1985 Electric Vehicle Restoration

We tend to think of electric vehicles as a recent innovation, however many successful products are not the first ones to appear on the market. We have a habit of forgetting the progenitors such as mechanical scanned TVs or the $10,000 Honeywell kitchen computer. A case in point is [Clive Sinclair]’s C5 electric vehicle from 1985. If you’ve heard of it at all, you probably recall it was considered a stellar disaster when it was released. But it is a part of electric vehicle history and you can see [RetroManCave] talk to [Dave] about how he restored and operates a C5 of his own in the video below. If you want to dig into the actual restoration, [Dave] has three videos about the teardown and rebuild on his channel.

Sinclair saw this as the first shot across the bow with a series of electric vehicles, but it was doomed from the start. It isn’t a car. In fact, it is more like a bicycle with a battery. It seats one occupant who is exposed to the elements. It had a very tiny trunk. It can go — optimistically — 15 miles per hour and runs out of juice after about 20 miles — if you helped out by pedaling. If you weren’t up for the exercise, you’d get less out of the lead-acid battery.

At 15 miles per hour, you could hardly even claim it is a motorcycle in any practical sense. The plastic body made it lightweight which was a safety concern for some. However, it did make it easier to go in reverse. Because there was no reverse gear,  the procedure was to get out of the C5, grab it by the nose, lift, and turn it around.

We’ve seen C5s around here before. If you fancy your own electric bike, you can probably throw this one together in about five minutes.

26 thoughts on “1985 Electric Vehicle Restoration

  1. Without a suspension it rode rough as hell. It took a few more years of BMX and bike suspensions to get it together. I rode the monorail at Disneyland in ’65 to realize that it too didn’t glide along, but was rather a bumpy ride. If you watch the video be prepared to turn the audio way up 25dB, I didn’t.

  2. Today you can retrofit it with li-ion batteries and direct drive BLDC motors from cheap “hoverboard” and it will be great. The shell still looks very nice and have better aerodynamics than normal electric scooter

    1. That was one of the troubles that led to the fiasco.

      In fact, there was an sketch from Spitting images where a truck driver notices a bump, says “yeah!”, and adds another sticker with the silouete of a C5 to the outside of the door…

    2. Yes it was the safety issues that prevented it from selling more than anything else. They introduced a retrofit orange flag that was supposed to make it safer. I thought they were quite cool at the time and they have a certain appeal for people who grew up in the 80’s

      1. Incidentally, the Volkswagen X1 concept car had a similar issue. It was supposed to be a car that gets 1 l/100km (235 MPG) by being so slim-lined that it just cuts through the air. Of course they “proved” in in the Saudi-Arabia at 40 C heat to reduce the air resistance to minimum.

        The trouble was that the whole thing was an over-ground torpedo so the driver would be practically laying down on the ground and couldn’t see past a fire hydrant. The roof was at 1,153 mm which is lower than a Lamborghini Gallardo (1,165 mm). A fire hydrant is about 750 mm tall, so you have to keep your forehead to the roof lining to see above it in either car.

  3. Ahhhh… the C5. To be honest, I love the looks of it and really like the idea of owning such an iconic vehicle.
    But, it’s far from practical, calling sir Clive a visionary is one thing, but many other “visionairs” went before him. And we all know he sure wasn’t the first who made an electric vehicle. The C5 simply was the worst of both cases, marketed as a vehicle while it was nothing more then a tricycle with an electric motor. But it was slower then a bike, you couldn’t park it like a bike, you were even more vulnerable then a bike (as car drivers didn’t see you as you are too low to notice). Though the latter was solved with a flag on a stick, a contraption nowadays used for children bikes. Though the add-on rain cover did offer some advantage over a normal bike… The major problem with the C5 was it’s release in England… a country that isn’t really suited for riding a bike (or similar vehicle). I therefore wonder if it was to be released (6 months later when the C5 could have been in full production) in the Netherlands (known for it’s huge of bicycle paths infrastructure) with the same enthusiasm and media attention it may all have been slightly different.

    Though… perhaps the main problem with this device as many other of sir Clives’ inventions is that it looks cool… but slightly dissapoints during use. Also in some ways costs where cut at places were they really shouldn’t. Driving a single wheel instead of two, plastic parts in/around the gearbox. Although gearbox is a big word as the vehicle doesn’t really have the gears you would like to have at the moment the battery brakes down…

    Yet, despite all it’s drawbacks… I still adore the little deathtrap and envy those who own one. Perhaps mostly because it would be a nice project in so many ways.

    1. >”it looks cool… but slightly dissapoints during use”

      That’s a hallmark of any futuristic gadget. The reason they are made “futuristic” in the first place is to mask their obvious shortcomings. The real innovations don’t have to look much different than what already exists because they’re better by being better.

      It’s the poor who most show off with fine clothes. The rich simply wear them.

    2. > the worst of both cases, marketed as a vehicle while it was nothing more then a tricycle with an electric motor.

      I would like to submit the Segway for consideration.

      What is it about one-person fair-weather electric scooters that seems to convince “visionaries” that they’ll revolutionize transportation? Meanwhile, I live where it snows.

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