Automobile

Decade-old Tesla Roadsters are becoming collectible

Elon Musk with the
Tesla Roadster.
REUTERS/Issei Kato
  • Tesla’s earliest cars have shot up in price in recent years. 
  • That’s thanks to the “star power” of the Tesla brand and the significance of the Roadster to electric-car history. 
  • Tesla only made around 2,450 Roadsters from 2008-2012. 

When a little California upstart named Tesla Motors released a limited-production, electric sports car in 2008, nobody could have predicted that the same company would someday be the most valuable carmaker in the world and be credited with sparking the electric-vehicle revolution. 

Now Tesla’s earliest cars are becoming hot collectibles, skyrocketing in price in recent years as Elon Musk’s empire has exploded. 

Tesla made roughly 2,450 Roadsters between 2008 and 2012, selling them for around $100,000 and up. The quirky two-door convertibles depreciated over time, with one changing hands for $38,000 on the car-auction site Bring a Trailer in 2018. 

A
2011 Tesla Roadster 2.5 Sport that sold in January for $190,000.
Bring a Trailer

What a difference a few years makes. According to Hagerty, an insurance firm for classic cars, Roadster values have nearly doubled in the last two years, rising from an average of $69,000 in May 2020 to $127,000 this year. That’s based on values provided by owners looking to insure their vehicles and largely reflects what they paid. 

Some examples with particularly low mileage or desirable options have raked in much more than that. In January, a 2011 Roadster Sport sold for $190,000. In May, someone paid $212,000 for one of the first 100 Roadsters built. 

The run-up in prices lined up with a pandemic-induced frenzy in the collector-car market as enthusiasts turned to their vehicles as an escape, Brian Rabold, vice president of automotive intelligence at Hagerty, told Insider. A sexy, quick, and fun-to-drive car that’s become an important piece of EV history, the Roadster also has a distinct appeal among fans of Tesla and of the wider electric-car movement, he said.

A 2011 Tesla Roadster 2.5 Sport.
A 2011 Tesla Roadster 2.5 Sport that sold in January for $190,000.
Bring a Trailer

“It was Tesla’s first product, so it has that special place in history. As Tesla’s fortunes have grown and as it’s become the company that it is today, a lot of that gets rooted back to the Roadster,” he said. 

In just the last five years, Tesla has matured from a shaky startup to a $700 billion company with a global presence and an army of loyal fans. Its CEO Elon Musk has become a celebrity and the richest person on the planet. All of this has helped catapult the Roadster to new heights, experts said. 

Randy Nonnenberg, CEO of Bring a Trailer, chalked up the Roadster’s recent success to the “star power of the Tesla brand.”

A 2011 Tesla Roadster 2.5 Sport.
A 2011 Tesla Roadster 2.5 Sport.
Bring a Trailer

Dan Richland, a retired literary agent who lives in California, owned a string of fast gas-powered cars over the decades but became sold on EVs after driving a Tesla Model S in 2020. Since then, he’s bought multiple Teslas and plunged much of his net worth into the company’s stock, he told Insider. He wanted to own the car that started it all and bought a 2010 Roadster for $140,000 in May. 

“My thinking on it was: This is the original Tesla. It is a miracle that this car actually came to market,” he said. 

Part of the Roadster’s appeal is that it’s more fun and interesting any other electric car available today, said Pete Gruber, who runs Gruber Motor Company, a repair shop in Phoenix, Arizona that specializes in Roadsters. “You’ve got four-door grocery-getters all day long,” he said. “Nothing out there is a brightly colored, two-seater sports car.”

Gruber launched an online marketplace that connects Roadster sellers and buyers in late 2020 and is planning to open a Roadster storage facility to capitalize on the boom in sales. In the last couple of years, he’s seen more serious collectors buying up Roadsters as investments. 

Both Rabold and Nonnenberg expect that Roadsters will grow more valuable for the foreseeable future. 

“Will it be a rocket ship and they’ll be worth 20x what they are now? Probably not. But are they a very solid and appreciating investment? I think so,” Nonnenberg said.

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