This is an automatic translation, we apologize for any mistakes. You can read the original spanish version here.
The Amstrad CPC 472 is an 8-bit Microcomputer of the Amstrad brand, belonging to the classic range of CPC (Colour Personal Computer) and sold exclusively in Spain between 1985 and 1986. It is a personal computer almost identical to its predecessor, the CPC 464.
At the sight, it is only distinguished by the screen printing of the case, where the «64» is replaced by a «72», however, it has a particularity that makes it special: those extra 8 KB of RAM that indicates its name and that are accompanied by a hilarious and sometimes even crazy story. A succession of anecdotes, occurrences and arguing that will delight the most curious by the history of microinformatics.
For example, not everyone knows that the CPC 472 owes its existence to another 8-bit microcomputer: the Dragon. Had it not been for the emergence of Dragon computers in the Spanish computer scene, the Range of the Amstrad CPC would have gone from version 464 to 664 and completed in the 6128 (not counting the plus range). However, the Dragon brand was decisive for Amstrad to take out in Spain, and only in Spain, its version 472.
How and why did it all happen? It’s a fascinating story, full of ambitious characters, business odagos, influence-trade and even palatial intrigue. But let’s start at the beginning….
Dragon, the microcomputer made in Spain
In 1982, Dragon Data was a subsidiary of a British toy company called Mettoy, which then had financial problems. They get more funding from a number of sources, one of them being the Welsh Development Office. As a result, this UK-constituting nation moves the Dragon factory and began producing mass microcomputers.
However, after various commercial vicissitudes, in 1984 the majority distributor decided to abandon its distribution and try to settle the brand. Several bids from companies such as Tandy or Philips come into play, but eventually it was Spain’s Eurohard who bought Dragon’s rights for 150 million pesetas (almost one million euros), which accounted for less than a third of its real value. In principle, it seemed like a good deal.
Eurohard’s directive moved in the high circles of Spanish politics. Its president, Eduardo Merigó, had been Secretary of State with Adolfo Suárez, promoter of the Liberal Democratic Party and president of Visa España. No one better connected than him to get the money needed to buy a bankrupt factory in Wales and set it up on Spanish territory.
It secured funding, among others, from the Society for Industrial Development of Extremadura (SODIEX) and, with the ambition of creating a species of Silicon Valley in Extremadura, bought the rights to Dragon computers and that’s how Eurohard started manufacturing and distributing them in Spain.
Dragon, the Extremaduran computer
The underlying idea was to get its foot into the Athena Project, an experimental national plan that aimed to introduce new information technologies into Spanish basic (EGB) and secondary (BUP) teachings. The requirements for the equipment were as follows:
- CP/M operating system for 8-bit computers, and MS-DOS for 16-bit computers.
- 64 KB RAM.
- 5 1/4″ floppy disk drive
- Color and high resolution of the screen.
- Basic, Pascal and Logo languages.
In the initial plan, Athena intended to put 5 microcomputers into 2,300 schools, which involved selling more than 10,000 teams, not to mention the advertising and visibility that such an institutional presence would provide. An appetizing and hearty candy for any company.
Dragon computer ad in 1985
Unfortunately, Eurohard’s leaders failed to convince the Minister of Education and Science, socialist José María Maravall, and the Athena project was eventually nurtured with mostly foreign teams (Olivetti, IBM, Fujitsu…), with MS-DOS-compatible PCs being preferred as an operating system. To be sure, foreign brands also had their contacts in important circles of power.
Despite the clarity of the technical specifications (including the 5 1/4 floppy disk), we can find on the Internet testimonials from people who had at their Amstrad CPC 6128 schools and even Spectrum without a disk drive, so it follows that the application of Project Athena was also not very strict. In any case, Eurohard’s management failed to take over this succulent business for its Dragons and, at most, a few microcomputers of the brand would manage to enter the Spanish classrooms, which was a major economic blow to the company’s ambitions.
The Spanish tariff policy
However, not all aces had fallen out of their sleeves. What Eurohard did get from the Spanish government, in this case the Minister of Economy and Finance, Carlos Solchaga, was Royal Decree 1215/1985, of 17 July, amending certain subheadings of the customs tariff, which imposed the importation of a wide range of electronic machines and, in this way, it was intended to curb the interferences of foreign computer manufacturers on the Spanish market. Tariffs ranged from a minimum of 15,000 pesetas (90o) to a cooler of 300,000 pesetas (about 1,800 euros).
«That’s what I did. Since we were liberals of origin, we hesitated. But we also thought that as a little boy you had to protect yourself from the big ones,» Eurohard CEO Javier Saavedra recalled as a political feat. In his statements he hints that, being liberal (we have already commented on connections with the Suarez government), they did not believe in tariffs, but it seems that when their ideals clashed against their interests, they decided to have other principles. Years later, this lawyer by profession was convicted of another matter to 6 months in prison and barred by the Supreme Court. We do not know if he played any role in the irregularities that helped sink the manufacturer of Dragon computers. This is a topic that exceeds the purposes of this article. We will stick to what concerns the appearance of CPC 472.
Going back to the story we’re interested in, these businessmen had gone too far. They had been overly ambitious with their tariff move. Business pressures from foreign groups did not wait. They counterattacked and forced the Spanish government to rectify its policy. As a result, something decisive happened for the appearance of the Amstrad CPC 472. Here’s how it happened.
CPC 472 and Royal Decree «express«
After the government’s summer holidays ended on August 28, 1985 and just a month after the first decree, there was a council of ministers. A good tug of ears should have been given to Mr. Solchaga, because that same day the minister was traveling to the Balearic Islands (as collected deepfb in cpcwiki, article dedicated to 472) to get the signature of his majesty King Juan Carlos, who was still there on holiday rest with the family, and thus be able to urgently publish Royal Decree 1558/1985 of 28 August, clarifying the scope of the specific minimum introduced in subheading 84.53.B.II of the Customs Tariff, by Royal Decree 1215/1985.
Basically, this new decree rectified the previous one and taxed with a single tariff of 15,000 pesetas, not to any electronic machine, but specifically to microcomputers with RAM not exceeding 64 KB. Thus, at the very least, Dragon made things difficult for foreign competitors in its particular niche market.
If you look at the text you will see that, unlike the previous decree, which is initialled in Madrid, this Royal Decree was actually given in Palma de Mallorca. In fact, we can see in the press library of the time that, just the night before, their majesties had been for dinner with the Balearic authorities. All this gives an idea of the haste with which the correction of the protectionist policy sought by the Spanish manufacturer should be rectified. As deepfb states in the above-mentioned article of cpcwiki, it is to be imagined that the pressure received by the Government of Spain by foreign capital had to be very high.
Finally, to say that all this effort and political outrage had very little way to go, because Spain would enter the European Economic Community a few months later, on 1 January 1986, and its tariff policies would be contingent on the signing of this treaty and, de facto, suspended.
However, this short period of a few months, during which microcomputers of 64 KB or less were taxed with an import tax, was enough for Indescomp (later Amstrad Spain) for the conception, gestation and birth of the Amstrad CPC 472. A 72 KB microcomputer appeared on the scene, as its name indicated; that is, higher by 8 KB to the 64 that the Spanish tariff policy put by limit and, therefore, a personal computer that could be imported to Spain from Korea (country of manufacture) without paying a hard time. Clever, isn’t it? And something misleading, too, as we’ll see below.
The birth of the Amstrad CPC 472
«In August 1985, I received a panic call from Dominguez, who told me that he had a serious problem, that all 64 KB computers and fewer were prohibited from importing into Spain», are the words of Sir Alan Sugar, the creator of Amstrad, in his autobiography entitled «What you see is what you get«, published in 2011.
José Luis Domínguez was the president of Indescomp, a small Spanish technology company. Dominguez was very interested in bringing Amstrad’s performance to Spain, so he went to see Sugar with the intention of giving him two games: La Pulga (Roland in the Caves) and Fred (Roland on the Ropes). After enduring the British tycoon’s displeasure, he obtained a licence to sell Amstrad in Spain, reaping a clamorous bestseller to the surprise of the English entrepreneur. After so much effort, your mood can be understood when the Dragon boys put the stilt on the Spanish market. However, Alan Sugar came up with a solution of dubious ethics.
«I remembered that almost twenty years earlier there was a trend in the portable transistor radio market, so the more transistors there were on the radio, the better it was said to be. The fact was that these radios only needed six transistors to work, but some Hong Kong manufacturers used to stick four additional transistors, which did nothing,» says Alan Sugar in the aforementioned autobiography.
Thought and done. They hired the company Orion to make an additional board that they would add to the CPC 464, from where they would hang the extra 8 KB of memory, which would not really be connected. They quickly changed the screen printing of the CPC 464 of the housing, manual and boxes. As a result, in a record time of only two weeks, they were manufacturing a new ad hoc computer for the Spanish market, which arrived in time for the Christmas campaign: the Amstrad CPC 472, which would carry the Basic 1.1 version and the English keyboard, without eñe, which was then wearing the CPC 464.
It can be seen that in the haste all the details were not well closed. For example, the manual was an obvious reproduction of the 464 manual with some modifications. «CPC 472» can be read on the back of the book, but absurdly the cover remained the same. They introduced an impromptu addenda to highlight the differences with the previous version, both in the hardware and also in the software (some Basic commands changed in version 1.1 of this operating system). They invented a technical stunt to justify excess memory, a lie they falsely justified on the first page of the user manual addenda, reproduced below.
It is explained in the text that the extra eight KBs are used by the processor to manage the new Basic 1.1 commands, something that technically does not make sense (the CPC 664 also carries Basic 1.1 and kept the 64 KB) and that physically it can be verified that it is not true, since the memory is not actually connected, although it is welded.
The CPC 472 and Spanish keyboard with «ñ»
This addenda, by the way, would be removed from the manual in the next version of 472, which would return to Basic 1.0 and bring Spanish keyboard with eñe.
Indeed, the Spanish government would try to make one more attempt to protect its home market. An earlier Royal Decree had already specified that the keyboard display terminals should bear the letter eñe, but it was on March 15, 1986 when Royal Decree 2707/1985 appeared in the BOE, December 27, which declares that the technical specifications of teleprinting equipment, printers and electronic typewriters and their approval by the Ministry of Industry and Energy, where the then Minister of Industry and Energy, Joan Majo Cruzate, declared Spanish keyboards mandatory with ñ, are declared mandatory.
However, this was no problem for Amstrad’s men, who were not interested in arguing with the Spanish government or their clients.
They were clear about it and they didn’t hide it: they just wanted our money. In this sense, they could not be more honest. Therefore, they changed the keyboards of the Amstrad CPC 472, included the eñe, removed the symbol from the british pound, and, by the way, returned to the ROM that included the Basic 1.0 version, more compatible with the tape software. Thus was born the second version of 472, in which they no longer bothered to excuse the extra 8 KB of RAM.
Precisely, this personal computer was brought by the Three Wise Men at Christmas 1986 to the house of the writer. This is the model to which I owe my predilection for the Amstrad CPC.
It became clear that in the face of tenacious entrepreneurs moving on the edge of morality and with a voracious hunger for profit, Spain’s attempts to protect its internal market were fruitless. Amstrad was unwilling to let go of the Spanish bite and it was shown that there was no policy to stop him.
Eurohard, for its part, was dying sinking and Dragon computers were unfortunately on the verge of extinction, although they endured a couple more years, during which they fattened debts that their creditors could never collect.
A little later, when Spain finished consolidating its entry into the EEC, the country aligned its tariff policy with the rest of Europe and Amstrad simply returned to the commercialization of the CPC 464, this time with the Spanish keyboard it had already developed for the Amstrad CPC 472.
Therefore, the commercial chronology in Spain of these CPCs was as follows:
- CPC 464 with British keyboard and Basic 1.0
- CPC 472 with British keyboard and Basic 1.1
- CPC 472 with Spanish keyboard and Basic 1.0
- CPC 464 with Spanish keyboard and Basic 1.0
The regression to the 464, now with Spanish keyboard, was another relaunch of more than one product several times reinvented and more metabolic sales for the next Christmas campaign. Everything was reinterpreted as an advantage. There was no way to stop them.
Amstrad’s success was unstoppable and, as Alan Sugar says in his memoirs, they had shown two fingers to the Spanish government. What the distinguished English entrepreneur with Lord’s title does not clarify was whether those two fingers constituted the sign of victory or, perhaps, a more obscene gesture. However, knowing its chaotic and unkind character… I think there’s no doubt in the answer.
To the taste of a good cup of your favorite drink, you can enjoy the restoration and tuning of an Amstrad CPC 472, as well as its history (documented based on this article) in the video of our partner Noel Llopis on his Youtube channel: