This 1999 Panoz AIV Roadster—Wait, Do You Even Remember the Panoz AIV Roadster?
This stripped-down American dream is one hell of a time machine.
The 1990s were the end of an era of sorts in the automotive world. As a new millennium filled with copious electronic stability-control systems, more stringent crash-safety standards, and hybrid-powered supercars beckoned, there would soon be less space for cars like the 1999 Panoz AIV Roadster, this low-mileage example of which is being sold at RM Sotheby's 2020 Scottsdale auction.
The Panoz story begins in earnest in 1989 when the late pharmaceutical entrepreneur Don Panoz bankrolled his son Dan's automotive company, Panoz Auto Development. The goal was a familiar one: build sports and racing cars here in America that could take the fight to the best in Europe. The first Panoz production car was the Panoz Roadster, which featured a frame design purchased from the ashes of bankrupt Irish automaker Thompson Motor Company. The frame itself was designed for the TMC Costin, a Lotus 7-like car engineered by the car's namesake and former Marcos founder Frank Costin. Automotive designer Freeman Thomas, then between stints at Porsche and Volkswagen, penned the aluminum bodywork that would cover the chassis, while the powertrain was mainly Ford Mustang-based. With V-8 power and a minimalistic ethos, the lightweight, bug-eyed Panoz Roadster was ready for low-volume production in 1992. Just over 40 cars were built, but Panoz was off the ground.
In 1994, Panoz began development on a new aluminum spaceframe chassis for the next chapter in the Roadster's story. This new platform was lighter than the outgoing frame, development of which dated to the early 1980s, and Panoz would use new a new adhesive process to bond the aluminum frame to the aluminum body panels, saving time and cost. Due to being produced from roughly 70 percent aluminum, the new car was dubbed the AIV Roadster (Aluminum Intensive Vehicle). At the same time, the powertrain was uprated to 1996 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra spec, with a 305-hp DOHC V-8 and a five-speed manual gearbox. Despite the highly functional upgrades, sales of the Panoz AIV Roadster were indeed low volume. Very low volume. Just 176 examples were built before Panoz replaced the AIV with its new Esperante, a larger, more conventional sports car.
With so few Panoz AIV Roadsters built, it's fairly uncommon to find one for sale at any given time. Yet this 1999 example from the car's last year of production will be crossing the auction block at RM Sotheby's Scottsdale auction on January 17, 2020. Showing under 300 miles on the odometer and looking as-new, the AIV Roadster is said to include optional wind wings and floor mats, plus the aluminum accent package. The original documentation, including the window sticker and various other books and papers will accompany the car to its new home.
To get anywhere close to the Panoz AIV Roadster experience in a new car today, you'd be looking at buying something like a Honda-powered Ariel Atom, which of course will be dramatically quicker and more focused. Still, Ariels aren't necessarily street-legal in all U.S. jurisdictions and with a price tag of $100,000 or more for a custom-built Atom, RM Sotheby's $60,000-$80,000 estimate on this Panoz is awfully tempting. You can also rest assured that more than 176 Ariel Atoms have been built by now, making the Panoz AIV Roadster quite the exclusive vehicle these days.