The original Owners Club of the remarkable UNIPOWER GT
"The Mini Miura"
New body panels from the original factory moulds available
Limited availability of UWF period rear lamps
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Original factory paint codes now on Owners Forum/Parts & Spares
Ernie E. Unger founder of Unipower Cars (Club Patron)
It must be very nearly 60 years since I first had the germ of an idea for a mid-engine sports / GT car. The inconvenience of having to earn a living together with being heavily involved – quite successfully – in other people's racing programmes meant the concept was taking rather a long time to germinate. Some 4 or 5 years on, having learned much and that even I only had 7 days per week, with others on board things began to happen. All that ultimately culminated in the Unipower GT in production, very well received, and being shipped to countries around the world.
From being a very early employee at Lotus my career took me via Rootes, as a development engineer, to doing all sorts of things at Ford Motor Co., some very interesting and some not so, but never very far away was my prime motivation of motor racing machinery. The early 60's. was the time my ideas were germinating into the Unipower GT. Yet it never occurred to me that more than 50 years later some cars would still not only be running, but also still attracting so much interest and even acclaim from both enthusiasts and the press.
We were very lucky to have so many professional contacts able to guide us who we naturally used whenever necessary, as indeed we found amongst our customers. One in particular has not only flown the flag from day one, but waved it vigorously. He is of course Gerry Hulford. He bought his first Unipower GT in 1972, and by 1978 had owned four significant examples of the breed. Shortly after the first he started the Unipower GT Owners Club, which met monthly at a Surrey pub, regularly meeting six or so owners from the south. This quickly grew to taking a stand at the inaugural Classic Car Show at Alexandra Palace which continued for many years and other high-profile events helping to further the Marque.
Following the closure of the plant Gerry was able to acquire all the original Unipower car documentation and the original body moulds from Specialised Mouldings. With all this detail to hand Gerry has rightly become the Number One contact around the world for anyone running, restoring or even just interested in all things Unipower GT.
In the 1980's many UK owners sold their cars overseas. Consequently, the Owners Club was greatly reduced in numbers, but not in enthusiasm. So, Gerry downgraded the Owners Club to The Unipower GT Register, which organised a very enjoyable 50th. Anniversary bash at Beaulieu Motor Museum in 2016. Both Val Dare-Bryan and I greatly enjoyed the occasion. The following year Club Lotus kindly provided a similar event at Castle Combe.
Gerry Hulford has played a huge role in ensuring the continuation of the Unipower GT marque's status, and I am delighted that he's to launch this website. For many years I have been impressed by the depth and breadth of his knowledge and how he has made himself available on the subject. As I said right at the start of this, we, and you, are all lucky to have him !.
It is a great honour for me to gladly accept his kind offer to be Patron of the Club, and I look forward to supporting as many future Club/Register events as I am able.
A brief history of the
What was to become the Unipower GT was conceived as early as 1960, a few years before production started in 1966, when Ernie Unger, an auto engineer who from his early days working with Lotus and was now working with the Ford Motor Company, had created a package layout for the concept. This was then used as the basis of body design renderings penned by Ron Bradshaw, a Ford designer friend of Ernie's, who had been working on the Ford GT40 project. Another old friend of Ernie’s, Tim Powell who had an engineering company called Universal Power Drives, had also become interested in the project by this time, when at a chance meeting between Ernie and Val Dare-Bryan, who was now designing and engineering for Roy Pierpoint, the Attila range of sports racing cars produced by Racing Developments of North London in 1964 and 1965, at Goodwood one day in 1963, discovered that they had a mutual synergy of thought and this stimulated the opportunity to move things forward and get started on the detail engineering / working drawings.
The concept originated around the building of a lightweight and aerodynamic two-seater mid-engined sports car utilising as many off the shelf components as possible to reduce the cost, Interestingly here it was the issue of component cost, where the famed designer Sir Alec Issigonis of Mini fame was introduced to the concept and was so impressed, that he was instrumental in enabling the Unipower production to obtain parts, where the design required, at BMC factory prices, enabling a considerable saving over ‘spares’ prices. Whilst the Unipower GT was still expensive, between £950 and £1150 (or £17,000 - £20,500 in today’s money) depending on specification, because the cars were hand-built, it was still considered then and now to be the best of breed of the time.
The Unipower GT was built between 1966 and 1970 during which time 72 Mk 1 examples were produced both in Right- and Left-Hand Drive. It was ground breaking for its time, being only 11’ 7” long and 40.5” high (same as the Ford GT40 by coincidence) but hid the tall Mini engine/transmission neatly behind the driver whilst still providing a substantial 5.8 cubic ft boot beneath the hinged rear clam-shell body. Maybe some similarities to the GT40, from the mind of that Ford designer found their way onto the Unipower’s body, like the side air ducts behind the doors, which were a great selling point in terms of its attractive design. However the nose was to prove to have less down-force than would be liked at high speed and was for the race cars at least, solved by the fitting a full-width air-dam, the very first competition car to use this aerodynamic development, accidentally discovered when testing a model Unipower GT in the MIRA wind-tunnel. Road car Owners went on to fit small front spoilers, which resolved the issue at road speeds.
The chassis was a square tubular space-frame made by Arch Motors (after the initial few cars), who also made the coil spring/damper independent wishbone suspension that was utlised. The brakes came from either the Mini Cooper or Cooper ‘S’ but had a pedal box with two brake master cylinders to provide a split front/rear braking system with an integral bias bar to adjust the braking balance. The fuel tank and spare wheel were located under the front bonnet with the water radiator hidden in front of the low nose. All this contributed to an ideal front/rear weight bias providing the Unipower GT with great handling together with its 508 kgs (dry) all up weight.
The body was formed in fiberglass by Specialised Mouldings in Huntingdon (Lotus and Lola race body development), with whom Val Dare-Bryan had a working relationship, all the non-movable panels bonded to the chassis adding to its rigidity. An early prototype was track-tested at Brands Hatch by the late Tony Lanfranchi as a bare tubular chassis, proving its integrity such that the body panels could be lightened in the future (some Owners have removed the roof to create a Targa version without compromising the chassis). The quality of the bodywork was to also to add to the appeal of the car and contributed to its crash resistance as was proved on occasions. External colour was to customers’ requirements, although there was a standard pallet of colours from Unipower.
Inside the quality of the interior was to a high standard made by Wood & Pickett the acclaimed coach-builders, with room for two 6 ft plus occupants who were reclined in specially made seats with the gear lever situated on the door sill, which added to the racing feel of the driving position. The dashboard layout reflected its racing image, with the essential instruments clustered around the steering wheel and the Speedometer located on the passenger side.
Power and transmission came from either the Mini Cooper 998cc (55 hp) or Cooper ‘S’ 1275cc (75 hp) supplied by British Motor Company distributors and Competition stockists, Stewart and Arden. Whilst most cars were fitted with the standard transmission, the Jack Knight 5-speed transmission was an option along with higher final-drives to take advantage of the lighter weight and aerodynamics of the car. A special gear-shift mechanism made by Unipower, connected the door-sill gear lever to the rear of the gearbox to provide a remarkably good feel to the gear-shifts. Wheels were either steel 10” x 4.5” or as optional extras 10” x 4.5” or 5” Cosmic or Dunlop alloy wheels.
After an early prototype (Chassis #P1) had been completed at Roy Pierpoint’s workshops in Hersham, Surry, initial production begun in the Universal Power Drives facility at Aintree Road, Perivale, London, the workshops being part of a heavy truck manufacturing business run by Tim Powell, by then a partner in the Unipower project with Ernie Unger. Early production was under the company name of Universal Power Drives Ltd (UPD).
The first Mk1 car was delivered in April 1966 and whilst there were a limited number of UK distributers, notably Monty & Ward Motors in Kent, many were exported, principally to Spain, USA and Hong Kong. A competition version was offered as an option and one such car was shown at the 1966 Racing Car Show, later raced by the Janspeed tuning concern. However, an earlier car had been built as a competition chassis, campaigned privately and went on to be bought back by the factory and raced Internationally as a factory ‘Works’ car.
Production at UPD continued until around late 1968 by which time 44 cars had been built, when Tim Powell decided to concentrate on his Power Boat racing, becoming President of the United Kingdom Offshore Boating Association and a name revered on the international offshore scene throughout the World, before sadly passing away in 2017. Ernie now had to find another financial partner to continue production and this was found in 22-year old Piers Weld-Forester who had a inheritance to invest in his love of cars. This partnership was to form U.W.F. Automative Engineering (Unger Weld Forester) trading as Unipower Cars, with production moved to premises in Cumberland Avenue, London.
Over the next two years, sales increased but production did not keep pace with the demand. The Unipower GT was a time-consuming hand-built car and some early styling face-lift/updates added to the delays. However Piers was good with customers and along with a good friend of his, who would be Sales Manager, Malcolm Clube (a member of the Dangerous Sports Club !), would foster his desire to go racing, although his inheritance Trust forbade such activity. Piers managed to do some club racing in the UK with the first competition chassis bought back from its first Owner. Meanwhile Owners in Spain had converted imported road-spec cars and were competing in races/hill climbs in Spain and Portugal.
While the flow of production cars was not at its best, Piers decided to take Unipower Cars racing on the International scene in 1969. A new Competition spec car #UWF1XXX was then entered into the Sebring 12hrs but did not go, most probably because there was less than 7-days between this and the Le Mans 24hrs Test day, which was probably considered more prestigious. For the Le Mans Test Day, the car was driven only by Piers Weld-Forester, however despite any real prior testing but with the benefit of a small spoiler on the car's nose, was 24th fastest with a 5:16.5 sec lap, made all the more exciting by the loss of a wheel on the Mulsanne Straight, caused by the paint on the new wheels cracking and loosening the wheel bolts. It is understood that the car managed a credible 140mph down the Mulsanne Straight with the benefit of a 2.9:1 Final drive.
The beginning of May saw the same car entered into the Targa Florio in Sicily, (now fitted with a much larger, deeper and now full-width air-dam to further reduce high-speed lift), which was a very challenging race and along with Andrew Hedges as co-driver, Piers qualified the car 4th in Class on a 41:05 sec lap behind a Porsche 908 no less. Unfortunately, the car had developed a misfire and in trying to solve the problem their mechanic (Michael Cane) had taken the car for an early morning test run and had crashed the car very badly into a wall, luckily only sustaining a damaged ankle . The understandably upset Piers left the unfortunate mechanic to find his way back to England with the Transit van, damaged Unipower and trailer, without leaving him any money. Some sympathetic teams donated enough for him to get back.
The extent of the damage to the Targa car was found to be so severe, that the car was declared a write-off, consequently with next Competition car still in build, the intended entry for the Spa 1000 kms later that month did not happen. A special lightweight bodied car #UWF1007, had been commissioned from Specialised Mouldings for the Le Mans 24hrs in June, using a carbon-fibre mesh for the first time to add rigidity to the very light body panels. Piers would drive the car, co-driven by Stanley Robinson, who had already bought the car with the inclusion of a drive at Le Mans ! (no doubt to mitigate some of the considerable costs being spent on the race program). The improved front air-dam had further reduced the high-speed stability issue and with a 2.9:1 Final Drive and only a 4-speed gearbox, Piers posted a promising 4:58.8 sec lap in Qualifying. However, Stanley was not so happy doing 145 mph down the Mulsanne Straight in such a small car and being overtaken by cars 70 mph + faster and failed to qualify as a driver, so the car did not start the race.
A frustrating note here is that the engine provided as being a 130hp 1293cc Cooper ‘S’ engine (still being installed whilst on the ferry to France !) was dyno tested on the cars return to the UK and found to only produce 75hp !!, a standard but good figure for a base 1275cc Cooper 'S' engine. It was calculated that the lack of power, cost about 15 seconds a lap, which would almost certainly have qualified the car !.
The Grand Prix of Mugello in July would see #UWF1007 with Piers and the Swiss driver Dominique Martin qualify 41st and finish 46th overall. In early September the car, now belonging to Stanley Robinson, was entered along with the other early competition chassis #766.2 in the Nürburgring 500 Kms, with Piers/Robert Hurst and Stanley/John Blankley driving the two cars. Stanley crashed his car #UWF1007 in Qualifying and could not be repaired but he had qualified for the race. Piers’ car had developed a significant oil leak so did not qualify, but a rebuild of that engine got the car out in the race with Stanley/John Blankley driving, finishing 9th in Class.
Early October saw #766.2, used successfully at the Nürburgring 500 Kms, entered into the Barcelona 12 hrs with Piers but now with Roger Hurst driving. The car qualified 20th but the clutch failed 9 hrs into the race.
Meanwhile back at the factory, the racing programme had had a detrimental impact on the cash-flow, with subsequent delays in supplier deliveries. So, at the end of 1969, with another 28 cars having been built by UWF, bringing the total production to just 72 cars, but despite 30 cars on the Order book, production ceased and the Company was wound up in February 1970. If the racing programme had not had such an impact on production, who knows how many Unipower GT’s would have been produced.
Of the original company Directors, Tim Powell went on to pursue his second love and became Commodore and President of United Kingdom Offshore Boating Association and the salvation of the Cowes-Torquay Powerboat Race, sadly passing away in 2017. Piers Weld-Forester went on to compete in the World Motorcycle Championship and was killed at Brands Hatch in October 1977, at the age of just 31 years. Ernie Unger is in his later years and still going strong, is a great friend of mine, always a joy to talk with and who participates in the Club's gatherings and events whenever he can.
Most of the cars have survived and are now scattered all over the World, with cars as far away as Australia, with a great many still on the road today along with quite a few still being raced in the USA and Portugal as well as the UK. It is testimony perhaps to the original design that, as Ernie Unger has said, "the car was never intended to be a race car. It was intended as a road car which might be good enough for the occasional amateur sprint etc. It came as a bit of a surprise to be so well received that people wanted to race it seriously. If we'd started to do a race car it would have been very different", that the Unipower GT is still making its presence felt, to good effect, in competitions around the World. Now over 54 years later, a number of cars are in a state of restoration, their Owners determined that one day they will be back on the road again.
It is for this very reason that the Unipower GT Owners Club was formed back in 1972 to provide help, advice and guidance for these Owners to maintain and enjoy these remarkable cars long into the future.
As a closing note, there was a Mk2 version on the drawing board (See here), which would have had a more modern and lighter power unit as well as being larger overall of course with more room inside, so who can tell.
© Val Dare-Bryan
© Gerry Hulford
First Universal Power Drives (UPD) car delivered April 1966
First UWF Automative Engineering car Delivered January 1969
Last car delivered January 1970
Total Production - 73 cars
World Wide Distribution – Sold by Factory
Hong Kong 4
Right vs. Left Hand Drive Versions
© Gerry Hulford
Universal Power Drives (UPD) -
Early production specification
U.W.F. Automative Engineering - UNIPOWER CARS
Latter production specification
Unipower GT Owners Club/Register Guidance on the DVLA’s Vehicle Registration Requirements
The Unipower GT Owners Club/Register is recognised by the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to endorse applications from Unipower GT owners to either:-
(1) retain or recover a vehicle’s original UK registration number under the DVLA’s V765 Scheme (if the supporting evidence required by the DVLA can be provided).
(2) provide a Dating Certificate for a new age-related UK registration number when the original number has been lost or there is insufficient evidence to recover it.
Information on each of these Club Vehicle Registration Services is set out below. It is worth noting that in both cases, the DVLA requires that the application from the vehicle owner is endorsed by the relevant Vehicle Owners’ or Enthusiasts’ Club. For more details on the DVLA’s requirements see their website page relating to Vehicle Registration – Old Vehicles:-
(1) Applying to retain or recover a vehicle’s original registration mark
If you own a vehicle whose registration mark is not held by the DVLA, you may be able to successfully apply to recover it. You must, however, be able to provide documents that ‘prove’ the machine is linked to the registration mark. Ideally, this should be an old buff or green logbook. Without an old logbook the following may be considered at the discretion of the DVLA; an MOT certificate or an extract from approved archive records, or other official documentation that records the chassis / engine serial number with the registration mark.
If you can provide the required evidence, contact the DVLA (or your nearest Local Vehicle Registration Office) and check if the registration mark is listed on the DVLA computer. If the registration mark is not listed you will need to make an application using DVLA forms V765 and V55/5. Contact the DVLA to request these be posted to you – you can now do this on-line from the DVLA website.
Please contact the Registrar if you need any assistance with the above
A collection of Unipower GT's both Road & Race at events over the years
The following is just an example of the content that the Club holds as both original photographs and those available on the Internet, which can be freely searched
© Gerry Hulford
© Gerry Hulford