Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Tesla Girls

It is a well-documented fact that I am a car girl. My first love was the General Lee and my second was KITT. I will turn off my stereo if I hear an especially powerful car approaching so I can better savor the engine growl – music to my ears! Oddly, I can identify many cars at night from the shape of their headlights. It’s not a skill I worked on; I just can, kind of like Neo knowing Kung Fu.


I am a rabid fan of BBC’s Top Gear and have made my fiancée promise that our next UK visit will include a taping so I can swoon as Richard, Jeremy, James and the Stig test super-cars right before my eyes. Poor man. My honey’s not cut from the same cloth as me. His family favored sensible, reliable cars. His father likes to say that his car “is for hauling my ass around, not my ego.” I beg to differ.


I have always dreamt of a Leno-style showroom of all my favorite ego-tastic expressions of car love. Yes, I get the utilitarian argument. But the car is more than that. It is the highest expression of design and engineering. It’s the marriage of art and science and as such should push the boundaries of both.


As a Petrol Head, I have always assumed my true love would come with a ridiculous amount of torque and horsepower. Prius be damned, give me internal combustion or give me death! And then a funny thing happened.


“I brought my Tesla!” My friend announced one sunny morning. “I thought you might like to drive it.”


Are you nuts? Does it have wheels? Of course I want to drive it. The Tesla Roadster is essentially the world’s first electric super-car. I was skeptical but intrigued.


It looked a lot like the Lotus Elise with which I was familiar due to an ill-fated blind date (he’d had one, he let me drive). This Tesla Roadster was more car-like and less go-cart-like than the Lotus even though they do share styling. But like the Lotus, looking down at the Tesla’s seats gave you the illusion you were looking at something lower than the pavement outside. It’s a tiny, tiny, low car.


Like the super-cars I dream of, the Tesla has sexy styling and nearly no storage but I was impressed by the long, if narrow trunk space. “It’s exactly golf-bag sized,” my friend informed me, “so you get that they know their target market.”


My friend handed me the keys. We got in and I was surprised the visibility was so much better than the Lotus. I didn’t have that same “I can go fast but I can’t see shit” out-of-control feeling. I went to shift and was startled, “oh, it’s automatic.”


“There’re no gears because there’s no transmission.” Well duh, that makes sense! This whole electric car thing was going to challenge my long-held notions of engine love.


With the proud claim of 0-60 in 3.7 seconds, the Tesla is no slouch when it comes to power. It was also the fastest car I’d driven to date. Despite its hard, racer suspension, the Tesla drove like buttered silk. I was twitterpated.


The best surprise was yet to come. My friend warned me that when you let up on the accelerator, the car automatically brakes itself. Part of the electric engine feedback apparently. The brake lights even come on. For someone who can’t stand automatics because they take away my down-shift slow-down option, this was a whole new world. No matter how fast I gunned this quiet monster, it slowed to a stop in the tiniest of spaces. The worst part (the only bad part if we’re honest) of going really, really fast is having to stop really, really fast. This car had that handled. I felt like I had the world in the palm of my hand.


My friend directed me to the freeway, “the only place you’ll really be able to run it,” she grinned. “As soon as we’re on the on ramp, gun it.” As if I needed encouragement. We hit the ramp and I dropped my foot to the floor. I was slammed back into the seat, amazed and drooling but my friend still shouted “Go! Go! Go! Go!” as we zipped past cars and motorcycles. I couldn’t believe the speed and yet feeling of total control and safety. I was wowed. “Too bad you didn’t go faster,” my friend sighed “then you’d really see.” See what? I gasped. Faster and I’d see into parallel universes?


My friend is an unlikely super-car owner. She freely admits to not being a Petrol Head like me and only took her race driving course in order to better understand this machine. Turns out my friend, a rocket scientist – for real - is a special combination of scientist and activist. She and her husband bought the Tesla, not because they’d always hungered for a sexy sports car, but because it was the right thing to do and they could do it.


“People have these ideas about electric cars that they’re slow, unresponsive or unsexy. This car blows all that away” she explained. “It proves you can have what you love about your gas cars but in a way that has to be the future of all cars in order for this planet to continue. My husband and I felt if we could help fund this wave of electric car engineering, that opens up Tesla to develop their next wave of cars targeted and priced for the more average car consumer. We had to do our part to make that happen.”


I was amazed at their spirit and vision. But still, this is a $100,000 car. I wouldn’t let anyone drive it if it were mine.


“We want as many people to get the experience you just got,” she smiled. “The more people that get that electric cars can be this amazing, the better.”


Blown away by her conscientious and magnanimous spirit. I handed her back the keys, reluctantly of course. I had found my new love. I would definitely be ready for the Model S Tesla plans to release in 2012 (0-60 in 5.6 seconds!). But even more, I had a new goal for my dream showroom. You can keep your Ascaris and Zondas and Maclarens. Simply give me the Tesla Roadster Sport. Cherry red, please.


“But why do you need that?” My fiancée moans.


Because I do. Cars bring me joy like nothing else in the world. And I feel my scaled back showroom dream is pretty modest if not realistic. Just one super-car is all I need. And maybe my ’68 Camaro. And just one little DB9. And the Bugatti Vayron would be pretty amazing. And I have always wanted a Cobra.


OK so you can take the gas engine out of the car but you can’t take the gas engine car out of my heart. But those can be my weekend cars. I’ll stick to the amazing Tesla the rest of the week. How’s that for sensible?

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