On this day in history : 10th January 1985 – At the launch of the Sinclair C5 a row breaks out over the electric tricycle’s safety….

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1985 Sinclair C5 – harry_nl via Flickr

Launched by entrepreneur, inventor and computer millionaire Sir Clive Sinclair, the C5 was designed for short journeys…. Sir Clive said it was a perfect runabout, ideal for shopping, going to the office or school…. The open-topped, battery operated machine – steered via a handlebar located under the knees of the driver – could be driven on the road by anyone over the age of 14…. The driver was not obliged to wear a helmet, needed no driving licence, insurance or road tax…. It had a top-speed of 15mph and could be purchased at a cost of £399 (or £428 for mail order delivery)….

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Sinclair C5 sectioned – Image : Prioryman – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

However, safety concerns were raised at the lavish Press launch, which was held at Alexandra Palace in North London…. At 6ft long and just 2ft 6″ high the British Safety Council said it was too close to the ground and the driver would have poor visibility in traffic…. At a top-speed of only 15mph safety experts expressed concern that the C5 was too vulnerable amongst other cars…. Dr. Murray MacKay, head of the Accident Research Unit at Birmingham University, described it as ‘a sort of milk float’….

To add insult to injury, many of the machines specially laid on at the launch for the journalists to try out, did not work…. The Sunday Times referred to the C5 as a ‘Formula One bath chair’….

The Sinclair C5 was to go on to become a commercial flop…. Sir Clive had predicted sales of 100,000 plus – but in reality only 12,000 were ever produced…. However, it has gained cult status in later years – with collectors paying as much as £5,000 as an investment…. Enthusiasts meet at gatherings – some even performing elaborate modifications to their machines….

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Modified with tiger stripes! – Image :  Prioryman – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0
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Sinclair C5 modified with a jet engine! – Image : Prioryman – own work CC BY-SA 4.0

The C5 also had some very notable fans…. Princes William and Harry had one each to ride around on at Kensington Palace – and Sir Elton John owned two….

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Abandoned and long forgotten…. Image : Alan Gold via Flickr

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