JENAL ~ UVA History

The rise and fall of the Unique Vehicle & Accessory Company

  •  The company was born in 1981 by Alan Arnold who had built cars and motorcycles as a hobby from 16 years of age.  In 1980 Alan was 34 years old and frustrated by the continual prevalence of business politics in the automotive company where he was employed.  He held a diploma in marketing but was not a trained engineer, learning on-the-job by experience.  More an intuitive one, so he decided in 1981 to start his own specialist car and parts business. He spent 18 months researching USA companies who produced products that interested him and who might like, his newly formed company, to promote their wares in Europe.  He realised the best way to quickly get a new commercial business off the ground was to buy and sell someone else products rather than design and make your own.

  •  As the modern parlance goes ‘it does what it says on the tin’ and UVA, The Unique Vehicle & Accessory Company was launched from his double garage attached to his house in a village called Curridge near Newbury in Berkshire.  Barring frustrating some near neighbours from the noise and freight trucks, this proved the best way of keeping the burgeoning companies overheads to a minimum.

  •  The initial product range was the Beetle based Manta Cars Montage kit car which eventually morphed into the M6GTR. He added a range of VW performance parts from Bugpack and Sway-Away. This developed with the addition of importing engine to VW transmission adaptor kits from Kennedy Engineering.  Comprehensively producing a range of products that both sold individually to go-faster VW owners and adding to his Beetle based Montage customer’s choice, of building something very special.

  •  The swing axle Beetle chassis was the only easy option for any self builder to put under his kit-car because the preferable IRS VW chassis was primarily restricted to the 1302 & 1303 Beetle range. This had the cumbersome McPherson strut front end.  The UVA Company’s first foray into an own engineered product was the design of a McPherson strut conversion, turning the basic Beetle front suspension design into an inboard race-car inspired rocker-arm layout which kept the suspension height down to a minimum, gave a comfortable ride as well as offering outstanding handling.

  •  The business developed with UK construction of own-brand Beetle GRP body panel conversions such as the Baja and Road-Racer sets.  Within 18 months Arnold and his now junior partner moved the small business to a new factory unit in Newbury where initial workshop and storage space was aplenty.

  •  Here the business really blossomed with improvements to many of their imported products, for example the engine to transmission adaptor kits.  The Kennedy product used original VW flywheels with machined out centres and welded in bosses to suit the water-cooled engine choice for the VW transmission.  Whilst no failures occurred, Arnold preferred a purist engineering approach and sought to have cast his own range of purpose cast-iron flywheels and allied components.  And this is how the company, in part, developed taking some products from the USA and improving the design by re-engineering them and making them in the UK.  In turn UVA introduced to the marketplace their own specifically designed products to either enhance the existing product range or move the company into a larger market sector.

  •  The Manta Montage was a classic example, both very expensive to import from the US and in need of major re-engineering to meet European construction and use regulations.  Arnold employed a talented car designer to subtly but extensively change the body which included pop-up headlights with corresponding lower Plexiglas-covered driving lights, a new stylish and upmarket interior which also made the swop from left to right hand drive a simpler manufacturing choice.  The interior rear clear glass window was moved to stop night-time headlight reflections and the doors plus side windows were re-engineered to vastly improve sealing, reduce wind noise and general door closure.  Plus other mild cosmetic changes to improve ownership.

  •  From an engineering perspective, the tub part of the construction was re-designed into a two product range, one for the Beetle based market sector and the other a composite monocoque tub with its own inter-connected front and rear sub-frames with roll-over protection, correct seatbelt positioning and wishbone suspension for the mid-engined V8 market.  The net result was a very fast, sure-footed and comfortable sports-car which was easy to drive for its size and shape.  As attested to by leading motoring magazine road testers with a front cover picture of an M6GTR dwarfed by Concord for Autocar magazine, organised by M6GTR customer John, who was an engineer on Concord.

  •  The UVA philosophy of product improvement was used with the Fugitive II, originally a Baja leisure fun chassis regularly imported from the USA; UVA re-engineered it to improve its torsional stiffness, helped by Cardiff University with a staggering result of 14,000 Nm per degree.  Birmingham based Kingfisher Kustoms, who were a UVA distributor, showed Arnold there was a market for road legal Fugitives and so UVA developed this market as well, producing not only Baja style Fugitives but also turning it into a lowered sports-car where its design prowess was admirably displayed in the 750 Motor Club kit-car race series.  A further option for Fugitive sports-car customers was the grafting-on of the M6GTR front wishbone suspension, replacing the VW twin transverse beams.  The Fugitive II range also spawned a 2+2 model called, not unsurprisingly, the Fugitive IV.

  •   This Fugitive integral roll-cage and Cooper Cars style of larger tube diameter chassis engineering moved UVA onto designing a mid-engined V8 range of cars, the open front cycle winged ‘Clubman’ of 1985 and the full bodied Can-Am a year later.  Both had formula race car side rads styled similarly to the Ferrari Testarossa which launched at a similar time and no, UVA did not copy Ferrari’s side radiator strakes, they were a result of a simpler way of moulding and an engineering expedient for engine cooling.  It is worth adding here, it took UVA several attempts to get this side-rad idea to actually cool the V8 engine correctly.  Again these mid-engined cars proved their worth in the 750 MC kit-car series.

  •  UVA’s evolving range of specialist parts included their own bias adjustable brake pedal assemblies and a developing range of engine to transmission adaptor kits including Chevrolet V8 to Porsche 911 transmission.  UVA’s general performance car engineering skills were also used by other kit manufacturers to develop the clients saleable products. 

  •  During the mid ‘80’s UVA launched the Shogan, a VW Beetle based conversion turning the saloon car into a stylish estate car with a full width one-piece rear door/glass window rather than the limited 2 van door Vandetta kit from the USA, which the Shogan was based on.  The Shogan was a bit ‘wacky’ and expensive to make with its own 3 piece curved glass, in consequence, a slow seller.

  •  Arnold being Arnold, a perfectionist, lobbied the kit-car industry for 12 months from 1987 to bring in some form of voluntary legislation to improve the quality and safety of cars being offered to the market.  He, like others could see some of the shoddy and down-right-dangerous products being sold.  He ran a series of seminars at various kit-car shows, lobbied other kit manufacturers and used his contacts at the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders) to form the SCMG (Specialist Car Manufacturers Group).  The SCMG became a sub-section of the SMMT’s car manufacturers’ & importers council and they viewed it as a self-serving system to have in place for themselves because it reduced their costs of building and highway testing prototypes.

  •   The well recognised German TUV testing body were employed to both test member’s products and make sure they meet customer service criteria.  As the prime creator of the SCMG, Arnold chaired this group for 18 months, which in all, consumed too much of his time to the detriment of his own business.  It is worth observing how SCMG has evolved into the single model type approval system of today and made the industry a better product.

  •  At a similar time, the M6GTR chassis went under further engineering scrutiny, looking to improve her weight balance by moving the fuel tank forward with flip-cap filler in the left hand wing top.  This was achieved by way of re-engineering the front chassis to give alloy tank space and improve air feeds to both the behind dash A/C unit and the centre tunnel where the water pipes ran.

  •  UVA introduced a further product range in the late 1980’s called the 984, a V8 conversion kit for the Porsche 924/944 range of cars.  To go with the comprehensive engine conversion kit was a tuned ‘banana’ exhaust kit, improved brakes, suspension and body kit.  It turned a good, practical car into a great sports-car more cheaply and less expensive to run than a 944 turbo and with a preferable exhaust note.

  •  At the same time UVA also launched a range of Rover SD1 performance parts with Arnold's own Van-den-Plas version sweeping well beyond 150mph, which was fast for a mid 1980's large 4 door saloon.

  •  Arnold was always open to fresh ideas and was approached in 1986 by a TV producer to start a new UK off-road race series called BORRA (British Off Road Racing Association).  Single-seater Fugitives were designed and built with many famous motor racing names associated with the series but as is often the case, promised investment money was not forthcoming but the single seater Fugitive was a great net result.

  •  This model of Fugitive was recognised in 1989 by a midlands property developer who wanted to build 6 off-road racing/ leisure/ fun circuits around the UK, populated by a minimum of 10 Fugitives per course.  At the time, UVA were having trouble with their Newbury landlord who had greater ideas for his property than smelly GRP manufacturing and the littering of mechanical parts so UVA bought and moved into their own premises, 10 miles south in Whitchurch Hampshire.  A great place and opportunity to start this particular expanding off-road venture that needed a regular supply of fully built Fugitives.

  •  Sadly, it was the start of the decline of UVA.  With the world moving into a financial melt-down the off-road property developer went ‘tits-up’ and people didn’t want to risk ever harder-earned cash on performance cars and parts.  10 years after it started, in 1991, UVA went into liquidation and as for Arnold; his wife gave up on him some 18 months earlier, his house which underwrote UVA was mortgage repossessed and the metamorphosis’ of UVA into a new range of financiers and called TAG Automotive eventually dispensed with Arnold’s Autocratic management style.

  •  After several years, including treatment for depression, Arnold moved back into his core line of business, marketing and joined 3 others to launch The UK Shopping City in 1994.  This became the largest online marketing website in Europe.  In 1995 they launched TED (The European Directory) again, for the time, the most successful European focused search engine.  Not making the dreamt of fortune, they sold the business in 1998, 18 months before the internet bubble boom where mega-overnight-fortunes were made... hey ho!  All was not bad though, this early internet schooling gave Arnold the knowledge which allowed him to train companies throughout the world, on how to successfully market online.

  •  As this JENAL website illustrates, retirement loomed for Alan Arnold and he  designed this replica of a circa late 1800’s Dutch Klipper so that he and his wife Jennie could live-aboard and cruise the inland waterways of mainland Europe.

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