Sir Clive Sinclair, inventor of the C5 electric pedal car, has died at 81


SIR CLIVE Sinclair, inventor of the C5 electric pedal car and the world’s first pocket calculator, has passed away at the age of 81.

Although recognized as a computer pioneer who helped bring cheaper personal computers to the UK mainstream, Sinclair was also known as the mastermind behind the ill-fated Sinclair C5, a pedal-powered electric vehicle that has become synonymous with failure. sales and marketing, but was perhaps ahead of its time.

Clive Sinclair was born in Surrey in 1940, and while taking a bachelor’s degree in physics, pure mathematics, and applied mathematics, he began drawing designs for miniature transistor radios in his workbooks. Instead of going to college, Sinclair decided to pursue his electronic hobby, producing a self-assembly kit for a micro-radio and writing several books on the subject.

In 1961, he founded Sinclair Radionics, which by the early 1970s was producing a line of products including the Sinclair Executive, the world’s first slim pocket calculator and the first mass-produced calculator. Launched in 1972, the Executive was a huge success for Sinclair, making a good profit.

One of the company’s other products, however, was a harbinger of things to come.

The Black Watch, which debuted in 1975, was a digital wristwatch with extremely sensitive integrated circuits that made it too fragile and unreliable. Despite the batteries advertised as having a one-year lifespan, in many cases the Black Watch’s batteries lasted barely ten days and were difficult to replace. The display was difficult to read and even its timing ability was poor.

These design flaws and the number of watches sent back for replacement or repair were a disaster for Sinclair Radionics, which would have gone bankrupt without a government bailout.

With the National Enterprise Board (NEB) taking a 43% stake in Sinclair Radionics in 1976, Sinclair’s relationship with the board of directors and his own company deteriorated when ONE began selling parts of it. company from which Sinclair quickly left.

Now at the head of another electronics company, Science of Cambridge, which he co-founded in 1977, Sinclair became interested in the emerging new field of microprocessors and the company began producing the MK14, a computer available in kit priced at £ 39.95.

Although the MK14 was successful, following the acrimonious departure of its Science of Cambridge partners to found Acorn Computers, Sinclair decided to pursue the low-cost personal computer model.

In 1980, the company released the Sinclair ZX80, available as a kit for £ 79.95 or fully built for £ 99.95. The ZX80 was an immediate success for Sinclair who renamed the company Sinclair Computers and later Sinclair Research.

Although he lost to rival Acorn for a contract with the BBC to teach viewers about computers, Sinclair followed the ZX80 with the less expensive ZX81, which saw huge success, becoming one of the most popular computers. sold in UK and US. The ZX Spectrum, with its color display, was another success for Sinclair and the company made solid profits, helping to make Sinclair a millionaire. He was knighted in 1983.

The birth of the Sinclair C5

Sir Clive, as he was now, had a long interest in electric vehicles, and in 1983 sold part of his stock in Sinclair Research to capitalize a new business, Sinclair Vehicles.

The company began work on designing an electrified vehicle for a person that would use lead acid batteries to propel it to 30 mph with a range of 30 miles; a figure, according to Sinclair’s research, much higher than the average daily commute of motorists and drivers of scooters or mopeds, two methods he wanted to supplant with this new invention.

Sinclair c5

Dubbed C1 – the ‘C’ for Clive – the vehicle was expected to be safer, roomier and more weather resistant than a bicycle or moped, cost £ 500 and simply be designed with injection-molded plastic bodywork. To reduce costs, Sinclair chose to build on the existing battery technology then used on the milk floats, rather than investing heavily in costly research and development of new batteries.

Importantly, thanks to new legislation passed in 1983, prompted by bicycle makers who wanted to start selling e-bikes, Sinclair’s new vehicle could be driven without a license or helmet by anyone over the age of 14, although the speed should be limited to 15 mph, weight to 60 kg and motor to a power of 250 W.

Sinclair did not conduct any market research, believing instead that the C1 would create its own market just like its personal computers.

Sinclair outsourced the design work to Ogle Design, who previously created the Bond Bug microcar, the Reliant Scimitar and Robin, the Mini-based Ogle SX1000 coupe, and, for George Lucas’ Star Wars films, the Landspeeder.

Sinclair c5

Ogle’s design became known as the C5, and further improvements were made with the addition of a handlebar rather than a steering wheel, which made the entry and exit of the C5 safer and easier, according to Tony Wood Rogers, a longtime and designer of the C5 Project. time collaborator with Sinclair.

Lotus Cars undertook engineering work on the C5 chassis and 23-year-old industrial designer Gus Desbarats was hired to refine the design and styling of the polypropylene shell. He later described his contribution as “converting a useless and ugly device into a prettier, safer and more usable useless device”, in part with the addition of a rear mounted mast to allow greater visibility for other road users.

The electric motor was produced by an Italian firm, Polymotor, using a design derived, not from a washing machine as is often mistakenly claimed, but from the motor of a truck engine cooling fan.

While the tests ran for 19 months in complete secrecy, a deal was struck by the Welsh Development Agency to produce the Sinclair C5 at the Hoover washing machine factory in the economically depressed town of Merthyr Tydfil, in south Wales.

Initial sales were forecast by Sinclair to be around 200,000 per year, rising to 500,000, numbers that no doubt looked attractive to Hoover.

Reception of the Sinclair C5

The launch of the C5 at Alexandra Palace in London in January 1985 was catastrophic.

Visiting journalists found the electric pedal vehicle unreliable, with the engine frequently overheating; the C5’s batteries discharged after just seven minutes and it was unable to negotiate the light snow and icy roads around Alexandra Palace. It was difficult to operate while pedaling alone – something users found themselves doing too often – and due to its height, the exhaust fumes from other vehicles blew directly into the driver’s face.

In addition, the batteries suffered a noticeable run-down depletion due to the cold, the motor barely coped with ordinary hills, let alone snow-capped hills, and most observers expressed serious safety concerns. using the C5.

Sinclair c5

Public response was also muted. Sinclair sold less than 200 C5s at the Alexandra Palace event, although within four weeks some 5,000 were ordered with mail order forms that were sent to all of Sinclair’s IT customers.

Famous owners included Princes William and Harry, Elton John and that other notable British futurist, science fiction novelist Arthur C. Clarke.

To keep the price under the £ 400 mark, the C5 was sold with accessories such as indicators, weather guards, mirrors, mudguards, a horn and the optional high visibility mast.

In the real world, the C5 has proven to be too slow, with the batteries typically delivering much less than the promised range of 20 miles. Production was quickly reduced to just 100 per week, from 1,000 initially, due to low demand. Safety was another concern of thieves able to pick up a C5 and simply take it away.

Sir Clive Sinclair’s legacy

Although it attracted positive press for its handling and ease of use, sales of the C5 remained low and unsold products began to pile up. Production ceased in August 1985 and Sinclair Vehicles had totally collapsed by October. By the end of 1985, retailers were offering the C5 for £ 139.99, including a full set of accessories.

The C5 debacle ended Sinclair’s plans for a full line of electric vehicles, ultimately incorporating a full-size sedan.

In the few years since launch, however, the C5 developed into something cult and unsold vehicles that had been bought at discount prices sold far more than their original price.

After the C5, Clive Sinclair sold most of Sinclair Research to Amstrad, owned by Alan Sugar. Lord Sugar described Sinclair on Twitter this week as a “good friend and rival”.

Sinclair focused the efforts of Lean Sinclair Research on developing an electric bicycle, the Zike, and the folding A-bike, an electric version of which was released in 2015. Its X-1, another pedal electric vehicle in a similar vein to the C5, was unveiled in 2010 but failed to reach the market.

Sinclair c5

In his later years, Sinclair became well-known as a poker player often appearing in Channel 4’s Late Night Poker series. Despite his work in IT, he reportedly did not use the Internet or email, finding this out. a distraction.

He has repeatedly expressed serious fears about the future of artificial intelligence and how humanity is ultimately doomed if it allows machines to exceed human levels of intelligence and sensitivity.

Sir Clive Sinclair is survived by two sons, a daughter, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

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