The Tesla Roadster (first generation) Drive Zero Car Guide

While most people around the world have heard of Tesla, not nearly as many know much, if anything, about the original Tesla Roadster 1.0, the company’s very first car.

If you ask most people about Tesla’s “first car” they’ll likely tell you it was the Model S. However before they got to mass producing the Model S, X, and now 3, there was the much sportier, pretty much hand built Tesla Roadster.

With only around 2,500 of them ever being made, Tesla had to hand build them as they didn’t have a full car production facility like they do now at Fremont and their Gigafactory 1.

The car was and still is an amazing piece of engineering with its super low profile, fast acceleration and long range.

Drive Zero Car Guides are written for people trying to get a feel of the electric car landscape in Australia. We only wrote guides for battery (BEV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) electric vehicles that are confirmed to be on sale in the market in Australia now, or are coming soon.

Our goal is to summarise as much as you might want to know about the different considerations for each of these electric cars and who they may be useful for. That said, we’re not qualified car reviewers, so full reviews of these models, we’ve included the best links and video for reviews that we could find.

Source: Tesla.com

What makes the Tesla Roadster so special?

The original Roadster was nothing short of ground breaking when it was released back in 2008. While it may be difficult to remember, back then the electric car market was very different to what it is now.

The Roadster had a number of key things that it was first in the world at:

  • The first highway legal, production, all-electric car to use lithium-ion battery cells
  • The first production, all-electric car to travel more than 320 kilometres per charge
  • The first production, all-electric car with a top speed of more than 200 km/h

Later the Roadster also scored another world first by being the first production car to have ever been launched into orbit! This was done on Feb 6th, 2018 by SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy flight and got world wide attention for obvious reasons.

Source: SpaceX.com

Yes. That is a real photo of the Tesla Roadster. The space suit in the drivers seat is of course, empty but Elon Musk named him “Star Man”. Also, that Roadster is Elon’s personal Roadster so… yeah. This is definitely a unique and historic car!

Source: SpaceX.com

The Roadster was also used as a demonstration car to help convince investors to originally invest money in Tesla. After (obviously) getting the financing they went on to build almost 2,500 of them which were sold in over 30 countries – with around, we think, 15 or so sold in Australia.

The RHD model was sold from 2010 onwards and one of the most famous persons to purchase it here in Australia was Simon Hackett. With a range of almost 400 km’s and a 0-60 mph time under 4 seconds, it was a revolutionary electric car that propelled Tesla towards the state it’s in today.

Tesla Roadster key details

While the original Roadster is quite old today, its specs are still quite decent for an electric car. This shows just how far ahead of everything else it was at the time. Over the years it was produced there were two versions made.

 RoadsterRoadster Sport
Table last updated February 2018
Release Date & AvailabilityProduced from 2008-2009
No longer in production
Produced from 2010-2012
No longer in production
Price $80,000 - $109,000 USD $110,000 - $129,000 USD
Electric Range
(real world)
320 to 400 km's393 km's
0-100 km/h3.9 Seconds3.7 Seconds
Top Speed201 km/h
Battery53 kWh Lithium Ion Battery
Drivetrain215 kW, 370 Nm of torque
Induction electric motor
Rear mid-engine, rear-wheel drive
215 kW, 400 Nm of torque
Induction electric motor
Rear mid-engine, rear-wheel drive
Seats2-door sports car
Charging1.8 kW, 9.6 kW or 16.8 kW proprietary charging connector
Vehicle & Battery Warranty3-year, 58,000 km (36,000 mi) warranty. Tesla also offered an extended power train warranty and a battery replacement warranty

Source: Tesla

Even with the very first model Roadster it still had ridiculously fast acceleration. On top of the pure spec time being 3.9 seconds, the all electric motor provided instant torque like no combustion engine could. This quicker response time was one of the key things that elevated it above even other faster sports cars.

It also had a double-insulated black roof and body which was covered in carbon fibre panels. Some of the standard features included heated seats, power windows, AC, airbags and even cruise control. Optional extras were things like leather seats and the 7″ screen that later became standard in the Roadster 2.5 Sports.

Over the many years it was produced the colours it came in varied a great deal too. There were 100 signature dark metallic green Roadsters made, there were also changes in 2011 to the colour options and the final 5 VINs had customs colours on them as well.

All the various exterior and interior colours for the Roadster 1.0. Source: TEG from Tesla Motors Club

Overall though, there were around two solid colours, 5-6 metallic and 5-6 premium options you could choose from. Inside there were also a number of different options from beige all the way to yellow. All these colours and combinations resulted in a huge array of different looking Roadsters especially given how relatively few of them were made.

Left: Tesla Roadster 1.0. Right: 2011 Lotus Elise

The original Roadster was also based off the Lotus Elise chassis and then modified to house the batteries, power train and so on. This means that the two cars do look very similar overall, but are of course totally different beasts.

You can see the similarities in the above image. It wasn’t just a straight swap out job of removing the engine and replacing it with a motor and batteries, Tesla rebuilt the entire car. However it wasn’t until the Model S that Tesla got the chance to build an entire car – from the ground up – for electric.

Tesla Roadster Pricing

Credit: Alexandre Prévot

Obviously being out of production for many years you can no longer buy a Roadster 1.0 brand new. However original reservation holders for the Roadster had to place down a $50,000 USD deposit in order to secure their initial place in the queue. Beyond that though the Roadster cost a few different prices depending on what year you purchased it in.

In 2009 it started at $109,000 USD moving up to $110,950 in 2010. From there it jumped up quite a bit to $128,500 USD for the 2010 Roadster 2.5 Sports edition.

This newer 2.5 version included a new front bumper, diffuser at the back, new seats as well as better sound dampening and a 7″ touchscreen inside with navigation. When it was approved for sale here in Australia back in January of 2011, it started at an eye watering $206,188 AUD plus on road costs.

While this may seem like a huge sum of money to you or I – and it is! – it’s actually reasonable if making acceleration spec comparisons. For example, the Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 which was produced around the same time (2010-2013) and had a 0-100 km/h time of 3.9 seconds would have set you back around $400,000 AUD.

If you’re wanting to purchase one of these original model Roadsters now, second hand is your only option. However given their extremely limited numbers – especially in Australia – it’s not often one of them comes up for sale.

In the last 6 to 12 months we’ve seen a couple come up for sale on the second-hand market – one in Queensland, and another in WA. The first was listed at around $100k, the second at $140k.

What’s the Tesla Roadster like to drive?

A Roadster on show in The Netherlands. Source: FaceMePLS

Being a car that weighs about 1,200 kg and has over 400 Nm of torque instantly and at all speeds it should be pretty obvious that the Roadster is a super fun car to drive. With its light, low profile it is super agile and has that full power available at all times.

Being produced back in 2008-2012 though many of the reviews and experiences people have posted about it are quite old and were recorded at very low video quality. Still, it’s interesting to hear what they say both about the car and Tesla as a company over ten years ago.

To start with there’s this quick piece by cnet from back in 2009. They go through the whole car from start to finish and even visit the production floor where Tesla assembled the Roadster.

So even back in 2008, with their very first car, Tesla still had year+ long backlogs due to their cars being so in demand!

Inside Line gives us another great look at it describing it as a car that’s “nimble, fast and responsive“.

And finally there is this comparison video by Motor Trend pitting it against the Porsche Boxster Spyder of the day. It’s a great piece that not only goes into a lot of detail about how both of the cars drive and their differences, but does it in a very fair and balanced way too.

Tesla Roadster – Battery, Charging and Power

Source: Tesla.com

Being all electric the Roadster 1.0 has over 6,800 individual battery cells inside of it to power its electric motor. These cells are liquid cooled and account for about a third of the cars total weight.

During an interview Elon Musk said that originally they had a huge amount of trouble getting the batteries because suppliers were extremely scared about having so many inside a car. They thought they would explode and cause too much trouble! Thankfully though they overcame the issue and found a supplier but it really shows how uncharted the whole electric car idea was back then.

The Roadster could charge using your standard wall plug here in Australia however that would take quite a while for a full charge, about a day. If you have one of the high powered, 70A / 240V wall connectors installed at home though you can charge it in around three and a half hours.

Tesla Model X, S and X at a Supercharger

All this charging was done through a proprietary charging port. This was long before they even started to roll out their famous Supercharger network too, so you had to be a lot more careful about making sure you didn’t run out of power.

That being said, it’s roughly 320-400 km’s of range wasn’t anything to sneeze at and for most people’s everyday commute it was more than enough. EV owners charge their cars at home overnight the vast majority of the time – just like you do your mobile phone – so even back then, without the Superchargers it wasn’t such a huge deal.

What does the interior of the Tesla Roadster looks like?

Source: Tesla.com

The inside of the Roadster is quite sparse just like most high end sports cars. It’s all about saving weight and focusing on the driving experience instead of cramming as much luxury as you can in there.

Still there were dozens of options you could choose such as microfiber or leather for the seats, standard, premium and premium two-tone options for the interior colours. You could even change the head restraint colour.

After 2011 though Tesla changed up the options to standard, premium, executive and executive plus carbon fibre. The base colours also got cut back from 9 to 3 and you could no longer chose your headrest colour, it was just the same as the base.

Source: Tesla.com

The steering was unassisted giving the car a much more “go-kart” like feel to driving it and there is only a single speed transmission, so the gear shifter is very simple too. The 7″ screen gave you navigation as well as music controls.

Down in the centre area is a second screen to control various aspects of the car such as enabling the Performance mode. While the Model S and X have their “Ludicrous Mode” now, the Roadster had its own version even 10 years ago.

One issue many reported on was that it could get a little cramped for those over six feet tall. The Lotus Elise and thus the Roadster are quite small cars, so those over six feet often had trouble seeing the dials and screens while driving.

What other features does the Tesla Roadster have?

Source: Tesla.com

The Roadster also comes with a small boot in the back just behind where all the batteries are kept. It also obviously has a removable roof, but unfortunately it doesn’t have a frunk like Tesla cars do now.

The wheels are also quite unique too as they are cast and forged by Tesla only. No one else makes wheels for the Tesla Roadster expect Tesla. These special wheels come in a number of different colours ranging from silver to black and even some lighter greys which were made by mistake.

Beyond these points though there aren’t many of the great features you see in Tesla cars these days. There is no Autopilot, no Tesla App, no 17″ touchscreens or falcon wing doors. Besides the fact that none of those things had been thought of during production the Roadster is a sports car by nature. So it has to be quite minimal and bare bones in order to save weight.

Even the new Roadster 2.0 that’s scheduled for 2020 is extremely Spartan, again because it needs to save weight and focus more on the driving experience that’s expected with sports cars.

Summing up – the original Tesla Roadster

A Roadster 1.0 at the Monte Carlo Alternative Energy Rally

Back in 2008 the unique thing about the Roadster was that it was an all-electric sports car. That had just never been done before and all previous electric cars before it were eternity seen as being slow and boring. People the world over paired “electric” with “golf buggy”.

If you look at what’s on the market, as an all-electric true sports car the Tesla Roadster is fairly unique still today.

The Roadster changed the world’s thinking when it came to electric cars and was Tesla’s very first step into becoming what they are today, a $50+ billion dollar car company. While the Roadster has a few problems with it such as the lacking Supercharger network, the very high price and limited availability it is a modern classic.

It is also a car that many owners loved living with everyday. They can easily commute to work and back in it without running out of range. They can easily charge it at home for much cheaper than petrol and they can do all this while helping the environment.

While other electric cars like the Toyota Prius looked weird, ugly and were slow, the Roadster was the first electric car that people wanted to buy not because it was electric or green, but because it looked fantastic, went like crazy and was great fun to drive.

It’s not often that a car comes along and changes the world, but for the Roadster 1.0 it did just that – not necessarily because it was the most amazing car to drive or own, but for giving Tesla a platform to technically and financially launch the Model S, X and 3. It’ll be very interesting to see the impact the Roadster 2.0 will have come 2020.

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