Regardless of whether or not one considers its physical appearance attractive, the Perana Z-One breaks necks everywhere it goes.
I piloted this metallic burgundy coupe down a main thoroughfare in car-centric Orange County – these are people who see exotics daily – and everyone gawked as if the two-seater were covered in blinking high-intensity strobe lights. While the exhaust is loud enough to disturb those driving with mobile phones stuck to their faces, it's not just the acoustic concussion drawing their attention; the Perana's extraordinarily long nose, aggressive wide stance and massive rear clip tell everyone that this is something special.
After less than an hour behind the wheel, I had interacted with more than a dozen strangers about the alluring Z-One. Some yelled to me at traffic lights, more than a few waved from the curb, and then there was a car full of high school kids who chased me down and encircled me in a parking lot. The attention the Perana commanded was nothing short of astounding.
Three years ago, we rubbed elbows with the Perana Z-One at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show. The low-volume sports car was touted as "a vision born in the hearts of a collection of motoring enthusiasts." In the most simplified terms, the coupe was born from a collaboration between renowned Milanese coachbuilders Zagato and Perana Performance Group, a South African Vehicle Manufacturer.
Even as that corporate description is spot-on, it doesn't really stir the soul. In layman's terms, and what we really want to hear, is that the Perana Z-One is a hand-crafted tube-frame sports car with composite body panels fitted with a very powerful Chevrolet engine. It looks bad-ass and it goes like stink.
It looks bad-ass and it goes like stink.
I recently found myself staring into the deep burgundy paint of a Z-One parked inside the pristine showroom at Hillbank Motor Corporation headquarters in Southern California. The customer car, already sold, was the last of the models to be built with the "Perana" branding. All future coupes will be essentially the same, but will wear "AC 378 GT Zagato" badges (check out the details in this previous story). Nomenclature aside, this exotic was all mine for the next couple of hours. I smiled, walked around it a dozen times, and then started asking a slew of questions.
As it turns out, there is much more to the Z-One than superficial eye-catching bodywork.
Peel back the vinyl-ester composite body panels (the material is a very durable heat-set plastic resin) and a tube steel space frame, a chassis construction method more common to race cars than anything in mass production, is exposed. Its sturdy latticework provides a stable platform for the unequal length A-arms, Eibach springs and Bilstein shock absorbers that are bolted to each corner. A thick anti-roll bar at each end of the vehicle completes the suspension package.
The brakes are two-piston sliding calipers up front (12.8-inch one-piece ventilated iron rotors) and one-piston sliding calipers in the rear (12.0-inch one-piece ventilated iron rotors) with vacuum assist – there is no anti-lock supervision. Custom Perana/Zagato wheels with staggered diameters front and rear (19- and 20-inches respectively) wear 245/40ZR19 and 305/35ZR20 Michelin tires.
Dropped low in the chassis and set far back from the nose is a Chevy V8 derived from the C6 Corvette. The standard vehicle, with a base price of $128,000, is fitted with a 6.2-liter LS3 making 430 horsepower and 424 pound-feet of torque. That engine is more than adequate to lay a path of warm rubber down the street. But the owner of our test car wasn't satisfied with adequate, so he opted for the $145,000 version fitted with a hand-built LS7 stroker built by Thompson Automotive.
This owner opted for the $145,000 version fitted with a hand-built LS7 stroker.
Unlike the standard Chevrolet Performance crate motor on which the powerplant is based, Thompson fits the all-aluminum engine with custom piston oil jets, a Callies Dragonslayer stroker crankshaft, Oliver forged I-beam connecting rods, Teflon-skirted Diamond Racing forged aluminum pistons, COMP Cams hydraulic roller camshaft, Ferrea heavy-duty stainless steel hollow-stem exhaust valves, PAC Racing dual-coil valve springs and retainers, Trend push rods, PAC Racing dual-coil valve springs/retainers and Chevrolet Performance's six-bolt LSX-LS7 cylinder heads (installation of the drivetrain and set up of this Perana was done by Vlado at V's Performance in Orange County). As you can see, the upgrade list is impressively long, and so is its resulting power.
In contrast to a stock LS7 7.0-liter (427 cubic inches) making 505 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, the stroked, tuned and massaged engine displaces 7.2-liters (442 cubic inches) and develops 700 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque – on civilian pump gas! Harnessing the power and sending it to the rear wheels through a ZF mechanical limited-slip differential is a traditional six-speed manual gearbox.
With a curb weight of about 3,000 pounds, the power-to-weight ratio of the Perana borders on criminal. Find the right grip and have the skill to pull off a clean launch, and the company say its Z-One will reward the driver with a ferocious blast to 60 mph in less than four seconds (it does 55 mph in first gear), cracking the 100-mile-per-hour barrier in under ten seconds. It is sick fast, regardless of what planet you call home.
The power-to-weight ratio of the Perana borders on criminal.
Back in Orange County, I opened the door of the Perana and wriggled into its cozy cabin. The interior of the Z-One isn't nearly as extraordinary as its exterior, and its configuration seems frankly dated compared to the fresh ergonomics in today's latest supercars. Nevertheless, the driver and passenger drop into well-bolstered Recaro-like bucket sport seats that are very supportive. There is a tall center console separating the two, with a padded leather armrest for the driver.
The lucky occupant on the left faces a three-spoke steering wheel, devoid of any buttons sans horn, that is mounted in front of a traditional analog three-ring gauge cluster (the tachometer is prominently located in the center). Switchgear is surprisingly scarce on either side of the steering wheel, too. The center console houses the climate controls and an infotainment/navigation system. The stick shift lever, window and mirror switches are on the horizontal plane, with the manual parking brake lever on its right side. Fit and finish is impressive, and the quality of the leather and other interior appointments very high.
The stroked V8 sounds raspy, very throaty and it spits balls of fire.
Blame the engine's front-mid location for the compromised driver's footwell. Although it helps to maintain the Z-One's impressive 50/50 weight distribution, both of the operator's feet are forced awkwardly to the left as the carpeted tunnel wraps around the transmission. Other than that one physical compromise, I found the cabin rather accommodating.
Sure to be a crowd pleaser is the engine start-up. Crank the big block over and the 7.2-liter fires up with a roar rarely heard outside of a drag strip. The stroked V8 sounds raspy, very throaty and it spits balls of fire. In other words, it's just about perfect.
The operation of the clutch and gearbox was easy to master, despite the mayhem connected to the other end of their mechanical bits, so maneuvering at lower speeds was never an issue. A hydraulic lift system, implemented to raise the nose several inches to clear driveways and speed bumps, is fitted too. Unfortunately, even with that chin-saving device activated, the design of the body means the nose is frighteningly – owners should prepare to scrape quite often.
I've never spent time in a closed cage with a tiger, but I image driving the Z-One is similar.
Describing how the Perana drives is somewhat difficult, as there is nothing as unnerving, challenging or enlivening on the mass market. I've never spent time in a closed cage with a tiger, but I image driving the Z-One is similar in more ways than one.
First, there is the ever-present threat of things getting crazy. Press the accelerator down half its travel, in any gear, and a jungle-clearing roar comes bellowing out of the Perana's pipes. The ruckus is nothing more than a diversion, as the coupe's real objective is to rip the rubber tread clean off the rear tires – and it does so in both first and second gear without even taking a breath. Stab the throttle repeatedly and swallow as the coupe's tail wags dangerously left and right. Tooling in such manner is sadistic fun, but practicing such debauchery on the public roads of Orange County (surrounded by moms in Swagger Wagons) is just plain irresponsible.
Second, there isn't a single moment to relax. Aside from the constant shake and rumble of the wrathful V8 seemingly positioned right beyond the soles of one's shoes, outward visibility is challenged in any direction but straight ahead. To pilot a Z-One, the operator must be intimately aware of all surroundings and drive offensively (my sincere apologies to my high school Driver's Ed teacher). Changing lanes required finding a spot and then supplying a very slight bump of throttle before shooting into it.
Third, maintaining control of the situation is difficult. The throttle is surprisingly accurate and responsive, and the brakes race car firm and powerful, yet the steering leaves more than a bit to be desired. Driving the Perana doesn't reveal any complaints about straight line stability once on line, but the initial steering turn-in is awkward – the nose seems to dive aggressively in the direction of steering with only slight input. I'm not sure whether it is the rack or alignment that needs adjustment on this particular vehicle (or it could simply be my unfamiliarity with the Z-One). Whatever the reason, this car would keep me uneasily on my toes for the duration of the drive.
Of course, the Perana isn't going to devour its driver like a tiger, yet driving this lightweight sports car, with its race-tuned 700 horsepower V8, is an endorphin-flooding experience – exhilarating by every definition of the word. It demands respect and full attention at all times, which is precisely what makes it so utterly joyous and captivating to drive.
Even though the Z-One is a wondrous weekend toy, a challenging track companion and a glistening show car rolled into one, it isn't a shot over the bow of any modern Porsche, Lamborghini or even Ferrari. Unlike those automakers, each of whom is forced to conform to a set of modern rules and driving characteristics, Perana freely designed this coupe with the intent of focusing on driving fundamentals. There exist no buffering electronic nannies to save someone's tail and no airbags to save someone's teeth. The primary engineering goals were creating a challenging driver's car with the utmost in vehicle feedback.
Yet the sculpted design, "simple, light and aerodynamic," as Zagato would say, was equally as important. In an era when pedestrian friendly and familiarity are the ingredients of most of today's road-going fleet, the gaping front end, chiseled sides and flared rear quarters are not just unorthodox, they are mentally stimulating. Driving along the surface streets in Orange County, it was easy to understand why everyone was staring – the Perana Z-One is a brawny and boisterous single-car parade.