Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 07/84 item 01 - scanned
ENTER THE ZX PERSONMOBILE (column)
What would you say are the hallmarks of a Sinclair product? Innovative, cheap and late are probably among the first words which come into your head. The reason I mention this is because when I was on holiday in Portugal recently I overheard someone in a bar mention that they'd seen a mould for Sinclair's forthcoming electric car. I resisted the temptation to wade in and ask questions, after all I was trying to get away from it all, but I couldn't help speculating on the form this wonder-vehicle might take.
Sir Clive (why doesn't anyone call him 'Uncle' any more?) has been utterly consistent in his approach to the computer market. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that he will follow the same pattern as his interests turn to his electric vehicle (he doesn't actually refer to it as a car). Maybe this is a clue. Is he about to unveil a new type of self propelled conveyance? After all we've had cars and cycles for some time now. I'm afraid my brain isn't up to dreaming up new means of transport and, anyway, the Department of Transport or whoever it is these days would take forever to sanction it. I'm going to assume it's some sort of car.
Knowing Clive, it's likely to be small (I refer of course to his previous electronic offerings). Perhaps, since it's electric, it will be a town car for one or two people. No doubt some marketing wizard has worked out the average occupancy of cars in town is one point something or other people. It will also be black. It must be: the last non-black Sinclair offering was the ZX-80 back in March 1980. I must admit I'm not intimately familiar with every Sinclair product, but all those I do know are made of plastic. I predict therefore (not very cleverly) that the car will be plastic. Since this will make the car quite light, it will have the added advantage of squeezing the most out of its batteries.
The styling will be attractive and slightly austere. The looks are likely to owe themselves more to smartness and market appeal than to aerodynamics. Whatever sort of car it is, it will cost about half what you'd expect to pay for it. Let's say somewhere between two and three thousand pounds. I suspect that it will be regarded as a secondary vehicle and will appeal to the sort of person who can spend that sort of money without needing to think too hard about it. Sinclair's recent product names, Spectrum and Quantum Leap, make me wonder whether the car will be called an Electron. It would make sense but would Acorn let Sinclair get away with it? Could they stop him?
Of course, the car will be offered through the famous Sinclair mail order mechanism. Delivery will be promised within 28 days and for the first few thousands buyers this will prove to be an optimistic claim. Once again Sinclair will show us how much we need an Advertising Standards Authority, and all the gum-baring that goes with it. The car magazines will help popularise the name by publishing endless accusatory articles and angry letters from frustrated would-be purchasers. They will also carry masses of lucrative advertising for the ASA to whinge about.
Once the deliveries start people will notice odd things going wrong. Soon the magazines will be full of letters from people no longer angry at not getting a car but angry because they have got one. They'll be discovering the little quirks that make life with an early Sinclair so interesting. Letters will pour in saying things like "Did you know that if you indicate left when turning right while at the same time operating your windscreen wipers, your engine will cut out?"
Another unusual feature of the first vehicles will be the fact that one of the seats will be hanging out the back of the car. Buyers of these early models will be allowed to send them back after a couple of months to have the seat fitted inside. Of course Sinclair hopes that many users will have got quite used to the external seat by then and won't bother. By way of compensation for their early inconvenience these purchasers will be given a free road fund licence holder.
Finally, I feel I should mention the rechargeable battery. To preserve the elegant looks of the car and to keep the weight down, the battery will be external to the vehicle. In fact it will weigh almost as much as the car and will be towed behind on a trailer.