• Basically a rebodied, battery-powered Lotus Elise, the Roadster was a historic first from then-new Tesla.
• This example is a desirable later 2.5 model and features a fresh comprehensive service from a Tesla Roadster specialist.
• Bidding runs through April 17.
Any conversation about what makes for a good long-term collector car often poses the question: what to do when the gas stations eventually shut down? With this pioneering electric sports car, no gasoline, no problemo. Today’s pick at the Bring A Trailer auction site—which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos—is a 2011 Tesla Roadster 2.5 Sport, and it’s arguably this century’s Shelby Cobra.
Before the Shelby purists get their pitchforks and torches out of the attic, let’s bear this comparison out. Like the original Cobra, the Tesla Roadster takes a British-built chassis and combines it with an upgraded powertrain to create a ferociously quick chimera of speed. In the case of the Tesla, it’s volts not V-8s (and Lotus Elise underpinnings, not AC), but the basics of SoCal hot-rodding are right there. Engineers took the first prototype Roadsters out of the shed where they assembled them, and went hunting Corvettes. You have to think ol’ Carroll Shelby would have approved of that kind of behavior.
From there, the comparison breaks down somewhat. The Cobra went on to make a name for itself at the racetrack, while the Roadster was the first salvo from a company aimed at building consumer electric vehicles en masse. You could argue, however, that the heads of both companies have a similar knack for self-promotion, and both have certainly had a lasting impact on the auto industry.
Back to the car. Being a 2011 2.5 model, this Roadster benefits from a host of upgrades over the original version. Along with a refresh of the exterior, these included improvements to the HVAC, more sound deadening, and changes to the powertrain to better handle hot weather.
Further, this example has been through the hands of the Gruber Motor Company of Phoenix, Arizona. Tesla itself doesn’t much seem interested in preserving the Roadster’s legacy, having launched one into deep space for internet points. Happily, this apparent neglect allows space for specialists to move in, and Gruber is one such well-regarded shop.
Gruber’s level two service involves addressing various engineering issues and replacing wear items, to a list of some 50 components. In combustion-engine terms, it’s akin to an engine-out teardown and rebuild. The work was performed in May of last year, and means that the next owner of this Roadster should enjoy a better-than-new motoring experience.
Although you can buy a quicker machine direct from Tesla these days, the Roadster Sport’s 4.1-second sprint to 60 mph is still speedy. The 53-kWh battery pack provides for about 200 miles of range, and the motor sends 288 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque through a single-speed transmission to the rear wheels.
As a fun, quick convertible that’s future-proofed against a world where everything runs on electrons, this Roadster has plenty of appeal. More importantly, perhaps, is that it’s not just a toy but a piece of automotive history. Show up to your local cars and coffee, and it’ll garner kudos from a broad range of enthusiasts, from Gen-Zs right through to maybe a couple of older folks in Shelby T-shirts.
Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. He grew up splitting his knuckles on British automobiles, came of age in the golden era of Japanese sport-compact performance, and began writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the intersection between humanity and machinery, whether it is the racing career of Walter Cronkite or Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He has taught both of his young daughters how to shift a manual transmission and is grateful for the excuse they provide to be perpetually buying Hot Wheels.