Hagerty Video: The Tesla Roadster Tricked Enthusiasts Into Loving EVs — Jason Cammisa Revelations Ep. 30

The Tesla Roadster Tricked Enthusiasts Into Loving EVs — Jason Cammisa Revelations Ep. 30

Posted: 2023-06-15 15:00:23
Author: Hagerty
This is the story of the Tesla Roadster — and thus, the beginnings of Tesla, which has grown to be the most valuable automaker in history.

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Tesla’s promised new roadster is a very different thing — this Roadster went into production at a time when electric vehicles weren’t just in their infancy, they were a joke, disregarded by enthusiasts and regular customers alike.

The story begins with the Piontek Sportech, which was a home-built tube-frame sports car created by Ford Engineer Dave Piontek in his garage in Michigan. It used a 1300-cc Suzuki 4-cylinder motorcycle engine (with Nitrous injection) and could hit 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, weighing only 1234 lb.

A California-based startup called AC Propulsion bought one of the Sport-Techs and converted it to run on Optima Yellow-Top lead-acid batteries. They called it the tZero, and a prospective customer, Martin Eberhard, drove it and wanted to buy one — but only if it used Lithium-Ion batteries.

Bypassing the expensive Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries that were leading edge, Eberhard helped AC Propulsion go straight to small-format cylindrical Lithium-Ion batteries, which had vastly more capacity, were much lighter, and were ultimately cheaper.

The result was 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, and a newly minted millionaire named Elon Musk wanted one, too. He joined forces with Eberhard, who had created Tesla Inc., and they worked directly with Lotus to extensively modify the Elise to become the Tesla Roadster.

In the end, the Elise’s fundamentals remained, but the details didn’t, and the Roadster emerged its own car. Tesla, at the same time, emerged the most valuable car company in the world. And the Roadster became the proof-of-concept that showed enthusiasts that an electric car could be fast and fun.

Next up was the Model S, the first part of the the S3XY product line that has catapulted Lotus to previously unknown valuations.

And it all started here.


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Hagerty Video Transcript

Foreign Roadster a Lotus Elise with a bunch of double a batteries in it don’t be ridiculous they’re not Double A’s they’re 18 650s and besides doesn’t matter what you’ve read on the internet this isn’t just an electric Lotus Elise in fact the Tesla Roadster shares one

Tenth as many parts with the Elise as you share jeans with Elon Musk and all of you with one possible exception are not Elon Musk because if you were Elon Musk you’d know that this thing could have been worth 35 million dollars explanation well if the person who paid

A hundred thousand dollars for a Tesla Roadster had instead bought a hundred thousand dollars worth of Tesla stock it would have been worth over 35 million dollars when the car turned 11 years old so this wasn’t just not an electric Lotus Elise it was also the world’s worst investment in

Simultaneously the seed Capital to create the most valuable automaker in the history of the world and it did that by tricking the coolest people in the world car enthusiasts into believing that an electric car wasn’t a slow miserable joke because For the First time ever a car that was electric wasn’t

A slow miserable joke Love or hate electric vehicles love or hate Elon Musk the Tesla Roadster was an incredibly well thought out ruse engineered to trick the world’s coolest people car enthusiasts into allowing the idea of change and this whole story starts in Michigan with a motorcycle engine kit car built at home by a Ford engineer

This was the Pion Tech sport Tech in 1989 its creator Dave Pion Tech made the first one in his garage it took him 2 000 hours and cost him fifteen thousand dollars and used a welded steel tube frame to mount a 1300 CC Suzuki twin cam 16 valve four-cylinder with a 5-speed

Manual 150 horsepower plus nitrous and just 1234 pounds to move it hit 60 miles an hour in just four and a half seconds exactly as quick as the world beating giant slaying Corvette ZR1 which hadn’t yet even entered production pintek ultimately wound up building six sport

Techs one of which was purchased by a Young Southern California company called AC propulsion AC propulsion’s mission was to advance the art of the electric car in other words to convince people that electric cars warrant slow miserable piles with barely enough range to complete a marathon with which is exactly what they were

AC propulsion was co-founded by one of the engineers who had worked on the GM impact the incredible show car that eventually became the ev1 AC’s own first car was called the t0 named for the mathematical symbol T Sub Zero or the beginning the t0 was a Pion

Tech sport Tech converted to run on electricity and it used 28 Optima Yellow top lead acid batteries this thing look this was January of 1997 and the only other electric car you could buy you couldn’t buy it you could lease it but it was that very GM ev1

Which had gone on sale just a month earlier and it too ran on lead acid batteries and for perspective on just how revolutionary the ev1 was GM also leased another electric car a Chevy S10 pickup converted to front-wheel drive with an EPA range of 33 miles walking distance that’s why the GM ev1

Was so revolutionary it could do 79 miles on a charge and the t0 could do 90. that was a hell of an achievement this was his absolutely high tech as EVS came the t0 was also as fast as they came it hit 60 in 4.1 seconds this is important

It was quicker than the 10 000 RPM screaming nitrous injected Pion Tech AC propulsion put 63 000 miles on the t0 and in the process got noticed by a bunch of nerds no not Elon not yet okay bear with me because this sounds like a neighborhood sitcom AC propulsions president had a

Neighbor who drove an electric Toyota RAV4 this was another one of those 1997 appearances of Elise only electric vehicle anyway the RAV4 driving neighbor worked with a nerd named Martin Everhart who was a computer and electrical engineer who had made some money and wanted to drive a sports car but didn’t

Like the idea of destroying the planet remember his name Martin Everhart because he’s a key player anyway RAV4 dude introduces Eberhart to the AC propulsion guy so he could test drive a t-0 and Everhart wanted one but Everhart wanted it to be even better so he used his big brain to help AC

Propulsion convert the t0 to run on lithium ion batteries which are two rungs up the ladder from those old lead acid batteries the next step up and the hottest craze in Battery tech at the time was nickel metal hydride the RAV4 used those custom lithium ion batteries were by comparison

Way more expensive so much so that they weren’t even a consideration for use in cars except this was the Big Bang the moment at which suddenly the electric car became feasible instead of expensive custom Prismatic batteries Eberhard came up with the idea of using mass-produced inexpensive off-the-shelf commodity small format cylindrical batteries like

The kind you’d find in your laptop 18650s to be precise 18 millimeters wide 65.0 millimeters long a bit bigger than a double A put a bunch of these cells into a liquid cooled enclosure and blemo you have a big reliable inexpensive car battery the t0 used 6 000 of those 18650s and still wound up weighing 500 pounds less

Than the old version with the 28 yellow tops in it and it got even quicker 0-60 was now unheard of 3.7 seconds but the real sea change was in range which went from 90 miles to 300. oh ladies and gentlemen we have liftoff especially since 6800 lithium 18650s cost less than even

Those fancy nickel metal hydride batteries in the RAV4 and they contained twice the energy Everhart took that t0 back up to Northern California and drove it for three months as his daily all the while trying to convince the AC propulsion guys to put the thing into regular

Production and they said no they were working on an electric conversion of the Scion XP called the e-box that would be the way to save the planet they thought an electric commuter car has far more earth-saving potential than a low volume sports car right wrong well have you ever seen an e-box right

Even though Tom Hanks bought one thing is the Nerds really needed something sexy to convince the world that EVS could work so Everhart came up with the name and Incorporated Tesla Inc the company’s guiding principles were to make EVS that weren’t compromised in fact they should be even better than

Their internal combustion counterparts and they had to appeal to even the most die-hard car enthusiasts like you ended me and now you can finally enter Elon Musk with his McLaren F1 flush with cash from his sale of PayPal Elon also test drove a t-0 and he also wanted to buy one and

He also tried to convince AC propulsion to commercialize it and once again they just pointed towards their e-box but they did one thing very right they introduced Elon Musk to Martin Everhart this was where the rubber really hit the road though eberhardt had already been talking to Lotus about building a lightweight chassis

After all Lotus had the patent on bonded and extruded aluminum chassis design the little Elise was a great place to start but it didn’t end with the Elise don’t forget Lotus was as much an engineering consultancy as it was a car maker and its little black book of clients

Included everybody which gave Tesla access to suppliers who would have otherwise never taken their call bonjour thank you for calling Michelin Tires you what what is an Elon Musk that smells it sounds disgusting you should take care of it with Lysol So Tesla worked together with lotus to make enormous substantive changes to the elise’s chassis though some of the engineering and Manufacturing fundamentals stuck around the details didn’t in the end not all that much Elise remains in the Roadster its side Sills are 1.6 inches lower so humans can

Actually get in and out and it has a wheelbase two inches longer than the elisas both for a better ride and more space for the battery the glass wiper mirrors steering column front suspension wishbones rollover structure and soft top are pretty much it they may look a lot alike especially

From the waist up but the Lotus Elise and Tesla Roadster share only seven percent of their parts to put it in perspective any two humans share 99.6 percent of their DNA we like to think of ourselves as individual snowflakes The Styling was done by Barney Hatt at

Lotus the entire body was carbon fiber even the bonded front crash structure was made of carbon unlike the Elise and its cumbersome fiberglass clam shells the Roadster had removable bumpers and fenders the chassis was built on the same line as the Elise and then was put

In a plane and air freighted to Menlo Park California where it became a completed Tesla the missing piece was of course the powertrain starting with 6831 of those little laptop batteries a thousand pounds worth they were put into an enclosure that was bolted in becoming a structural member and making this

Thing’s chassis stronger than that of the Elise all of those electrons flowed to a 248 horsepower motor through a Power Electronics module licensed from you guessed it AC propulsion not that one this one is a later car and it’s different in order to get a top speed approaching

130 miles an hour and have incredibly quick acceleration the Roadster needed a two-speed transmission it was supplied by extract and would let the car get to 60 miles an hour in around 4 seconds in first gear and then shift into second and explode immediately the problem was the transmission didn’t have a clutch

The concept was to accomplish the shift using motor control but the motor speed took too long to come down and so absorbing the rotational inertia of a 13 000 RPM electric motor was just Way Beyond the physical capabilities of the transmission alas kaboom so Tesla then switched to another two

Speed this one made by Ricardo which had two clutches it would also get the Roadster to 60 in first gear and then attempt to bang off a shift within 0.3 seconds emphasis on the word bang because what would actually happen is the second gear clutch would explode sending shrapnel through the gear set

And boom race to get a working two-speed was on and it wound up being won by Electronics a new igbt or insulated gate bipolar transistor allowed sufficient current flow to hit both Tesla’s 0-60 goal and its top speed Target without using multiple gears the transmission became a

Simple single speed made by Borg Warner which just proves the old saying third is a charm crisis averted right no because the big problem was the EPA test procedure had been returning a range of 182 miles far fewer than the 250 mile range that Tesla

Had been promising all of the people who plunked down a hundred thousand dollars on a still to be produced Roadster This is where Tesla really differentiated itself from every traditional car maker on the planet any of them would have just kept its mouth shut covered everything up and wound up in court Tesla overshared it sent a letter to all of the order holders saying hey you know we’re not going to

Hit 250 miles but we promise we’ll at least hit 200. this though they didn’t even know how they’d get to 200. we all know Elon Musk has perhaps the worst over-promiser and under deliverer in the industry except in those cases where he under promises and then vastly over delivers conventional wisdom would solve

Both of those problems by telling Elon to just shut up but that seems like something he’s incapable of doing and it saved Tesla because when reservation holders for the Roadster would get really pissed off that it was months and months and months behind schedule Elon opened up and became a human being to

Them he called the town hall and he said to them he admitted that engineering a car was and I quote like eating icky and glass and then he continued not just a little bit of glass like eating a glass of bologna sandwich and then he personally promised to pay

Back each and every one of those reservation holders if Tesla couldn’t deliver the Roadster and when pressed on whether he’d be able to afford to do it he said fine if I can’t then I’ll work for the rest of my life to pay you back imagine a Ford executive saying something like that

Foreign Tesla had a Blog where they shared the Engineering Process with customers and they shared the news every time they invented a way of getting more range a couple more miles here with rollback brake caliper seals that pried the pads off the surface of the rotor a couple

More there with some tire pressure changes and a few more over here by geniusly having the computer super cool the battery when in range mode using Mains power so the battery wouldn’t have to use its own power to cool itself the engineering Solutions were genius but the honesty even more so by involving

Customers in the process good and bad Elon created an army of people who believed in his company because they could see that Tesla was genuinely trying and then of course Tesla over delivered on all of its promises anyway the Roadster didn’t just barely eke out

200 miles of range it was rated at 244 and it was a revelation Revelation Revelation Revelation I found this out in 2009 when I was the first person to convince Tesla to give a journalist a multi-day loan of the Roadster I pitched the story to my editors at Automobile

Magazine as a way to show that this Silicon Valley show knew nothing about how to build a car and I would prove that you’d have to be a to buy one of these things over a Lotus Elise which cost half as much boy was I wrong I loved it and I

Remember saying that out loud to myself within 500 feet of leaving the Tesla Factory sideways doing a small burnout across a couple Lanes of traffic arriving at a red light right next to a cop who hadn’t even noticed me cop doesn’t hear it you didn’t do it over

The course of five days I drag raced it I went grocery shopping in it I put it on a dino I tore up the back roads I bought my house in it and during the concluding photo shoot I learned that Michael Jackson had died it was a hell

Of a week from my notes this story was supposed to examine whether I could force myself to live with an EV for a whole week now I don’t want to live without one I was the biggest skeptic there is and yet I’m a complete convert and an idiot

The interior was stunning way nicer than any Lotus Elise especially this late Roadster with its gorgeous full leather cabin I even love the noise those transmission gears made a were and that was by design it was such a cool noise that the producers of the 2008 Dark

Knight film put a Tesla Roadster on a Dyno sampled its sound and used it as the basis for the soundtrack of Batman’s batpom everybody loved the Tesla Roadster except for the accounts it sold for about a hundred thousand bucks but Tesla’s bill of materials was a hundred and forty thousand dollars meaning this

Wasn’t just a bad investment relative to the hundred thousand dollars of Tesla stock you could have bought instead of one of these it was a money loser for Tesla itself But ultimately what it did was show car enthusiasts that electric sports cars could be faster than combustion sports

Cars which opened the door for the model S which showed car enthusiasts that an electric luxury sedan could be faster than a hyper car which then showed the world that an electric car would be cool so long as it isn’t a golf cart with a license plate on it like the e-box would

Have been look AC propulsion had the technology but it was Eberhard and Elon enthusiasts who understood that a shift to electric vehicles couldn’t happen quickly but the electric vehicles had to be quick to make them cool and then once they were cool normal people might want

To drive them if you don’t think an electric sports car is cool because you haven’t driven a Tesla Roadster Foreign [Applause] foreign