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Engineer fixes classic 1980s electric vehicle

A Sinclair C5 housed at Amberley Museum is working again for the first time in years, thanks to an engineer from the local electricity firm.

From Press releases - 20 December 2017 12:00 AM

Engineer fixes classic 1980s electric vehicle.jpg

As the nation gears up to see more electric cars on the road in the years ahead, Philip Bennett was set the challenge of fixing the museum’s historic Sinclair C5, through his employer UK Power Networks’ staff volunteering scheme.

Sir Clive Sinclair’s ill-fated tricycle was intended as the first in a series of electric vehicles, but the short range, maximum speed of 15mph, short battery life and lack of weatherproofing made it in practical. Production ceased in 1985 and out of 14,000 made, only 5,000 were sold.

Philip, who lives in Shoreham and works as a protection and commissioning engineer, said: “I remember when the C5 was first advertised in the 1980s and seeing Sir Clive Sinclair on TV driving it. It did not catch on at the time, but going forward we will have far more electric vehicles on the road in the future.

“Being an electrical engineer all my life I’ve gained a lot of experience. I took the vehicle apart, found and fixed the problem, cleaned it up and tested it. I took it out round the museum site and sitting so low to the ground it feels quite fast, even though it only goes at 15mph. It was fine to drive around the site but I’m not sure I would like to go out on the public roads in it, I would feel quite vulnerable. The volunteers at the museum are pleased it’s working.”

During his test drive Philip realised the brakes were not working properly and spent a second day fixing those and giving the vehicle some general ‘TLC’. Now visitors will be able to see the vehicle in action during events at the Milne Electrical Collection at the museum.

David Jones, a volunteer at the museum, said: “We have two Sinclair C5 vehicles in the Milne Electrical Collection at Amberley Museum. Most people have seen pictures of the C5 or read about them, but few have seen them in action. Until about three years ago one of ours worked nicely and our visitors were fascinated to see it being driven around the site. It then developed a fault which we were unable to repair. Not only did Philip repair the electrical fault but he also found, and repaired, a fault on the brakes.”

Philip is now considering joining the museum as a regular volunteer. He said: “I think it’s a really good museum. I am biased, because I have been interested in electrics all my life, but the museum is cosy, homely and full of nostalgia. Even if just one in 100 young visitors there is inspired by what they see, that could be a future engineer. I’ll feel I am giving something back to a profession which I thoroughly enjoy.”

UK Power Networks, which keeps the lights on in London, the South East and East of England, has a volunteering scheme which encourages all staff to give two paid days leave each year to volunteer or fundraise in their local communities. Philip, a chartered engineer with 40 years experience, volunteered his time through the scheme.

The way electricity is generated, distributed and used is rapidly changing and UK Power Networks is preparing for the future. The company leads innovative projects that will help to accommodate the rise in electric vehicles and has published guides for councils and fleet operators on how they can facilitate cleaner, greener transport.