In the last chapter of our history of ebikes we were in the 70s, with its austerity. With the Yom Kippur war first and the energy crisis from 1979 onwards, oil producing countries impose a huge increase in crude oil prices. Energy saving activities started to take place: alternate days for odd or even number plates, Sundays without cars. Some companies introduce more ebike models. Some of them, like the Solo Electra have a decent success. Some of them were total flops, like the Sinclair C5, the “spectacular disaster of Sir Clive Sinclair”.
Clive Sinclair’s name might not sound familiar to many people, but it definitely is to electronic and computer enthusiasts. He is an icon: he invented the first compact calculator (produced in 1972) and he also owned the Sinclair Research, one of the first companies to produce home computers. It was one of the most important electronic companies in the early 80s.
Clive Sinclair wasn’t only involved with computers and calculators. In the early 70s, he had already started working on the realization of an electric vehicle. He started developing the Sinclair C5 only in 1983: an electric tricycle with pedals.
The English inventor spent a lot of money to realize this project he had been working since he was a boy. He even sold a share of his Sinclair Research. The money he invested helped to convince other firms to form a partnership with him: Lotus designed the vehicle’s frame, Hoover was involved in the mass-production and Oldham produced the battery. This was the result of the big investment of 12 million pounds:
The Sinclair C5 had a 250W motor with a maximum speed of 24 km/h and an Oldham battery with a 20 km range (speed and range were obtained through tests on level land). It’s a three-wheel vehicle, the rear wheels slightly bigger than the front ones, the handlebars at the driver’s knee-height.
On the handlebars, there’s a button to start the motor (on the right handle) and for those who requested it, the horn is on the left handles along with the turn signals.
The C5 was shown to the public and the critics for the first time at the Alexandra Palace in London on January 10th 1985. It was a “spectacular disaster” as some of the journalists defined it. Some of the vehicles stopped working after they went around the building for a couple of times. The press was absolutely unimpressed by the grand style presentation and the advertisement hype: some harsh critiques were made about the Sinclair C5. They said that it had awful electronic components, low-quality gears made entirely out of plastic and a motor that was too small and basically useless to go uphill without using the pedals. It also had a poor protection from bad weather, and the position of the driver was too low to allow him to see properly while driving in the city’s traffic.
Sinclair tried to fix the two latter points, but it was too late: on the day of the inauguration only 200 models were sold, and sales never really improved after that. After less than one year, Hoover declared they stopped the Sinclair C5 production: in eight months only 8000 models were sold. Sir Clive Sinclair closed the Sinclair Vehicles: he had invested 12 million pounds to make his dream come true and he found himself with a 8 million debt.
In spite of everything, a cult phenomenon developed throughout the years: there are many websites devoted to the Sinclair C5 where the enthusiasts tell the origins of the vehicle and some tweaks that can make it more modern and faster. The same Sinclair asserted that the C5 could reach a maximum speed of 44 km/h by converting it to 24V (this info was on the Sinclair Research website, which is no longer online).