly far off, Car Throttle reports. In fact, as Automobile Magazine explains, the Panoz sports car was partially based off a Seven clone.

The Atlanta-based company’s founder, Dan Panoz, was the son of late pharmaceutical entrepreneur Don Panoz, who created the nicotine patch and founded his own racing team. In the late 1980s, Dan was racing a Shelby Cobra replica from England, when he came across a car called the Costin, made by an Irish company called TMC.

Shelby Cobra 427
Shelby Cobra 427 | Shelby

Dan, inspired by the light-weight, 2-seat Cobra, wanted to make a new, American-built sports car in the same vein. One that was powerful, but reliable and easy to maintain. And because TMC went bankrupt in 1988, Dan was able to purchase the company and the rights to the Costin frame, which was the product of a designer who’d previously worked with Maserati and Lotus.

And so, with an aluminum body designed by Porsche and VW designer Freeman Thomas, the first Panoz Roadster drove off the lot in 1992.

The Panoz AIV Roadster

1995 Panoz Roadster
1995 Panoz Roadster | Bring a Trailer

From 1992-1994, Panoz produced 40 Roadsters, using the contemporary Ford Mustang’s 205-hp 5.0-liter V8 and 5-speed manual, along with various other Ford suspension and brake components. And it was fairly quick, able to go 0-60 in under 5 seconds, thanks to a curb weight of about 2200 lbs. The Panoz Roadster could handle, too, thanks in part to it being about 3.5” shorter than an NA Mazda Miata.

Panoz AIV Roadster
Panoz AIV Roadster | Panoz

However, Dan Panoz wanted to go even further with the design. The original Roadster’s frame was made of stainless steel. But, starting in 1994, the company began working on a new frame, made of mostly aluminum. And, in 1996, Panoz released the AIV (Aluminum-Intensive Vehicle) Roadster. However, the new 70% aluminum frame wasn’t the only upgrade.

Under the hood, the Panoz AIV Roadster had the Ford Mustang SVT Cobra’s 305-hp 4.6-liter V8 and 5-speed transmission. The previous-gen car’s live rear axle had been replaced with independent rear suspension, even before the Cobra got it. The brakes were bigger, as were the wheels. But the car was still light, weighing in at 2570 lbs, according to Road & Track. Car and Driver recorded a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds.

1999 Panoz AIV Roadster 10th Anniversary Edition
1999 Panoz AIV Roadster 10th Anniversary Edition | Bring a Trailer

And in 1999, the last year of the car’s production, Panoz decided to upgrade it even further with the 10th Anniversary Edition AIV Roadster. On top of a limited-slip differential, as well as special paint and wheels, these Roadsters got a supercharger bolted to their engines. According to Car Throttle, that pushed the engine to develop approximately 390 hp.

What’s it like to drive?

The early Roadsters, Car and Driver reports, could be somewhat “agricultural”, with somewhat questionable build quality. The later Panoz AIV Roadsters, though, were more solidly-built.

A Panoz Roadster would not make a good commuter car. There’s no roof, the cabin space is tiny, the suspension is stiff, and it doesn’t even come with ABS. At least there was a trunk, and you could get A/C.

But as a sports car, the Panoz Roadster could hang with the contemporary Porsche 911 Turbo. In fact, it had a better power-to-weight ratio than the 911 Turbo. Handling was incredibly sharp, and the steering very quick. In a May 1998 Motor Trend test, the Panoz AIV Roadster managed to beat the BMW Z3 M Roadster and Chevy Corvette on a slalom course, out-accelerate the Corvette, and even out-pace a supercharged Aston Martin DB7 on the road course.

Pricing and availability

Unfortunately, Panoz discontinued the Roadster after 2000. And despite the sports car’s performance capabilities, not very many were made. In addition to the 40 original Roadsters, only 176 AIV Roadsters were produced from 1996-2000. Of those 176, only 10 were 10th Anniversary Edition models, Bring a Trailer reports.

Due to their rarity, Panoz Roadsters rarely appear at auctions. As such, it’s difficult to gauge an ‘average’ price. As of this writing, a 1999 10th Anniversary Edition is listed on BaT with a bid of $30,000. However, a similar example sold in 2019 on BaT for $63,500. And in January 2020, a 300-mile Panoz AIV Roadster crossed RM Sotheby’s auction block for $70,000.

It seems more people are starting to remember this American sports car gem.

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