Inventor of the pocket calculator and the struggling C5 three-wheeler
Designed and marketed as an alternative mode of urban transport for both motorists and cyclists, the C5 does not appeal to either. About 14,000 were made but only 5,000 were sold before Sinclair Vehicles went into receivership in August 1985. The vehicles became cult collectors’ items (Sir Elton John kept two as runabouts on his estate) but they did. were rarely spotted on public roads.
Clive Marles Sinclair was born in Richmond, Surrey on July 30, 1940, the son and grandson of engineers. His father ran a machine tool company but had financial difficulties which disrupted Clive’s education, during which he earned O-levels at Highgate School and A-levels in physics and math at St George’s. Weybridge College.
By this time, he was very early on absorbed by the range of ideas that would shape his future career: he had sketched out a plan for an individual submarine at the age of 12 and had started selling radio kits through correspondence as the sixth elder. But he chose not to go to college, instead becoming a technical writer for Convenient wireless magazine and author of textbooks such as Modern transistor circuits for beginners.
He founded his first company, Sinclair Radionics, in 1961. Products included the Micromatic transistor radio, “smaller than a matchbox,” which Sinclair had begun to design in school, and the Microvision pocket television. . But he continued to work part-time as a technical writer until his real business breakthrough with the Executive Calculator.
The aftermath of the C5 debacle coincided with declining sales of Spectrum and the lackluster launch of the QL (for “quantum leap”) personal computer for business users. Short of cash, Sinclair considered a deal with Robert Maxwell that failed.
Instead, in 1986 he sold his product line and brand to Alan (later Lord) Sugar’s Amstrad Corporation for £ 5million, keeping only a small R&D operation for his own future projects. Amstrad recouped the purchase price simply by selling off Sinclair’s excess stock – but subsequent attempts to improve Sinclair products with additional entertainment features were unsuccessful and the brand was effectively discontinued in 1992.
Much of Clive Sinclair’s imagination in the 1990s and 2000s was personal transportation. He invented the Zike electric bicycle; the Zeta electric motor to fit conventional bicycles and a similar motor for wheelchairs; the Sea-doo SeaScooter for scuba divers; and finally, in 2008, the A Bike, a lightweight folding bicycle with tiny wheels, designed to be easily carried on trains by commuters.
The X-1, an electric-assisted pedal bicycle with an egg-shaped canopy reminiscent of the C5, was recently in view. But the renewed success of the mass market escaped him.
As for the C5 itself, Sinclair was sorry for the mockery it brought, but philosophical about its mistakes: “I think it was a good idea then and I’m doing it now. Clearly, I should have handled it differently. I rushed too much.
He continued to work, rather covertly, on designs for a variety of advanced electric vehicles, and declared his enthusiasm for the concept of a “flying car” which he believed to be “technically quite possible”.
Sinclair’s dedication to the drawing board didn’t stop an energetic private life, conducted from an apartment overlooking Trafalgar Square, which belied his image of a bespectacled (and younger, red-bearded) boffin.
It was perhaps not surprising that he had long been chairman and chairman of British Mensa, the organization for people with exceptionally high IQs (his was measured at 159). But he was also a high stakes poker player, appearing in Channel 4. Late night poker and its consequences, Celebrity Poker Club – in which he won £ 25,000 of the first round in 2003, against runners-up which included politician Zac Goldsmith and race commentator John McCririck.
Sinclair first married, in 1962, Anne Briscoe; they had two sons and a daughter. The marriage was dissolved in 1985, and subsequently – much to the glee of the tabloids – he was seen chasing a succession of glamorous young women, including actresses Ruth Kensit (Patsy’s cousin) and Sally Farmiloe (better known for her steamy affair with Jeffrey Archer, as well as her role in the maritime soap opera Howard’s Path).
When asked if this quest was indicative of a midlife crisis, Sinclair replied, “No, I’ve always loved having a girlfriend, and that’s what I did.” In 1996, at Stringfellow’s nightclub in London, he met Angie Bowness, a dancer and former Miss England 36 years his junior who told a reporter: “I get mad when he is described as’ Bald Sir Clive. “. He is in fact incredibly attractive to women.
After an at times eventful relationship, during which she had a son with another partner, they married in Las Vegas in 2010, but later went their separate ways. He is survived by his daughter and two sons.
The Telegraph, London