In 1985, the 128K version of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum was designed and sold first in Spain by Investrónica S.A. Investrónica was the official dealer for Sinclair products in Spain until Amstrad bought the rights on the 80s successful computer. Investrónica was also part of the El Corte Inglés group, a big Spanish corporation, whose most known company was (and is) “El Corte Inglés” department stores.
Investrónica was as technology company with a wide experience in building electronic machines, the core of their business was creating an providing expensive machines for tailoring companies, but they also were investing in many areas, and consumer electronics was one of them.
According Jose Antonio Landrove, Chief Procurement Officer at Investronica in 1985, early that year Sinclair was not interested in developing the Spectrum further than the 48K+, as their efforts were concentrated in the QL and the C5.
Investrónica had already a large experience in building electronics, and also had permission from Sinclair to create their own keyboards. Spanish regulation forced all computers sold in Spain to have spanish special characters in their keyboard, so they were already purchasing 48K+ cases to swedish company Celluloid AB (also a provider of Sinclair Research), and membranes to a british company located in the Isle of Wight named NFI. The 48K boards were of course bought to Sinclair and then all pieces were properly assembled in Spain.
As Sinclair was not interested in building a 128K Spectrum, but Investrónica foresaw some good income from such a model, they asked Sinclair for permission to design a 128K Spectrum themselves, and Sinclair agreed. The project was internally nicknamed “Derby”.
So basically Investrónica had already a provider for cases and membranes, and just required to design the board. It happened that by that time Martin Brennan, John Mathieson and Ben Cheese, all of them Sinclair Research ex-employees , have founded their own company, Flare Technology, and they knew a lot about the ZX Spectrum, so the motherboard design was
comissioned to them, with the exception of the 128K ULA, whose design was made by Texas Instruments.
There was another provider involved: the Chilean industrial designer Guillermo Capdevila updated Rick Dickinson’s case design, and it’s because of him that the 128k+ model is today nicknamed “the toastrack”, as he was the one adding that quite visible feature. He was most likely also the designer of the numeric keyboard that was bundled together with Spanish 128K+, although for obvious reasons the design was strongly based on the original case design made by Dickinson.
Once the board and case designs were made, the boards were built in Madrid by Spanish company Sagitron, a company already working for Investrónica for many other electronic projects. Contracting Sagitron instead of Timex was a reasonable option, as they were reliable and at that time, when Spain was not yet in the EU, using Timex as provider would have meant adding some import taxes.
The Spectrum 128K was marketed in 1985 in Spain, ready for the Christmas campaign, and not until 1986 in UK. Apparently Sinclair had too much stock of 48K boards to sell and that forced them to delay launch in UK, although that may be just a rumour, as maybe it’s because by Christmas Sinclair was already having financial problems due to the big failure with the C5, and their debt with Timex made asking for new boards impossible.
So in the end, Investrónica pushed so a 128K version existed, and took the leading place as Sinclair was not interested (or just unable) to do it. Should Investrónica took another path, there may had not been a 128K Spectrum, and maybe Amstrad would also had had less interest in the deal that less than one year later (April, 1986), as the 48K designs were clearly outdated in 1986 when compared with other competitors in the market.
The knowledge adquired by Investrónica while building the 128K Spectrum lead a few months later to the design of the Inves Spectrum, probably one of the first, or maybe the first, western Europe clones of the Spectrum 48k. Investrónica was replaced by Indescomp, another Spanish company, as official Sinclair dealer once Amstrad bought the rights on the Sinclair computers, so they designed their own clone, an action that ended in a trial when Amstrad sued Investrónica because of that, but well, that’s another story.
So what’s different in the Spanish 128K Spectrum models?
The English engineers who received the original design made some changes to the 128K board and ROM, so there are changes between both versions.
- As it already happened with first issues of 48K boards, the Spanish boards had bugs: the most important one is the CLK signal of Z80 CPU is not routed to the edge connector, so some devices that require that signal, doesn’t work or doesn’t work well (i,.e. DivMMC). It’s easly fixable by just soldering a wire to the proper edge pin anyway.
- Carrier signal in the RF (TV) output was 5,5Mhz in the Spanish version and 6Mhz in the English one.
- Pinout in the RGB connector is different (same signals, different position) so SCART(peritel) made for the English toastrack won’t work in the Spanish toastrack and viceversa.
- Also, the composite signal in that connector, it’s a B/W one instead of color. While that doesn’t matter if you use the SCART cable, it would affect when trying to connect via composite video connector. There is a procedure to fix that though.
- There are several components changed in the motherboard, but none of them makes a big difference.
- The numeric keyboard was a standard in the Spanish 128K model, and was sold separatedly in the English one.
- The ROM is actually a EPROM, and the sticker covering the erase window reads “Derby” in hadwriting, as for the project nickname.
- The keyboard has Spanish characters like Ñ or Ü. In fact there were not any additional keys, just some symbols were replaced in the ASCII table so they looked like that Spanish letters and accented letters. Also, some keys are translated (like BORRAR instead of DELETE)
- The ROM was also updated so all messages are in Spanish. The basic tokens were not translated (what would had been a very bad idea anyway).
- The computer starts with a copyright notice “©1985 Sinclair Research LTD ESPAÑOL” instead of using the usual start menus you can see in the English one, and in the Amstrad models. It’s a message closer to the original 48K models “© 1982 Sinclair Research Ltd”.
- Updated charset in the ROM so it supports Spanish characters (¿,¡,Ñ, Ü)
- The Spanish version includes a full screen text editor, that you could call by using the new token EDIT (i.e. EDIT E$). That was a built-in competitor for Tassword and other word processors at the time, but being limited to 32 columns made it only usable with zx printer, so it was not very successful. Still, it has a lot of features that could be invoked by using the numeric keyboard, that made it quite good (but for the 32 columns issue).
- The BASIC editor was improved, but engineers at Sinclairs restore the original one in English version. It had a full screen editor (instead of line by line), and the alignment when the code was listed was better than previous and later versions.
- Additional tokens. Apart of EDIT, there were two more: RENUM (which allowed renumbering code, which properly updated GOTO and GOSUB calls) and DELETE (allowing deleting a range of basic lines). The Spanish version of RENUM allowed selecting start line, new number for that line, and step between lines. The English version had no parameters and automatically renumbered all lines in steps of 10. DELETE was removed from the English versions. Of course, basic instructions PLAY and SPECTRUM, were implemented first in this version, but those ones remained in the english one.
- The calculator remained in the English version, but in the Spanish version you didn’t need to select any option in the menu, you could just type operations in the basic prompt.
In the end, the Spectrum 128K become the most compatible with previous software from all 128K Spectrums, probably cause people at Flare and Texas Instruments did know what we were doing very well. The first Amstrad model kept same compatibility cause the chief engineer at Amstrad was given a 128K Spectrum and asked to clone that before Christmas campaign started, so not many changes were done.
Later models, the black models (+2A/B and +3) were less compatible cause they were rebuilt by Amstrad engineers on their own.
This article is based on what is possible to check today, and what has been told by Jose Luis Landrove from Investrónica, if you have further or different information please don’t hesitate to let me know, so the article can be completed, or different point of views shown.
For writing this article I have used the following sources, apart of my own experience:
- Article and images about software differences in the Spectrum 128K by baltasarq at Zona de Pruebas Spanish forum. Some images were also made by baltasarq.
- El mundo del Spectrum Podcast 7x05, interview with Jose Antonio Landrove, by Jesús Martínez del Vas and César Hernández Bañó.
- The ZX Spectrum 128K Spanish and English manuals
- “What you see is what you get” book — by Alan Sugar (autobiography).
- Thanks to Mcleod_ideafix for the details on Spectrum 128K hardware changes
- Thanks to Brendan Alford for the details on the composite output difference.
Note: I’ve also used several photographs from the 128K model and box taken from the internet. I could have made myself most of those photographs as I own a Spanish 128K Spectrum, but I didn’t consider losing time doing them with so many photographs available. It’s difficult to list authors here but if you recognize some photograph of yours and want to be acknowledged please let me know. If you want me to remove your photograph please let me know as well.