Sinclair C5 Sales Brochure, 1985

Exhibit / August 7, 2017

Object Name: Sinclair C5 Sales Brochure
Maker and Year: Sinclair Vehicles, 1985
Object Type: Brochure
Image Source: c5owners
Description: (Richard McKenna)

Costing £399 plus a £29 delivery charge, the Sinclair C5 was a one-person electric transport launched in January 1985 by Sinclair Vehicles, a company formed two years previously by inventor and entrepreneur Clive Sinclair, the brain behind the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum home computers, which had driven the British home computer boom of the 1980s.

Sinclair Vehicles’ mission was the development of electric personal transportation, a field in which Sinclair had been interested since the early 1970s, and the C5 aimed to exploit then-recent UK legislation that permitted anyone over the age of 13 to drive electrically-powered two- and three-wheel vehicles with a maximum speed of 15 mph on British public highways.

This brochure was sent to those contacting the company for information, along with a cover letter enthusing about the “completely revolutionary vehicle”—“No driving license or road tax required… a range of up to 20 miles from one overnight charge… fuel costs of just a penny per 5 miles.” In addition to its electric battery, the C5 also possessed pedals that could be used to supplement the power of the vehicle’s motor.

The C5’s sleek, futuristic appearance was arrived at in several stages. The initial prototype was realized by British design consultancy Ogle Design, whose Tom Karen had designed the Bond Bug, a three-wheeled wedge-shaped micro-car whose chassis had been used for the Landspeeder (which Karen had also designed) in 1977’s Star Wars. British sports car company Lotus was then engaged to complete the design process, but, unhappy with the result, the company brought in Gus Desbarats, 23-year-old winner of a Sinclair-sponsored design competition at the Royal College of Art. It was Desbarats who would add the instrumentation, lock, storage, wheel trims, and rear-view mirrors, as well as an antenna to increase the visibility of the vehicle, which was usually below the line of sight of other drivers.

The excitement that had been building since announcement of the project evaporated rapidly when the vehicle itself was revealed: despite being in many ways conceptually advanced, speed and safety considerations, Sinclair’s lack of market research, the vehicle’s unsuitability to British climatic conditions, and general performance issues—which included an unreliable battery—doomed the C5 to failure. That its futurist styling was at odds with its size and guaranteed C5 drivers would be an object of curiosity and amusement only increased the impression of its silliness, and though the C5 was much less expensive than a car, it was still several times more costly than a bicycle, over which it offered only nominal advantages. After producing just 12,000 units—of which only 7,500 were sold—Sinclair Vehicles went into receivership in October 1985.

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