Vicki Butler-Henderson relives her first experience driving an electric car: a Tesla Roadster at the Goodwood Festival of Speed back in 2008
Electric cars are a big noise in the news these days. Not to Vicki Butler-Henderson, who was thrashing a Tesla Roadster in deathly silence nearly ten years ago.
When do you think the world saw its first electric vehicle? Twenty years ago? Thirty? Not even close. It was actually almost two centuries ago, in 1832.
My first real taste of an electric car was, ironically, at one of the world’s meccas for petrolheads – the Goodwood Festival of Speed. About ten years ago, filming for Fifth Gear, I drove a car from a then little-known company called Tesla – it was the company’s first car and a tie-up with Lotus, so it was pretty much an Elise but powered very differently.
In full race suit and helmet, I strapped myself behind the wheel of this road car and waited at the start line ready to punch my way up the 1.1-mile tarmac track that runs outside Goodwood House. Off went a Porsche 911 ahead of me, with smoking tyres and making a cracking din. And there I sat, using only my voice to make engine noises: brrmmm, brrmmm.
The noise-hungry spectators who line the course expect a thundering crack as each car passes them. Boy were they in for a disappointment.
The Tesla Roadster and I may not have been noisy, but we were fast. I booted the throttle from the off and the car’s instant and peak torque (almost 300Nm) catapulted us to 60mph in under four seconds. Where I would then normally grab second gear and third before the first bend, I did nothing apart from steer and keep my foot pinned to the floor.
There’s just one forward gear (plus reverse), and the torque is constantly with you up to the red line at a massively high 13,000rpm – double that of most cars – and by that stage you are doing well over 100mph.
My biggest electric car lesson came as I braked from that speed for the left-hand bend halfway up the hill. It was the first time I understood just how crucial noise is when it comes to braking – without this input I was a bit perplexed.
I slowed down hard but I wasn’t sure if I’d slowed enough – or too much – and there was no guidance from the down-changes of a gearbox either. It was a bizarre sensation and one I’d never experienced before. The car didn’t have a roof on, so the only suggestion of help came from the wind whistling about the windscreen and my helmet.
However, the Roadster was so quick that within a minute of starting our silent adventure, it had finished. I was bolstered by a feeling of exhilaration because it had been a total hoot – a lot of fun – and I was so glad because I can now confidently reassure all petrolheads that we can get our thrills in an electric world that is charging fast upon us. Plug in!
To see my words come to life on the screen, watch my Fifth Gear film on YouTube.