Donated By: Brian Kariger
Word By: Jeremy Malcolm
Released in 2008 with little fanfare and minimal expectations, the Tesla Roadster was dismissed by many as a novelty. After all, few new car manufacturers in the last half-century had built anything beyond a handful of dodgy prototypes held together with duct tape. Tesla faced the daunting task of building a quality car and earning the trust of skeptical consumers. The first models it released, the Roadster, the Model S and Model X, were donated to the Petersen by Recargo CEO Brian Kariger, an early adopter and proponent of electric cars.
The first Tesla, the Roadster, was built on a Lotus Elise chassis and was powered by an electric motor designed in-house. As Carroll Shelby taught us with the Cobra, an English chassis with an American motor is the peanut butter and jelly of the automotive world, two great things coming together to make something even greater. The Tesla Roadster was just that. With a 0-60 time of 3.7 seconds, slightly quicker than the Lotus Elise it was based on, it was now getting the equivalent of 120 MPG over its 244-mile range.
The Roadster was well designed with performance that matched or exceeded most of its competitors. It was quick, and had wonderful handling and decent range, something electric cars had been lacking. Nevertheless, it was still a hard sell. The public simply didn’t trust electric cars yet, especially electric sports cars. Between 2008 and 2012, just 2,450 Roadster were built.
That all changed with the Model S. Every billionaire and their best friend have tried building a sports car, but with the vehicle marketed to soccer moms, things got serious. The Model S offered sleek styling, and was cheap to run, quiet, comfortable and surprisingly quick. The instant torque of the electric motors made it one of the quickest off-the-shelf cars on the market, putting purpose-built drag cars to shame with a blistering 0-60 time of 2.3 seconds in its highest configuration.
With mass-market appeal now in its pockets, Tesla went in for the kill, aiming straight at the most popular class of vehicle on the American market, the sport utility vehicle. In its most-powerful trim, the 5000-lb. Model X could accelerate from a standstill to 60 mph in an unbelievable 2.8 seconds, matching the Ferrari 488.
Tesla has never positioned itself as a performance-oriented company, but its quest to build an environmentally responsible vehicle has inadvertently changed the performance car world. Electric cars aren’t without their limitations; they’re often heavier and slower to “refuel” than their internal combustion-powered counterparts, but the tides have shifted enough that hybrid technology is now the fastest way around a race track. As technology improves, the future seems to favor electric cars, with many manufacturers looking ahead to an all-electric lineup. Tesla recently announced plans for an electric semi-truck as well as the next generation Roadster. While gas-powered cars will always be around, the future looks electric.
The Roadster, The Models S, and The Model X now sit in the Petersen’s vault surrounded by numerous other machines that changed automotive history. Only time will tell if these cars will be remembered with the same nostalgic joy as their neighbors, but for now they can enjoy their place as the best electric cars in the world.