Sinclair’s electric runabout was a spectacular failure, but the C5 was ahead of its time.
The Sinclair C5 arrived in 1985 with a level of accompanying hype that would surely have impressed a then fourteen-year-old Elon Musk, but this brainchild of one of Britain’s most famous tech entrepreneurs crashed spectacularly soon after launch.
Sir Clive, whose death at the age of 81 was announced this month, was lauded in the 1980s as the inventor of the first pocket calculator and the ground-breaking ZX81 and ZX Spectrum home computers. The tech tycoon had a deep interest in electric transport and founded Sinclair Vehicles in 1983 on the back of his earlier commercial successes.
The company’s first and only production vehicle was the Sinclair C5, an innovative three-wheeler with a polypropylene body designed by Lotus, manufactured at the Hoover washing machine factory in Merthyr Tidfil. The C5 was launched with great fanfare in January 1985 in London – and the project went downhill from there.
Powered by a 12-volt lead acid battery, the C5 had a claimed range of 32km – enough to cover many people’s commutes to work – but it could only travel at 24km/h. It’s other disadvantages were a lack of any form of weatherproofing, while the C5’s low build and recumbent driving position left drivers feeling exposed and vulnerable in traffic.