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Octane Magazine - June 2020 - Good things, tiny packages

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

The latest edition of Octane magazine has run a welcome article, featuring the first production Road version of the Unipower GT built and an Abarth 750 GT 'Double Bubble' at a location near Goodwood, with the strap line of 'Micro-GT' cars. The article runs to an impressive 9-pages with some very well shot colour photographs, some full page, detailing the various aspects of each car from many angles.

The text of the article is well written and goes into detail as to the historical background of the evolution of both cars, which for Unipower, covers Ernie Unger's early days at Lotus, the development of the Unipower GT, along with his respectful interest in Abarth and their small car design.

In fairness to the author Simon Duval-Smith, the article describes the design and construction of the Unipower GT in some detail quite well. This is however well documented in numerous articles elsewhere, but given that there are not that many publications on our cars, this is welcome and will be essential reading to those not familiar with the Unipower GT. However as is often the case when the scribe has little knowledge of the car in question, the narrative tends to be based on what he or she is told, without the benefit of any information presented to the contrary. Regrettably perhaps because of this, the article misrepresents the car featured and will have misled the reader in other ways as to their belief in the provenance of the featured car and the general quality of the production Unipower cars in period. This is a great shame, as here was a wonderful opportunity, in a well respected magazine, to showcase the Unipower GT correctly.

The car featured is indeed the first production car built by Universal Power Drives, ordered on the 18th January 1966 and delivered to its first owner in late April 1966, painted in Tartan Red. However the car is proclaimed in the article as being the actual inaugural launch car that was displayed on the stand of the 1966 Racing Car Show on the 19th January 1966. This is clearly not the case, as the car was still in build at the time, the actual car on the stand being the prototype chassis painted silver grey, featuring an interior and chassis construction that differed in many ways from the subsequent production cars (see picture below). The provenance of the prototype chassis was only discovered a few years ago by the Club secretary and is currently well into its restoration by its new owner, who was delighted to know the significance of his car and its special place in Unipower history. Some of you may have seen its early restoration progress, as it was displayed on the Club's stand at the NEC Classic Car Show in 2019 in its launch Show colour.

The statement that production cars did not get first delivered until December 1966, is also incorrect, as by that time 7-cars had delivered

A very early artists impression of what the interior would look like, taken from the first Unipower GT brochure. A number of features in the picture appeared on the prototype such as the seats, steering wheel design, wind-up windows. These were changed on the production cars, to what you see later.

What is more unfortunate however, is the lovely full-page picture on page 75 of the car’s interior, with the central caption stating that 'Unger was keen for the Unipower to be a "proper road car" so the interior was trimmed by Wood & Pickett'

Indeed, all the road cars were trimmed by that well-respected coach-builder, however not the interior of this car as presented. The car had been purchased from the Club Secretary by the current owner, it having been rescued in dire need of restoration, over 35-years ago. The restoration was carried out mostly by the current owner, who regrettably did not apply as much attention to detail in its restoration, as is generally the case when restoring Classics that have a significance in a marque's history.

In its restoration, the correct materials were not used to replicate the quality of finish that the Factory and Wood & Pickett had used. A Draylon like material has been used for the seats, rather than the correct Vinyl cloth with its period embossed pattern, the Dashboard-panel has been incorrectly padded (it was not covered as original) and the Door-cards and other finishings have been re-covered, again using a material finish that does not mimic the quality 'look & feel' of the Factory interior.

The Dashboard instrumentation lay-out has also been changed with additional instrumentation added. Rocker switch-gear has been substituted for the original toggle-switches on the original (the very last production cars in 1969 used rocker switches).

One other very noticeable change is that the original vinyl covered aluminium door sill covers are now what seems to be stainless steel on both sides with a crude hole cutout for the gear-lever on the drivers door sill, rather than the bespoke convoluted rubber gaiter used by Wood & Pickett. All this regrettably diminishes the quality of the interior that the production cars had and which made these cars stand out from the others in period. Pictures below taken are from the ex-works UPD demo car in 1966, which featured in so many magazine road tests of that period.

Wood & Pickett made a quality fitment of a bespoke gear-lever gaiter installed into the door-sill cover.

The early dashboard, as should be on the featured car, was originally a plain anodised silver panel with minimal instrumentation of Speedometer. Rev-counter, combined Oil Pressure/Water Temperature, Fuel .

The 1275 Cooper 'S' versions from 1967 had a padded dashboard-panel, but retained the same dashboard layout until the last few cars in late 1969, when the speedometer moved closer to the steering wheel.

So regrettably the car featured in the article does not represent well, the quality of finish that Unipower's designers strove for and achieved in their production cars. The modified Boot in the pictures, to accommodate changes to the engine, also gives the impression of not being a well thought out design.

As one who has driven both Factory fresh and many used Unipower GT's over the last 48-years, the quality and durability, if well maintained like any car of that period, was what made the Unipower GT unique.

It is fair to say however, that of all the surviving Unipower GT’s, very few have retained their originality. The problems of availability of certain parts and without substantial investment in replication, substitution ends up being the solution for many owners. However, it is those cars that have been maintained well and have retained their originality (The Club is here to verify such Classic Status) that will attract the best premium, when it comes their being sold.

Indeed it is the Clubs raison d'etre to assist Owners wherever possible, in maintaining their cars originality, through the use of original factory documentation and the manufacture of parts wherever possible, often from the original Factory tools. More details of this can be found on this website.

In conclusion, the Club have thanked Octane for their publication of this article, which is always great to see and are aware of the issues raised.

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