Pharmaceutical and motorsport mogul Don Panoz developed the first Panoz Roadster in the early 1990s. This distinctive sports car was similar in concept to the purposeful Lotus and Allard roadsters of the 1950s in that creature comforts and interior features were at a bare minimum for highway legality while raw performance and light weight were the primary objectives. After several years of production and development, the Roadster was succeeded by the Panoz Aluminum Intensive Vehicle (AIV) in 1996.
The new Panoz AIV used a central backbone and space frame chassis, again similar to Lotus designs, and aluminum body panels were fixed to the chassis with adhesives. In yet another nod to certain lightweight roadsters of old, the AIV featured “bicycle” fenders over an otherwise open front wheel design, while the rear wheels were covered with fenders attached to the main bodywork. Unlike the previous Panoz Roadster, the AIV did come with a rudimentary convertible top. When folded down, it took up nearly all the room in the AIV’s tiny trunk.
Even with its minimalist design and aluminum components, the AIV weighed 2,570 pounds, or about 500 pounds more than a Mazda Miata of the same year. Then again, it boasted a great deal more in the performance department.
The AIV featured an engine sourced from the Ford Mustang SVT Cobra. This was one of the 4.6-liter modular V-8 engines, with DOHC and 4 valves per cylinder, generating 305 horsepower and 300 ft-lb of torque. The AIV was offered only with a 5-speed manual transmission, again from the SVT Cobra. This combination was good for a 0-60 time of 4.3 seconds, a quarter mile time of 13.5 seconds, and a top speed of 140 mph.
The low-volume Panoz AIV cost about $65,000 when new. Just 176 production examples (plus 6 prototypes) of the AIV were made from 1996 to 1999 before it was replaced by the more comfortable Esperante, so collectors will never have more than one or two to choose from at any given time. Due to the Spartan nature of the cars and their initial price, however, it’s likely that the vast majority of AIVs will show low mileage and will have been well cared-for.
With an aluminum frame, handsome retro looks and an old-school focus on performance rather than practicality, the Panoz AIV was a car that had very few if any contemporaries when it came out in the 1990s. Its unique, exotic design and its rarity make it an appealing car for collectors and enthusiasts who appreciate its combination of modern technology and power with back-to-basics performance motoring.