Carbon fibre was first invented near Cleveland, Ohio, USA in 1958, however it wasn't until 1963 that a new manufacturing process was developed to release the high potential strength of this new material at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, England. The resultant process was patented by the UK Ministry of Defence and licenced to three companies including Rolls Royce for use in their engines.
It was not until 1981 that the McLaren F1 Team used this material to construct their MP4/1 Formula 1 car and set the ball rolling for its subsequent extensive use in motorsport.
However in 1968, Unipower Cars through their close relationship with the famous Specialised Mouldings company, by then based in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, would decide to use the early development of this material, maybe sourced through Rolls Royce or Courtaulds, to provide support and additional stiffness to a very thin lightweight body to be used in contesting the World Sports Car Championship in 1969.
Unipower Cars had already been the first to discover the benefits of the Air Dam back in 1966 and realised that to compete at that level with a 1300cc engine car and be competitive, the car would need to be as light as possible to provide the best power/weight ratio. As the chassis of the Unipower GT had shown itself in the Competition GT version, to have very good torsional resistance, it was felt that by reducing the fiberglass panels to a very thin layup, they could reduce the overall weight of the car significantly. But the resultant thin panels would easily deform at high speed, the estimated top speed at Le Mans being in excess of 135 mph (they actually achieved 145mph with the benefit of following another car) and would impose considerable aerodynamic forces on the car.
So, an early development of carbon fibre, in the form of small ‘round strands’ of the material were bonded to the body panels in the form of a close matrix pattern, which achieved the required rigidity. Cars were entered in the March ’69 Test Day at Le Mans, the May Targa Florio race where it was badly crashed by a mechanic shortly before the race, having qualified very well in Class and overall and the abortive June Le Mans 24hrs attempt, where the co-driver did not achieve the required lap-time. The technology stood up well and no mention was made of any issues being experienced in its use in these races. Unfortunately, neither cars survive today and no photographs have come to light to showing the carbon fibre applied, however the author was proudly shown one of the cars by Piers Weld -Forester at the Unipower Cars factory in early March 1969, with the matrix of black carbon fibre clearly showing on the inside of the car’s bodywork.