Clive Sinclair, one of the driving forces behind Britain’s computer industry and a major player in making computers cheap and available to everyone, died today, at the age of 81. Sinclair was best known in America for the astoundingly cheap Timex-Sinclair 1000 computer, which sold for $99 back in 1981. In the UK, he’s perhaps most famous for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum home computer, and most infamous for the strange, 3-wheeled electric almost-car he made, the C5.
The Spectrum was a pretty amazing computer, almost single-handedly giving birth to the UK’s software industry, but we’re an automotive website, so we get to talk about what was, in some ways, Sinclair’s biggest, boldest failure, the C5.
I drove one for an episode of Jason Drives a while back, and I have to say it was fascinating. Not good, mind you. Not at all. But fascinating.
As I said of the C5 when I first drove it:
The C5's electric motor made all of 0.34 horsepower, which is, what, like a part of a horse’s leg and some intestines? It also had a pedal assist, which let you add one humanpower to that incredibly small number, for a total output of, let’s see, carry the two, hardly any.
Perhaps more incredible is that Clive Sinclair intended for people to drive these things to work, in Britian, a country famous for its clammy, cold rain, and the C5's weather protection was something known in the auto industry as “jack shit.”
Sinclair was a genuinely gifted inventor, and while he’s less known here in America, his contributions to making computing truly accessible to everyone should be appreciated by all of us. He had a real innate sense of how to distill products down to what is most essential, and his work is something I’ve admired for a long time.
Rest in peace, Sir Clive. I’m sure there’s no color clash in the hereafter.