It’s hard to think of a higher-profile Silicon Valley figure than Elon Musk. With his carefully cultivated outsider status, slew of disruptive products and hyperbolic statements, he’s certain to grab more headlines than Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, and Larry Page combined on any given week. While SpaceX is off building rockets and the Dragon capsule for NASA, and a California company is developing a Hyperloop test track based on his design, Musk is most closely associated with Tesla, the company that single-handedly legitimized the electric car, and has been successful enough to force the world’s largest automakers to take EVs seriously.
Tesla has gone from outlier, to dead-man-walking, to industry leader all in under a decade. And while people may be panicking over its disappointing second quarter report, the company shows no sign of slowing down. The long-awaited Model X crossover should begin to reach customers by the end of September, and an even hotter performance version of the Model S, the 762 horsepower P90D is already on its way to customers. With the mass-market Model 3 set to be unveiled early next year, and the company’s Gigafactory on track to open in 2017, Tesla could soon become the technological juggernaut it has always had the potential of being.
While Tesla has shaken up the automotive world, and its ultimate aim is to rid the world of gasoline-powered cars, Elon Musk has a penchant for cars that goes back to his childhood. Here are 5 cars that prove that Musk is out to change the way we drive, not destroy it.
1. 1978 BMW 320i
Musk’s first car was a first-gen BMW 3-Series, a 320i that he bought for $1,400 and fixed up himself. Introduced in 1975, the two-door Bimmer was instrumental in establishing the company in the U.S. market, and 40 years later, they still look great. Musk liked his too – he actually drove it until the wheels fell off.
2. 1967 Jaguar E-Type
The E-Type is the automotive symbol of Britain’s Swinging ’60s, and one of the most beautiful cars ever built. Musk thought of the classic Jag as his dream car – until he bought one. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t a fan of the E-Type’s “classic British reliability,” likening classic car ownership to a dysfunctional relationship.
3. McLaren F1
The McLaren F1 isn’t just one of the greatest supercars of all-time, it’s also the granddaddy of the Tesla dual-motor cars. In a 1999 documentary about dot-com millionaires, a young Elon Musk is seen taking delivery of a silver F1 while he was the CEO of X.com, an online bank that ended up merging with Paypal in 2000. After nearly totaling it, Musk daily drove his F1 until 2007, when he sold it to make room for a Tesla Roadster.
But the 627 horsepower BMW V12-powered F1 stayed on Musk’s mind. When the company was developing the dual-motor Model S P85D, his performance targets for the 691 horsepower were the same as his old British supercar. Both the F1 and 4,900 pound electric sedan go from zero to 60 in 3.2 seconds.
4. Tesla Roadster
It may be Musk’s company, but he was driving Teslas long before they were cool. The first Roadster off the production line was delivered to him in February 2008, and while the car had plenty of teething problems as the company ramped up production, it could go from zero to 60 in under four seconds, and had a range of over 230 miles, making it the first truly highway-worthy electric vehicle sold in the U.S. Just under 2,500 of the Lotus-bodied Roadsters were built before production ended in 2012, though Musk says a second-generation car will arrive in 2018.
5. Tesla Model S
Unsurprisingly, Musk’s daily driver is a Model S, but he’s a bit more adventurous with it than you might expect. As the company continues to work on its Autopilot autonomous driving program, instead of relying solely on lab work and test vehicles, Musk gets seat time himself, saying:
“I’m testing the latest version of autopilot every week,” he said. “Typically, two or three builds per week that I’m testing on my car… But it is quite a tricky thing and we want to make sure our testing is exhaustive before releasing the software.”
Autopilot uses cameras and a radar system to allow for hands-free driving, not unlike a plane’s autopilot system, and according to Musk, we could see the initial rollout of Autopilot within the next few weeks.When the decision is made to release it, we can be sure that it was made by Musk himself.
When Elon Musk sold his McLaren F1 in 2007, he was conflicted, saying:
“It was a work of art, really, but it’s not good for the environment and I didn’t want people always writing that I have a high-performance gasoline sports car, so I decided to sell it.”
And therein lies the beauty of Tesla. Its cars are good looking – maybe not works of art, but still undeniably handsome. And while Musk missed his F1, he built an electric car that weighed over twice as much, but was more powerful and just as fast, at 1/10th the cost. That’s an amazing feat of technology, and that’s what makes Tesla such an exciting company today.
Follow Derek on Twitter @CS_DerekS