Testing the C5 - Recollections by Perran Newman

Although my main role in the 'C5 story' was a responsibility for the electrical and electronic aspects of the product, I was present at several of the test programmes when early prototypes and later - pre-production ones were being tested for endurance, safety and performance.

As Dan has put up a selection of slides relating to the test at Crowthorne, I'll try and remember more about that day. Crowthorne was the Transport and Road Research Laboratory (TRRL) and one could hire the site with its complex of roads, roundabouts and junctions.

The idea was to have many C5's interacting with a wide range of traffic to see how they coped with one another. I remember an overcast day probably in the autumn.

Given the number of C5's available - probably at least a dozen, they must have been early production samples with proper bodies. I suppose we must have been debriefed afterwards or maybe answered a questionnaire although I suspect the main emphasis of the trial was to see how other road users coped with the C5's - particularly the HGVs.

I was driving a C5 and recall being slightly unnerved when an HGV drew up alongside at a junction as one was looking at the wheel caps - but as the literature that accompanied the launch stressed - this is no different from the driver of a Mini. In practice the difference is that you feel partially 'trapped' in a C5 as 'bale-out' is not as easy as on a bicycle. I remember that the roads were far better than those found in practice. No drains, potholes or other obstacles.

A slide from the Crowthorne collection

The slide on the right shows two key people in the story of the C5. At the front is Tony Wood-Rogers - his role is detailed in Rodney Dales book - 'The Sinclair Story'. As soon as I joined the project in the autumn of 1983, I was sent down to Exeter to meet Tony and be brought up to speed on the thinking behind the concept.

Tony used to work with Clive Sinclair but left to set up a language school. He was creative, very interested in transport and able to organise the build of functional prototypes. He also carried out computer simulations of performance once the basic parameters had been established from the real world prototypes.

Behind Tony in the picture is Barrie Wills. - MD of Sinclair Vehicles Ltd. An ex DeLorean man like many of the team, Barrie was a superb organiser with a background in component sourcing/buying. He was the first man on board after Tony's involvement and I signed non-disclosure documents with him before being told what the whispered 'Sinclair Revolutionary Vehicle' was going to be.

It's worth saying that it was always Clive's intention to produce a true 'car' but the finances required were beyond his personal means. The C5 was seen as a chance to generate profit from the new Electrically Assisted Cycle laws - that profit being then used to make C10 - a town runabout rather like the Smart.

Barrie ran a very tightly controlled business along the lines of a traditional vehicle company and project review meetings chaired by himself were legendary. Woe betide you if you had not achieved what you had agreed at the previous meeting.

A slide from the Crowthorne collection

Returning to the photos, that must be me with the balaclava. It was a cold day and I was always susceptible to my ears getting chilled !

Note that the C5's all have grey boot-lids. The more visible white ones where a late change, probably as a result of events like Crowthorne.

Those of you familiar with the C5 story will know that the secrecy was such that the first pictures obtained by the press were taken by a reporter who walked into the Hoover factory at 'clocking in' time, not long before the launch. I was always amazed that someone didn't get pictures earlier. The Lotus Test Track was an obvious location and TRRL itself couldn't have had perfect security. I suppose the paprazzi had better things to do.

It was not until the launch of the C5 that I next took one out on the road. Gus Desbarats and myself worked out of Milton Hall in Cambridge. The day after the launch we took a C5 each and went into the centre of Cambridge. I'll never forget that day - we were the centre of attention as the launch had been seen by many people on the news the night before.

There was an element of 'showing off' which was inevitable but as I turned right at some speed from St. Andrews Street into Downing Street, I rolled the beast in front of a crowd. I righted, jumped back in unhurt and carried on with a very red face no doubt.

More to come about testing at Lotus and Prescott.

Sinclair C5 Slides - Crowthorne Sunday

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