In the last quarter of 1989 MGT launched the Sam Coupé. MGT was already known in the ZX Spectrum world for a range of hardware that they sold. The Sam was their pride and joy, and unfortunately to be their downfall.
The SAM name comes from a working name in the early design phases of ‘Some Amazing Machine’ (or ‘Some Amazing Micro’ or even ‘Spectrum Advanced Machine’ depending on who you talk to) and the ‘Coupé’ was a nickname from two sources: one being an ice cream sundae called the “Ice Cream Coupé” and the other because the machine resembles a fastback car in profile with the feet as the wheels.
The design of the SAM Coupé was produced by the Nick Holland Design Limited in Cardiff with the keys set back from the edge of the casing so as to provide a support for the wrists.
The internal PCB is a T-shape to accommodate the floppy drives, one story of the time is that ‘when they fed in the board shape the CAD program fell over’ although a sad fact of buggy CAD code than the romantic notion of a radical design departure!
This was a time when the 16-bit machines, the Atari ST and the Amiga, were really being to take off. Sales in computers such as the Spectrum was in rapid decline. The Sam was aimed to fill this gap, a powerful 8-bit machine with specs that in cases out performed those of the 16-bit machines, at an 8-bit price. It was hoped that current 8-bit owners, particularly Spectrum owners, would jump on the nicely priced Sam rather than a more expensive 16-bit machine.
Software companies, such as US Gold, threw around comments like the now infamous "Strider in 2 weeks" quote - “If, as with Strider, we’ve already produced a games across all common formats, all we have to do is simply take the code from the Speccy version and the graphics from the ST and sort of mix them together. This should take one bloke around two weeks at most.” - needless to say, Strider never appeared.
Unfortunately the Sam arrived too late. Some initial problems, and lack of software meant that the interest just never took off. Some commercial games were initially converted, but the poor sales was enough to put most companies off. The bulk of Sam’s software catalogue comes from small companies, set up specifically to support the Sam. Although these managed to gain some impressive licenses, such as Prince of Persia and Lemmings, it just wasn’t enough.
MGT went bankrupt, Alan Miles and Bruce Gordon set up a new company SamCo to continue producing Sams and Bruce starting a separate venture SamTek to produce hardware. Some magazines started giving the Sam negative press. SamCo struggled on for 2 years, and just as things were starting to look hopeful, they too went in liquidation. West Coast Computers appeared as a savior, with grand plans, but then after a couple of mailshots went quiet.
Around 12,000 Sam’s were sold world wide according to David Ledbury.
Through all this, a small dedicated userbase stuck with the Sam, producing and selling new software and hardware.
See the Sam Coupé Timeline for key dates, reviews and events.
See a detailed list of Sam Coupé Specifications
“As far as I remember, what was used at SAMCo to gauge the age of a machine that came in was the serial numbers - the actual machine used Bruce’s birthday with three zeros at the end for the first serial number, whilst the disc drives used Alan’s birthday with three zeros.”
The Comms interface had a similar serial numbering scheme 041066xxxx.
If you would like to run Sam Coupé applications on a modern computer, an emulator program Sim Coupe is available.