Don Panoz made his fortune on the transdermal nicotine patch. He and his son, Dan, spent some of that fortune starting a racing league and creating cars like today’s Nice Price or Crack Pipe Esperante. Right now, we’re going to find out if you think this two-seat soft top would cost too much of your fortune.
I just realized that so far this week we’ve judged nothing but Japanese imports. Well, we’re going to kill that streak today, but before we do, who wants to know how yesterday’s Martini-liveried Honda Accord fared? No one? Tough, you’re going to find out. . . and like it. Turns out, five-large was too much for much of anybody to like that faux racer, and it fell in an overwhelming 84% Crack Pipe loss, the fourth thumbs-down vote this week.
Maybe today the tides will turn, because instead of a fake race car, this 2002 Panoz Esperante is a car built by a company with real racing creds. Speaking of credentials, Don Panoz, patriarch of the Panoz family, is what you might call an American success story. Starting out with a couple of drug stores, the elder Panoz started not one but two pharmaceutical companies; invented the transdermal patch; founded a Georgia winery; and bought Road Atlanta. Most importantly, he funded his son's motorsport and limited production auto building enterprise, Georgia-based Panoz Auto Development.
The company’s street products included the bare bones but brilliantly fast Roadster, which was based on a Irish sports car designed by the legendary Frank Costin. That was supplanted by the AIV Roadster, with which Panoz tested a number of bonded aluminum construction techniques, and which went out of production before the turn of the millennium.
The next car from Panoz was vastly more ambitious, the Esperante being a fully-formed vision of the big and lusty sports car. Using the center section from an SN95 Mustang - including the firewall, windshield and frame, and seat mounts - the company built out from theret using the same aluminum construction techniques they had developed on the AIV.
This 2002 Esperante is emblematic of the result. The Mustang bits are plainly obvious in the interior where the seats, center stack and instrument cluster all recall their pony origins, depite the carbon fibery. On the outside however, it’s very different story, the only outside sourced pieces notable being the Olds door handles.
I’ve always thought that the Esperante looked like Renée Zellweger. From the back it’s a beautiful sight, the wide round hips leading cleanly to a low beltline, and the rear three-quarter is the car's best angle. Come around to the front however and you're presented with a nose where exposed headlamps top a mouth that’s. . . well, Renée Zellweger. Oh well, it least it has a great personality.
Much of that personality comes from the mechanicals, and those are mostly SVT Cobra parts underneath, including that model’s 320-horse 4.6-litre V8, T5 gearbox, ABS brakes, and bolt-in IRS. It should be noted that the Esperante was built from parts sourced straight from Ford, and not picked off a car on the street.
This one has but 31K on its clock, and looks to be in excellent condition. The black paint still gleams, and the interior - with the exception of the faded embroidered floor mats - seems to have held up well. The dealer selling this Esperante makes no mention of any mechanical difficulties, and shows the car with the soft top in various positions so you know that must work. It also comes with a clean bill of health title-wise.
The last bit of pertinent info regarding this Panoz is its price, which is $28,400. That’s a mere fraction of the nearly hundred grand these cars commanded when new, but is it too much for getting what seems to be just a two-seater Mustang? Well, it’s up to you to determine the value, but I can tell you from experience that driving the Esperante is nothing like riding Ford’s pony, no matter how much they share.
So, what’s your thought on this Panoz? Is $28,400 a killer deal for a limited production car from a noted race car company? Or, is that just too much dough for a date with Renée?
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