sinclair c5

motoring folly

sinclair c5

LAUNCHED AS 'A NEW POWER IN PERSONAL TRANSPORT', WHAT HAPPENED TO SIR 'C'LIVE'S 5?

Possibly Sir Clive Sinclair's most famous product (albeit for quite the wrong reasons),the ill-conceived C5 (C for Clive's 5) 'electric car' proved to be the point at which Sinclair Research's wheels finally fell off. Attracting controversy and derision in equal measures, the C5 fiasco ended up having a catastrophic effect on Sinclair's finances. Losses of up to £7 million eventually forced the company to sell its computer business to Amstrad.

Possibly Sir Clive Sinclair's most famous product (albeit for quite the wrong reasons), the ill-conceived C5 (C for Clive's 5) 'electric car' proved to be the point at which Sinclair Research's wheels finally fell off. Attracting controversy and derision in equal measure, the C5 fiasco ended up having a catastrophic effect on Sinclair's finances. Losses of up to £7 million eventually forced the company to sell its computer business to Amstrad.

The C5 was promoted by Sinclair as a new form in personal transport with the potential to replace the motor car. The original intention was that it would be the first in a whole series of electric vehicles - it would have been followed by the never-released C10 and C15, each successively bigger and looking more like conventional vehicles. At only £399, (plus £29 delivery in a large cardboard box) the C5 was actually a fraction of the price of a conventional car. In fact, it was not a car at all but was instead a glorified electric tricycle, powered by an electric battery with a supplementary pedal drive.

If you were 14 years of age at the time of its launch at Alexandra Palace on a cold and snowy morning on the 10th January 1985 (ideal conditions to launch an open top plastic tricycle) you could legally drive the C5 on the road without having passed any form of training or test and you didn't even need a driving licence, road tax, MOT or crash helmet. It did not inspire confidence though as the C5 was assembled at the Hoover Merthyr Tydfil plant which was better known for its washing machine production. The vehicle would also be serviced by Hoover engineers, which led to unkind comparisons being made between the two product lines.

The vehicle was considered to have several major flaws which doomed it before it had even been launched. It was capable of only 15 mph (a deliberate design decision, as electric vehicles which could travel faster than that required a licence to use). It had a very limited range which varied according to weather conditions - as little as 10km in cold weather - and its weight made it a struggle to pedal. Its cockpit was exposed to the elements (but you could buy some ghastly weather garments) and the C5 itself was worryingly vulnerable in traffic. In a country with extensive, dedicated bicycle paths, such as the Netherlands, this would have been much less of a problem, but crowded British roads were a very different environment. This, probably more than anything else, sank the C5, not least because Sinclair initially did not publicly acknowledge the problem: At the start, his 'hi-vis mast' had to be purchased separately, but public pressure by the media eventually forced Sinclair to include it in the overall C5 package. By then, though, the damage had been done and the vehicle was doomed to failure. The safety aspect so worried the authorities in some European countries, that the C5 was banned outright. Fewer than 12,000 C5s were sold, mostly in Britain although a few made it to continental Europe and the United States, and so production was halted after only a few months and panic selling ended up selling C5's in some parts of the country for as little as £199 or less. Some were reputedly bought by shipping companies to ferry deckhands around the huge foredecks of oil tankers or for use in getting around holiday camps.

Ironically, the C5 was more advanced than many people ever realised at the time. The body was the largest mass-produced injection moulded plastic assembly of its kind and made of a 'new' material called polypropylene. It came in two halves and was joined by a revolutionary electric process using thermo-plastic tape. The battery was specially made for the vehicle by Oldham and was a 12volt 36ah deep discharge unit with carry straps. It also came with a unique battery charger made by Selmar. The electrics included state of the art LED readouts on an instrument pod, bright headlight and tail light and warning buzzers and cut out devices if you over powered the motor. Polymotor, a part of the giant Phillips group who also made torpedo motors, made the unique 12volt DC motor in Italy. Last of all the entire chassis, frame and the main development of the vehicle were carried out by Lotus Cars.

These days, C5s are highly sought-after collector's items and often known to sell for a few thousand pounds if still boxed new and unused, although spares, collectables and new production t-shirts can usually be found on Ebay and even the occasional used C5 for a few hundred pounds. The main Sinclair C5 enthusiasts' website, www.sinclairc5.com has an owners' directory and access to downloads, documents and DVD's.

Now that all of my family and friends (yes, I do still have some) have enjoyed a 'spin' in it you can always be certain of one thing - They always have a big Cheshire cat smile on their face when they get out.