A brand new Tesla Model S Plaid is getting prepped near my home for the Mount Washington Hillclimb Auto Race. Blake Fuller of Electric Performance will be racing the vehicle, which will be the 1st electric vehicle ever to take part in the Mount Washington Hillclimb Auto Race. I had an hour with Blake at the end of his day in the garage today (er … yesterday, technically) and then quickly put together the following 17 minute video of our chat and the torn apart Model S Plaid.
There are far more details and tidbits in the video than I will attempt to summarize here, but below are some of the highlights.
First of all, note that Blake holds a few racing records to his name. He was the youngest Rookie of the Year at Pikes Peak Hill Climb when he won that award in 18, and he currently holds the record for the best time at Pikes Peak in a production electric vehicle. He’s also a deep tech guy, and invented the first lithium-ion starting battery after founding Braille Battery (which he eventually sold). “Blake’s batteries power professional racing cars around the globe and are in every IndyCar, V8 Supercar, DTM racer and 1,000’s of other vehicles,” his site notes.
Mount Washington, located in New Hampshire, is the highest peak in the US Northeast, making it a famous location for adventurous race car drivers. As noted at the top, though, no electric car has ever attempted to beat the competition at the Mount Washington Hillclimb Auto Race. In less than one week, that will change, as a Model S Plaid delivered to Blake less than a week ago will brave the course and try to beat fossil-powered race cars of various sorts prepped and driven by professional race teams. Can Blake beat them all?
This Model S Plaid remained in its pristine, factory-finished form for just 20 hours after delivery before Blake and his buddies started taking it apart to get it race ready. I arrived on the scene two days later to capture the video clips above and get a summary of the plan and insights into the new Model S Plaid from Blake.
Blake noted that although the revamped Model S Plaid looks quite similar to the previous version of the Model S externally, when you get down into the details, a tremendous amount has changed. He estimates that 90% of the parts in the vehicle are different. Some of the changes he highlighted: the door panels are significantly lighter and simplified. Whereas there are 5 electronic hookups on each door of his 2015 Tesla Model S Ludicrous, there’s just one on each door now. Taking a door apart now takes him about 10 minutes rather than 20–30 minutes. The reduced time to build, assemble, or service the doors must add up significantly when you consider how many cars Tesla produces a year now. As Elon highlighted much more back in 2019, cutting just seconds off of a single car’s production time adds up to big savings when you are producing half a million, a million, or a few million cars a year. Chanan Bos even made a fun graphic highlighting this point since it’s such an important one.
If saving a few seconds per car is a huge deal, imagine what saving 10–20 minutes on each door means. (Of course, it most likely is not a 10–20 minute savings on production time, but the point is that it is clearly a notable improvement that must be saving Tesla a lot of time and a lot of money.) Blake also pointed out that the material is of a much better quality and these door panels (not including the exterior part of the door, as you can see if you watch the video) weigh about half as much as the ones in his Model S.
Blake and his crew also weighed the vehicle as a whole and found it to be 400 pounds lighter than the previous-generation Model S — a 10% cut in weight, which is quite significant and Blake noted is partly why you get a bit more range in this new version. A key is that Tesla has used a lot of what it has learned and improved from mass producing the Model 3 and Model Y to simplify and cut costs on the Model S, and that has also allowed it to improve other parts of the car without consumers noticing a price boost from those better parts. (Of course, Tesla has been jacking up the price lately anyway due to the sky-high demand and limited supply.)
Since it was pulled out of the car for the time being, we also got a closeup of the connector from the charge port to the car’s big battery/inverter, which Blake pointed out has been improved significantly from what’s in his Model S Ludicrous. It’s lighter (“probably 5 to 8 pounds lighter”), is more tightly and neatly packed together, is made of aluminum that is easier to stamp out, “probably carries a lot more current,” cools better, and probably lasts longer.
Another change that you’ve most certainly not seen mentioned anywhere else: the Model S now has an aluminum frame rail that is much stronger than the previous frame rail, and it particularly benefits from a web-like design through the middle of it that you can see 15:24 seconds into the video. The greater structural rigidity should further boost driver and passenger safety in the Model S — raising the bar yet again (no pun intended) on what Tesla Technoking Elon Musk has repeatedly said is Tesla’s #1 priority (safety).
As far as the yoke steering wheel, the nicest way to put it is that Blake is not a fan. He says he’s got an expletive-filled video about it that he’ll share, while the toned down version of that is that he says “the yoke is a joke.” The core problem is that you can’t turn it around big, sharp, fast turns as smoothly or safely. An important step tomorrow is going to be taking the steering wheel out of my Model 3 and seeing if it fits in the Model S Plaid. If it does, I may be experimenting with the steering yoke for a week in my Model 3 SR+, or he’ll just order a steering wheel online to pop into the car. You can see more of Blake’s criticism of the steering yoke in the video (that’s 4:30–6:00 minutes in the video above).
The suspension and drivetrain of the Model S Plaid will be completely stock for the Mount Washington Hillclimb Auto Race. However, all the fuss you see in the video is focused on putting a racing seat and roll cage into it, with the seat already now in place. One interesting thing Blake notes is that many of the Tesla’s sensors are located in places where the roll cage needs to go. So, they have to unhook and take these sensors out in order to get the car race ready, and then after everything is set, turn the car back on and hope that there won’t be annoying errors or notifications from the car not sensing the sensors or from it getting fussy about backseats not being in place or something. We’ll see what kind of things pop up on the touchscreen in a few days when the car gets turned back on. Blake will also have to explore accessibility of key controls on the touchscreen when he’s strapped tightly into the driver’s seat.
Any other features of the insides of the car you’re curious about? Any questions you’d like asked or closeups you’d like photos of? Drop us a comment below and we’ll do our best to provide answers or pics. I’ll be publishing an article a day about this project for the next week or so.
Also, note that Blake is trying to raise money to fund this project, to help buy the car long term, and to help get the car to more races around the United States in the future. If you’d like to pitch in, you can do so here. The two key options right now are to get your name/decal on the car for a cost of $200 or a “I Helped Tesla Race Mt. Washington” bumper sticker for $20.
Here are some more pictures of the Model S Plaid teardown as it stands today:
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