Borrowed the Roadster for 3 nights and 2 days, drove it 772 miles, got to know it pretty well.
Incredible car – bar a few minor niggles that are nothing to do with its means of propulsion, it lived up to all the hype and then some. The only question left in my mind is which bank to rob...
Part One - The Marathon
As you’ve seen over the past week, I got to borrow the London demo car for a couple of days. Don from the London store had offered it to me for a weekend as long ago as January last year, but summer 2009 was totally taken up with the purchase of a new apartment and so – unfortunately – the car had to wait.
Fast forward to March this year. Apartment purchased, improvement work done, free time again. I popped up to Tesla to see Rachel Konrad and got to borrow the car for a couple of hours (the infamous April Fool’s joke occasion) but again, the offer was made to take the car for a whole weekend.
With the busy summer calendar of motorshows and track events, pinning down a weekend that we could both do was tricky, but we pencilled in May 22nd and 23rd and I was counting the days. To make sure I got the most from the car, I went to work installing 32A outlets in my garage, my brother’s garage and just to be sure, at my grandfather’s farm. I’d made a 32A extension cord and an adapter that I could plug in to two standard UK wall outlets for faster opportunistic charging if needs be. I’d even borrowed 7kW of electric heaters from the neighbours to check the installation at my place. A fair bit of work, but a small price to pay for the use of a supercar for the weekend. By the time I installed the outlet at the farm, I had the cost of socket and breaker down to £15 (and that was with sourcing an antique breaker from eBay, too).
Who says level 2 charging can’t be installed everywhere at low cost?
So the Friday came and everything was set. Friends and acquaintances along the route forewarned, I set off for work with excitement levels through the roof. A quick email to check everything was still ok and – oh no! – the car was on its way to Scotland for the Scottish Motorfair. You’re pulling my leg. Are there any others? It’s at the new Best Buy store near London, on display for a month.
Disappointed would be a more than a bit of an understatement.
But every cloud has a silver lining and this was no exception. Tesla were very apologetic and wanted to reschedule as soon as was practical. The choice was either another weekend later in the summer or to take the car midweek. Well, midweek gave me an interesting possibility to make a roadtrip that would really test the car and perhaps score a first for me and Tesla. Besides, wait two months or take the car next week – what would you do?
As some of you know, my day job is satellite communications engineering and my company has satellite uplink sites in the far south west of England. I regularly have to drive there and when I do, I typically drive half way after work and the second half in the morning. I then return in the evening the same way. It so happened that I had to visit the site within a few days, so an idea was hatched.
The planned route
I’d got the route planned down to the mile. I’d been studying JB’s graphs until they were burned on my brain and as long as the traffic was on my side, it was going to be tight, but possible, to drive from London to Land’s End (the most westerly point of the British mainland) and arrive before 9am the next day. Just in case, I’d identified where I could stop on the EV Network if I found myself running short (a very useful resource, by the way).
This proved pretty accurate
Land’s End is iconic - you may know the signpost - and I felt that crossing the entire country between the end of one working day and the start of the next to reach it would really ram home the point that an EV can be as much a long distance car as an urban runabout. I hadn’t told Tesla about my plans, I wanted to keep it a surprise until the last minute. The plan was given further impetus by the news that Imperial College were taking their SRZero to Land’s End for their next demonstration run – I wanted to be the first there with an EV!
So last Tuesday I set off for work again, this time lugging a bag full of extension cords, adapters and tools, as well as a couple of days' clothes. Quite a lot to carry when heading to work by train, but I wanted to ensure I was ready for any occasion that I may need to charge. I think I could have connected to a lamp post if necessary
This time I needn’t have worried. Sitting in the store was a matte black Roadster, the only one of its kind, fully charged and ready to go. With its flat colour and red accents, the thing looked like an SR71 Blackbird.
Is it a bird, is it a plane...
After filling out the paperwork, going through my itinerary, getting a quick lesson on using the charger and fitting the roof, there was time for a photo for the album and then I was off.
...no, but it's probably quicker off the line
Getting out of London in the rush hour traffic was surprisingly easy, but the average speed for around 50 miles was around sixty mph. I knew that in order to reach Taunton (map point B), 168 miles distant, I had to put the car in range mode, religiously stick to 70mph and not succumb to the temptation of standing on the right pedal at the lights or getting into any races en route. I wanted to at least go 70mph (the British speed limit) as, while most of the population seem unable to stick to it, it does at least validate that Tesla is about no compromises. Driving much slower causes a hazard in faster moving traffic on the busy motorways around the South East and it also reinforces the "EVs are slow" stereotype – not something I was out to do. When I started in range mode, the ideal range was 226 miles but the actual range was only 81 miles. Someone’s been having fun, I thought, and now we know where.
Once clear of the Thames Valley, the traffic thinned enough to allow 70mph progress and I continued onwards to Bristol. I was trying to keep energy usage below 300Wh/mile, and in the main I saw readings around 285. There are a couple of long uphill / downhill stretches on this leg and I was surprised by how little the power needle dipped on the downhills at motorway speed. It seems that aerodynamic drag at that speed still vastly outweighs any gains from potential energy (I discovered later that at sixty mph it’s a different story). At least the range indicator was back to normal after the previous day’s track action.
I knew that once I reached the intersection between M4 and M5 at Bristol, I had 53 miles to go. If I was in danger of not making it, I could pull off there and charge at Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield’s (of EV Cast) house, as she has outlets that any EV network member who knows the padlock code can use. However, I reached the junction with 72 miles on the gauge and so I pressed on. Knowing that I had some margin, I was happy to show the car off on a couple of occasions and settled in to the main flow of the traffic. It was interesting to see the same vehicles overtake me several times along the route – they’d clearly stopped at service stations while I just carried on at steady speed. I was also photographed and videoed again and again – something that kept happening for the duration of the trip. Quite unnerving at first.
When I left the motorway at the Taunton exit I had 22 miles remaining on the gauge. I had to cross town to get to my brother’s – a distance of 3 miles or so. Driving through town, it seemed like every boy racer was out and every traffic light initiated a drag race. I think they learnt their lessons, but we were now down to 20 miles in range mode. Turning into my brother’s road, I had a fright as the range indicator dropped suddenly to 0 miles and the VDS flashed up a message saying it could no longer calculate range. My throwing caution to the wind had caused the car to heat up and the radiator fans had come on to compensate. Oh well, we could push it from here I thought. Thankfully such an unceremonious arrival was avoided and the available energy was still closer to 20 miles than 0. I pulled into the driveway enormously proud of the car. It had done exactly what it said it would – and JB’s graphs were spot on. I arrived at 7.45pm.
One leg down...
I wonder if any owners had that same feeling the first time they completed a marathon stint? It’s not relief, because I knew that I could pull off the road at several places to charge after Bristol and so range anxiety didn’t feature. It was more a return of that feeling I had after driving the prototype two years ago: The car just delivers. I think I’ll call it “range elation”.
We put the car to bed for the night and plugged it into the 32A connector I’d fixed to the wall a month before. I was slightly concerned, as it was only wired into a new fuse board by another electrician the previous week and was untested. To my relief, the car went through its charging light show and the orange flashing started. Then the hurricane commenced. Wow – this thing sounds loud in a hollow double garage! Thankfully, once it had sucked the heat out of the battery ten minutes later, things calmed down. We had dinner, checked on the car, made sure the meter was climbing at the expected rate and went to bed.
Penned in by bimmers! (the horror)
We had to improvise some support for the charger box. These EU MC240s need longer upstream cords.
Success! Orange light. (We had to reverse the car in to avoid grounding the front at the bottom of that slope, hence the unusual cable route.)
I knew that having driven the longest single leg of the route, the car had the range to reach my intended destination. Nevertheless, the day would be tough. The plan was to drive to Land’s End and arrive by 9am, getting some photographic proof that I had been there. I’d then visit Land’s End Cable Station (map point C), where I needed to check on part of my project work, before heading to Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station (D) 29 miles away, where the main site for my current project is located. There I could charge at 30A, while doing a full day’s work, before heading back to Taunton that evening.
Setting out at 6.15am, I’d charged the car in range mode and again it was showing 226 miles. Maybe owners can comment on whether this is normal or whether this car has just had a particularly hard life?
I had around another 30 miles of the M5 to travel, before joining the also fast A30. I was not aware of a 32A outlet at Land’s End Cable Station, so I planned to try to get to Goonhilly on one charge. That would mean travelling 185 miles and furthermore, the terrain was quite hilly. So I kept to 70mph on the motorway and below 65 on the A30. At 6.15am the traffic was pretty light, but as I headed further west, more traffic emerged and on occasion I wished I could just go that extra 5mph as I was passed by plumbers speeding to work in their vans. However I was on a mission and just held my nerve, letting the fantastic cruise control get on with keeping the car at steady speed (you really notice how imprecise other drivers are when cruising in this car).
On the steep hills at 65mph, you really do see how much energy is used or regenerated in this car. On the flat, I found the car was using around 20kW or 55A, just maintain this speed on some of the hills would use over 50kW or over 120A. On occasion when I’d been blocked by two overtaking trucks, accelerating back up to speed uphill was using around 250A. What I did find quite quickly in the trip was that the car gives you more than enough information to judge your energy use, your reserves and therefore exactly what you could get away with to complete your journey as quickly as possible.
While the car has no further need to pull into service stations, the same can’t be said of its driver. I dived into the Shell garage I often stop at for fuel on this trip as the clock turned 8. There were dozens of people queuing for the pumps and even some arguments over who was there first. It was chaos. I’d intended to buy a drink but with the queue out the door I went back to the car, smug in the knowledge that I had no further need for the mêlée that was going on around me. I tip-toed around it and hit the road.
An hour later I pulled into the car park at Land’s End. It wasn’t officially open until 10 o’clock, but the gates were open so I went in. My attempts to forewarn them had fallen flat. An email wasn’t replied to and the phones were not answered. I’d looked at the plan on the website and knew where the signpost was, so I sneaked around there slowly. If you are going to sneak in somewhere, you want a matt black silent car I found the sign, grabbed a few photos and drove off before anyone asked any questions.
The money shot. This is what I'd driven here for - a picture next to the famous signpost. Now I just had to get back.
Five minutes later I was at the cable station and plugging in. I decided that as I was there for an hour or so, I might as well squeeze in a few more electrons. The range gauge was showing 42 miles in range mode and the next leg was only 29 miles, nevertheless I thought it better safe than sorry. The staff did a double-take when I asked to plug in my car – I think the site manager wasn’t too happy about it either – but scepticism turned to delight when drove the Roadster around the corner. We found a double outlet within reach of the door and I broke out my special double adapter and heavy duty extension cable.
Roadster charges at Land's End Cable Station.
My home-brew double adapter meant I could charge at 16A from a standard UK twin socket
I’d hoped to be able to charge at 19 or 20 Amps on this setup. However, the current restriction on the car jumps from 16A to 24A. While 24A is still under the maximum current of two UK sockets (they are 13A each), it is not recommended that more than 50% of a single outlet is drawn as not all manufacturers design for this. It would be useful to have a setting for 19A and a charger that could check two or three outlets for max current, same phase, etc (my adapter is just two plugs in parallel).
I got on with some work for an hour while the car added around 10 miles of charge. Fed up with not getting good internet access on my laptop (ironic in a trans-Atlantic fibre optic cable station), I decided that having 50 miles range was enough and headed off. Was I glad I put that juice in the car. About half way to the next stop I hit a huge traffic jam. It was a holiday week and the schools in the UK are out for half-term. The weather was great, everyone had headed to the coast and so the council decided to resurface the roads. Stuck in the jam for 20 minutes and mindful that I was wasting charging time that I would need for later, I found a back road on the TomTom and headed for a detour. I had enough range to make it.
Three miles later progress was again stopped by – guess what – another crew resurfacing the road. This time there were only 5 cars ahead of me and we had to wait to be escorted through the works. I was wondering what all this loose gravel was doing to the vinyl wrap, but it seems to have stood up. Anyway, I made it back to the main road and carried on. It was then, about 5 miles from my destination, that the range dropped from 20 to 0 miles again and the VDS flashed its warning. I had no option but to press on, uphill, for 5 miles into the unknown. The car made it, but I was glad for the extra hour of charge time.
I got to the satellite antenna building and plugged in. Luckily I’d taken the precaution of having some 32A outlets installed in the workshop for future test equipment to use My colleagues were dumbstruck. They knew that I was bringing an EV, had guessed that only a Tesla would make it down there, but ruled that out as unlikely. Well – it happened. The car guys among them were all taking a look, wanting to know about it, wishing they’d brought their SLRs. Of course, on such a beautiful day we couldn’t leave the car sitting charging, so I made the decision to take a few photos around the site and go for a spin. It would mean leaving later, but it was worth it.
This was the only time I found myself wanting a 40 or 48A mobile charger - 30A was ok for overnight use, but taking 8 hours to fill up over the day left no margin for errands (I skipped lunch) or playing. A little more power would have allowed me to leave at a civilised time that evening .
Plugging in at the earthstation was a relief - for me and the car
We've got 32A outlets coming out of our ears down here
Goonhilly is one of the world’s oldest satellite stations. It has the world’s oldest parabolic communication satellite antenna. It received the first live television pictures from America via Telstar. Now we’re installing Europe’s first dedicated Ka-band broadband internet satellite service there. It’s about a mile across with a network of private roads and very few staff onsite compared to its heyday. I think we may have broken the 20mph site speed limit.
Goonhilly has some cool hardware. This is the antenna that brought you Live Aid
Antenna One - the daddy of them all
The spectacle attracted other Roadsters
Colleagues departed, I finished off my work, took a few more pictures, had a quick nap and then set off around 9pm. I knew from the trip down that three quarters of a range mode charge would get me back, so as soon as I had 195 miles ideal, I set off. Hmm, it was getting dark. How much would the headlights use..? 500Wh – ok I’ll give it another 5 minutes for luck. I’d been chatting with Doug and switched on my Google Latitude so that he could track me back to Taunton. If I had stopped out on the road, help was only 8000 miles away.
Big brother is watching
On the way out, the security guard on the gate said, “Is that one of those electric ones?” “Yes, I drove it down here this morning.” “Fantastic, I never thought I’d see one down here.” One more person's day made.
I headed off directly for Taunton, in the process traversing one of my favourite pieces of B road in the country, between Helston and Redruth. I’d always wanted to do it in a proper sports car and not the econoboxes we normally get given by Hertz or Enterprise – this was my chance. It was a risk, but by now I was confident in the car’s abilities, so I nailed it. Ten miles of technical, twisty, hilly joy before rejoining the A30 for the long drag back to Taunton. I arrived back at ten to midnight, 22 miles to spare.
The marathon was over, now I could enjoy the sprint.
Stay tuned for part two when I've finished some space-type work (you know, the sort that pays the bills...)
Thursday morning was another early start, but this time there wasn’t a hard deadline to meet (or at least a point to prove). I’d arranged to meet my friend Pete and show him what the fuss was about and the only time that worked for us both was breakfast. So he got the eggs on and I drove over early, dropping my brother’s girlfriend at work on the way.
Breakfast ended up taking an hour and a half, as we got into one of those conversations that Tesla seems to inspire about EVs, peak oil and all things related. Pete captains a boat and has some interesting tales about offshore wind and how to / how not to do it properly. Stupidly, I realised about an hour into this that I was wasting valuable charging time, so I broke out the double adapter again and put in a few more miles.
Eventually we got going and I gave Pete a little taste of driving the car. I say little, because as we headed for the hills we went past turning after turning where we could have looped back around. Now Pete is into his big V8s – specifically when they are in a Jaguar XJS - but within half a mile he was grinning from ear to ear.
“Missing the sound of an engine yet?” I asked, as we barrelled into another section of twisty broad.
“nope,” came the reply.
All the chitchat had put me behind schedule. My next stop was to call into the hotel where my brother works and finally allow him to get a go. We didn’t have much time and worse still, the traffic was bad. We got about two miles of vaguely clear road before turning back.
At this point I was due to drive over to my granddad’s farm to charge a bit more while calling into a work call. However, as with all the best made plans it didn’t quite work that way. We seemed to attract a few more staff from the hotel including the operations manager, who was so impressed with the car and the tales of my trip that he said they would definitely make arrangements for others to charge there. These guys are used to having exotic hardware around, nevertheless the Roadster still caused a stir.
At this point a guy in an Audi TT drove in and said, “Is that a Tesla? My Friend’s just bought one of those.” This helped reinforce the point about charging. So if you are reading this and have a friend that works at the Castle Hotel in Taunton, congratulations, you have excellent taste in cars sir
After the leaving the hotel I did head to my granddad’s. I’d screwed the outlet to the wall here, but before I could charge I had to make the connection to the breaker. Five minutes later we were in business. by this time my mum and granddad had turned up to have a look. My mum had just got back from the US so it was lucky she could see the car, but it was my granddad that I was particularly pleased that I could show the car to.
Around ten years ago we were having a conversation about what was going on in the alternative fuelled vehicles field and he made a comment at the time of, “I doubt I shall live to see it”. Wrong! Well, he wanted to know all about the car and of course I was happy to oblige. (It’s at this time I wish I’d take a picture of him with the car, not least to keep the Clarke / Kubrik fans around here happy).
Feeding time at the farm
I got on with some work for a bit, but this lasted about 45 minutes before I decided I would see if my cousin Steve was at home. Fortunately, although I’d done a standard mode charge the previous night, the car still had 130 miles ideal charge when I plugged it in, so there was plenty left for my journey later in the afternoon.
Steve was home at lunch, and his jaw dropped when I rolled into his drive with the car. He knew that I had an interest from a chat after the Top Gear incident, but I don’t think he expected to see one show up at his house. As his home overlooks the golf course where he works, some of his colleagues came over to have a look to. I found the story of my trip to Cornwall stopped any questions of range dead in their tracks and from then on all the interest was about the specs of the car.
I told Steve to jump in and we’d go for a spin around the route we’ve always used to show off new cars, which is only 4 miles but has a mix of all types of road. Steve has raced Ferraris and single-seaters in the past but was left speechless by the performance of the Roadster. When he had recovered, all he could say was “that thing is quicker than anything I’ve ever driven. That’s phenomenal.”
Another one converted, I headed back to the farm for some more electrons. I left the car charging for a couple of hours (at 32A) while I had lunch and made a few work calls, before packing up and setting off on the stage I was looking forward to most – the 80 mile trip to my place.
I set off with 173 miles ideal range showing, so I could throw caution to the wind this time. I had to keep enough charge for the evening, as I was due to pick up my girlfriend from work and we were going out for dinner. However, that was for later. For the moment I had 20 miles of single carriageway road through some small towns, 20 miles of fast dual carriageway and 40 miles of the best type of b roads.
Making good progress of the first stretch, I rounded a corner to see a police car on the side of the road. They appeared to be having a break and I drove past without raising attention, however around the next corner were a whole load more police and a fire engine. They appeared to have just finished clearing up the aftermath of an accident. While waiting for the fire engine to turn around, the first police car pulled up behind me in the queue. Great. Now he was paying attention. The road was clear and we moved off, and I drove that next 10 miles like I was on my driving test Eventually he turned off, but the best bit of that road was wasted.
On the dual carriageway, I went with the flow of the traffic. This was the first time I’d cruised with the other traffic and not been keeping a really close eye on the energy use. It was over 300Wh/mile when I did look down, but I didn’t notice the lack of roof adding much to the total – it seemed to be in the noise. Getting back to the b roads, I was having fun for five miles when I caught up with a slow moving semi/articulated truck that was holding up a car and appeared to be taking an ill-advised satnav shortcut to Southampton docks. I caught it just at the end of a good overtaking spot, meaning that the road went into a blind right hander over the brow of a hill. I knew there was a very short opportunity to get past it around that corner that in my own ICE car I would perhaps take another car but think twice about the combination of car and truck. I selected performance mode and tentatively stuck the Roadster’s nose out. The road was clear so I floored it. bang! It was like being fired out of a railgun. The quote in my signature really is apt. In the blink of an eye I was past the car and alongside the cab of the truck. Regaining my senses, I could see that the road was clear and I probably could have taken another couple of trucks with no problem. I carried on up the road and never saw either vehicle in my mirrors again. Now I was just willing slower traffic to get in my way. Ten miles from home, some kids in a hatchback recognised what was following them and started filming me on phones held out of windows. We were leaving the last town I had to go to through en route and as soon as we left the speed limit and reached the open road, I let them film for a couple of seconds and then hit the teleport pedal again. Even up a steep hill, this car doesn’t disappoint. I hope those guys are now telling their friends about the time they first got passed by an EV.
Outside my garage, getting a quick refill before the evening
After picking up Khadine and giving the car a 40 minute charge, we headed up the road to get dinner. Khadine drove up there and as we pulled into the car park, the only space was next to an Austin Healey roadster. Now we had two of my favourite cars next to each other. They’d both be in my Tony Stark garage. It’s owner came over to have a look. “It’s certainly different,” came the comment. “That’s very true. Just driven it up here from Taunton. Was in Cornwall last night. He feigned interest but I could tell this one was hard work – although I could see curiosity getting the better of him as he returned to have a look over the course of the evening. A local group of Land Rover fans also showed up. The car certainly caught their attention. I would have loved to take some of them out for a quick spin, but my food would have got cold and the reaction on my return probably even colder.
Classic and modern. I'll have both please!
We left at 10.30, 25 miles showing on the range meter. I couldn’t resist one last blast back along the road to Stockbridge, just for the fun of it. We had a bit too much fun – the car went into power limit mode half way back. No problem, one tap on the screen and we unlocked the last 10% of the battery for a final 5 miles of fun.
The next morning I woke up to virtually a full standard mode charge. It was time to return the car, but not before one last bit of fun. It’s only 66 miles from my place to the London store, but I was making a detour. I’d arranged to meet my friend Darryl at his place at 7.30. Darryl has a Vauxhall VX200, which for the uninitiated is another cousin of the Elise. It shares the series 2 chassis, but has the Vauxhall / GM 2.2 litre engine (in Darryl’s car) and has different styling.
I joined the M3 at 6.30 – still at that time a river of cars heading from the South Coast to the high-tech companies around the south west of London. It was partly due to that river that I started thinking about EVs again a few years ago. It is like that for 4 hours each way per day. I moved to the outside lane and went with the ambient traffic speed, people doing double-takes in my mirrors as they realised what just passed them while others sped up to take a closer look. I made good time getting to Darryl’s and got him out of bed.
“I see they still have the fogging headlights too, then.” We were on familiar ground. We headed around the corner from his house to the old gate to Pinewood Studios, where there was ample space to take a few photos, but what I really wanted was his opinion on the car. A quick 3 mile mixed road loop was enough to test all the essential characteristics. “Amazing. You can really feel the extra weight under braking, but the handling is impressive and the speed is unbelievable.” Another EV grin. You can read his reaction on the VX220 forum here. (I find the stopping power fine, but my comparison car isn't a lightweight Lotus variant.)
Leaving Darryl’s, it was time to jump onto the M4 for the last 20 miles to the store. Cruising into London with the top open on a beautiful morning, I really felt at home with the car. It’s a fantastic all-rounder. Actually far more comfortable than it’s Lotus brethren on long stints, but devastatingly quick when it needs to be, the debate in my mind was not now whether it is the R8 first and then the Roadster, or the Roadster and then the R8, but whether I’d need the R8 at all. OK, I can indulge myself for a few minutes.
The London traffic was surprisingly light, but nevertheless after miles of fresh air, I was starting to resent other people’s exhaust gasses in my face. Electrification of city transport cannot come soon enough.
I pulled into Cheval Place and rang the bell. Handing the keys back was bitter-sweet – obviously I had to give the car back, but after 772 incredible miles of putting this thing through its paces I knew that I’d not only pulled off the roadtrip that I’d thought about a year ago but dismissed as unlikely, but I’d also really shown a lot of people (not least myself) that the car really is practical to use both everyday and on long trips.
The trip computer
There are some minor issues that are more a consequence of its sports car heritage than anything else (which we’ve discussed here before). It could use a footrest on the left side for long journeys and British FM radio signals are exactly the same as their American counterparts, but I’m still totally sold. I’d have one in an instant if I could - but back to the real world and saving those pennies. If the Model S drives half as good as this...
This is a good level of road tax
Big thanks to Rachel and Don for making this possible – it was a fantastic trip and I’m glad we were able to set another Tesla first in the process.