Clive Sinclair, pioneer of inventive computing, dies at 81

With personal computers, Sinclair applied his creativity to technologies that were becoming ripe for commercialization, such as electronics, semiconductors and software. The same could not be said of his next ambitious venture: electric vehicles.

Mr. Sinclair believed electric cars were the future of transportation, but he was way ahead of the technology and economics that would one day make them possible. In 1985 he introduced the C5, a vehicle that has been rightly described as a bloated golf cart. Sold for 399 pounds, or about $ 450, it had a top speed of 15 miles an hour, a range of 20 miles, and pedals to help out on the hills. Mr. Sinclair described it as a stepping stone to a full-scale electric car. “The C5 is the first in a family of electric vehicles,” he said.

He had hoped to sell 100,000 of his electric vehicles in 1985. But only around 4,500 were sold and the business was closed at the end of the year after investing a lot of his own money in the business. As Sinclair’s computer sales began to falter and run out of funds, Mr. Sinclair sold the computer company in 1986 to Amstrad, another British personal computer manufacturer.

Mr. Sinclair won the favor of the British public in part because he embodied a classic English type – the eccentric inventor, or “boffin”, a laudatory term. His interests and tastes were varied. He collects modern art, but he is also a lover of classical music and poetry, especially that of William Butler Yeats, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Robert Frost.

His days, described in the Times Magazine article in 1985, typically started with a six- or seven-mile run in Hyde Park in London at 6.30am (he has completed several New York marathons.) “I sort the day by running, he said, “I can think of a business problem or a conference, but I can also think of women, the weather, or poetry.”

Besides his daughter, he is survived by his sons, Crispin and Bartholomew; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Both of her marriages ended in divorce.

Mr. Sinclair tinkered with inventions until shortly before his death, Ms. Sinclair said, “because that was what he loved to do.”


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