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Whatever Happened To… The Sinclair C5?

Marking its 30th anniversary last year, the Sinclair C5 was an electric tricycle. The C5 was the brainchild of British millionaire Clive Sinclair, who had found fame with the ZX Spectrum, the UK’s biggest-selling home computer.

However, the Sinclair C5 was a commercial disaster. Sinclair Vehicles went bust the same year the C5 was launched, with 4,500 models unsold.


How It Worked

The single-seater Sinclair C5 had an injection-moulded polypropylene shell, and a chassis designed by racing car manufacturer Lotus. The C5 could achieve 15mph, however with a 12v 36Ah lead acid battery it never achieved the 20-mile range Sinclair promised, often only reaching half that. But the C5 was also fitted with pedals so you could still cycle home when you ran out of juice.


How To Drive It

Instead of a steering wheel, the C5 had handlebars, which sat underneath the user’s knees but were easy to reach as users reclined in the cockpit. The power switch and brake lever were also positioned on either handlebar.


Low Cost Travel

The Sinclair C5 cost £300 in 1985, which would be around £860/$1,306 in today’s money. However, with no road tax or petrol to buy, the C5 was marketed as very economical, offering ‘five miles for a penny’.


Forward Thinking

The Sinclair C5 is often described as being ahead of its time, but it seems the creators were forward-thinking in another sense: they didn’t include a reverse gear. Instead you had to get out, pick it up by the front and turn it around by hand.


Safety Concerns

Though the authorities deemed the C5 roadworthy and users weren’t even required to wear a crash helmet, at 2.6ft (0.8m) high the public were worried the vehicle was too close to the ground and wouldn’t be visible to traffic

You Can Buy One Today

Price: £500/$755

Though a mint condition model can fetch up to £900/$1,365, you can still buy second-hand Sinclair C5s on eBay for just £300/$456 – if you’re prepared to restore it. Replacing parts has become increasingly expensive, with the original electronics hard to come by, selling for around £45/$68. But a new tech may save the C5 yet, with producing and selling 3D-printed spare parts for as little as £1/$1.50. Installing modern lithium-ion batteries can also improve performance; the range can be boosted up to 45 miles (72 kilometres) on one charge.

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