Those Zero-Mile Tesla Roadsters Unearthed in China Were Meant to be Reverse Engineered

Someone placed a $2 million bid in hopes of landing the last three brand-new, first-gen Roadsters in their collection.

byRob Stumpf|
Tesla Roadster Shipping Container
via Gruber Motors
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Earlier in May, we told you about three zero-mile 2010 Tesla Roadsters found in a shipping container overseas. These pristine examples will seemingly be the last brand-new, completely assembled first-gen Roadsters to be sold 13 years after they were initially built. But why were they never delivered? And how did they land in China?

Gruber Motors, the shop brokering the deal, performed some detective work to figure it out. It was discovered that the three Roadsters were all intended to be dismantled by an early Tesla competitor—test mules in last decade's international EV race. And now, someone has submitted a $2 million bid in hopes of adding them to their collection.

Gruber Motors says it recently received information regarding the original shipment that helped lead to the Roadsters' current resting place. In the shipment details, it was revealed that the cars were headed to an R&D facility for an "emerging" Chinese automaker. Before the vehicles could be delivered, the startup went bankrupt.

"The original purchaser was an R&D center for a Chinese auto company, that subsequently went bankrupt, and the assumption is these were purchased for reverse engineering to be disassembled," wrote Gruber Motors in an update to its original auction listing. "In 2010, the Tesla Roadster was after all a state-of-the-art EV, before the Model S even came out, and would have been of enormous value to an emerging EV company."

But wait, there's more! In fact, there is another layer of mystery altogether.

As it turns out, the original shipment was for not three, but four 2010 Tesla Roadsters—VINs 1107, 1120, 1146, and 1185. The first three are the ones actually up for auction here, but the fourth car—VIN 1185—is missing...kind of.

The chassis is what's gone, specifically. A subsequent shipping container uncovered by Gruber Motors has a lot of parts that can be traced back to VIN 1185 including wheels and tires, a door assembly, headlight assemblies, body parts, trim parts, and more. The shop is questioning whether or not 1185 was intended to be assembled in China, but if that's the case, where is the actual chassis?

Regardless, the rarity of the cars coupled with the underlying mystery seems to have attracted some bidders with deep pockets. Recently, someone placed a $2 million offer for the trio of Roadsters—a lot more than Hagerty's $151,000 valuation of a Roadster Sport in "concours condition." Then again, the story behind these cars and their time capsule quality make them worth a lot more.

If you have deeper pockets and want to try your hand at offering the the winning number on the cars, Gruber Motors extended the bidding until June 2. So get those checkbooks out, or at least watch as a window shopper, because it's unlikely that we'll see an auction like this again—unless VIN 1185 surfaces one day.

Got a tip or question for the author? Contact them directly: rob@thedrive.com

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