The Sinclair C5 – a retro design classic, but synonymous with failure. In the first of a new, occasional series (that’s blogger-speak for “we need some content to fall back on!”), we poke around in the darkness of an invention that looked all set to succeed, even innovate, but just didn’t take off. We’re keen for suggestions of other designs that didn’t quite set the world alight so we can gradually build a compendium of forgotten, obsolete technology. Cheery, eh?





So, the C5. What was it? Well, it was a staggeringly good concept, in essence. An electric vehicle that was neither a bicycle nor a car, it resembled a mix between something from Logan’s Run and a tiny Roman chariot. Keeping its rider close to the ground (and its three wheels), the idea was that we would become a nation of battery-powered, low consumption road users and bask in a greener, safer world. With a top speed of about 15mph, it was surely set to be a slightly slower one too.

The inventor of the Sinclair C5, Clive Sinclair (clearly a man who loved the sound of his own name), had a remarkable success rate until the 1985 launch. Previously he had been the brains behind an early version of the pocket calculator and the ZX Spectrum, but the C5 was a colossal failure. The problem was, in short, that until the nation subscribed to the idea that we’d all get along much better if we each had a slow, tiny, electric and environmentally friendly car, it just wasn’t going to succeed. We move too fast as a nation for the innocence of the C5 to have worked. That and the thought of ploughing to work in the snow at a measly 15mph was only a cretin’s idea of fun.

It could’ve worked, though. The advent of climate awareness and a renewed attentive streak towards the environment means that we humans have started to embrace the electric car (and it’ll be even better when we can afford one). Sinclair had the right idea, but was perhaps too far ahead of his time. If he’d had access to today’s technology, who’s to say we wouldn’t still be using the C5 now?

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