I like cheese. I like to sample different types from different areas. I also like rare, exotic cars that I’ll probably never get to drive. Some are silly, some are outlandish, and some are so far over the top that I don’t care for them at all, like strong limburger. Pagani comes close with their hypercars. TVRs are slightly more acceptable. But if ever I needed a piece of design that’s almost likeable but just a little too far gone, I would turn to the Panoz Abruzzi.
Its full name is the Panoz Abruzzi Spirit of Le Mans, and right away you’re going to notice it. In profile, it’s gorgeous and daring, a sort of futurist rendering of what the Nissan 350Z might look like in another fifty years.
Then you see the front, and immediately wonder if Joel Schumacher has made another bid for a Batman film. Then you force yourself to look at the front again and wonder how many pieces you’d find yourself in if an Abruzzi ever struck you. The three-tiered, trimaran nose could haunt your children’s nightmares. There’s further lunacy, too. The rear bumper…area has fangs. The hood and hatch…areas seem to have had a run-in with Norman Bates. And the side mirrors might double as lightning rods.
Perhaps, though, the most ironic aspect of the styling is its legality. Because though Panoz is an American car firm, and every Abruzzi will be built in Georgia, those toothy bumpers are a bit too scary for the NHTSA, and it will be illegal here. The Abruzzi will only be marketed outside the US, where there are a few more holes in the pedestrian safety regulations.
The outlandish styling is nothing new for Panoz. Over a decade ago they released their first car, simply titled The Roadster, sort of an ovular, ‘90s take on the already ‘90s-styled Plymouth Prowler. But if it didn’t look very nice, it could certainly outrun the asthmatic Prowler. Its 5 liter Ford V8 got it to 60 in 4.2 seconds.
Speaking of performance, the Abruzzi comes with its own. Details are somewhat scarce, but what we do know might be enough to buy some mercy against the looks. The (Chevy-sourced?) 6.2 V8 will put out 650 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. The usual top speed and 0-60 goodies haven’t been released yet, and neither has the weight, but that ridiculous body is built of some material that’s abbreviated REAMS, which is lighter than carbon fiber, so it should be quite fast. The best performance news comes from a picture of the interior, in the midst of which sits a proper stick.
And you can do things like add an old-fashioned transmission when you inherit a pharmaceutical fortune and start a company that releases cars…oh…whenever they feel like it. Panoz’s last car was the comparatively conservative Esperante, the last of which left their hands-only factory in 2009. Exclusivity is Panoz’s anthem. So, if the sight of the Abruzzi bruises your sanity, take comfort in the fact that you’ll probably never see one. Only 81, one for each year Le Mans has run, will be built.
But when you really look at this car for a while, you realize something few car designers seem to have grasped: that sometimes it’s good to be a cartoon, to make no visual sense, to chill on the cheese stone as a pungent limburger. Otherwise, a sharp bleu will be the strongest thing most people will have ever tasted, and no one will like it. The design world needs certain boundaries, points of reference about which the populace can say, “Anything below this line is awesome.” And that’s where the Abruzzi finds its place.