Little Bits of History

January 10

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 10, 2017

1985: Clive Sinclair’s C5 vehicle is introduced. Sinclair was born in 1940 in England. He was a cutting edge producer of electronics after opening Sinclair Radionics in 1961 where the first slim-line electronic calculators were produced in 1972. His company moved into the manufacture of personal home computers and they produced the UK’s first mass-market machine selling for under £100. He was knighted in 1983 as a recognition for his pioneering work in the computing industry. Soon after, he branched out and formed a second company, Sinclair Vehicles. It was in this endeavor that he created the C5, a battery electric vehicle – not a car; not a bike.

Sinclair was hoping to bridge a gap he saw between the car and the bike and to that end, built the C5. It had a 0.34 hp electric motor which was powered by a 12 V lead-acid battery. The wheelbase was 51 inches with an overall length of 69 inches and a width of 29 inches. This single seat vehicle weighed in at 66 pounds without the battery and 99 pounds with it. The range on a single charge was 20 miles. It was, basically, an electric powered tricycle with a chassis designed by Lotus Cars. It was to be the first in a series of ever increasingly ambitious electric vehicles. On this day, at a public event, the single-seat vehicle was presented to the public. The public was not impressed and the British media gave it horrible review.

Also noted by both consumers and motoring organizations were a list of safety concerns. The vehicle sported a number of shortcomings which included not only the short range mentioned above, but a top speed of just 15 mph. It was also not weatherproofed. This made the vehicle impractical for most people. Neither car drivers nor bike riders felt the need to purchase this intermediary transport method and by August 1985, production was slashed by 90%. With an original selling price of £399 (around £850 today), sales lagged. Of the 14,000 made, only about 5,000 were sold before the company went into receivership. This was one of Britain’s most “notorious examples of failure”.

The driver of the vehicle was seated inside an open cockpit in a recumbent position. Steering was done using a handlebar placed under the knees with the power switch and brake buttons located on the handlebar. There were pedals included which could be used in addition to the battery or in order to pedal the vehicle without battery power at all. There was a small luggage area/trunk at the back. There was no reverse gear included so if one needed to switch directions, the operator got out and picked up the front end and spun the vehicle until it was facing the opposite direction. After the closing of the company, many of the remaining C5s were purchased by investors who then sold them at a huge profit to collectors/enthusiasts for up to £5,000. Clubs have formed and the vehicles’ owners have made many different personalized modification which have enabled them to clock speeds up to 150 mph.

Have fun, be active. Ride a bike instead of driving, for example. – Dan Buettner

I had to stop driving my car for a while… the tires got dizzy. – Steven Wright

If you worried about falling off the bike, you’d never get on. – Lance Armstrong

An intellectual is a man who doesn’t know how to park a bike. – Spiro T. Agnew

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