Offroad Prototypes by Brian McCool

For years there had been rumors about the Off Road C5's. Has anybody seen one? Does anybody know who owns these? How many were made? Most of what anyone knew came from the short demonstration video that many people have seen on YouTube. Through discussions with Barrie Wills, former Managing Director of Sinclair Vehicles, and Ian Milner, the son of late C5 Engineering Director Peter Milner, I have pieced together most of the story involving the off road prototypes.

In the fall of 1985, Sinclair Vehicles was winding down operations, with October 12 being the final closure date. It was in this time period that alternative plans were being looked at to keep the C5 product afloat. One of the plans was to try and sell C5's to golf clubs or possibly retirement communities.

Peter Milner had worked on numerous C5 prototypes, including one with a CVT gearbox, one with a 5 speed sprocket, and one with 4 motors that had so much torque it broke the chain drive according to Ian. Ian mentioned the 4 motor C5 had been sold to a chap who ended up using it to break the UK electric land speed record. I'm thinking most likely this would have been Adam Harper in the early 1990's.

Two of the more significant prototypes Peter worked on were the off road prototypes. In my research on the off road C5's history, I located this discussion that took place November 25, 2009, pertaining to the meet celebrating the C5 25th anniversary. The original poster is named Michael, who appears to own 1 of the 2 off road prototypes and had corresponded with Peter years earlier before his death in 2003, and reposted his discussion with Peter below:

(Michael speaking in reference to attending the C5 anniversary meet):

"I have a very rare prototype I might bring if I am not working that day. It was one of two built as a design for an off roader C5. Two batteries power two motors. Fat off road wheels at the rear, and joystick steering rather than the bar under your legs. No pedals.

(The following is a response Michael got from writing Peter Milner for more information):

Dear Michael,

Good to hear from you. From memory (which is not the best!) we built two what we called at the time 'off-road' prototype C5s. They had joystick steering, large section wheels and tyres (rears at least) and the prime target market intent was the golfing community. The first vehicle was a purely experimental conversion and the second was closer to the specification we would have marketed. I don't recall what happened to the first vehicle but the second finished its days (as far as I know, because I delivered it) in Connecticut.

At least one of the two (and certainly the second) had a prototype dual-winding single motor offering 'low' and 'high' range. Some documented information exists, including video footage of my son driving one of the vehicles on Nuneaton Golf Course (and through a perimeter ditch) but it is currently on loan to Roy Woodward who hosts a C5 Internet page. I suggest you contact him directly if you would like to follow up on this.

Let me know how things progress.

Best regards,

Peter Milner

In my talks with Peter's son Ian, he mentioned that he served as the "unofficial" C5 test driver and coincidentally is the chap that can be seen driving the C5 in the demonstration video mentioned above. He recalled that it was quite fun and remembers they had to get permission from the golf course to shoot the video while riding around on the off road prototype.

In my discussions with Barrie Wills, he shared that they did indeed interest two investors in Connecticut in producing C5's for the retirement/golfing communities. More details of this story will be revealed in Barrie Wills' next book he is currently working on, due out towards the end of 2017.

Fast Forward to December 6, 2015. Dan Birch was contacted by a fellow in New York that was interested in selling his C5's that he had sitting in his barn for the last 30 years. Apparently a former tenant of his in 1985 had moved out and when he went to look in the barn behind his rental house, 2 C5's were sitting there. He had no idea when the tenant had put them back there or why he abandoned them.

According to the owner, the "American Pickers" show had been in the area, and he thought these might be something that they would be interested in buying. In trying to look up more information on them, the owner contacted Dan Birch after doing a web search on C5's to see if anyone may be interested in purchasing these.

I had been in the market for a C5 since I missed an opportunity to buy one only 2 hours from me a couple of months ago, and with there being only about 30-40 C5's in my estimation in the USA, the opportunity to buy one only comes up once or twice a year. I jumped at the chance to possibly buy 2 at the same time, and reached out to the owner to negotiate a deal. Not knowing about the off road C5's and the first set of pictures being taken from the front, I wasn't aware of any differences in these C5's compared to any other C5.

It was the second set of pictures from the rear angle I was sent, that showed what appeared to be a joystick control on one. At this point the C5's were on their way to me and I was anxious to see what I had bought up close.

As it turns out under close inspection, me watching the demonstration video about 20 times and many discussions with Ian, Barrie, and numerous C5 owners, I had indeed found the second off road prototype deemed market ready that Peter Milner mentions above and is the same unit that was recorded in the demo video with Ian driving it.

Coincidentally, Ian has confirmed that the second C5 I bought, which contains a 5 speed sprocket and gear shifter, happens to have been his daily driver C5 that he took back and forth to school and the same 5 Speed sprocket prototype that he mentioned above.

Interestingly, the #2 off road market ready C5 also has a 5 speed sprocket but no shifter. It also came with a factory chain tensioner, similar to the plastic sprockets on part of a derailleur. I am unaware as to how many owners these C5's passed through in 1985 from the time they were handed over to someone in Connecticut, to them being abandoned in a barn in New York, but the window was very small, considering the off road C5 is showing an October 1985 build date and the owner stated 1985 is when his tenant moved out. After sitting for 30 years, both C5's will be getting frame off restorations to bring them back to their original condition as time allows.

Parts specific to the #2 Market Ready Off Road C5 prototype:

  • Turf type tires with inner tubes on the front and back wheels.
  • Rear tires: Carlisle Turf-Chief 13X5.00 - 6, 2 ply
  • Front tire: Kenda 4.00-4, 4 ply
  • Dual wound motor with Hi and Lo speed.
  • Axle is flipped with spline end on the right side.
  • Custom wheels, with right side having splines on the inside shaft.
  • Rear brake is on the axle versus the wheel.
  • Dual black fairings over the rear wheel arches.
  • Joystick steering control.
  • Custom front fork.
  • Badge on the central hump that states "This Vehicle is Not for Use on the Freeways and Highways"
  • Drive belt tensioner
  • Custom 2 sprocket chain tensioner

On a side note, as many people may or may not be aware:

Barrie Wills was the former Purchasing Director at DeLorean Motor Company Limited in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland (DMCL), as well as being the defacto CEO during the creditor-protected bankruptcy period towards the end of DMCL.

Peter Milner was Product Engineering Manager of DMCL and later the inventor of the patented Serraglaze daylighting architectural glass concept and the aerodynamic prismatic automotive rear view device - the Serra or Milner Mirror.

Original C5 Offroader Video

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