Friday, 2 August 2013

First had experience with a C5 at Sinclair in the UK


Re: EEVblog #501 - Sinclair C5 Electric Car Teardown & Test Drive
« Reply #37 on: Yesterday at 08:31:10 PM »
Oh man! That's made my day. Let me take you back... back... back...

I worked for Sinclair Research in the mid-80s as a snotty-nosed teenaged Z80 programmer. I joined the day the C5 launched and worked initially in Sinclair's London office (a tiny place with just Clive, his secretary, his father and me - it's a long story...). So I came out of work and there outside the office was the C5 that Clive had been driving at the launch event - widely covered on the telly.  But, nobody knew what to do with it - it was a Friday afternoon, it wouldn't fit through the doorway into the office and you couldn't just leave it there. So light, someone could have picked it up and walked away with it.

"I know!" I said. "I'll drive it home and look after it over the weekend!"

Clive looked dubious "Are you sure?" he said, "It's rush hour, it's London..."

"You've just been on the TV telling everyone how safe it is," I said (teenagers, eh?). "What can go wrong?"

"Errr... OK" he said. What else could he have done?

So I drove it from Chelsea to Chiswick through the London rush hour traffic. Got a lot of attention - after all, it'd had been on the TV all day - and it felt really good.

Until I got to Hammersmith, about three miles from the office and about two from home, when the battery ran out. The advertised range was not quite working out... peddling it (with no gearbox) all the way home was not nearly as much fun.

"Yes," said Clive on the Monday. "There may be some bugs to work out..." Can't remember how we got it back - I think by van.

Some more background on it: it was designed by a couple of chaps at Milton Hall, home of Sinclair Research's Metalab in Cambridge, in conjunction with various suppliers. The P. Newman who co-authored the Unofficial C5 document is Perran Newman, who became my boss at Sinclair after I moved to Cambridge; we worked together on a few projects, including the Pandora portable Spectrum (yet another story).

The "washing machine" motor was in fact a variant of one used for electric torpedoes. The ULA was a typical Sinclair component; the Ferranti ULA in the ZX81 was the first such in any consumer device, and Sinclair had a preference for them over other solutions. It was possible - although I never took part - to put two batteries in series and go very fast indeed, I think the unofficial record was 30 MPH, if you didn't do it for too long. Sinclair engineers were an eccentric bunch, and did things like go jousting in muddy fields in Citroen 2CVs.

But so much on it was just too pared back - the nylon gears that stripped, the batteries that were just too wimpy, those brakes... and, yeah, the British weather. There was a sort of cagoule which clipped around the front of the driving space, but that made you look even more like Davros than before.

Happy days.But it was a doomed project... now, the C10...