The original Tesla Roadster marked a milestone for electric cars. It proved that electric cars could be sporty and desirable, paving the way for Tesla's later, higher-volume models.
Given Tesla's later successes, it is easy to forget how surprising the first-generation Roadster was when it first went on sale in 2008. Jay Leno's test drive from that time shows just how big of an impact the Roadster made on the perception of electric cars.
Leno introduces the clip (which has never aired on his YouTube channel or television show before) standing in front of a 1909 Baker Electric. "The thing that's fascinated me about this car is that you've eliminated all of the negatives of an electric car," Leno told Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who was on hand for the test drive.
Musk mentioned many of the positives that electric-car owners have come to know well, from regenerative braking to the lithium-ion batteries that enable acceptable levels of range and performance.
2011 Tesla Roadster Sport. Photo by Joe Nuxoll.
The car Leno test drove was the first customer Roadster, and was thus equipped with a 2-speed transmission. Musk noted that Tesla already had a single-speed setup in development. Like seemingly every other automotive executive hawking a new sports car, Musk also noted that the trunk could accommodate a set of golf clubs.
On the road, Leno noted the Roadster's instant torque, but suggested bringing along a CD of internal-combustion engine noises to liven up the driving experience.
We were impressed by the Roadster's performance at the time, while noting that lead-footed driving had a deleterious effect on range.
The first-generation Roadster went out of production in 2012. As is also the case with its more recent models, Tesla has made it difficult for independent shops to work on the Roadster.
Tesla announced a second-generation Roadster in 2017, with bold claims including 0-60 mph in 1.9 seconds, and a range of 620 miles. Tesla is currently taking reservations for the car, which was originally supposed to launch as a 2020 model, but hasn't offered any updates on the production schedule recently.