We compare the electric car to its direct predecessor, the hydrocarbon-burning automobile, much as our forebears must have compared the first motorcar to the trusty nag, which was soon to be advertised with hefty cash rebates and complimentary oat bags.
So as not to be seen as blithely unappreciative of a new technology’s inevitable teething issues, namely the Tesla’s limited driving range and the nation’s inadequate charging infrastructure, we developed a kind of handicap for the Model S. The Tesla would not go up against a new car, which would enjoy a de facto head start thanks to more than a century of development. Instead, it would compete against a car more in line with an electric vehicle’s limitations. Hence, we looked back over automotive history for a suitable candidate.
We would start at the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex on Detroit’s Piquette Street, where the T was designed and first built. The red-brick, New England mill–style building erected in 1904 survives as a museum staffed by knowledgeable mavens who know the correct ways to apply lapping compound and petcock sealant.
With Tesla’s Fremont, California, assembly plant being much too far away, the finish line would instead be electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla’s old Wardenclyffe laboratory in Shoreham, New York, on Long Island. The lab, which opened in 1902, is itself in the process of becoming a museum. Depending on the route each team chose, the race course could be as short as 682 miles but long enough that the Tesla would need to charge several times.
It was a close race!