The Sinclair C5

T3's regular look at yesterday's technology that never quite made it to tomorrow.


Launched on an unsuspecting world, the Sinclair C5 seemed to herald a new era of ecological personal transport. Then everyone realised it was just a plastic eggbox with a motorised tricycle inside.

The idea was sound - an affordable (399) electric vehicle that almost anyone could drive. If you'd blown out the candles on your 14th birthday cake, or just been banned for driving after killing a dozen nuns while pissed up in your Capri, you could still take to the roads (unlicenced, untaxed and uninsured) in a stylish new C5.

But no-one did. Heavy, unreliable batteries meant the C5 wasn't quite as liberating as Sir Clive had hoped - you still had to use the built-in pedals to get started or climb hills. Although the stated range for one charge was 20 miles, cold weather and high speeds (all of 15mph) could reduce this dramatically. And with a charge time of around eight hours, a second battery was almost a necessity.

Safety was another worry. The C5's profile was very low - imagine travelling on an A-road next a lorry with wheels twice the height of your vehicle. According to Sir Clive, you could "hit it with enormous force, and it just bounces back". The same couldn't be said for your head (you didn't have to wear a crash helmet).

So it was doomed to failure. Car owners couldn't handle the come-down, bike owners were too proud, and moped owners, well, bought a moped. From a quick start (1,000 sales in the first week), sales dwindled and production was eventually discontinued.

But after a period of ridicule, us Brits have took the C5 back into our hearts; a mint model is now worth considerably more than it was new. And our rekindled enthusiasm isn't just an English fondness for an eccentric failure. C5 motors in some of the latest, sophisticated robots, and one Adam Harper has even developed a 200,000 C5 that can reach speeds of 150mph.

The Sinclair C5 has certainly been hit with enormous force, maybe it's time it bounced back.

Above: Sir Clive Sinclair legs it after his C5 runs out of juice.
Right: Policemen arrest 150mph C5 owner. Case thrown out of court and PC referred for psychiatric evaluation.
(From T3: Tommorrow's Technology Today - Issue One)

Uncle Clive's C5 was sadly doomed to failure. It was a shame really - it was designed to be part of a one-man submarine that Clive had made for his own personal use for James Bond-style underwater chases. When it was released as a road vehicle Ford began quaking in their boots as they honestly believed it was the end of petrol-powered transport. They saw the C5 as the way forward for civilisation and started working on a top-secret clone codenamed the C6. YS said that in the future we would all be using C15s to move house (in about the year 2012)

To view Sir Clive's finest iconic creation in use check out

A truly certifiable bunch of eccentrics dicing with death on Britains roads aboard a flimsy plastic stuff.