A text by Paul Horrell with photos by Mark Fagelson
Behind me, sitting in the wide back seat, I have passengers. They are the ghosts of the creators of the Citroën DS ‘Jaws’, but I have no feeling of something sinister. Surely they are delighted, finally satisfied that after all these years this is exactly the Citroën DS electromod they would have built if they could.
It is indisputable that the DS is one of the most beautiful cars in history. But also the most advanced of his time, both stylistically and technically. During his appearance at the Paris Salon, Citroen received 80,000 reservations, a record that stood until the appearance of the Tesla Model 3.
From debut in 1955had high-pressure hydraulics for self-leveling suspension, steering, and disc brakes (the first mass-produced car to have these as standard).
It ran on radial tires; the monocoque body had removable panels and a lightweight fiberglass roof. Later, that shark nose received directional headlights.
But we are not going to talk about any of that here because propulsion is missing from that list of advances. The DS was intended to have a six-cylinder boxer engine, but Citroen ran out of money, so it inherited the boring block from the old Traction Avant. So it makes sense to replace that with an electric motor as they have done at Electrogenic’s Kidlington works, just outside Oxford.
Perhaps you may think that these types of electrical modifications are sacrilege: dislodging a wonderful engine from the Jaguar XK or a flat six from Porsche should be prohibited.
Perhaps you fear that an electric drivetrain will detract from the complex commitment of driving a classic. Carbureted engines seem to cough and clear their throats; old gearboxes have a loose timing. Trading this lot requires skill, which is why it’s fun.
Maybe that’s why one gear electromod could be boring. Something without soul. Nope? Well no. This Electrogenic DS has a clutch and gears. It runs on a lower voltage than current electrics, 110 volts instead of 400 or 800, which simplifies installation.
It also means the engine has a narrower rev range, so it’s worth keeping the original gearbox. Of course, the electric motor, unlike a combustion one, can go down to zero revolutions.
So in the city, if there are no hills, you can put it in second or third gear and drive like a normal electric car. But for interest and efficiency, you can use higher gears in fast zones and downshift for extra regeneration.
As with any mid-century Citroen, the gear lever is unconventional, is a large rod that appears from the steering column. Actually, it is not complicated to operate, since it opens its way with a soft ‘clonc’. But if you’ve gotten used to going without changing gear, Electrogenic can also design and build single-speed conversions.
A funny detail is that this DS EV Électronique still has its original choke actuator. If you pull out and change the engine running and engage reverse gear. Oh, and one more quirk: even though you use the clutch to change gear, you don’t touch it to start or stop because, remember, the engine’s “idle speed” is zero.
Inside that rolling room that has always been the DS
I open the door, sit in the chair and activate the systems. The bodywork rises gently back to life. The throttle has a long stroke, with a slight incline, so it’s easy to drive smoothly.
But when you sink your right foot you get the kind of boost that, while not over the top, is definitely more usable than the original.. The power is 120 CV and the delivery of the 235Nm torque has been carefully mapped to preserve transmissionwhich means it’s pretty close to the performance of the long-stroke OHV engine that was previously under the hood.
As for the batteries, they are located under the rear seat where the fuel tank used to be (52 kWh version), as well as an additional pack above the engine under the hood (with the 78 kWh pack).
The autonomy is about 240 kilometersenough for the owner of this car, who uses it on a daily basis, to have just returned from a beautiful tour of inland France: you wouldn’t waste your range driving alone on the motorway, would you?
Because the electric DS is low-voltage, fast charging would charge the battery cells, so the battery requires 22 kW, enough to replenish in just over two hours. The 400 V variant would allow this type of recharging.
A clever and reversible design
The conversion does not steal an inch from the interior. Not in the trunk either. Unless you lift the hood, the only clue that puts you on track is that the tailpipe is missing..
The dashboard is also like the original, although the glove box hides a screen with charging information.. Electrogenic conversions attempt to avoid accusations of “historic hooliganism” by some because they are fully reversible.
They start by unbolting what’s going to be left over (engine, radiator, exhaust, fuel tank) before digitally 3D scanning the original body and chassis. They then design an electrical component package to fit into those spaces and accommodate the original weight distribution.: batteries, motor, charger, inverter, DC-DC converter and heating.
In the case of the DS and a Rolls Silver Shadow that also had hydraulic suspension, also built an electrically powered pump to control ride height.
It’s expensive of course. Electrogenic doesn’t like to put a number on things until they’ve had an honest conversation with a prospective customer about how the new electric classic will be used.
Interestingly, we are told that people tend to overconfigure the car. It is not a fixed price menu. Most Electrogenic conversions are custom and offers many options in motor, battery size, voltage and more. (Is there a cheaper direct kit for Land Roversuch as that used at Glastonbury’s Worthy Farm, and soon there will be one for Mini).
At first we would be talking about a kit with a price of 50,000 euros. It is not a small thing, but think of what people spend to make their classic cars look like new and we say nothing.
On the go it’s delicious. Really
This electric DS has its origin in 1972 and offers a paint scheme that is unmistakably period, with a range of browns, starting with the paint. The carpets are cream-colored, the seats chocolate-colored… And yellow headlights, of course.
The brutal single-spoke steering wheel looks like it’s wrapped in handlebar tape from a 1970s Gitane bike. Visibility is perfect, panoramic. There is a lot of space, so much so that in the tightest corners you move out of the seat if you take them “vigorous”.
Well, I say “vigorous”, but there isn’t really a lot of grip, so the roll angles are less than you’d expect and the pitch is hardly more than in, say, a modern Land Rover Discovery.
Steering is very precise for such an old car and understeer is not a problem. The high pressure brakes are much better than on most classics of their time. Psoon you get used to its famous “brake button” with almost zero traveleither. And driving… Ah, what a thing! Bigger bumps can get in the way, but you generally float like a flying carpet.
Electrogenic’s DS EV Électronique really lives up to its design. Engineering and art intersect in an almost supernatural place. This silent electrical impulse raises it even higher, and the ghosts can ride in peace. What an experience.