The Unipower GT. Ever heard of it? If you have, you’re clearly quite well informed and probably already an enthusiast of the little sixties mid-engined production special. After all, how could you not be? However, if you haven’t heard of it, that really shouldn’t be much of a surprise considering just how rare this little sports car is. If you missed it at the Classic Motor Show at the NEC, then here’s your second chance to meet the spectacular Unipower GT.
Between 1966 and 1970 a mere 71 examples were constructed in northwest London, and it doesn’t stop there – or rather, that’s actually exactly where it all stopped! Because its rarity doesn’t just come down to 71 produced examples of this given model, but it even extends to the marque as a whole. The GT was indeed the only proper road car that Unipower ever built. That was all we ever got from this small British car manufacturer.
So what was the Unipower GT then? Surely just some small hastily designed kit car put together by a few overly enthusiastic wannabe engineers? Nope! You couldn’t possibly be more wrong. There is in fact great pedigree behind this innovative little production special. The concept drew heavily on proper race car engineering of the period, with both the tubular space frame and equally the light and aerodynamically slippery body being manufactured by leading British Formula 1 fabricators of the era. This excellent little package was powered by the popular BMC ‘A’ series engine and gearbox, but in a mid-engine layout. In other words, the little two-seater was practically a full-blown race car – only for the road, and as such it was both fast and hugely entertaining. The vast majority of Unipower GT’s were nonetheless delivered as road cars, though a few did leave the factory as fully race-prepared racing thoroughbreds.
Though that was arguably where it all started going wrong for Unipower. The car was perfect for competition, but motorsport has never come cheap. They were intent on racing the Unipower, but the finances just weren’t there, and sadly what could have been so good instead lead to their demise. After only four years of production and 71 examples built, it was all over by early 1970.
Today, of the 71 cars built, only 38 are known still to exist. Many of these went to Japan during the eighties, and more still are project cars awaiting restoration. At present, there is in fact only three road registered Unipower GT’s in the UK, while another two are pristine race cars which come out for a blast from time to time.
So imagine my surprise when I turned a corner at the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show at the NEC, and found three – Yes! No less than THREE! – Unipower GT’s lined up in front of me. Phenomenal… That’s after all more than 4% of the total production. Now just to put that into context for you: Seeing three Unipower GT’s displayed together, is in terms of percentages the same as if I had turned the next corner at the NEC exhibition, only to be confronted with 40,000 Porsche 911’s in front of me. That would have been quite overwhelming too don’t you think?
The stand was of course the doing of the Unipower GT Register. While the register has existed for a long time, Tim Carpenter, one of the driving forces behind the register and their all new website, puts it this way: “It was like the car had gone to a party in the 1980’s and got stuck in the kitchen!” While every other classic car is very visible to all on the world wide web, the rare Unipower lacked that home to tell its story, and provide a point of contact for technical and validation enquires. Between the small group of owners there is much knowledge and help to be found, and one long-term owner even has a collection of factory records and other technical material. But they needed to modernize the register and introduce it to the 21st century. A Facebook page has been set up for general chat, and now their new website sits alongside it in order to purvey the story of this little British gem of a sports car. The members of the register had wanted to display their little-known sports car to the public and other enthusiasts for a long time. Now was the time – the three-car-display at the NEC was seen as an ideal opportunity in conjunction with the soft relaunch of the Unipower GT Register.
Hopefully this highly capable and ultra-rare production special might now finally receive the acknowledgement and interest which it so deserves. If the Unipower has you just as intrigued as it does me, seek them out on Facebook or visit their new website: www.unipowergt.org.uk