“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”.
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.
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.
Sir Clive Sinclair passed away on 16 September 2021 following an illness related to cancer that he had for over a decade. He was 81.