Computers were huge, expensive, and a luxury many couldn’t afford before they became a fixture of workplaces, schools, libraries, and many families.

The ZX80, the first personal computer of the British inventor, was a $200 deal. The invention, as well as its more advanced descendants, aided in the broad adoption of computing (and inspired a generation of programmers to create inventive computer games).

Most of his ideas were around making existing items smaller and more affordable, even if they weren’t universally embraced — he’s just as well-known for the Sinclair C5, a small, low-speed electric automobile that was severely panned upon introduction, as he is for his considerably more successful computers.

Despite the conflicting reviews, he remained steadfast in his support for his inventions.

In a 2010 interview with the Independent, he said, “If the idea is good enough, it’ll appear quite weird to practically everybody.” “If you don’t do it yourself, it won’t happen.”

Sinclair, who was knighted for his services to computing in the United Kingdom, died this week, according to his daughter, Belinda. He was 81 years old when he died.

Sinclair specializes in low-cost, high-performance inventions

Sinclair, a London native, was always looking for ways to improve efficiency, whether it was in calculus, commuting, or computers. According to the Independent, it’s an idea he’s had since his first creation at the age of 12 when he designed a one-man submarine.

He, like another illustrious tech pioneer, skipped education and went straight to work. After a few years as a tech journalist, he had his first hit in 1972 with The Executive, a small portable calculator that fit neatly into a pocket. The calculator received a Design Council Award for Electronics for its innovation.

Sinclair established his fame selling small TVs and the Black Watch, an electronic watch widely criticized for its limited battery life and tendency to read time erroneously, among other flaws, throughout the next decade through his firm, Sinclair Radionics.

Unconstrained by its initial setback, Sinclair Research formed a new company. In 1980, the company introduced ZX80, the first computer for less than $200 to market. Although small enough to fit into one’s hand and weighed only 12 oz, the screen was missing and the storage was limited. According to Old Computers, an online collection of, well, old computers, the small machine had only one-tenth of the parts that other computers had at the time.

The ZX Spectrum, released in 1982, boosted the popularity of computer games in the UK.
The 1982 arrival of the ZX Spectrum expanded the popularity of computer games in the United Kingdom.

The ZX81, its successor, was even less expensive, at $100, and more than 1 million were sold. The ZX Spectrum, a more advanced variant with a color display that became one of the bestselling personal computers in the UK the following year, continued its success. But it’s most known as a gaming computer, with titles like “Jet Set Willy” and “Horace Goes Skiing” produced by creative coders for the ZX Spectrum.

In1985, Sinclair announced the SC5 as a “safe, reliable, non-pollutant” car that could also drive 14-years-olds. The Independent said that the car had a high speed of 15 miles per hour with three wheels, no doors, and no roof. The BBC labeled the C5 a “disastrous flop” in 1992, and it startled individuals who drove it on major highways beside much larger and faster vehicles.

Clive Sinclair, pictured here driving the Sinclair C5 electric car in 1985, saw promise in all of his ideas, even the ones that flopped.
Clive Sinclair, pictured here in 1985 driving the Sinclair C5 electric automobile, recognized the potential in every one of his ideas, even the ones that failed

British electronics company Amstrad obtained the rights to Sinclair Research’s ZX computer series one year after the publication of the C5. The poor reception, on the other hand, did not dissuade Sinclair for long. He introduced the “Zike,” a little electric bike, in 1992. In 2006, he followed it up with the A-Bike, a lightweight double wheel that could carry on the rear of riders when they weren’t riding the bike.

Sinclair, who spent much of his career working with computers, shocked the world when he told the Guardian in 2010 that he didn’t use one. (He claimed he knew how to use them; he just found it inconvenient.)

“I think it’s just laziness,” Sinclar told the startled reporter. “I’m not interested.”

“Laziness” didn’t stop Sinclair from inventing, and he didn’t give up on the C5 either, despite the fact that most of the public did. Sinclair showed reporters glimpses of what seemed to be an enhanced C5 with a roof in talks with the Guardian and Independent. The X-1, the new vehicle, was never constructed, although electric vehicles are becoming more common now, more than a decade later.

The legacy of Sinclair

Several computer innovators and gamers expressed their gratitude for Sinclair’s efforts after hearing of his passing. Sinclair’s ideas, according to Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO of Microsoft, “democratized computing” and motivated many others, including himself, to pursue a career in engineering. Elon Musk, the millionaire founder of Tesla, tweeted that he “liked that computer.” Dominik Diamond, a Scottish TV host who often hosted video game shows, claimed he “wouldn’t have a career without this guy.”

“On the ZX Spectrum, Horace is skiing. The rest, as they say, is history: “Diamond has tweeted.

Belinda Sinclair, Sinclair’s daughter, told the Guardian that her father thought he was ahead of his time.

“He’d have an idea and remark, ‘It’s pointless to ask if someone wants it because they can’t envision it,'” she told the Guardian.
Although imagination could not save the C5 from widespread criticism. The notion – aimed to reduce pollution and improve mobility – inspired the inventors of today as demonstrated by the success of Musk’s Tesla and the success of established electric manufacturers. Sinclair was an optimist, and he thought there would be room for electronic automobiles in the market one day, even if it wasn’t his.