To understand the Roadster, you need to understand the company that built it, Panoz Auto Development of Georgia in the United States. Panoz, from outside viewing, appears to be the American equivalent of TVR, a small company that builds limited numbers of extremely powerful sports cars for both the road and racetrack.
The Panoz Roadster was the company’s first development after its formation in 1989, and is a conglomerate of many individual parts from both the manufacturer and other motor manufacturers. Firstly, the frame was the brainchild of designer Frank Costin, and had be previously attempted on the Irish TMC Costin, a very peculiar sports car from the 1980’s built in Wexford, Ireland. The styling for the car was done in-house by Freeman Thomas, and aluminium body panels came from Superform, giving a mixture of durability and light weight. All other major components were donated from contemporary Ford Mustangs, including the running gear, the 5.0L V8 producing 305hp and the transmission. Performance wise the car was very good, with a 140mph top speed and a 0-60 of 4.3 seconds. The first ten cars were built by teams of seven workers, but as production progressed a larger team was used.
The Panoz Roadster made its début in 1992, but sales weren’t particularly perky, and orders were down mainly to customer desire. In spite of its lightweight and perky design, there were some rather crucial flaws that made the Roadster somewhat lacking in comparison to other motors of its class. For starters, it had no roof nor tonneau cover, and the design of the car made it difficult to fit one. There was no automatic version, being only available as a 5-speed manual. There was no radio, the heater only heated the windscreen as part of a US road safety requirement, there was no air conditioning (but quite frankly without a roof you didn’t need it!), and the ride comfort was rather lacking due to its external wheels.
In 1995, after only 44 examples and 2 prototypes, the Panoz Roadster line was ceased, but developments continued in the form of an updated version known as the AIV Roadster, a later edition which featured a lighter frame, and an updated drive-train from the 1996 Mustang SVT Cobra. The car was dubbed the Aluminium Intensive Vehicle (AIV) Roadster, and now consisted of 70% aluminium. The car was again not a major success, but did sell more than the previous Panoz Roadster, with 176 examples being built before production ended in 1999, being replaced by the more popular Panoz Esperante.
The Panoz Roadster may not have been a success in its own right, but it did start something of a trend in very weird sports cars, most notably the Plymouth Prowler, a retro-styled thingamajig that got a universal ‘meh’. There are intentions however to give the Roadster a second run starting in 2015, with these cars being fitted with 470 to 570hp supercharged engines so that you can bend time!