UNIPOWER GT

Competition Spec Cars - Factory 'Works' cars

All the following cars were built by the factory and constructed to a full Competition GT specification, as was developed at the time, and competed by the factory as factory 'Works' cars in both National and International competition, with continuous development. Competition specification differed from Road cars in having fully Rose-jointed suspension, anti-roll bars, Adjustable shock absorbers with ride height adjustment, Cooper 'S' disc brakes both front & rear, Adjustable brake balance bar, Laminated windscreen, Monza type fuel filler and rubber fuel bag tank, Bendix fuel pump, stripped out interior with all trim/carpeting removed, Roll-over bar protection and Minilite Knock-on wheels.

Chassis # 766.2 was the first Competition car built in early 1966, upon which new ideas were tested in collaboration with its customer owner during 1966, was then raced both privately and by the factory from 1967 to late 1969 and survives today, 54-years later. The other two cars were specially built based on previous developments, with # UWF1007 utilising some new carbon technology to reduce weight. Unfortunately neither of these cars survived and you can read their story further below. 

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Chassis # 766.2  -  Built January - April 1966             

Owner : Gerry Hulford

The Unipower GT was never originally designed as a racing car and so at the Racing Car Show in January 1966, Universal Power Drives (UPD) displayed a Prototype road-car, along with a bare chassis with its principal components installed. However in the UPD Press release before the Show launch, a Competition GT version was mentioned as being offered, but no price was mentioned. One visitor to the Unipower stand was a certain Mr. A. Emlyn. Newman, who had a Tool making company in London, and on seeing the car for the first time with his young son, thought that it would indeed make a nice race car. Conversations ensued and it was decided that UPD would build a Competition GT version for ‘Em’ Newman as he was known, with an order placed on the 28th January ‘66. Given that Unipower’s Val Dare-Bryan was a race-car designer, Chassis #766.2 (the second production chassis) was built incorporating all the necessary changes required of a competition version and delivered on the 30th April ’66. A good friend of ‘Em’ Newman, Gorden Allen, who was making a name for his company making crankshafts and special competition engines, prompted a unique specific requirement. The engine bulkhead was redesigned and moved forward considerably along with its chassis tube enabling the driver’s seat to be 'sunk' into the more forward positioned bulkhead, thereby making more room for one of Gorden’s engine derivatives. Most likely it is thought, a 2-cyl Ford engine of 1102cc capacity with forward facing intake trumpets, mounted on a Mini gearbox, one of a few interesting alternatives being experimented with at the time by Gorden’s company. The car was therefore 'bespoke' built with this in mind, it now being the only Unipower GT built with this modification. The car's suspension was also totally bespoke at that time, with fully rose-jointed (BSF threaded unlike all the subsequent cars using UNF) suspension on ALL components, Cooper 'S' disc brakes front and rear with greater brake-bias adjustment facilitated in the pedal box as well as Anti-Roll bars fitted to the front and rear. Other upgrades were the fitment of a Monza fast fuel filler and rubber bag tank of increased capacity, full harness seat belts, Graviner Fire extinguisher and the lack of any rubber mounts securing the engine.

​Early testing at Silverstone soon after delivery, exposed some early issues, which both Ernie Unger and Val Dare-Bryan were brought in to work with its owner to resolve, often with Andrew Hedges doing the test driving. Time passed in developing the car and as the intended engine to be fitted was also experiencing some delays in development, progress on #766.2 was fitted in wherever possible, as the production cars were the main priority. The car was finally installed with a conventional Mini engine of 1102cc capacity (for the then 1100cc class) with a twin-choke down-draft 46IDA Weber, necessitating the cars unique cut-out in the rear window to accommodate. It was also during this period of latter development,  that when using the MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) testing facility near Nuneaton, England to develop the road cars, the Unipower's tendency to 'wander' down the Mile-straight when subjected to cross-winds became apparent, identified as being a lack of down-force on the front of the car. Subsequent experimentation on the front of the car in September 1966 by Val Dare-Bryan using Unipower GT chassis #766.3, borrowed from its then owner and placed in the MIRA wind-tunnel, that they were surprised to discover the benefit, for the first on any car, of an Air-Dam, which not only reduced lift but also reduced drag. (see Aerodynamic Developments). Chassis #766.2 was then fitted with the new Air-Dam and underwent further testing at a local airfield as well as at Silverstone. When experimenting with different tyres, the wheel arches were cut-away considerably to enable this (see photos), so some 'splash-mould' wide wheel arches were made to fit the standard rear clam-shell, the resultant much wider look to the car being seen as both aesthetically pleasing and functional. Development of chassis #766.2 as a UPD Unipower GT Competition car was finalised towards the end of 1966. 

​With the early issues now resolved to Em's satisfaction, John E. Miles (John 'Turner' Miles) was brought in to race the car at various UK National race meetings in early 1967 (see Unipower GT in Competition) and saw improving success. Notably here it is not known why the new air-dam was not fitted to the car for these early races, however it was fitted in 1969 after the car was bought back by Piers Weld-Forester but by now a much shallower version (The Le Mans June entry ran the larger air-dam) combined with the wide rear clam-shell developed in late 1966.  

Sometime early in 1968, the factory, now in its early transition to U.W.F. Automative Engineering, Piers Weld-Forester bought the car back from ‘Em’ Newman (presumably as they knew the car pretty well by now) and campaigned the car both in the UK and Internationally as a factory ‘Works’ entry, driven by Piers Weld-Forester, the new company joint Owner and other professional drivers during 1968 and 1969. 

The build and development of #766.2 as a Unipower Competition GT spec car was instrumental in enabling UPD to then offer such cars to prospective customers with a greater confidence, and the second Unipower Competition GT chassis #1266.9, built in December 1966 was displayed at the 1967 Racing Car Show in the January, subsequently being bought and delivered to Janspeed Engineering in June 1967. (see Unipower GT in Competition). 

Early morning testing of the new front Air-dam development on # 766.2 in early October 1966

#766.2 with John 'Turner' Miles at

Brands Hatch 1967

Factory build Record Card 

for 766.2

#766.2 driven by John 'Turner' Miles 1967

#766.2 at U.W.F. Engineering

At the start of the 1969 season, U.W.F. decided to enter the World Sports Car Championship and entered one car and sometimes more (see Unipower GT in Competition). It was towards the latter part of the '69 season, when the other factory entered cars had either been badly damaged or sold, that chassis # 766.2 was entered into the Nurburgring 500kms on the 7th September with race # 40, for Piers Weld-Forester and Robert Hurst to drive. The car had some problems in scrutineering regarding side window opening size, resulting in an innovative solution where slots were cut in the side windows, thereby allowing the windows to slide down on their mounting bolts, to increase the opening, in addition to the existing central round-holes. The car had also undergone further modifications to comply with the then endurance regulations, with a rear spare wheel carrier, dummy passenger seat and the rear bodywork returned to standard shape but with aluminium extended wheel arches. Chassis # 766.2 was running alongside # UWF1007 (the June Le Mans entry) that had been sold to Stanley Robinson, but in qualifying Piers Weld-Forester did not qualify due to an engine issue. However Stanley had crashed # UWF1007 in qualifying but had managed to post a qualifying time, so an engine was quickly rebuilt and installed into chassis # 766.2, so that Stanley and John Blankley could start the race, resulting in a great 9th place finish. 

The car was then entered into the Barcelona 12hrs the following month, with Piers Weld-Forester on this occasion driving with Roger Hurst as his co-driver. Two roof-mounted identification lights were fitted for this race to identify the Works car, as Jamie Agustin and Alfonso Alvarez had also entered a privateer car, but in the event did not turn up. The race went well until 9hrs into the race, when a gearbox problem retired the car. 

Chassis # 766.2 was then sold to Mr. John Chubb who raced it in the UK, following which in 1973 it was sold to the Unipower dealers Monty & Ward Motors in Kent, before in 1974, being sold Mr. Peter Henshall, who sprinted and hill-climbed the car, selling it with a broken crankshaft to Gerry Hulford in late 1976. Still in Gerry's ownership, the car has been campaigned with considerable success in a series of events and races from 1977 up until the present day, taking many class places, most notably a Championship 2nd in Class in the HSCC Atlantic Computers Championship in 1986 and 1st in Class every year for 5-consecutive years at the famous Brighton Speed Trails between 1978-1982 (Sometimes running on the Tyrrell F1 P34 six-wheeler front tyres). Other memorable events were its participation in the first 'races' through the streets of Birmingham in 1978 and numerous Le Mans Legends events on the famous 24hrs circuit (1994, 2002, 2007) as well as the historic Reims circuit in France (2008, 2010).

 

In 2014, it underwent a 'sympathetic restoration' to replace any worn components and refresh its aesthetics, but importantly, retaining its historic patina, denoting its long history as the first Competition GT car built, the most 'raced' factory entered car having most probably the longest competition history, as well as being the last known surviving factory 'Works' entered Competition GT car. Possibly more importantly, it is the car on which the concept of the very first air-dam was developed back in Sept 1966, making this car unique in the history of motoring aero-dynamics. 

Chassis # 766.2 event history is chronicled in the table below: 

 © Gerry Hulford

Nurburgring 500 kms 1969

Brands Hatch 1976

Nurburgring 500 kms 1969

Barcelona 12 hrs 1969

Piers Weld-Forester 1968

Nurburgring 500 kms 1969

Donington Park 1981

Silverstone 1979

Brighton Speed Trials 1978 

Goodwood 1987

Goodwood Testing

Brighton Speed Trials 1983 

Brands Hatch GP 2010

Riems 2008

Castle Combe testing 1992

Le Mans Legends 2002

Restoration refresh and shakedown testing at Goodwood 2014

 © Gerry Hulford

 © Gerry Hulford

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Chassis - # Unknown 

Built - (Construction details still being investigated)     

It is believed that the car identity, whist it is known of the races it competed in, is very difficult to identify as there is no factory record of its construction or that it was ever built specially to support the incoming majority U.W.F. company owner, Piers Weld-Forester's desire to contest the World Sports Car Championship in 1969, as Weld-Forester had already commissioned a very special lightweight car # UWF1007, but which was not ready. The financial implications of the WSC Championship, combined with the conditions imposed on his financial backing, make it likely it was built 'off the books' with no record even of its specification, although almost certainly a Competition GT.  

This car was entered first for the Sebring 12hrs in the USA in March 1969, but was not sent, probably as the Le Mans Test Day a week after was considered too important to miss. At the Le Mans Test Day, wearing #53, Weld-Forester drove the car solo and despite some high-speed handling issues, put in a credible lap-time. 

The Targa Florio in Sicily in May '69 was to be its next outing and with Weld-Forester and Andrew Hedges driving, qualified well, 4th in Class close to the 2-ltr cars. However the car had developed a miss-fire and in trying to resolve the issue, the mechanic took the car out for a test the morning of the race start and crashed the car heavily into a wall, with extensive damage extending back to the front bulkhead, so did not start the race. The miss-fire in the end turned out to have been an overfilling of  oil, due to the wrong length dip-stick installed.

This makes this car the only factory entered Competition GT never to have competed in a race. 

 © Gerry Hulford

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Chassis - # UWF1007   

Build completed - Mid-March 1969

This was a very special car indeed, built by U.W.F and intended to be very lightweight to maximise the  power/weight ratio of a special body built by Specialised Mouldings. Utilising a then new material, carbon-fibre, applied in strands in the form of a mesh to the underside of a thin fibre-glass layup body, this provided rigidity and light-weight. Its first race would be the Le Mans 24hrs in June '69 and the factory comissioned a new more powerful engine for the event, following their experiences at the Test Day in May. The engine would come from BMC Special Tuning at Abingdon, however the specification/use never clearly got communicated properly together with its being late ordering, so  as it turned out later, they had supplied a Rally tuned engine. Additional lighting had been fitted to the car in the form of a huge single light, fitted into the grill to cope with the dark on the unlit circuit, which was to work remarkably well.

Arriving at Le Mans, the car was nicknamed the 'Puce Jaune' the Yellow Flea by the French journalists, but Piers Weld-Forester, running a high final-drive (2.9:1) for the long-striaght, managed to wring a fast-enough lap time for him to qualify, despite losing a rear wheel on the Mulsanne Straight at high-speed, caused by the paint finish on the new J.A.P wheels cracking. Piers' qualifying time in no small part assisted by getting a 'tow' down the long Mulsanne Straight, no doubt also contributing to its high terminal speed of 145 mph !.

 

But for co-driver Stanley Robinson, the task was daunting, what with being overtaken on the Mulsanne straight by cars doing 70+mph more, and failed to put in a qualifying time. A huge disappointment for all and so the car did not start the race. 

The aftermath of the Le Mans story is that on their return the engine was dyno tested and found to have not the 130hp they had been expecting, but just 75hp !, so must have produced a huge amount of torque from the engine. 

Next up was the GP Mugello in July with Piers Weld-Forester and Dominique Martin driving. The car performed without any issues and finished in 46th place. The large front headlight having been removed and the nose-bodywork reinstated. 

A UK national race and an entry for the GP of Denmark was entered for Piers to drive, but there is no record of them arriving for these races.

The car had been sold in the meantime to Stanley Robinson as part of his Le Mans 24hrs drive deal, so September at the Nürburgring 500kms saw #UWF1007 entered along with two other cars, #766.2 and #UWF1004, a road-spec car #UWF1004 entered for its owner William Tuckett (DNS due to an oil leak). Unfortunately, Stanley crashed #UWF1007 but had put in a qualifying time and both #766.2 and UWF1007 suffered engine problems. #766.2 went on to finish 9th driven by Stanley and his co-driver, with a hastily rebuilt engine.

Stanley Robinson with his repaired car entered the World Sports Car Championship again in 1970 as privateer’s, but this time with an FVA 1600cc engine and Hewland gearbox fitted to the rear along with Brabham F2 rear suspension grafted on. The Targa Florio that year was entered but they did not arrive, before running at Spa (DNF) and finishing races at the Nürburgring (in May) and Mugello. However, it was at the Nürburgring later in October ‘70, having qualified 20th, that on the warm-up lap John Blankley had what is thought to have been a rear suspension failure and the car crashed heavily and rolled. The damage was so severe that the car was cannibalised for whatever parts were salvageable (the FVA engine ending up in Stanley's next race car, the SAR), and the remains left at the circuit as scrap.

Nurburgring 1970

Le Mans June 1969

 © Gerry Hulford

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