Owning an Original Tesla Is Apparently Just Like Owning a Vintage Car

EVs may be the future, but discontinued models like the first Roadster offer a sense of déjà vu

Dale Miller drives his Tesla Roadster in San Rafael, Calif. on Thursday, March 15, 2018. Miller's Roadster, number 1191 off the assembly line with the license plate DM TESLA, is the first of three Teslas he and his wife own.
DM TESLA? More like DM your Tesla mechanic.
Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty

From the way Elon Musk treated his personal Tesla Roadster, the first vehicle made by the electric car company (and also the name for a long-delayed new model), you’d think the discontinued EVs weren’t that valuable anymore. You’d be wrong. Despite (or maybe because of) the model being obsolete by this point, Tesla’s original car has achieved classic status in the market, with some of the 2,450 or so units selling for as high as $250,000.

It’s not all easy living and high valuations for Tesla Roadster owners, though. As it turns out, owning the first car from a fledgling automaker can be a major headache once they move beyond the exciting startup phase and leave their old technology behind.

Case in point: Over at MotorTrend, Joe Ligo wrote about stumbling on six Tesla Roadsters apparently decaying behind one of the automaker’s stores in Owings Mills, Maryland. Was this the first-ever EV barn find? Was this the collection of some eccentric Tesla fanboy? Not quite. As he found out from talking with a technician at the shop, these were parts cars — Roadsters that are slowly being taken apart when customers need parts for their own models. 

“Because the Roadster is based on a Lotus Elise chassis and assembled with components sourced from around the world, finding parts is a challenge,” Ligo wrote. “Tesla modified the cars so heavily that most off-the-shelf Lotus components won’t work, and Tesla has long since stopped producing new parts, leaving service centers with one choice: kill the weak to save the strong.”

The original Tesla being part Lotus isn’t the only hiccup owners run into, either. As it’s a kind of Frankensteinian EV — made before Tesla refined its own proprietary formula — modern Tesla technicians have a hard time working on the Roadster. 

RIP Lotus Elise, the Sports Car Tesla Was Literally Built On
By announcing a new lineup, Lotus is also killing off its turn-of-the-century icon

“The challenge is, most of the original technicians who were with Tesla, who knew how to work on these, are all millionaires now,” the employee told Ligo, explaining how their Tesla stock went through the roof and they were able to cash out. “They’ve all left the company.” 

This store in Maryland apparently still has one employee who knows his way around the Roadster, which makes it a hotspot for owners looking to get their cars fixed. Although, according to Ligo’s reporting, Tesla recommitted to servicing their original EV in 2019 after a few years of negligence (the last Roadsters were produced in 2012), so there may be other shops with a similar setup.

Old engineering, parts cars, sought-after gearheads with knowledge of obscure vehicles…this sounds like the life of an MG owner, not a Tesla owner. But I guess that old maxim holds true: the more things change, the more things stay the same. 

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