It's a bigger, wider and more of an American take on the minimalist roadster. Kartikeya Singhee on the luxuriant Panoz Roadster
The Panoz Roadster is surreal. You could actually think of this as a modern-day take on the F1 cars of the 1950s and 1960s, where the cars were merely skateboards with engines plonked on them and enough space for a driver to squash in between. Daniel Panoz, the man behind Panoz Auto Development, admits “It's the smallest chassis that can be wrapped around a V8.” It might look like a Lotus re-worked but, to be honest, it's not.
A portly Mustang-sourced 4.6 V8 and the general largesse has the Roadster tipping the scales at 1150kg, which ends up taking the edge off the mammoth 305bhp on offer! It's a bigger, wider and more of an American take on the minimalist roadster. This collector's item is among the last of the super-exclusive Roadsters made over nine years ago. Considering that only 300 of these all-American cars were made, owning one of these cars is sure to draw a lot of attention. And each one of those was sold, so that means the one that I am driving is actually a loaner. The proud owner of the car has used it more as a show piece than a track car and it's in mint condition. It's done less than 50km a year for the past nine years and this time around, we're about to add the quickest mileage it's probably ever done. Looking at the car, you get an inkling of why the obsession with keeping it spic and span.
The finishing is classy. The chrome headlamps, suspension arms and coils look exquisite. There's an aquiline feel to the Roadster's design, right from the eye-like headlamps and the way the rounded nose flows back, to the plump rear which, however, feels a bit heavy. There's an imperfection in the way the Roadster fuses flashback mantra to the needs of the creatures from the Internet world. The design itself leaves you undecided. But the starry allure is undeniable. You want to hop in and there lies the biggest problem — getting in. The beautifully J-lined doors are the size of a woman's large handbag. Flip them open by popping the handle on the inside. Then climb aboard with both feet in before resting your back on the cushion so as to avoid doing all sorts of stretches to get both your legs in. It feels like a race car with your legs stretched out ahead of you in the slightly cramped nose section. It's best to wear your slim-fit shoes to avoid braking and throttling at the same time. That aside, it's quite amazing how the Roadster gives an air of offering comfort even after many miles on the road.
For a car that's been standing around for most of its life, the Roadster fires up without any hesitation. The V8's smooth, lazy beat switches to a mean gruff note on pushing of in first gear. You will adapt to the Panoz Roadster as the power and torque turn up in every rev and in every short-throw of the five-speed gearbox. You cannot deny the rockstar feeling in this unabashed hedonistic vehicle. The small steering (a Lambo design) feels great to hold. When pushing around corners, the steering feels quite comfortable and not too darty. A bit more meat in the feel, though, would have really sealed the deal. But you tend to drown out the lament in some lateral g's. The grip's quite astounding. The body itself is stiff as the chassis uses aluminium to a great extent and the body panels are made using a process called super-forming, which keeps the weight down while giving high strength.
The snug seats keep you in place while the Roadster blitzes through without a hint of roll. Some clever designing sees it pull the feat off without the use of an anti-roll bar. You're literally sitting on the rear axle, so every movement is communicated unfailingly. The resulting vertical movement of the Roadster over the pothole feels exaggerated when compared to any regular car. Thankfully, the intensity is toned down such that it amplifies the pleasure of the drive and does not rattle your bones. With the wind messing my hair as I cut through the smell of freshly cut grass in the glorious Georgian sunshine, I can't help but think of what kind of sportscar the Panoz Roadster must have been. Its American proportions and Grand Touring demeanour made it a particularly comfortable roadster. Push it hard, and you'll find the roadster spirit still alive underneath. The supercharged version, I suspect, would have been an out-and-out roadster!