When you first see the swirling red, white and blue Yin-and-Yang key fob you're not quite sure what to expect. Built with a steel space-frame chassis, an integrated tube-steel roll cage, and plastic body panels, the front-engine, rear wheel drive Panoz Esperante houses a carburetor-fed, V-8 big generator of an engine that delivers zero to 60 in a little under five seconds - heavy stuff on mid-city streets.
Resembling stock-car machinery such as Camaros and Mustangs, the Esperante punches 300 plus horses at about 5000 rpm and 377 pound-feet of torque. Sluggish out of the starting block when compared to the la familia breed of Ferraris and Lamborghinis, but the Esperante isn't for the gentleman-driver who wears red-velvet Tods.
Its' American. Powerful, Stylish and very, very American. Bare and basic right down to it's ultra-wide Michelins, the Georgia- born newcomer lifts design cues from the Porsche, the Jaguar, the Ferrari and the Aston Martin. Supposedly, the Esperante is built on a modular extruded aluminum chassis that Panoz claims is as rigid as a BMW Z8.
Which directs us to some interesting history. Very few small American auto manufacturers have actually survived to make it to the 21st century. Examples are Saleen and Shelby. Panoz however, stands out as the only domestic manufacturer to bring a viable competitor to the super-exclusive sports convertible market dominated by European houses BMW, Aston Martin and Mercedes Benz.
Inside, the Panoz (say "pay-nose") displays a mid-mounted gauge cluster with black-on-white analog dials. Ten-way adjustable leather seats, and a 200-watt Alpine audio system - if you really need music.
Built low like the Ferrari, the Esperante is arrogant as it mimics the Pininfarina -style signature interior panels and lateral aerodynamic scoops. One hopes, however, that arrogance will in time turn to confidence. Here's why. Even though the Esperante drives like it would call for an easy hand if pushed to the limit, the rear end flusters easy and presents challenges in collection after breaking loose.
Topping out at 155 mph, the hand crafted Esperante's four-wheel power assisted, electronic three channel, four-sensor disc system warrants a nod and even as this spirit evolves, die-hard fans with a burning passion for speed will be pleased to know there's hope at home. That was confirmed as a passing driver in a convertible Jag. almost got whiplash as she turned her head to get a better look.