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Sinclair C5

“Imagine a vehicle that can drive you five miles for a penny. A vehicle that needs no petrol – just a battery. And that takes the press of a button to start, the squeeze of a lever to stop. That needs no license, no road tax, and you can drive whether you’re 14 or 40. A vehicle that costs just £399. The Sinclair C5. It’s a new power in personal transport”.

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Sir Clive Sinclair (pictured at left) was an inventing genius in the early 1980s. The man who gave us the pocket calculator and the ZX80, ZX81 and Spectrum home computers could do no wrong.

He had taken a desktop calculator and put it in our pocket, taken the big business computer and tucked it into our living room, and taken the television set and made it smaller than a paperback.

When he announced he was turning his attention to electric vehicles you could almost smell the fear emanating from the petrochemical industry . . .

In January 1985, the Sinclair C5 was launched. Costing only £399 (plus £29 P&P), the electric trike had a top speed of 15mph. The company claimed the rechargeable battery would take you up to 20 miles for less than 5p.

The Y-configuration chassis was made from corrosion-protected steel which was lightweight but very robust, making the C5 extraordinarily stable at speed. An electric fan motor drove a single speed, belt-driven gearbox and it was steered by handlebars that lay below you.

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The bodywork was polypropylene and aerodynamically shaped with a moulded boot with enough room for a bag of groceries, a briefcase, a satchel or sports kit.

It was quickly ridiculed by everyone who saw it – except motoring organisations like the AA, who were more concerned that the battery-assisted tricycle might actually be a death trap.

Given that it could be purchased by anyone, didn’t require a license to drive on the road and involved the driver sitting a mere two inches off the tarmac below, they had a point.

In the end, only about five thousand C5’s were ever sold – although 14,000 were produced – and most of them ended up in service as wheelbarrows. Albeit pretty funky, futuristic-looking wheelbarrows.