eBay Find of the Week : Unipart Gold Seal S-Series engine

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

unipart

Once a doyen of the remanufactured engine industry, Unipart in automotive guise has now sadly left this parish to join the great defunct names of old but imagine my surprise when I spotted this cheeky little number on eBay recently.

Here, we have an unused new old stock Gold Seal S-Series power unit which still slumbers in its period metal fame and polythene packaging. Produced from 1984 to the early 1990s, the S-Series only ever came in one capacity and three states of tune. It wasn’t a bad engine really even if it was known for wetting itself now and again with early variants suffering from crankcase breather problems – especially on low mileage examples. By the time the 1989 model year Maestro and Montego came along, the 1600cc engine fared quite well in the in-house reliability charts but it was doomed owing to K-Series coming along.

Lovely to work on, and offering a credible balance of power and efficiency, the S-Series was loosely based on and replaced the rather poorly received R-Series engine. Although it was an all-new engine, the S-Series can trace its bloodline back to the Maxi’s E-Series unit of 1969. Its 1598cc configuration came in low and high compression SU carb-fed tune and a Lucas fuel-injected 105bhp version which was only ever fitted to the Rover 200 VDP EFi and Vitesse. Why they never offered the 1.6 EFi unit in the Maestro or Montego remains a forum debate to this day…

Unipart used to proudly boast that a Gold Seal was a better-than-new engine. There was a simple reason for that claim. All Unipart Silver and Gold Seal-branded units featured every possible manufacturers’ production/specification upgrade at its point of build and they were pretty much regarded as one of the very best remanufactured engines money could buy. Unipart also offered non-BLARG engines in their once impressive brochure and my former Workshop Manager would quip that, if Austin Rover fitted Gold Seal engines on the production line, they’d halve their warranty costs! The engine in the advert is most certainly for a Rover 216 produced after 1987 – the right-hand cam cover being the obvious clue.

Still living in its transportation frame and sporting port blanking plugs - £125 is a bargain for what it effectively a brand new engine.
Still living in its transportation frame and sporting port blanking plugs – £125 is a bargain for what is effectively a brand new engine

What isn’t certain, though, is whether this engine can be used with unleaded petrol, but it’s worth mentioning that an earlier engine, if remanufactured after 1990, came with upgraded valves and hardened seats from Unipart. Owing to its raw state, it would also suit a Maestro or Montego and these period remanufactured engines are getting thin on the ground as Unipart closed their own in-house reconditioning facility many years ago. Providing the engine will turn over by hand, an unused Gold Seal for a reasonable £125 is most certainly a bargain.

Oh, and I don’t think it matters if you forget to send your own life-expired engine back to Unipart in the metal transport frame provided either – it’s most unlikely anyone will chase you for the surcharge fee!

 

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

24 Comments

  1. Unipart isn’t defunct – the company I work for delivers into them on a regular basis – but it is primarily a logistics company.

    I guess Xpower his taken its role as a supplier of genuine MG Rover spares.

  2. Unipart Automotive does NOT exist, it went into liquidation last year and only was ascossiated to The UGC group in name only.

    Unipart manufacturing who supply O.E makers only still exist. Automotive was the all makes aftermarket parts company sold to a VC in Holland in 2011

    • Sort of true but not entirely accurate. Unipart, as in the Unipart Group Limited, based in Cowley are still a big group in automotive, and for that matter rail and general logistics. They have around 10,000 employees and £1 billion turnover. They operate in the automotive sector in manufacturing and aftermarket distribution, these days called Unipart Autostore and Unipart Autoparts.

      Partco later rebranded Unipart Automotive Ltd used to have around 1,500 employees with £180 million turnover was a distribution business which in 1999 was rebranded Unipart Automotive. Unipart Group Limited bought the Partco in 1999 for £179 million Unipart and later rebranded is as Unipart automotive. A major 51% stake was later sold in 2011 to investment house with Unipart Automotive Ltd going into receivership in 2014.

      In my view the whole Partco acquisition, rebrand, sale and subsequent receivership has not done Unipart any favours when it comes to brand recognition. There seems to be a wide view that Unipart is no longer in the automotive business, which is simply not the case.

      It should also be pointed out that the engine remanufacturing business was always part of the Unipart Group, these days they are making engine components.

  3. Unipart had a depot in Belfast until recently, on one of the most awkward entrances just off the busy Ballygowan-Castlereagh Roads and A55 junction. The entryway beside it for the Spar and Chippy has a Keep Clear, however Unipart’s entryway didn’t. Cue frustrated commuters stuck in the queue, and Unipart van drivers trying to access a blocked entrance and it was a bit of a farce.

    Google streetview

    https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@54.57773,-5.872098,3a,43.8y,245.71h,78.76t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sfe311gZDkVC4Wn1Fbfgqrw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en

    Sadly, recently the site is up for sale.

  4. I had an S series engined Montego and it was terrible for oil leaks, overheating and heavy oil consumption. I often wonder if many people, tired of the original engine, opted for a Unipart Gold Seal once word got out these were more reliable.

  5. I seem to remember the standard S series produced 85 bhp. My old employer had a 1989 Montego 1.6L estate which was quite fast on the open road and apparently didn’t exhibit any oil leaks.

    Yes Unipart Automotive is no more. Its demise was reported on aronline last year. Shame… I remember their old advertising slogan in the 1970’s “The answers yes – now what’s the question?”

      • That’s the problem with having different companies with a similar name.
        Unipart Automotive only has a very tenuous connection with this story.
        What is now Unipart Powertrain remanufactured this engine. Admittedly they don’t remanufactured engines but they are a reasonably large player making parts for automotive engines.
        What is now Unipart Auto-parts distributed the remanufactured engine to the trade counters, the likes of Brown Brothers, Car Lighting Services, Part co and the myriad of local motor factors.

        Both parts of Unipart are still very much alive and well

        This is where the confusion comes.
        In 1999 Unipart bought the trade counter business ‘Partco’. Parco was then rebranded into ‘Unipart Automotive around 2002. 51% of it was sold by Unipart 2011 and subsequently went in administration in 2014. Its the trade counter business which has ceased trading and not the remanufacturing company or the distribution company both of which are still operating.

        As the story is about an engine probably remanufactured in the late 1980’s, the only possible connection that what was then called Partco had might have been to be the final motor factor. Let’s say it’s tenuous at best.

        Hope this makes it clearer

  6. I don’t see how a “Gold Seal” unit can be anymore reliable than a regular production unit, if all it is is a standard unit with the production modifications?

    Grated, it might be more reliable than a unit that has no production upgrades, but if you took the latest BLARG S-Series and the “Gold Seal” equivalent, they’d be identical?

    • Far from it as these were pretty much hand made engines with a lot more time spent on them during build up.

      Every component was hand measured and checked before and during manufacture whereby production units were assembled in a mass produced method with a much lower number being sidelined for quality checks.

  7. You should buy that engine Mike, and give it pride of place in your living room. You coud use a tumble dryer vent to extract fumes when you occasionally crank it up

  8. Looks like a Rover 216 unit spec for a manual EFi, leaded petrol. (LBB 10182E) It will fit other S series vehicles but the backplate would need changing. These engines are excellent, you can always tell a Gold Seal unit because it is painted black all over. I had one in a Maestro that lasted for 150K before the oil seals stopped sealing the oil. Maestro and Montego unleaded ones have an oil filler cap on the cam cover. Good value at £125, mine was £199 in year 2000. They originally retailed for lots, lots more…

  9. The best and worst aspects of the Gold Seal engines were they were painted gold.

    Best – because having a recently fitted gold painted engine was a good selling point on a high mileage used car.

    Worst – because BL’s warranty policy in the 70s and early 80s dictated that a recon engine would be fitted for any failures after 3000 miles. Having an obviously ‘2nd hand’ engine didn’t go down well with owners who’d only had their new car a few months. We used to paint the engines black before fitting if we knew the owner was likely to kick up a fuss.

    There was once a temporary shortage of recon units due to a strike (would be around 1978-9) so some brand new units were diverted down the Gold Seal route. These were painted gold to meet the spec. The irony was we then painted some of these back to black to hide the fact the were recon engines, even though they were actually new engines just made to look like recons….. The madness that went on is unbelievable today.

    There was also a line called Silver Seal which were a cheaper alternative to a Gold Seal unit due to a less rigorous re-manufacturing process.

  10. S series engines still had CI heads with inlet and exhaust ports on the same side. Is that why some people said the Rover 213 was more economical and than the 216? The 213 had the Honda mill.

    An early 1970’s engine was new in 1987. BL/AR, its just depressing. Next was the K series, head gasket failures that went on for 10 years. Its a shame the native industry went down the tubes but in 1987 everybody else apart from the eastern bloc, Russia and some Fords had more advanced engines.
    No wonder in the early and mid 1980’s people were raving about how a Renault or Toyota was approaching 40mpg with power. Good to see the odd BL/AR still running, don’t get me wrong, but a CI head on a new car in the late 1980’s!

  11. Just another quick word about Unipart Powertrain – they are still based at Durbar Avenue, Coventry, in a factory which is a very important part of automotive history. The factory was built by Riley in the 1930’s, later became Morris Engines Number 2 Factory, and then passed to Unipart when Morris Engines closed in 1982. Most of the original buildings still survive. Hence it is one of the oldest factories in the country where automotive products have been manufactured continually since the factory first opened.

  12. An unleaded S series head can be identified by a bulge on the head casting opposite end from the timing belt on the spark plug side. The crate obscures it on the photo.

    When S series was near the end of production, 10,000 where made for stock. I wonder what happened to them.

    I have memories of working on the development of the ULG head at Acocks Green in the late ’80’s.

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