How did I get my hands on my friend’s childhood Sinclair clone computer

It is fairly common to hear stories of people that either kept their first computer since childhood or purchased the same model as the one they had back then. I just had a slightly different experience on my own.

I recently went back to Brazil to visit family and attend my sister’s wedding. As any trip of that focus on family stuff, you are not really on vacation – it is more like a marathon where you have a tight schedule to visit a different relative every day.

Surprisingly, in one afternoon I had nothing to do and anyone to visit. Instead of taking the “day off”, I decided to contact an old friend and try an impromptu visit. He’s actually the older brother of my childhood best friend but life and work had made us good friends on our own. After a quick Skype chat, I said that I could be at his place in 20 minutes or so since my sister’s apartment was very close to his.

After some catching up about family, sons, and grandsons (his, not mine yet!) we started to talk about my retro computer collection and Vintage is The New Old, and how things were going on that area. At some point, he mentioned to me that he would still have the original TK-85 he bought back in 1985. The Microdigital TK-85 is a Timex-Sinclair 1500 clone, which by its turn was a licensed ZX-81 in a case similar to the ZX Spectrum.

Microdigital had also another computer released before the TK-85, the TK-82C which was also a ZX-81 clone, but this time with a case “inspired” by Sinclair’s first computer, the ZX-80. Talking about them brought me good memories from when I started getting interested in computers.

The TK-82C was the first computer I never had. However, my introduction to the BASIC programming was made using one of these in a very unusual way. I was in what would be the equivalent of the current grade 5 and my school was proud to have Drama as a subject from grade 1 to 8 at the same level of math or sciences. My drama teacher, professor Roberto Villani at some point decided to start an extra-curricular BASIC course through his side-business drama school company, Villanova. The course took place in a small classroom at his place. If I recall correctly we were 3 or 4 students and he had two TK-82C equipped with astonishing 2Kb of RAM! He would teach the BASIC commands and programming logic using the old chalkboard and after we write our programs on paper, we would take turns to type them in.

I don’t recall what I program I wrote, but I believe was a little guessing game and I was excited to see it running for the first time. Little did I know that my program would use more than 2K of RAM and the TK, as we would call it, didn’t handle that at all and it would simply reset making me lose all my work! Very early I learned that saving on tape often was a time well spent.

I finished the first BASIC module and then the second one and decided I was ready to have my own computer! The TK-82C was my obvious candidate, but with the 16K expansion, of course! As a teenager with no money, the only thing I could do is to beg for one. For the best of my recollection, I asked a lot for the TK, and although I believe my father could easily afford one, I never got one.

During that time, my best friend, who is the younger brother of the friend I was visiting, got from his father a TK-85 which was the family computer, shared mostly by him and his brother who was entering Engineering school at the time. We played a lot of different games on that computer, like 3D Monster Maze.

3D Monster Maze iconic end screen when we get eaten by the monster!

We would also type in BASIC programs from magazines and also our own, but not as often as we would play a game.

That specific computer lost his original box and they used a photography thermic bag, which was a pretty common gift the shops would give away when you developed a certain number of films.

Beat up thermic bag

My friend, later on, got a TK-2000 (how lucky he was!) and the TK-85 went full time to his college student brother where he would use it for his school projects. I don’t remember to play with the TK-85 anymore after that. Also, for my 13th birthday (or ’83 Christmas?) my father came home with my new computer, a TRS-80 Model I clone called JR Sysdata. I was thrilled about it and I had it for about one year, spending many hours playing and programming it, but that is a story for another time!

TK-2000 was an MPF-II (Apple II clone) clone using an Atari 1200XL case!
JR Sysdata, my actual first computer

Back to the visit to my friend, at some point he told me that he was going to look for the computer, so he went. I could hear him moving boxes around his bedroom/deposit and a few minutes later, he came back holding the Kaufmann Thermic bag on his hands. It is funny how my feeling at that moment was as if I had seen it just the day before but 33 years had passed!

We opened the bag and there it was, the TK-85 in all its glory, its power supply, cables, the manual and some cassette tapes. There was no way to turn it on at that moment since he didn’t have a capable TV anymore that we could hook the RF adapter up. After that moment of pure nostalgia, he told me that the computer was mine now! I couldn’t contain my excitement and gratitude, not only because it was a computer I still didn’t have in my collection but also because it was *that* TK-85 my childhood friend and I had passed so many fun moments with!

After thanking my friend many times, we said goodbye to each other and I left, with that old thermic bag hanging on my shoulder.

Already back home, I hooked it up and as no surprise, the machine turned on and showed the iconic “K” on the screen. However, the image was very bad due to the fact Brazil’s TV system is PAL-M (a 60hz PAL of sorts), and my TV is NTSC. The easiest solution here is to make a mod, removing the RF interface and replacing it with a composite signal.

TK-85 (A black Timex 1500?)

The manual is in good condition but you can see it was read top to bottom!

Tk-85 User/Basic manual

The package also included many tapes and I had forgotten this fun fact. As you can see, the tapes below brings the name Microsoft but I can assure you, that is not Redmond’s company we know is still around ;)

TK-85 Cassettes – That is not the same “Microsoft”!

Other tapes were full of “unauthorized copies” of other games and because I remember there was no tape recorder with a tape counter, my friend used to say the name of the game before the data was saved so we could know where was the file we were looking for, and after playing it, I could hear the familiar voice “3D Monster Maze ….. BEEEEP BAAAP SHSHSHSHSHHSHSHSHSHSHS….”.

Author: Paulo Garcia

7 thoughts on “How did I get my hands on my friend’s childhood Sinclair clone computer

  1. Fantastic story! I can imagine the joy to find that same machine that you programmed years earlier. Didn´t know you were brazilian. Geetings from Rio de Janeiro! This site is also great, by the way!

  2. Great story! I still remember the first time I got my hands on a microcomputer. TRS-80 Model III, which was one of a bunch that had been gifted to the local high school. My father took an adult education course to learn to use the computer and do some BASIC programming, and brought my sister and I to the high school. We played games while he did coursework. I’d played on console game systems by that point, and was desperate to get an actual computer…

    1. I remember using a Model III (clone CP-500) and I loved that machine. I think I was about 15 y/o and it felt so grown up and professional seating in front of it :)

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