What It's Like To Drive The Biggest Failure In British Motoring History

I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me, exactly, but I just love a good, solid failure. And while I’m not sure you can apply the words “good” or “solid” to this thing, you really can’t argue that the Sinclair C5 was anything but a glorious failure. And it’s how we’re kicking off the new season of Jason Drives.


The Sinclair C5 wasn’t really a car, it wasn’t really a scooter, it was just sort of a... product. It was the brainchild of Clive Sinclair, Britain’s more-affable Steve Jobs, the head of Sinclair Research, the company that gave the U.K. their first real mass-market personal computer, the glorious, rubber-keyed Sinclair Spectrum.

When Sinclair unveiled the C5 in 1985, they made a point to let people know it was a “vehicle, not a car” as though there was any chance in hell anyone would mistake the thing that looked like you were riding on a white plastic hair dryer for a car.

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.”


Imagine a grey, drizzling morning and you can chose to go to work in either a heated, toasty Mini or sitting on an open lump of plastic. Which would you choose?

That choice may help you understand how, out of 14,000 of these made, only 5,000 were sold. Then you may wonder how 5,000 of these were sold.


Still, the C5 wasn’t all bad. Sure, the safety issues of being below bumper height of most trucks and cars is scary, but the chassis was designed by Lotus, and it only weighed 99 pounds, so it’s certainly nimble and lean. It went 20 miles on a charge, too, so that’s not bad!


And, yeah, driving it is weird because your junk rests on the handlebars and you steer under your thighs and it’s plasticky and flimsy, sure, but it does sort of look cool, in an ‘80s kind of way.

Yeah, it’s terrible, but it’s sort of a fun terrible. And that’s our favorite kind of terrible.


(as always, thanks to our pals at the best motor museum in the world, the Lane!)

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)