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Sinclair C5 turns 30

National Motor Museum celebrates 30th birthday of Sir Clive Sinclair’s three-wheeled brainchild.

The 30th birthday of the Sinclair C5, one of the most unusual vehicles ever to be built in Britain, is being celebrated by the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in Hampshire.

Launched on January 10, 1985, visitors can again see this electrically-powered tricycle, which was gifted to the museum by its manufacturer.

Sinclair C5

Despite failing to catch the public’s imagination at its launch, today the C5 is regarded as an icon of 1980s design and a pioneer of alternative-fuelled transport, as well as an endearing British failure.

The Sinclair C5, masterminded by inventor and entrepreneur Sir Clive Sinclair, was designed to be an inexpensive and nimble alternative for one person to travelling by car, bus or bicycle.

Marketed as ‘a new power in personal transport,’ it had a retail price of £399 and could reputedly be driven for five miles on just one penny’s worth of electricity.

However, the C5 – which utilised both pedal power and an electric motor for propulsion – was poorly received by the press and public alike.

Its diminutive size – standing just 2’ 7” off the ground – made it vulnerable on the road, while the claimed range of 20 miles on one battery charge was modest, due to the limitations in contemporary battery technology. The C5’s lack of rain protection also ensured a short production life.

An electric motor powered the left-hand rear wheel, helping the C5 to reach 15mph – its top speed, as restricted by law.

Anyone over the age of fourteen was permitted to drive one and no driving licence was required.

Sinclair had expected to sell up to 100,000 units per year – by October 1985 when his company folded, just 9,000 has been sold.

Sir Clive Sinclair already had an impressive list of revolutionary designs to his name, including the ZX range of affordable home computers, the digital watch, the world’s first slim-line pocket calculator and the first pocket television.

About Gareth Herincx

Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who's worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.

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