Okay, no surprise, I’m a car guy. Everyone knows it. I’ll not clog this newsletter with information on my collection of three of the most iconic cars of all time: a 1969 Lotus Elan, a 2002 Acura NSX and a 2014 McLaren MP4-12C, although the McLaren makes an appearance later in this story. You may notice they are all three yellow. It’s a weakness, what can I say? You can see pictures and read all about why they are so great here.
When I let my Polaris RZR go a couple of years back, it created an extra space in my 7-car garage and a void that had to be filled. What to do? What to do? After months of input and debate among my car buddies, I settled on finding a low mileage, 2-3-year-old Mercedes Benz S-550. The primary attraction of this car was its precipitous depreciation rate – one of the five worst in the world. It meant a low mileage version of this powerful and great looking 2-dr coupe with an original sticker of $155,662 in one example, was priced at just $57,900. This is an awesome saving. Plus, if you bought one certified pre-owned from a MB dealership, they honored the full five-year warranty as if you were the original owner, and added an extra year.
I wanted this car so Maggie and I could drive to and from California and perhaps Minnesota in ultra-luxury and safety. Once the model, year and miles were decided on, the search began. I looked for over 3 months, in no particular hurry. It drove my car buddies crazy, but I love being in the market for a car and delight in chasing down all manner of crazy alternatives. The Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote was a good friend and ultimate car guy, Clayton Saffell.
Saffell and I met in the Phoenix Lotus Owners Club and he provided invaluable assistance and guidance during my Lotus Elan rebuild. Although a good bit younger than me, Saffell knows more about cars than Elon Musk knows about batteries. He has perfect recall to an encyclopedic memory, and strong, although nearly always justified, opinions on a great many things, including automobiles.
After a few false starts, money allocated to this purpose was burning a hole in my pocket. So, one Saturday Saffell agreed to go with me to visit a couple of MB dealers who had S-550’s for sale on their lots. One condition, however, was visiting a couple of Tesla dealers. Saffell was strongly considering the purchase of a Tesla Model 3 and Tesla had special pricing that weekend on in-stock models.
We looked at the first MB S-550 and decided to pass. Then, to the Tesla dealership. We checked out the Model 3 demo on the showroom floor and got a few questions answered, but didn’t like the salesperson or the vibe of the dealership. So it was off to see the next S-550 prospect.
That one didn’t leave us gushing either, although it was a great car and a decent price. The next Tesla dealership was near Kierland Commons, in Scottsdale. We met an over-the-top helpful salesman. We drove the Model 3 around and Saffell decided to pull the trigger and order the car then and there. It was a breeze. The salesman guided Saffell through a smartphone app, and before you knew it, he’d matched the specs of the car he wanted to a car in their inventory and made a $5K deposit to hold the car until he could pick it up on Monday at the delivery center.
As Saffell was lining up his new car, I learned all sorts of things about Teslas of which I was unaware. If you don’t count rotating the tires, the first service is due at 124,000 miles when the brakes need inspecting. You never need an oil change or have to stop at a gas station. The car is quicker from 0-60 than anything other than a total muscle car and even then, it’s no slouch. It has zero emissions. Consumer Reports rated it as the safest car they’d ever tested. More of it is built here in the United States than any other car – it is more “made in the USA” than Ford, Chevy, or Chrysler. The design knocks your socks off – inside and out. It is just spectacular. And it is built to drive itself, if and when the government regulators and lawyers get all the kinks worked out.
And then there is the process of acquiring a new car from Tesla. It’s completely different from any other car buying experience you’ve had. Everyone is familiar with the term “slick as greased owl shit,” right? The Tesla car purchase process represents a brilliant manifestation of that phrase. Saffell didn’t physically have to sign his name once. After he’d decided to buy the car, we were done in less than 15 minutes and all he needed to do then was pick up his car on Monday morning. As we were about to leave, I said to the sales guy, “Ya know, I think I’d like one, too.” I turned to Saffell and asked, “Do you think this is better for me than an S-550?” Without a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Yes. I do.” I’ve known Clayton Saffell since 2011. Every suggestion he’s ever made to me has been perfect. Well, except Roon, but that’s another story and not his fault.
Maggie and I have been living with our brilliantly blue Tesla Model 3 with its pure white interior for a year now. The damn car has squiggled and wormed its way into my heart. It was the most impulsive auto purchase I’d ever made. I was certain it wouldn’t last. Quite the opposite has happened. I have come to love it. New technology frequently irritates the crap out of me – especially Apple products. A day doesn’t go by that I’m not screaming at my iPhone, iWatch, or iPad, asking “Why are you doing this? I didn’t ask you to do this! Please stop!” Tesla is as full of technology as Apple, but they simply implement it so much better. For example, our other cars are set to open our garage doors and neighborhood security gate by pushing either a special clicker or button in the car. Tesla, which has advanced GPS, has you decide where you want to be when the gate or garage door opens. Approaching the gate or garage doors, you do nothing. No clickers, no buttons, you just drive up and things open. It is so intuitive, so simple and cool. You don’t realize how arcane other cars are until you drive them after driving the Tesla. I’ve driven up to our gate many times in one of our other cars and then realized I needed to find my clicker. You find yourself asking, “Why doesn’t this just do this automatically, like the Tesla.”
Most people familiar and comfortable with gas-driven cars excessively worry about running out of battery power. This is called range anxiety: “How do I know where the next charging station will be? What happens if I run out of battery charge?” I’ve noticed this fear is almost the exclusive domain of those interested in an electric vehicle like the Tesla, but haven’t purchased one yet. One finds that within a few months of driving an electric car, most fear that you’ll not have enough juice to reach your destination goes away. Last year I loaded the Tesla with 2 other good-sized guys like me and one average guy – Saffell and headed for Las Vegas. Leaving the house with a full charge, Tesla’s navigation system showed us heading north and west, stopping in Kingman, AZ at a charging station a few blocks off the highway. Off we went, with the car doing a good share of the steering, accelerating, and braking while we jabbered away. Pulling into the Kingman charging station a few hours later, the Tesla’s battery was just over 23%. The Tesla screen said we should charge it for 15 minutes to give us enough juice to make it to Las Vegas. In just 15 minutes, our battery showed 81% charged. Wow! And we made it to the north end of Las Vegas with juice to spare.
This is the only time I’ve charged my Tesla outside my home garage, except for once at Kierland Commons when Saffell showed me how to plug it in and follow proper charging etiquette.
Other than this one trip, we drive around town all day and evening. Rarely do we use even half the juice in the battery. When we get home, we plug it in. I’ve not been able to see an increase in our electric bill, although I’m sure there has been. I’ve just not been able to quantify it. The 3-year cost of ownership puts the Tesla in a genuinely low-price bracket when you factor in that you don’t spend any money for gas nor do you take it in for tune-ups and other repairs.
Another enduring quality of Tesla is how quick it is. It was only a few weeks ago when a car with a very loud set of pipes coasted up in the lane beside me. Looking over I saw it was an Asian tuner car, great big wide tires, body panels galore and rumbling pipes, as the driver blipped the throttle every couple of seconds. The rear airfoil was huge and painted logo and words on the car’s doors promoted a host of speed shop brands. It was clear this driver was hoping for a race. Even though Maggie was with me, I decided, why not?
As soon as the light turned green the car next to me began roaring like a madman. The tires squealed as the driver dropped his clutch and his car took off a bit ahead. Me, I floored the Tesla, shooting across the intersection, and before we were all the way through, I was over a full car length ahead. In the next hundred feet, I was 3-4 car lengths ahead and a half mile further on, as I slowed for a red light, I was all the way stopped and waiting as the tuner car pulled in next to me. I just looked straight ahead. What the young driver probably did not understand is, unlike a piston-driven car which makes maximum torque and power typically over 5,000 RPM’s, the Tesla’s maximum torque and power are at zero RPM’s. And it’s totally quiet. This is just so incredibly fun I can hardly stand it.
Here is what is funniest. This sort of thing at stoplights happens to me all the time in my McLaren. Anyone having anything close to a “hot car” attempts to take it on. In this situation, had I been in the McLaren, the result wouldn’t have been much different. But here is what would have been different: Yes, I’d have blown off the Asian tuner car in the McLaren — but people in five states would have known about it. The McLaren’s light carbon fiber body and 640 horses channeled through its “sport exhaust” can wake the dead when pushed hard in race mode. It’s been verified – they come right out of the ground and they are pissed! This is why, about 95% of the time when someone pulls up beside the McLaren, revving their engine in hopes of a quick drag race, I just let them go. It’s not worth the bother or the noise.
There was no advance inclination I would be this smitten with the Tesla. It is so beautiful to look at, inside and out. The sound system is the best I’ve ever had in a car. Tesla surprises owners with feature that have no practical use, but are just crazy fun. Did you know the Tesla can emit farts of all sorts from under any seat in the car? What other car does that? It has a Santa mode that makes the turn signals jingle like bells and has the car show up as a Santa’s sleigh on the screen. When setting up your Tesla after purchase, you are given the option to name your car. What you put as its name comes up each time you turn the car on. Without much debate, we named ours “Steve & Maggie’s Tesla.” A week or so later, Saffell called me and suggested I rename my Tesla. He said, “When it asks you what you want the name of your car to be, just type in 42.” So I did and the next time I turned the car on I noticed the name of our Tesla was now “Life, the Universe and Everything.” Of course, any geek worth his comic book collection will recognize and appreciate the Douglas Adams tribute and reference to “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.”
My intention was not to fall for the Tesla. My plan was to drive it for a year and then line up something else. Not now. This Model 3 began working its way into our hearts from the first day and hasn’t stopped. I get a charge every time I get into it. Pun intended.
UPDATE: My story was reposted with additional pictures on Turtle Garage. Thanks Philip!
Great article Steve. My parents just bought a Tesla and I’m sure they will enjoy as much as you and Maggie do. Hope to see you guys over the winter. We leave for Palm Desert mid-Nov.