Flashback to 1985: Quirky tricycle failed to win public's heart

It was unveiled with great fanfare and billed as the future of transport. But the Sinclair C5 electrically powered pedal car failed to win over the British public.

The tricycle was the brainchild of entrepreneur Sir Clive Sinclair, who wanted an efficient mode of transport for short journeys around town that wouldn't create any pollution.

Its quirky design was inspired by new regulations that permitted electrically powered cycles with fewer than four wheels to be driven on British roads without a license.

Sir Clive's invention, which was launched at Alexandra Palace in London, could also be driven on the roads without insurance or tax by anyone over 14.

The single-seat vehicle,which was open to the elements, was less than six feet long and only two feet, seven inches high.

And the C5 could be pedalled or powered by an electric motor that gave a range of 24 miles on one battery charge.

A basic model cost £399, but with delivery charges and accessories, such as wing mirrors, horn, and spare battery, the total bill could be more than £600.

"It's ideal for shopping, going to the office, going to school, any trip around town," said Sir Clive back in 1985.

Sir Clive Sinclair demonstrating his C5 electric vehicle in 1985

There were high hopes for the C5 as prior to its launch Sir Clive had chalked up significant successes – the first pocket calculator, the first pocket television and the best-selling British computer of all time.

There were plans to build 100,000 vehicles per year at a Hoover factory in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. A two-seater and a four-seat family car were also in the pipeline to follow within a few years.

"The C5 is just the beginning … by the early 1990s, Sinclair will have … a range of fast, quiet, astonishingly economical family vehicles," said Sinclair Vehicles Ltd's advertising.

But the C5 received a lukewarm response from the public and there were also concerns about how safe drivers would be while out and about in the tricycle.

British motor racing legend, Stirling Moss, was asked by the BBC to take a C5 for a spin around town. His verdict: "I think it's safe if you drive it realising it isn't a car... ride it just like a bicycle and I think you should be alright."

But the British Safety Council raised several concerns, including that the vehicle was too close to the ground and the driver had poor visibility in traffic. With a top speed of only 15 mph, safety experts said the C5 could have been vulnerable to knocks from other cars.

By the end of 1985, amid rising fears about the C5’s safety and criticism of its top speed and design, less than 9,000 had been sold and the project collapsed.

But today the car remains a cult classic among motor enthusiasts and in 2015 some of them celebrated the 30th anniversary of the vehicle's launch.

Collector Jake Pearson, pictured in his Sinclair C5

They gathered on Bournemouth promenade before riding from Boscombe Pier to Sandbanks.

C5 owner Paul Grice, who organised the seafront trip, said: "I started collecting them about six or seven years ago because I liked the look of them.

"I was actually looking at Sinclair computers and I was going through the ads and came across one of these Sinclair cars.

"It cost me £100 and now they are worth about £400 to £700 – I guess they hold their value but it's just a good bit of fun.

"I drive mine on the road sometimes to the pub or the chip shop, down the beach or around the gardens."

In 2014, one proud Black Country owner was showing off their Sinclair C5 as part of a vast collection of curios.

Jake Pearson of Dudley had a whole host of historic memorabilia which he was opening up to the public to raise funds for Russells Hall Hospital's cancer ward.

As well as the Sinclair C5, he also had an old butcher’s bike, a tandem bicycle and a penny farthing and over the years he had also owned both a classic Aston Martin and Jaguar.

More recently a Sinclair C5 made an appearance at Weston Park. It was among the display of vintage, classic and modern classic vehicles at last year's Easter Motor Show.

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