Aston Martin DB6 EV concept: Driven

There are two ways to look at this electrified Aston DB6, and which one you take probably depends on your wider views about both the future of cars, and also how much beer you reckon is left when the glass is at exactly 50 per cent capacity.

On one level it seems utterly perverse to remove something as charismatic as the DB6 Volante's twin-cam engine and replace it with a modular electric power pack. That means losing the snorting, rasping soundtrack of the original car in favour of a faint electric hum and the whisper of passing airflow. Even the most ardent EV fan would be hard pressed to say that improves the sensory experience of the standard car.

But the other tack is to be glad that Aston Martin and, more specifically, the company's Works division, is actually thinking about this stuff. While Works President Paul Spires admits that the company is not aware of any current plans to ban combustion-powered classics anywhere in the world, there is a big, unspoken asterisk stuck to the end of that statement: the caveat of "yet".

"We need to make sure that we've got the next 100 years covered," Spires says, "to make sure that these vehicles don't become museum pieces."

We told you about this converted DB6 last year, and now PH has been given the chance to drive it, albeit at a fairly gentle pace around the Stowe track at Silverstone which Aston is now using as its high-speed testing facility. This EV isn't a prototype for a full production version, rather a concept to judge reaction to the idea of a modular electric powertrain that is capable of replacing the company's long-lived twin-cam six-cylinder engine in any of the cars it was fitted to between 1958 and 1972.

Spires clearly wants to do a full version, but admits it has to be a commercial decision. "We've got a mass of people who want to do it, but it's not quite enough to make me push the big green button to go to the next stage of the programme," he says. But the potential numbers are significant; Spires reckons that 10 per cent of the pool of 3,000 eligible straight-six Astons - DB4, DB5, DB6 and DBS - is a realistic target, despite an estimated £200,000 pre-VAT pricetag.

The DB6's status as a concept demonstrator rather than an engineering prototype means that Works is sharing few technical details of the powertrain, on the basis that all the specifics would be likely to change. The idea is for a modular "cassette" system which has a battery, motor and control software that fits in the same space as was formerly occupied by the straight-six, weighs almost exactly the same and has a similar power output. If you remember Jaguar's E-Type Zero from last year - the one that appeared at the royal wedding - this might seem familiar, but Spires says that Aston started work on its project before Jag did.

The concept is for a fully reversible transplant. The EV cassette doesn't need any extra holes to be made in the bodywork - one of Spires major stipulations - using one of the original fuel filler flaps to house the plug-in charger. Anyone getting Works to fit an electric powertrain will get to keep their original engine so the car can be restored to original spec if required. Or, in the short term, so they can stick it in a glass case and use it as a piece of furniture.

"I can imagine the conversation in a century's time," Spires says, "Granddad - what's that? That's the engine out of my grandfather's Aston Martin, that's how we used to power them."

The idea is to leave everything else looking as original as possible, with the DB6 Volante's engine-ectomy being effectively undetectable even up close. It even keeps a truncated exhaust tailpipe. "We thought hard about that," Spires admits, "but we decided it would look stranger to remove it."

The cabin is also similarly untouched, with a fully array of chrome-bezelled Smiths instruments - it soon transpires only the speedometer is still working - plus controls for what is now a non-existent heating system and even a manual gearshifter.

But although this DB6 uses the original car's five-speed gearbox Spires says that a production version will use a single-speed transmission for reasons that are soon obvious. The concept's powertrain is also passively cooled and therefore unable to deal with the thermal loads of harder use, Spires says that a finished version would use active cooling, which would also allow it to support fast charging. The need to keep the battery happy means I'm instructed not to go over 50mph; but that's still considerably more than the speeds I could experience when I drove the E-Type Zero in the U.S. last year.

Driving is properly effortless. Spires instructs me to select second gear and then release the clutch; there's no need to get the engine turning before trying to make the car move. Then all I need to do is press the accelerator and head off in near-silence; the only noise from the powertrain a faint electric whine. Initial acceleration is less keen than I'm expecting it to be, but once onto the track proper it pulls more strongly as speed starts to rise. By the time the first corner approaches, the DB6 is already pretty much at the 50mph limit.

Just lifting off proves there's little need to use the brake pedal, powerful regeneration getting the demonstrator slowing as if it's run into a slick of syrup. Spires later says the plan is for a production version to have less aggressive regeneration so it will feel closer to the original car; but it does mean that this DB6 can pretty much be one-pedalled like an oversized golf cart.

The demonstrator doesn't have any traction control, but the motor's power delivery is gentle enough to mean this isn't an issue when being driven at a pace that is brisk but still respectful. Despite Spires's instruction to treat the DB6 as a single-speeder I experiment with changing gears - a novelty in any EV - to discover that there really isn't any point. There's no tactile reward in changing ratios, as the motor's lack of flywheel means it stops as soon as the clutch is pressed so even an upshift to third feels like a poorly timed downshift in a conventional car. Acceleration also feels identical in both gears.

The rest of the driving experience is practically unchanged. The EV demonstrator's steering has been given electric power assistance, but this can only be felt at manoeuvring speed; once running the weighting of the low-geared rack feels completely unfiltered. Suspension settings are soft and the ride is supple. Impressively, despite losing the acoustic mask of the straight-six, there are none of the creaks and squeaks I'd expect to find in an Aston of this vintage. It feels impressively tight and - yes - as if it was intended to be like this.

Spires has been the driving force behind the EV project and clearly wants it to go ahead. "My concern is that we're too early into this," he admits, likening the idea to Works' manual gearbox conversion for the Vanquish. That was first offered in 2007 and, for the first few years, only a handful of owners opted for the new 'box. More recently, though, businespiqued interest in DIY-shifting GT cars; now Works is doing more than 20 a year. Spires senses that EV conversions could be close to the same tipping point, both with affluent green types looking for something they can park next to the Tesla and - within a few years - a generation of rich kids who won't have experienced internal combustion.

"The business case is set," he says, "now I just need enough customer orders to kick it off."


Engine: Electric motor
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power: c. 210kW
Torque: TBC
Kerbweight: c. 1,600kg
0-60mph: 8.5-sec (est)
Top speed: TBC
Price: £240,000 (est) (plus cost of donor vehicle)



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Comments (63) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Paddy78 29 Apr 2019

    Part of me likes this idea. We aren't there yet, but this may be the only way to actually drive cars like this in the future.

    Part of me thinks that's a very expensive way to make a beautiful car heavy, slow and characterless...

  • mwstewart 29 Apr 2019

    Paddy78 said:
    Part of me likes this idea. We aren't there yet, but this may be the only way to actually drive cars like this in the future.

    Part of me thinks that's a very expensive way to make a beautiful car heavy, slow and characterless...
    Yes, it will strip away the majority of character, but we can only hope that one day batteries become light enough to at least keep the weight gain to a minimum.

  • C.A.R. 29 Apr 2019

    Paddy78 said:
    Part of me likes this idea. We aren't there yet, but this may be the only way to actually drive cars like this in the future.

    Part of me thinks that's a very expensive way to make a beautiful car heavy, slow and characterless...
    The expensive part is down to early-adoption of the tech though, it will only go down.

    The weight issue is a thing, certainly, but again battery technology will move this on.

    As for power / speed, ultimately I would guess an electric version would be much faster than the original. No lag with the power, instant torque (far above the original spec). Sure, not stirring a gated manual gearbox will detract from the overall experience, but *if* classic cars are ever banned, this will become the only way to enjoy them, as per the article.

  • 300bhp/ton 29 Apr 2019

    Paddy78 said:
    but this may be the only way to actually drive cars like this in the future.
    What makes you believe this? Maybe in hundreds of years, but then this EV conversion might not be the answer either then.

    People still drive 100 year old traction engines on the road.

  • cookie1600 29 Apr 2019

    It's so quiet, all you can hear around the track is the stereo system playing Elton John's 'Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding'.......

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