Raced a Tesla

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I raced a Tesla yesterday. It was a tie – but I won.

If that sounds contradictory, allow me to elucidate.

I was in a brand-new Mustang Bullitt GT – which Ford sent me after I spent a week in the regular GT. The Bullitt is an upgraded but lower-profile, special edition GT that commemorates the famous movie car chase scene featuring Steve McQueen and a Highland Green ’68 Mustang GT.

The new Bullitt hasn’t got a big-block 390 but it does have 155 more horsepower than the movie car (480 vs. 325) and six gears instead of just four.

The Tesla S I raced had no gears – and made no sound, either.

It was close  . . . in terms of the neck-and-neck. But no contest where it mattered.

The Tesla kept pace with the Bullitt, even edging slightly ahead in between shifts (the electric car’s acceleration being entirely linear).

We both dialed things back as Ludicrous Speed approached – neither having decisively won the contest.

But the Bullitt claimed victory nonetheless. Because speed isn’t everything – unless you’re racing for money, of course. Then nothing else matters. Not looks, not cost – not even fun.

The Bullitt is lots of fun – which the Tesla isn’t as much – in part because there is more to do inside the Bullitt than just push down on the accelerator pedal (EVs have no gas pedal) and be taken along for a ride.

The Bullitt – which isn’t available with an automatic – requires you to drive it.

You need to work the gas and the clutch (which is pleasantly heavy) and the shifter, with its white cue ball that fits your hand just so.

If you are not good at driving it, you will not beat the Tesla.

But even if the Tesla does beat you, its driver always loses.

He experiences just one facet of performance – acceleration – and even that is tempered and modulated by the car’s all-wheel-drive system. The car just – yawn – goes. It manages to make a 4 second to 60 run soporific – in the manner of a high-speed elevator. Push the button. Whoopee.

Not.

In the left seat of the Ford, you glance in the rearview – like Steve did – making sure the coast is clear. A blip of the throttle – to wake up the Teslian Soy Boy in the next lane. Eyes focused on the lights now, waiting for the opposing lane’s signal to go yellow – and yours green. Clutch in; right foot on the brake – but ready to stand on the gas.

The Teslian is on autopilot; there is literally nothing for him to do.

The light’s about to change now; you see the cross traffic slowing for their yellow about to go red.

You shove the cue ball forward and feel first gear engaged. Green! With your left hand on the wheel, your right foot goes all the way down as your left comes up, both modulating the inputs just enough to keep the engine from bogging, the clutch slipping overmuch and the car from going completely sideways as you fishtail off the line  . . . the 5 liter V8 bellowing as if it had no cats and gulping air through a huge four barrel carburetor.

The roar is deafening, magnificent. Watch the tach! Don’t over-rev.

You pull the cue ball hard forward, grabbing second; the tires grab a piece of asphalt, accompanied by a momentary skittering as traction and power vie for supremacy.

Third – then fourth – each crescendo of mechanical activity accompanied by sensations and sounds that are utterly absent from the cell phone in the next lane.

This is why the Bullitt lights my fire . . .  while the Tesla puts me to sleep.

There is great satisfaction in knowing how to drive – as opposed to being taken for a ride. Anyone can drive a Tesla fast. Many people can’t drive the Bullitt at all – having never learned how to work a clutch.

Much less syncopate clutch and throttle. Or mastered the art of the countersteer. They are missing out.

The Tesla takes away everything that makes a fast car fun – except the speed. And even speed isn’t much fun when it’s anodyne, like sex with a really good-looking mannequin. The act is the same and “she” may have a much better body than the flesh-and-blood option. But something important is missing – and you feel disappointed afterward.

Or just, eh.

You will never feel just eh after driving the Bullitt.

And that’s a difference you can’t measure by the stopwatch.

. . .

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60 COMMENTS

  1. What cracks me up about the Bullit chase is the steering ratios on those pigs and the in-car camera showing how much correction is needed from such sloppy gear at that time.
    The stunt drivers in that clip must have been really something.

  2. Are you saying that you would buy a Tesla if they fitted it with dummy floor gearshift and a servo driven clutch pedal? Throw in a sound system that plays a record from 1964 Gran Prix movie and will be OK?
    You do realize that these proposed options will reduce range by thirty-eight miles.

      • eric, seen the video of a girl driving the GT 500 in the quarter? A guy gets in there with her and shows her how to set it up for quarter mile. He gets out and she does a burnout that was done by computer for the time she chose. Then she floors it and never moves the wheel or anything else. Looked like a great time…..blech.

        I’d like to drive one but not like that. Buttonwillow would be right down my alley.

  3. You’re fighting the good fight, Eric, and I agree with your loathing of EVs. But it’s a rear-guard action. The future is on-rushing, and it is electrified. Our ‘betters’ in government and their corporate masters have ‘fatwa-d’ it to be so, and the media and PR agencies have stepped into action to ensure it is seen as cool and trendy.

    Once the range and battery issues are solved, EVs will swamp ICE cars the way smartphones swamped flip phones in 2008-2010. There is little we can do but try to keep great ICE cars on the road and lobby for driver’s rights.

    • Hi Mike,

      I agree with you regarding the push – which is so obvious at this point that to not see it is like not noticing the Grand Canyon is deep… while standing by the edge. But in re: “Once the range and battery issues are solved, EVs will swamp ICE cars…”

      Sure. But that is like saying people will stop working when they no longer have to. Great in concept… but…

      There is no objective/tangible evidence that the range and other battery issues – including ridiculous recharge times, much shorter useful service vis-a-vis an IC drivetrain and preposterously high cost will ever be solved.

      Today’s EVs are beset by the same problems – limitations – that have gimped them since 100 years ago. Because the physics and chemistry are still the same and because IC cars are still far superior in terms of cost/versatility/longevity… though the government-corporate nexus is doing all it can to change that!

      For an EV to “swamp” an IC car, it would need to:

      Cost the same to buy (without subsidies) as its IC equivalent – and I mean regular, everyday cars – not luxury/performance cars. In other words, mass-market EVs that sell for about the same as a Civic or Corolla, around $18k or so.

      Have real-world ranges the same as IC cars. Not ranges with an asterisk. If the weather is temperate and you drive slowly.

      Recharge in about the same less than 5 minutes it takes to refuel an IC car.

      Last at least 15 years before needing any major repairs – i.e., a new battery.

      If all three of these criteria aren’t met then the EV is a regression. It is like deciding to fly a prop plane to LA from NY rather than take a jet.

      • I certainly hope you’re right Eric. Otherwise, EVs that cost the same as ICE cars and have all the same properties will give our technocratic class the excuse they need to simply ban non-connected, non-gimped ICE cars (they are doing this in the UK and EU) from the roads in the USA.

  4. Love the Bullitt edition ‘Stang. If I could afford a GT350 I’d have one in the garage already. Loud, obnoxious, yet glorious sounding V8 with an 8250rpm?!?!?! Come on lotto numbers hit me baby!

  5. Eric,
    With direct conversion to torque and a higher base HP than your bullit, the TESLA should have won that race. I think the EVs are not as fast as their fanbois claim or have fake numbers.

    • Every Model S looks just like every other one…. so it could have been a Model S 85 or a Model S P100D. Which would make a huge difference in whether the Bullitt ‘Stang would have won the race.

      Regardless it doesn’t matter b/c like Eric said, the Tesla driver is snoozing his way to winning the race. Somehow Tesla S manages to make a 3.2 Sec run to 60 kinda boring. I know, I’ve been in one many times. There is no sound (just a high whooshing) or drama. You just push the right pedal and it takes off. It’s unpleasant sensation of speed and makes me nauseous because you don’t have any of the other normal cues of speed: noise, vibration, a gradual build-up of acceleration. It’s just nothing to OMG-RIGHT-NOW-WERE-AT-60MPH. Annoying and boring at the same time.

  6. “The Bullitt – which isn’t available with an automatic – requires you to drive it.” It must be very popular with women. The genius of Tesla is as a sedan that does not involve fueling at gas stations it appeals to women. As to men, most men can’t and don’t want to learn how to drive a race car, but pointing the nose of the car straight and throwing the hammer down, I think I could do and enjoy that. Tesla also has many features to appeal to the successful nerd’s inner dufus like video games, smart summon, and autopilot. Summon and autopilot could evolve into something reliable.

    I agree Tesla is subsidized and not profitable but most likely all the auto majors will be forced to destroy themselves as they try to compete with Tesla while Tesla grabs respectable market share from the most profitable categories of cars, but does not have to produce the least profitable cars.

    Rumor, Fiat Chrystler to merge with PSA (Citroen), so the herd is being culled.

    Self-driving cars are too expensive to put on the road: Citroen
    https://www.carsguide.com.au/car-news/self-driving-cars-are-too-expensive-to-put-on-the-road-citroen-76570

    Too expensive, but they will be forced to anyway.

    • ” As to men, most men can’t and don’t want to learn how to drive a race car, but pointing the nose of the car straight and throwing the hammer down, I think I could do and enjoy that.”

      And that’s just the point of the soyboy mentality today. When I was growing up a great many of us want to drive a race car and not in a straight line. If it moved, we raced it. I’d love to have something again I could drift around high speed curves. If I can drift a big rig around low speed curves, I think I could still keep a car on the road doing same with high speed curves.

      • Amen, Eight… crikey!

        What is wrong with people today? The ultimate reductio ad absurdum of this is to just push a button and the car runs a 10 second quarter mile. I’d rather run a 14 second quarter mile myself.

        • eric, a friend had a Firebird Ram Air 400, with a bit of aftermarket help. It was fast and handled really well. We were going to another friend’s house and had to go through two 45mph curves. The first was left and down into a draw and the next was up out of the draw and to the right. By the time I got straight out of the right hander in 3rd gear, it was showing 105, not too shabby for radial street tires and Detroit iron. Those curves would be the end of that car. He let another guy who was in the back drive it and he tried what I had done. Luckily, nobody was really injured. The car wasn’t so lucky. I just about cried cause that car handled really well(obviously).

          I never encouraged anyone to drive faster than they were capable and since I’d never wrecked one, I had a lot of people who would buy a new car and drive it for a while and then come ask me to take them for a ride.

          Being a car I was unfamiliar with I never pushed one as hard as I would have eventually with some time behind the wheel. There isn’t anyone who can get in an unknown car and drive it to its full potential but it was fast enough for those who chose me to drive their car to have great fun.

          I miss those days. Now you’d have to roll down the windows and let it air while you headed to the carwash…..for the inside.

      • Eight,

        “I think I could still keep a car on the road doing same with high speed curves.”

        My dad, who has been dead for almost 20 years, used to talk about the difference of drivers with a shepherd’s license vs those with a driver’s license.

        My buddy’s dad talked about the two different driving schools: The Richard Petty school vs The Richard Head school.

        Apparently, today, enrollment at Petty is way down.

        Most on the road at this points in time have graduated from the Richard Head School of Driving.

      • Most Americans haven’t ever driven a real sports car, just simulations in video games. Even when they do I doubt they ever push the limits on them. I know I didn’t get to drive anything more sporty than a K-car well into my 20s, and once I did (old BMW 3 series that I was told wasn’t any good), I knew I needed to go again.

        Same thing is true with off-road driving. There’s something really fun about running on mud and dirt to a place that most vehicles can’t go, and even better when you get there without scratches and dings (and scars).

        • Everything is a sports car if you drive it “sporty”. A limb to reach the governor on a tractor and the race was on. We raced pickups nearly every day. We only had the best of the best too…..like the day I went into the drugstore and when I returned I could hear air hissing. It was the tube on my second hand Gates mudgrips that had worn through. That may have been the only time I got my dad to spring for new tires from the gin….but only the rear ones.

          I came blasting in one day, spinning that wheel with a spinner and pulled up to a hard stop in front of my dad and his friend who was visiting. His friend greeted me laughing and said “I didn’t know a Chevy pickup was a sports car but I do now”. We all laughed. Those spinners on the steering wheel gave you that Ferrari type steering doncha know?

        • Well, RK – I will tell you that driving a full size 4×4 pickup on a shelf road that was probably built for 2-way mule traffic, your inside tires chewing the sidewalls and your outside tires hanging tread over the edge (~1500′ down), will certainly get your attention – ha!

      • “And that’s just the point of the soyboy mentality today. ”

        Tesla is targeting the luxury car market for urban rich women. Tesla is a sedan, but a ludicrously fast sedan. Tesla also appeals to your inner retard by having fun consumer electronic aspects like playing video games and flapping its wings to the ode to joy. So if there is a negotiation between Mommy and Daddy about what car to get Tesla functions perfectly as a Mommy car and most Daddies will love it too. As an added extra free of charge, Tesla functions as Daddy’s weekend muscle car. Tesla is selling 3 cars for the price of 2, ha ha.

        Great news, Tesla is probably one cause of the auto industry consolidation. If Citroen joins Fiat Chrystler you might be able to buy Charles DeGaulle’s favorite car in the US of A.

      • Oh hell yes. It didn’t matter what it was, if it was in your 16 year old hands, you attempted to make it go fast. Slant Six Valiants, Plymouth Crickets, Datsun Pickups, Rambler Americans, ’62 ‘Vairs with Powerglide, no matter. If it rolled, it raced.

        If you had a friend with a 305 Camaro, hoo boy, or a 302 Mustwang…yowza! They were in high cotton.

        I can not understand why any red blooded teenage male does not want to at least try, but I guess I can’t understand the cattle chute ear tagged training and attitude of today.

    • It’s not a race car, it’s another compact RWD Ford coupe in a line going back to 1959. And yes, the problem is kids today don’t have a clue how to drive which is what leads to the cars and coffee crashes. The cars that do the driving for them, the FWD appliances, etc make for people who don’t know what to do when the rear end kicks loose. Then there is the safety cult.

      I am not any sort of skilled high performance driver. I am not going to be able to do my own stunt driving like Steve McQueen or James Garner that’s for sure. But at least I don’t need a car to drive for me. Even the idea of an AT seems like the car doing too much for me.

      I’ve come across the automated vehicles out there. These people like to ‘race’. But they aren’t shifting gears or doing anything but flexing their ankles. What’s the fun in that?

  7. Hi Eric,
    Most engaging vehicle I’ve driven recently is a BMW X3 M40i. Nearly all the excitement of a manual trans V8, without blown clutches, missed shifts, and too little traction. Instant shifts, AWD, proper sounds, 4.4 sec 0-60, utility, and 27 MPG, is a winner.

    • Hi liberty,

      I agree, the sounds are essential But I also like to shift for myself (even if I miss one, sometimes) and break traction – which (for me) is part of the hooligan fun of the thing. If I were racing for money, then a perfect launch every time is of course paramount. But I like getting sideways, smoking the tires and barking them on the 1-2!

    • I was really excited to get the DSG transmission on my Audi, figuring it would be l̶i̶k̶e̶ ̶a̶ ̶m̶u̶l̶l̶e̶t̶ the best of both worlds. But it ended up l̶i̶k̶e̶ ̶a̶ ̶m̶u̶l̶l̶e̶t̶ not good for manual shifting nor cruising on the highway. Oh sure it did let me manually shift, but it really only worked well from a standing start, not if I was looking to run through the twisties the right way, running from 4th to 2nd to engine brake into the hairpins or from 6th to 3rd to power off the apex.

  8. Wish I could post the pics I took today of a near perfect 58 Chevy Impala. I had forgotten the unique roof it had with fake vents at the rear. It was nearly perfect but with non-period wheels. It was a 4 Speed car so I’m guessing it was a 348 engine.

  9. Alas we are witnessing a sea change in transportation. The automobile is becoming an appliance. As Eric pointed out very well in this article is the fact the thrill of driving is missing from modern vehicles with rare exception. The electric vehicle will soon supplant its gas powered predecessor, and along with it our relationship with our cars. Cars will merely be transportation and nothing more. On occasion I hang around with old timers at car cruises, each year more of them die off and with their deaths is the loss of our love affair with the car and the car culture. Like so many parts of our modern culture, the thrill of driving and visceral experience of being one with your car will fade into history.

    • There are some spots of hope here and there. In Anchorage someone just a few years older than me has a Model A hot rod, a real steel Model A, mind you, not a kit car or reproduction, still with the 4cyl. I spotted him at “the last car show of the season” a few weeks ago, and that show allows you to vote for three cars and rank them – the car you put in first gets 3 points, second 2, third 1, and whoever gets the most points wins the trophy. I put his in third, don’t remember what I did for first and second (think one of them was an Avanti), because I desperately wanted to like it but thought a 4cyl Ford would be wholly inadequate for keeping up with modern traffic and so would be antisocial to use on the road, just like a bicycle. Later the owner spotted me checking out his car; we got to talking and it turned out that with his (quite severe) modifications it was actually kicking out close to 200 horsepower and even on reproduction bias-plies it handled fine. I made a horrible mistake not putting his first.

  10. Hijacking this thread because apparently my forum id is no longer valid and the new one is awaiting approval….I was just cleaning out a toolbox of old stuff and came across an old timing light and dwell meter that I have not used since I ditched my 67 VW beetle….(big mistake that). Anybody interested in a piece of history?

      • Eight,

        He quit a few years ago. Me too brought him down.

        Currently a Palestinian woman who was sworn in using the Quran instead of the Bible holds his seat.

        She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

  11. This is the perfect analogy for life itself. Just like EV’s, it’s becoming a little too easy. When that happens, people begin to lose sense of purpose and depression sets in; hence why the suicide rates are skyrocketing.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely all for progress and whatnot. However, progress should mean improvement; not supplanting technology that already works wonderfully “just because”. I mean, what’s next? “Smart” utensils?

  12. Wow! Drove this for myself this afternoon, Thanks Again, Eric! We were on dry pavement today, so it hauls ass, AND sounds fantastic while doing it! It automatically “blips” the throttle on the downshifts, which had me laughing my ass off, lol! Oh, they just can’t resist putting “something-assist” in even a hot-rod like this, can they? Shift pattern is very tight and I overshifted more than once, but even skipping 2 gears on the upshift did not lug the motor, no sir! The body is a nice clean re-make of the original without the cartoonish look of the “retro” Camaro, although I really miss the rear center-filling gas cap of the ‘1970 cars. The 19″ rims and smallish steering wheel made the bumpy rural roads a bit twitchy and stiff, but it isn’t mean’t to be limo, either. A nicely balance motor and chassis, for a Ford, lol!

    • Hey Tuanorea,

      It’s much worse than cash for clunkers, as that was a wealth transfer to the auto industry masquerading as an environmental policy. This a a full throttle attack on all ICE’s (not just older ones), pretending it will produce better environmental outcomes.

      Cheers,
      Jeremy

      • Jeremy,

        “pretending it will produce better environmental outcomes.”

        And it will Jeremy, it will.

        As soon as we freedom lovers achieve ambiance (or ambient temperature) Valhalla will emerge.

  13. Or you could race that Tesla in the 71 ‘Cuda from Phantasm…just make sure the Tall Man is not riding with you…oh wait, he is, in the Tesla, Hi there Elon!

  14. Heck, you don’t even have to hurry much.

    You can just pass the Tesla like it’s standing still about 50 miles down the road at the charging station.

  15. Hey Eric, brilliant article.

    Something I’ve noticed – fine Tesla’s do have crazy acceleration. But one thing the media never points out is that these days a car like this will keep pace with a Tesla, at about the third of the price !!

    Furthermore, (another thing they never tell you) to get the headline acceleration, you need to heat the batteries – and that’s not happening before the next green !! (Watch Car wow video of the lamborghini urus vs model x

    • He said shove it forward into first as the light is getting ready to change. Then Eric said something about pulling the shifter back toward’s 2nd…

      • Hi Mark and Nunz,

        It’s confusing because Eric wrote this,

        “You pull the cue ball hard forward, grabbing second”.

        Should say pull back.

        Cheers,
        Jeremy

  16. Eric,

    How about a white Challenger vs a Tesla?

    The twist on Vanishing Point can be at the end when the Tesla explodes sans the bulldozers.

  17. Fantastic… I keep hearing the morons saying the Electric can’t be beat. Apparently no AGW’s in the area…

    Bullitt was a favorite but I really liked Eleanor in the first Gone in 60 Seconds.

    How far was the contest? quarter,,, half? Too bad that couldn’t have been taped!

    • I liked Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Stingray (1978). Both were centered around chase scenes. Both had decent muscle cars, both had a manageable plot line. They were simple fun spun American fun. They don’t make movies like that anymore. You should check them out.

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