Before Tesla became the world’s most discussed car company, an automotive colossus with a market valuation greater than that of Ford or BMW, it was an ambitious upstart that sold only a quirky electric sportscar, the Tesla Roadster.
Revealed in 2006, sales weren’t huge, with around 2500 in just under five years of production, but it put Tesla on the map as a legitimate carmaker, paving the path towards the revolutionary Model S.
Despite the visual similarities, the Roadster isn’t based on a Lotus Elise, but it was built by Lotus under contract at its Hethel base. A number of technologies were also licensed from the British sportscar maker, including the bonded aluminium chassis, into which Tesla fitted a three-phase, four-pole AC induction motor and 53kWh battery pack.
Original prototypes were fitted with a two-speed gearbox, but disastrous reliability led to the installation of a single-speed BorgWarner direct drive gearbox.
Weight was a very un-Lotus 1300kg thanks to that battery pack, but performance was vivid. Initially, 185kW/370Nm was available for 0-97km/h (0-60mph) in 4.0sec. A 2010 update shed 68kg and increased outputs to 215kW/380Nm or 215kW/400Nm for the Sport model.
Related: 2020 Tesla Roadster revealed
US outlet Motor Trend verified Tesla’s 3.7sec 0-60mph claim and backed it up with an impressive 12.6sec quarter mile. Quoted range was 393km, though an owner squeezed 501km from his Roadster during the Global Green Challenge in outback Australia in 2009. However, he had to drive at 40km/h to do so.
In 2014, a battery upgrade became available, with owners able to swap in an 80kWh pack (for the sum of USD$29,000) which left performance unaffected, but increased the claimed range to 640km. More recently, the original Tesla Roadster achieved fame as the first production car to be launched into space as test cargo for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket in February 2018. Where, presumably, it would still work!
A quick history with Fast Car History Lesson
2010 TESLA ROADSTER SPECS
Engine: 3-phase, 4-pole induction motor
0-100km/h: 4.1sec (est.)
Price (new): $206,188