Born out of a love for racing and the American sports car, the Panoz Auto Development Company was formed in 1989 by Daniel Panoz, the grandson of Italian immigrant and champion boxer Eugene Panunzio. After purchasing the rights to a chassis used for Maserati, Lotus and Lister race cars, Daniel and two former engineers from Irish automaker Thompson Motor Company went on to found the Panoz Automotive Development Company out of an old salt storage shed northeast of Atlanta, Ga.
Embracing the maverick spirit of American cars, Panoz approached race car development with both passion and purity. By 1990, the fledgling automaker produced its first Panoz Roadster, a sports car that combined strength and power in a perfect mix for those with a need for speed.
By 1996, Panoz's custom-made approach began to catch on. That year, the hand-built, factory ready Panoz AIV Roadster went into full production.
As a follow-up to the AIV Roadster, Panoz wanted its 1997 offering to have even broader appeal. Incorporating ideas its engineers had developed with the AIV, Panoz pulled back the curtain on a grand offering, the Panoz Esperante. Billed as a sports car with speed, power and agility, the Esperante put it all together in an elegant, refined package that could breath exoticism into everyday driving.
Racing roots, exposed
The year 1996 wasn't all about roadsters for Panoz. Daniel Panoz and company started Panoz Motor Sports, and began to work on the Panoz GTR-1 race car, the design of which was inspired the Esperante. As the Panoz corporate website notes, the company was "determined to race on the track what we build for the street."
The Panoz GTR-1 became the first competitive front-engine car in decades to take on the 24-hour Le Mans endurance race. Only two major factory teams finished ahead. Its 1997 showing spread the Panoz name across Europe and led to the company's founding of the American Le Mans Series in 1999.
In 1998, the Panoz racing team won nine races and four circuit championships, including the U.S. Road Racing Championships. All that Panoz's racing engineers learned in that successful racing year became instrumental in improving the company's stable of road cars.
The return of the Esperante
The year 2000 saw the introduction of the Esperante GTS Race Car, which was designed for use in Sports Car Club of America events across the nation. An affordable driver's class spec racer, the Esperante GTS is extremely durable, thanks to an eight-point roll cage with triple-tube side protection, as well as 15 ABS/acrylic panels. Such panels are less expensive and easier to replace than fiberglass.
By 2001, a new Esperante model was released in Panoz's consumer sports car line.