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10 facts about the 30-year-old Sinclair C5

This might make you feel old. The legendary British failure that is the Sinclair C5 is celebrating 30 years since it was launched on the 10th of January, 1985. So what better way to commemorate the moment than with ten facts to impress your friends with. Or not, as the case may be.

You could only travel 10 miles before turning around

If you think electric cars of today caused range anxiety, you should see the Sinclair C5. It offered just 20 miles between charges, so anything further than 10 miles in one direction meant pushing the thing back home.

It was dangerously unsafe

Even in the 1980s, a time when cars were getting very fast but not really that much safer, the 2’7″ Sinclair C5 was a death trap on public roads. What else would you expect? It was basically a tricycle you could use on the road if you had balls as big toasters. No roll cage. No air bags. No windscreen. What could go wrong?

You needed to love the rain

As in, REALLY love the rain. There was no roof or windscreen to protect the driver from the elements. The ‘weather cheater’ poncho accessory offered to customers, meanwhile, was about as close as it got to staying dry and warm.

Its creator had many successes

Englishman Sir Clive Sinclair probably looks back on the C5 with a mixture of amusement and regret, unlike some of his other creations – including the ZX range of computers, digital watch, world’s first slim-line calculator and the world’s first pocket television. Given his involvement with consumer technology, it’s strange to note the inventor allegedly now spends his days avoiding computers.

Virtually anyone could drive it

The Sinclair was never too fussy about who could drive (or is that ride?) it. There was no need for a driving licence, instead you simply had to be 14 or older and incredibly stupid brave. With just one button and handlebars used to control it, there was never really any need for a lengthy training course.

Lotus designed the chassis

The C5’s steel chassis and polypropylene body were developed by Lotus, another British company. Yes, we mean the car manufacturer behind the Exige and Esprit. By no means its finest hour, we’ll give you that, but at least it looked futuristic. Ish.

It was slower than a glacier

With a top speed of 15mph (restricted by law) generated by a single electric motor, the Sinclair C5 was so slow it almost made time go backwards. It was actually built by Hoover, so had plenty in common with the company’s other goods with electric motors and hardly any pace.

Just 9,000 were built

Sinclair expected to sell 100,000 of the £399 Sinclair C5 in the first year. History tells us just a total of 9,000 units were made by October of 1985, leading to the end of production and the collapse of the company set up to build it. Reports claim the C5 ended up costing its makers £6 million in total, making it an expensive mistake.

You slowed down human progress by not buying one

Sir Clive Sinclair, who was fascinated by electric vehicles, later said the C5 was designed to generate the cash to produce a four-seater electric vehicle that could hit 80mph. Before you tell yourself off for slowing down the progress of the human race, Sir Clive Sinclair did in fact build a successor known as the X-1 in 2010, a 21st century interpretation of the X1 sit-down cycle you can buy for £595.

We still love it

For all of its many, many faults the charming Sinclair C5 is at least memorable. Whether car fans like it or not, no one will forget the little car that showed the world just how spectacularly wrong the British can get it. For that reason alone, it’s priceless.

You can see the Sinclair C5 in person at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.

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