UNIPOWER GT

Competition Spec Cars - Factory 'Works' cars

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Chassis 766.2  -  Built April 1966

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. 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, thought that it would make a nice race car. Conversations ensued and it was decided that UPD would build a Competition 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. As a good friend of ‘Em’ Newman was Gorden Allen, who was making a name for his company making crankshafts and special competition engines, the car also incorporated a unique specific requirement, whereby the engine bulkhead crossmember was moved forward to make 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, along with the driver’s seat being 'sunk' into the more forward positioned bulkhead. The car's suspension was also totally bespoke for its time with fully rose-jointed (UNC threaded not the subsequent UNF) suspension on ALL components, Cooper 'S' disc brakes front and rear with brake bias adjustment in the pedal box, in addition to Anti-Roll bars 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 exposed some issues understandably, which both Ernie Unger and Val Dare-Bryan worked with its owner to resolve, often with Andrew Hedges doing the test driving. Time passed 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 an 1102cc engine (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 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. It was during subsequent experimentation on the front of the car in September 1966 by Val Dare-Bryan with Unipower GT #766.3, borrowed from its owner and placed in the MIRA wind-tunnel, 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). #766.2 was then fitted with the new Air-Dam and underwent further testing at a local airfield as well as Silverstone, completing its development as a UPD Unipower GT Competition car towards the end of 1966. 

​John E. Miles (John 'Turner' Miles) was brought in by ‘Em’ Newman to race the car at various UK National race meetings in 1967 (see Unipower GT in Competition) and saw improving success as the car was further developed.

Sometime early in 1968, the factory, now in its early transition to U.W.F. Automative Engineering, 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 others. 

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 some confidence, and the second Unipower Competition GT (#1266.9) built in December 1966 was displayed at the 1967 Racing Car Show in the January, subsequently bought and delivered to Janspeed Engineering in June 1967. (see Unipower GT in Competition). 

 © Val Dare-Bryan

 © Val Dare-Bryan

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 end of the season, when the other factory entered cars had either been written-off or sold, that #766.2 was entered into the Nurburgring 500kms with race #40 in the September for Piers Weld-Forester/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 to increase their opening, in addition to the existing round-holes. The car had also undergone further modifications to comply with the then endurance regulations, with a spare wheel carrier, passenger seat and the rear bodywork returned to the standard shape but with extended wheel arches. #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 #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 this time having Roger Hurst as his co-driver. Two roof-mounted identification lights were fitted for this race as Jamie Agustin and Alfonso Alvarez had also entered a privateer car, but did not turn up. The race went well until 9hrs into the race, when a gearbox problem retired the car. 

#766.2 was then sold to John Chubb who raced it in the UK following which in 1973 it was sold to the sole Unipower dealers Monty & Ward Motors before being sold on in 1974 to Peter Henshall, who sprinted and hill-climbed the car, before 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 2nd in Class in the HSCC Atlantic Computers Championship in 1986 and 1st in Class over 5-consecutive years at the famous Brighton Speed Trails between 1978-1982. Other memorable events were the first 'races' through the streets of Birmingham in 1978 and participation in numerous Le Mans Legends events on the famous 24hrs circuit (1994, 2002, 2007) and at the historic Reims circuit in France (2008, 2010).

 

In 2014, it underwent a total 'Refresh' to replace any worn components and refresh its aesthetics, but importantly, without removing its historic patina, denoting its long history as the first Competition GT car built, the most 'raced' factory entered car and the last surviving factory 'Works' entered Competition GT .  

The event history of #766.2 is chronicled in the table below: 

 © Gerry Hulford

 © Gerry Hulford

 © Gerry Hulford

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Chassis UWF1XXX  -  Built February 1969

An early U.W.F. car, Chassis #UWF1XXX has a slightly clandestine history, having been built specifically to support the new majority Company owner, Piers Weld-Forester's desire to contest the World Sports Car Championship in 1969. The financial implications of this commitment, combined with the conditions imposed on his financial backing, led it is believed to this car never being given a chassis number, so it was a 'Ghost car'. 

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

The Targa Florio in Sicily in the May was its next outing, and with Piers 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 shortly before the race and crashed the car heavily into a wall, the damage extending to the front bulkhead, so the car did not start. 

On its return to the factory, the damage was considered too severe to be repaired and the car was written-off.  

 © Gerry Hulford

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Chassis UWF1007  -  Built March 1969

This was a very special car 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 lightweight. However, the engine proposed had been ordered from BMC Special Tuning without specifying its use, so 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 'Yellow Flea' by the French ACO organisers, but Piers Weld-Forester managed to wring a fast-enough lap time to qualify himself, despite losing a rear wheel on the Mulsanne Straight at high-speed. But for co-driver Stanley Robinson, the task was too much and failed to put in a qualifying time, so the car did not start the race. 

Much disappointed as they must have been, the engine was dyno tested on its return and instead of the 130+ hp they had been expecting, it showed just 75hp !. The fact that it still managed to achieve 130mph+ down the Mulsanne Straight was incredible, despite the 2.9:1 high final-drive fitted for the race, 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. 

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 and the remains left at the circuit as scrap.

 © Gerry Hulford

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