One of the greatest things about America is that entrepreneurs are alive and thriving. From computer software boutiques to micro breweries, we see many of the most innovative products coming from the smallest companies. That’s true of the car industry, as well. This is the Panoz AIV Roadster. A two-seat sports car that combines wind-in-your-face driving excitement with the best in aerospace technology. The result is a ride like no other.
And one look at the Panoz AIV will tell you, this is a car that loves to be driven. This stubby, chunky, balloon-fendered roadster just cries out for a winding road.
You can almost see the dappled sunlight floating across every curve and glinting off the chrome accents. There’s hardly a straight line to be seen from its wide wedged front, past the short midsection with its half doors, to the classic cobra-esque rounded rump. The round headlights, nerf bumpers, and exposed front suspension are a throwback to an earlier motoring era, when pure sportscars and street rods ruled the backroads of America. The only disruption in the smooth lines is the oversized air scoop grafted to the hood, an evil made necessary by the hungry V-8 lurking within.
The powerplant is another Cobra link, in this case the 4.6 liter quad cam V-8 from Ford’s latest Mustang Cobra. Its 305 horsepower and 300 pound feet of torque makes the hood blister a trade-off we can live with.
Like their previous efforts, Panoz makes extensive use of Ford matched components in the AIV Roadster, from steering, brakes, and fuel systems, to gauges and wiring harnesses. This not only makes it easier to build, but simpler to service as well at any local Ford dealer.
But the Panoz is far from a rebodied Ford parts bin queen. The aluminum box frame is Panoz’ own design, and a sturdier unit we’ve not seen. Body panels are also aluminum, molded via superplastic forming by Superform USA in California. The result is a car that’s 70% aluminum with a curb weight of just 2,600 pounds. Hence the name; AIV stands for Aluminum Intensive Vehicle.
The cockpit is rather tight, so it’s best to limit passengers to close friends only. The interior is dominated by the large transmission tunnel, slightly compromising hip, elbow, and foot room.
Entering is an exercise in graceful gymnastics. Do it right and you’ll look like Fred Astaire, or do it like us and you might resemble Fred Flintstone. Once in place, the occupants are ensconced in a surprisingly luxurious manner. Leather surfaces are set off with tasteful amounts of wood or carbon-fiber trim. The Mustang gauges and controls look right at home here, too. A tilt wheel and 180 watt CD stereo completes the package. Luggage space is generous for weekend outings, and a toolbox built into the trunklid takes the worry out of that extended Sunday ride.
We got our ride around the dips and turns of Road Atlanta, a challenging 2.5 mile road course owned by the Panoz family and made all the more thrilling by intermittent rain showers.
The AIV is not meant to be a track star, but still tackled the fast twisties with alacrity. The supple suspension soaked up the bumps and allowed little body roll. While the BF Goodrich Comp T/A’s had plenty of grip to spare.
0 to 60 romps are over in less than 4 1/2 seconds, and the quarter mile passes quickly in about 13 seconds at over 100 miles per hour. A pronounced twitchyness at high speeds, though, may relegate the Panoz to the realm of speed-limited street cruising, a task it performs quite well.
When we first visited Danny Panoz two years ago, we knew then that this small company had big plans. Now this gorgeous Esperante hardtop convertible is waiting in the wings, and a full-fledged racing program is already bearing fruit.
The Panoz GTR-1 was designed and built by Reynard, but still uses a good old-fashioned Jack Roush Ford V-8. After a promising outing at LeMans this year, the Panoz is making a name for itself in the Sportscar GT Championship series. So far, the GTR-1 has racked up six first or second place finishes.
The Panoz AIV roadster is second to none as a distinctive personal cruiser, and well above a certain purple Plymouth on the driving excitement scale. That alone justifies the Panoz’ $56,750 price tag. The wind in the hair, the rumbling V-8 exhaust, and the grins of passersby… well, that part’s free for the taking. And we’ll take ours in red, please!
Engine: 4.6 Liter Quad Cam V-8
Torque: 300 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 4.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13 Seconds @ 100 MPH