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Don Panoz (PAY-noze) first achieved great wealth as the developer of the nicotine patch. Not content to sit on his laurels — or his riches — Panoz then turned his attention to car racing. And in short order, Panoz, together with his son Danny, became a major force in motor sports — beating up on the big boys from Mercedes, BMW, and Ferrari in American Le Mans racing. With the AIV (aluminum-intensive vehicle) Roadster, the Panoz Auto Development Company has updated its entry into the exotic car market. The goal: to create an American-made, handcrafted roadster capable of performing with the best in the field while also being reliable, safe, and value-priced. Panoz designed the AIV from the ground up as a modern racer with deliberate retro styling. (The designer of the Audi TT and the new Beetle developed the AIV’s original body concept.) Seventy percent of the car is made from aluminum-magnesium alloy. The frame is extruded aluminum, while the body panels are manufactured with the close-tolerance aerospace technique called “superplastic forming.” During fabrication, aluminum sheets are heated almost to their melting point and then blasted through molds under high air pressure. This process yields a stronger, more uniform body panel than conventional cold-stamping techniques. Each AIV is then assembled entirely by hand at the Panoz facility north of Atlanta, achieving an extraordinary degree of fit and finish. It’s worth a trip to the factory just to marvel at the paint job. I guarantee you’ve never seen a Panoz quality finish on any “stock” automobile. And if they don’t offer a color you like, they’ll match your AIV to a sample of your choosing. Gawk all you want, but the Panoz AIV is first and foremost about driving. This 2,570-pound rocket sled is powered by a 305-horsepower, 4.6-liter SVT Ford Cobra engine. Supremely advanced in design, the SVT is also reliable and easy to service. A front mid-engine layout gives the AIV perfect 50/50 weight distribution. And by reaching 60 mph in a blistering 4.6 seconds, the AIV is quicker than the Acura NSX. Driving the AIV, you feel a thrill that is raw and immediate — even at moderate speeds. And the AIV’s rigid chassis and tight assembly tolerances give a sense of complete control while providing a ride that’s both comfortable and forgiving. It’s a compelling combination. The downside? The driver’s foot-well is unusually cramped, and buffeting wind inside the cabin will make you wish you’d worn goggles. And since the AIV’s race-inspired cockpit is so tightly fitted, larger-framed automotive enthusiasts had better look elsewhere for the car of their dreams. Still, being in the driver’s seat of an AIV is one exhilarating experience. It may just be the closest you’ll get to being behind the wheel of a real race car.

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