UNIPOWER GT 

The possible Mk2's

As you will have read in the History of the Unipower GT, the cars were produced by two companies from early 1966 to the end of 1969, firstly by Universal Power Drives Ltd (UPD) and then UWF Automative Engineering Ltd (UWF). It was when UWF took over production at the beginning of 1969 that the cars underwent some 'running changes' brought about be difficulty in obtaining previously used parts, with detail changes being applied to upgrade the look and feel of the cars as previously described elsewhere here. However a number of the changes that were on the 'List of things that were considered should be modified/changed', required considerable re-engineering of the car, something that the company just did not have the time, resources or finances for, so were left on the 'list', remembering that the current model was still selling well, with a long order book.

The Bohanna/Stables 'Diablo' concept

 

Just as the Unipower GT was spawned from an idea, there were other talented automotive designers at the time, seeking support and funding for their latest ideas.

 

And so it was some time in 1968, that a couple of Lola design engineers who had been involved with the Ford GT40 and Lola T70 projects, Robin Stables & Peter Bohanna, won a design contract for a new sports car tendered by the young Piers Weld-Forester. Bohanna and Stables' subsequent work for UWF was to design a car to replace the existing Unipower GT. Their initial design was for a mid-engined two seater sports car, called the Diablo (Devil in Spanish), which would use the British Leyland 1500cc 4-cyl engine/gearbox from the Austin Maxi. The design concept was quite similar to the Unipower GT, but larger overall and with that larger engine, hoped its performance would make it stand out from the opposition. 

  

Peter & Robin discussed their design with both Ernie Unger and Piers Weld-Forester and at least initially, Piers was very enthusiastic about the idea, that this could indeed be the successor to the Unipower GT. However once the initial enthusiasm had turned to, how would this project be financed ?, the idea of Unipower Cars taking this on was soon dropped. Unipower Cars and Piers' Trust Fund, just did not have the finances available, given perhaps as you will read elsewhere on this website, Piers had other financially demanding plans in the pipeline for Unipower Cars that year.

 

As history will show, Peter & Robin went on to form the company, Bohanna Stables, based in High Wycombe, Bucks from where they built a prototype, displaying the Diablo at the 1972 Racing Car Show. The car then attracted the attention of AC Cars, who later that year purchased the Rights to the design and from this produced another prototype, the AC3000ME which, now with a Ford V6 engine was well received by the Press and public alike, when it was launched at the 1973 Earls Court Motor Show. It was to go through numerous difficulties in production, with production reaching 71 cars before being renamed 3000ME and production being moved to Scotland under a new company AC Scotland, with eventually another 30 cars being built,  before going into receivership in 1984.   

 

Interestingly, the original prototype Diablo was purchased in a very sorry state by a previous Unipower GT owner who also had purchased one of the first AC 3000ME's.         

AC 3000ME prototype in 1973

The prototype Diablo discovered many years later

Prototype Diablo in 1972

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The Val Dare-Bryan concept

 

As you will have read elsewhere on this site, the Unipower GT's original designer, Val Dare-Bryan had left the UWF early in 1969 and went on to pursue his career at Palliser Racing Design, but his time at Unipower had left him thinking of what the next iteration might have been. These deliberations, probably based on his evolving Attila car designs, remembering here that it was his Attila 5 that spurned the Unipower GT, Val had started sketching a design to re-launch the next generation Unipower GT.

 

So it was in late 1991, Gerry Hulford as the Club Secretary and full-time Business Consultant, was contacted by Val to discuss the design and the viability of putting his proposed design into production. Initially only the following design drawing formed the basis of these discussions, but this was enough to illustrate how this design would have been a huge improvement over the original Unipower GT in many practical ways.    

The design followed the original Unipower's mid-engined layout but with the car being overall longer, wider and a little higher with longer doors making cockpit access easier. General access was improved with the luggage boot in the rear no longer necessitating the whole rear clam-shell to be raised and a bonnet at the front provided access to the spare wheel. The fuel tank was also moved to a more central position away from its previous location at the front to improve safety, the radiator being retained at the front. Larger diameter wheels with wider lower profile tyres would improve the aesthetics and road holding, along with much improved suspension geometry to remove the previous car's tendency to bump-steer at the rear if not setup correctly. 

The automotive industry had developed lighter and more powerful engines since the early Mini Cooper engines, so the new Toyota MR2 engine was considered to be the power-plant of choice at the design stage. This 2 litre engine, naturally aspirated, double overhead camshaft, 4 cylinder unit had a power output of 119 bhp @ 5600 rpm with a maximum torque of 176 Nm (130 lb/ft) @ 4400 rpm, providing a very useful performance improvement over the 76hp @ 6000 rpm / 108 Nm (80 lb-ft) @ 3000 rpm of the Mini Cooper 'S' unit installed in the most powerful production Unipower GT's. This possible successor to the Unipower GT was going to be a very quick car indeed. 

However it was the body shape that was to totally transform the look of the car, from one that was previously both beautiful and purposeful in design, but limited in some ways by its use of parts from other production cars, to one that, with the benefit of the latest technology would enable it to compete against the best designs of the time. The windscreen, always previously a little upright, was now much sleeker, facilitated by the extra length and the ready access to more pleasing items such as headlights incorporated into the frontal shape, brought the whole design package up to date. Interestingly the air-dam, uniquely developed for the first time by Unipower back in 1966, was to be at last, incorporated into the design, having never found its way officially onto a production Unipower GT in period.  I think you will agree from the following early design render's (drawn at the time by Jonathan Holt), that the car would have been stunning for its time, especially against its comparative market and price-point. 

So the outcome to the story is that after much deliberation, the discussions concluded that the cost of prototyping, development and production made more costly by the emerging regulatory constraints on limited production cars both in the UK & Europe, meant that by doing this ourselves, it would have been difficult to have brought the project to fruition, in the manner that we would have been happy with. Remembering also that the main-stream car manufacturers were now producing the cars that the enthusiasts wanted (Toyota MR2 etc...). Both of us were also very busy with our careers, leaving little time to devote to such a seemingly worthwhile, but still risky business opportunity, without the proper commitment.

Like a lot of great ideas, who knows what might have been if the circumstances had been different, but the Unipower GT is alive and well and still revered around the World over 54 years later, which is testimony to the strength of its original design. 

© 2019  Unipower GT Owners Club & Register  Gerry Hulford   

All Rights Reserved - All photographs & Data are Copyright of Gerry Hulford unless otherwise stated