Friday, April 01, 2011


Simonov tests the 'Roaring Mouse' prototype at the Moscow Air Show parking lot in 2010
 Long before the first 'Gas crisis' in 1973, Clive Sinclair was pondering an alternative future of personalized transport.  The automobile seemed to him extremely wasteful and expensive for 90% of its daily uses - local transport, errands, short pleasure trips.  Since his teenage years Sinclair had pondered small, inexpensive electric personal vehicles, while he built up a reputation as an electronics genius, and developed the first 'slimline' pocket calculators.    Sinclair had a clever knack for using very cheap electronic components for new purposes, by altering how their power was supplied or creatively masking printed circuit boards to greatly improve their performance.  His company, Sinclair Radionics, was thus never a manufacturer, but used bought-in components to create their own designs.  This led to supply problems when certain of Sinclair's products grew wildly popular (as with his wristwatch calculator of 1977).  Quality control was also difficult with mass-produced, inexpensive componentry, and Sinclair soon developed a 'no questions asked' replacement none needed to be asked!  Sill, Sinclair-designed electronic devices gained a reputation for tremendous innovation, and he was knighted in 1985 for his contributions to British industry.

The success of his electronics company kept development of Sinclair's personal transport dream on the back burner, but batteries and electric motors were always being tested and designed, usually by Chris Curry (later founder of Acorn computers).  A door of opportunity opened in 1983; a new British law decreed that vehicles with a top speed under 15mph could be ridden by 14 year olds, without a helmet or driver's license.  Sinclair hired Lotus Cars Ltd to design a monococque plastic body with steel spine chassis, for a 3-wheel vehicle with an electric motor and 'light pedal assistance'.
The waterproof 'c5ondom' protected the driver in the wet
The Sinclair C5 debuted in 1985, with clean, futuristic styling, low price of £399, and ad campaign featuring racing legend Stirling Moss.  None of which helped the C5 find the audience it needed to recoup development costs, as rumors and urban myths about the machine and its safety problems eventually killed the project with only 12,000 units sold.
The original C5 of 1985, with 14-year-old driver
In 2008, Bernard Arnault of LVMH, realizing the C5 held the answer to a question no-one had yet asked, bought all rights and tooling for the C5, and hired Mikhael Simonov, chief designer of Sukhoi Aircraft, creator of the legendary Russian fighter Su-27 (still in production).  Simonov's brief was to create a small and extremely fuel-efficient jet turbine engine, which he dubbed the 'рев мыши' ('Roaring Mouse').  The engine was ready for tests in 2010, and was soon mated to a prototype 'C5Jet'.
The 'business end' of the C5Jet, with engine cover removed.
The C5Jet has a vastly improved chassis: with a proper steel tube frame and disc brakes under its near-indestructible polypropelene skin, the body is inflammable and designed to absorb tremendous impact, protecting the C5Jet rider.  Dispensing with the original C5's pedals and anemic electric motor, all propulsion is provided by the 'Mouse' engine, which spins at 40,000 rpm, and is capable of propelling the C5Jet to over 100mph.  The Mouse engine will happily run on biofuels, including filtered cooking oil.  It is completely 'green' and while not exactly silent, the advantages in traffic of an oncoming jet engine - no matter how small - cannot be overstated.  'Loud pipes save lives', indeed!
Paul d'Orléans, chief road tester of L'Vintagent, ready to try the C5Jet.
The C5Jet will be available at select Louis Vuitton outlets by late 2011, with a retail price of £22,000.  

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