Courtesy of Bonhams
  • Three-phase, four-pole AC induction electric motor
  • 3.0 80-kWh battery
  • 288 bhp and 295 ft-lb of torque
  • BorgWarner single-speed transmission
  • Four-wheel independent suspension
  • Four-wheel disc brakes
  • Just 414 miles on the odometer at the time of cataloging
  • The 272nd of the first Tesla Roadster run of just 500 cars
  • Recently upgraded by Tesla with new, improved R80 3.0 batteries
  • A sports car that marked the beginning of an era

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:2008 Tesla Roadster
Years Produced:2008–09
Number Produced:500
Original List Price:$109,000
SCM Valuation:$72,250
Chassis Number Location:Left side dashboard under windshield
Engine Number Location:Raised boss, right side of motor body
Club Info:Tesla Motors Club
Alternatives:2011–12 Fisker Karma, 2014–18 BMW i8, 2016–18 Acura NSX
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 9, sold for $71,500, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ auction in Scottsdale, AZ, on January 18, 2018.

In the middle of the last decade, Tesla Motors was making big waves throughout the automotive industry. With a Silicon Valley attitude, the upstart automaker declared its intention to disrupt the hidebound auto industry with new electric-vehicle technology.

For a while the joke was that Tesla delivered more press releases than actual cars.

But Tesla eventually got itself together and did deliver cars. They also held the attention of the public and the established automakers. After putting the original Tesla Roadster on the road in 2008, the company has sold and delivered over 250,000 cars in the past 10 years. Tesla is still a niche automaker, but what they’ve done is remarkable.

The original Tesla

The car that started the Tesla phenomenon is the Roadster produced in 2008–09. Technically, version 2.0 was the first mass-produced Roadster, as the 1.0 and 1.5 versions were pretty much prototypes with substantial problems, such as transmissions that lasted only a few hundred miles unless you locked out low gear.

But the 500-unit production run of the Roadster 2.0 proved the concept and made Tesla profitable. The Roadster was based on a modified Lotus Elise platform, with an extra two inches of wheelbase and chassis stiffeners to handle the increased weight of the Tesla batteries. Even with all the body panels made of carbon fiber, the Tesla weighed over 700 pounds more than the Elise.

The Roadster 2.0 was fitted with 53 kilowatt hours (kWh) worth of lithium-ion batteries, driving a 185-kilowatt (248-horsepower, 273 ft-lb of torque) electric motor with a single-speed BorgWarner transmission. That gave the Roadster plenty of juice, including a 0–60 mph time of 3.9 seconds and a maximum range of 244 miles on a charge.

The production Roadster carried a price tag of $109,000, and Tesla had no trouble selling all 500 cars. By 2010, Tesla was making the updated Roadster 2.5, and then the 2.5 Sport with 288 horsepower. Production ended in January of 2012, with 2,500 Roadsters produced and sold worldwide. The Model S sedan debuted six months later.

But Tesla wasn’t done with the Roadster. In 2016 the company made a factory upgrade available, including new 80-kWh batteries, an upgraded power electronics module, an aero kit and new tires. The price of the upgrade was $29,000, and it extended the range of a Roadster to 400 miles.

Collecting the Tesla Roadster

The Tesla Roadster is a great Next-Generation collectible opportunity for one very good reason: Electric cars haven’t held their value up to this point.

The reason for that is simple. Buyers have understandable resistance to buying a used EV when new ones are better and more affordable. To prove the point, when the Tesla Model S arrived, the base price was $50,000 cheaper than the Roadster and much more advanced, so the herd moved on to greener pastures.

Right now, the economics are working in favor of the collector.

Tesla Roadsters were expensive to buy, and the owners generally had other cars as well. So the typical Tesla Roadster has never been abused, and most have limited miles on the odo. But they’re yesterday’s news to the early adopters and tech enthusiasts.

Today you can pick up a well-kept Roadster for $45,000 to $65,000. That’s about half what they cost as new cars, and even the most-loved Roadster won’t have crazy high mileage. Tesla says the batteries should be good in excess of 100,000 miles, and most Roadsters have been driven only a fraction of that distance. Finally, prices probably won’t go too much lower over the next five years, and selection should remain reasonable.

The best Roadster

Our subject car for this analysis is a true bargain. With just 414 miles covered since new, that’s not even two charge cycles. Even better, Tesla’s R80 3.0 upgrade has been installed, so this car has brand-new batteries that haven’t suffered by sitting unused for 10 years. Everything else looks to be perfectly untouched as well. This is as good a Roadster as you will ever find.

Picking this car up for $71,500 was not just buying well — it was a genius move by the buyer. Not so much for the seller, though. That individual shelled out a minimum of $138,000 ($109,000 MSRP plus $29,000 upgrade) for a crazy, fun little sports car that they never even drove, and took nearly 50% depreciation for their trouble. What’s up with that, anyway?

The takeaway lesson here is that there are some smoking deals available right now on Tesla Roadsters. With just 2,500 ever made and a new generation promised for 2020, there’s plenty of upside potential, and even if the prices remain static for a few years, you’ll still have a unique and historically significant sports car in your collection. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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