Jensen Motors – The Interceptor years

Part One was certainly all about Alan and Richard Jensen, the cars they designed and built in their pre WWII days and the cars they commissioned via Eric Neale, their Chief Body Engineer, during the 50’s and 60’s. At the same time they guided their company through exponential expansion via the external contracts they won to build Austin Healeys, Volvo P1800s and Sunbeam Tigers.
 
Sadly, from the point of view of the brothers influence on and control of their company, part two is not so much about the brother’s role in the company that they created. It is, however, about, arguably, the greatest period of the Jensen marques existence.
 
Up until the introduction of the ‘new’, or, ‘Italian designed’ Interceptor, in 1967, Jensen  cars had been  built to order at a rate of not more than five per week. Jensen’s existence was only known of by, mainly, car enthusiasts. Although the cars were admired and respected by those who owned or knew of them, they were not particularly aspired to in the same way that, say, Aston Martin was and is.
The stunning CarrozzeriaTouring design for the ‘new’ Interceptor was to change all that. It was a car that grabbed the attention of ‘the man in the street’ even though most could not afford to buy one and even if they could it wasn’t exactly a ‘family runabout’. 
It was a car that began to be seen in advertisements for aspirational goods and in films, in a similar manner to how Aston Martin cars had been shown hitherto. It was a car that put Jensen ‘on the map’ so to speak. 
 
But it was a car that was produced by Jensen in spite of the Jensen brothers and was the beginning of their detachment form the company which bore their name. This is not an unusual situation in commercial life. Also Jensen was not immune from all the maladies which were affecting the British Motor Industry as a whole at that time – poor industrial relations, poor quality and lack of investment. 
What I am intimating, is, that against that overall background together with failing health, the brothers time, of being at the helm of the company, had come; it was not directly related to the fact that they, initially, had not been in favour of ‘going to Italy’ for the design of the next Jensen badged car.
 
Let us go back a step, the brothers and Eric Neale had realised that the CV-8 needed to be replaced as the flagship of the Jensen Motor Company. Eric and his team designed a new car which was given the code name ‘P66’ (the car to be launched in 1966). Prototypes were built and approved, at least by the Jensen brothers. 
The P66 was to be a very different car to the previous 541 – CV-8 models which were Grand Tourers. The new car was more in the mould of a Sports Tourer similar to the Jaguar XJS and Mercedes 250SL. It was to be cheaper than the CV-8 and therefore, hopefully, to be produce and sold in greater numbers, maybe with the U.S. market in mind. 
All this is speculation on my part although the facts seem to fit. In any case it is entirely academic for the reasons set out below.

In 1959 a U.K. Investment Company by the name of ‘Norcross Holdings plc’ had taken control of Jensen Motors Ltd. and although the brothers were still nominally in control of the company they had to consider the views of directors appointed to the ‘board’ by Norcross.
Kevin Beattie the Chief Chassis Engineer, who was later to become Managing Director of the company and Richard Graves, the Sales and Marketing Director, took the view that something more exciting than the fairly uninspiring P66 was required for the next Jensen model. I don’t know the exact train of events but the result was that Kevin and Richard were introduced to Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera who took their brief for a ‘Grand Touring’ car in the true sense of the term and came up with the stunning Interceptor model that we all know and love. It still looks good to day, as do, in fairness, Eric Neale’s 541 models, designed a decade and a half before the Interceptor.
Kevin and Richard were able to convince the ‘Board of Directors’ to back the Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera design and Jensen embarked upon a significantly different journey to that which it had been travelling before. 
Not long afterwards Alan and Richard  resigned from ‘their’ company and a little later Eric Neale did the same. His car designing days had come to an end and Jensen’s days of making fibre glass car bodies were also finished.However sad those departures were, there are few who would not agree that the decision to adopt the Touring design was the correct one.
The initial production bodies were built by Vignale of Italy until production facilities could be established at Jensen’s Kelvin Way, West Bromwich, factory.


Another significant change in ownership of the company occurred in 1970 when
Mr. Qjell Qvale, a Californian based car distributor (he was big in Austin – Healeys in the 1960s), bought the company from Norcross. 
His main reason for doing so was to build a replacement for the Austin – Healey 3000, production of which had ceased in 1967. 
This was achieved, to a degree, in 1972 when the Jensen Healey sports car was launched. 

For more on this story see Part Three of this series of posts (not yet written as of 4th May 2014).
In writing all the above, I have decided that there is going to be a part three to this series; this will be dedicated to the ‘Contracts’ (Austin Healey, Volvo P1800, Sunbeam Tiger and 
Jensen – Healey.)


Here are the images in support of the story  –

 

P66 (planned to have the name ‘Inteceptor’)
Preliminary Details leaflet handed out at 1965 ‘Earls Court Motor Show ( Courtesy Tony Bailey)

The first P66 Prototype was a cabriolet. This car was scrapped when it was decide not to proceed with production.

 

This was the second P66 prototype, a hard top. This car still exist and is owned by a member of the Jensen Owners Club.

 

 

 Special Announcement Re Jensen P66

The annual Classic Car Show was held at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre over the week-end of 13 – 15 November 2015. The Jensen Owners Club had its usual stand there. On the stand this year was Derek Chapman’s recently refurbished Jensen P66 Coupe, the only one ever built!
The reason for this special announcement is to tell you that the P66 was awarded the ‘Car of the Show’ award.
What a well deserved accolade for Derek, the Club, Jensen Motor Company and most of all for the man responsible for the car’s styling, the late Eric Neale.
I was working in Jensen’s Kelvin Way drawing office when ‘Project 66’ (designated to be named ‘Interceptor’ after the 1950 – 54 car) was conceived and built.

In particular I remember Kevin Beattie, the Chief chassis engineer at the time, supervising torsional rigidity tests on the first prototype’s (a soft top/open version) body/chassis assembly.

There was nothing as sophisticated as electronic strain gauges or sensor pads used, there were just a series of long steel bars with weights attached and rulers and protractors for measuring
deflection. I remember the members of staff involved in the tests being delighted with the results.

What I wasn’t privy to at the time were the machinations that were taking place, in the corridors of power, concerning the future of the P66 and ultimately the future of the Company itself. I refer
to this situation in the body of the article below.


The cabriolet version was destroyed once the decision not to proceed with the P66 had been taken. But for some reason the Coupe was allowed to remain intact. 

In 1968 this car was sold to a member of  the public, a dentist named Mr. Atkins of Canterbury U.K. In 1976 this car was auctioned by Bonhams in London and was bought by a Dr. Knapp of New Jersey, USA. It was to remain in the States until 1988 when it was brought back to the U.K. by Jensen Cars Ltd., the company that had risen from the ashes of the original Jensen
Motors Ltd.

Since then it has been owned by Mr. Michael Williams, a member of the Jensen Owners Club and the current owner Mr. Derek Chapman. At the bottom of the page there is a link to Derek’s excellent website dedicated to the Jensen P66.

The end of an Era

Touring’s Logo
Kevin Beattie admiring Touring’s design for the ‘new’ Interceptor
 
Jensen FF Prototype with C-V8 body
courtesy Mike Jones, chief engineer, Jensen 1972 -75
The First Interceptor at Kelvin Way

Mk I 1966 – 69 Interceptor with 6.3 Ltr. Chrysler V8 mated to a Torqueflite Auto transmission. A few manuals were also built. (This example is fitted with non standard wing mirrors)

 
FF (Ferguson Formula – 4WD) 1966 – 71 easily identifiable externally by the additional front wing air vents. The FF is 4 ins longer than the Interceptor in order to accommodate the transfer gearbox. It used the same 6.3 Ltr. V8 engine as the standard car but the chassis frame is different in a number of respects. One, whereas the Intereceptor uses a similar twin centre tube chassis to that used on the C-V8 model, the FF reverted back to using the 541S perimeter tube chassis. This was in order to accommodate the Ferguson four wheel drive transfer box. Also,forward of the front bulkhead is completely different, it incorporates a welded box section tube sub-frame to which the bottom wish bones of the front suspension and an LM25 cast aluminium front differential carrier are mounted. I know this detail because I designed it as a 23 year old.
ff-badge-2
A little snippet – Harry Ferguson Research Ltd. were a little unhappy about all the publicity the Jensen FF car was receiving but without the hoped for attendant spin off to the four wheel drive mechanisms designers. So they requested Jensen to attach a specially designed Ferguson Research badge to the front grille of all Jensen FF models. Because of the late decision the first few cars were not fitted with this badge.
Mk II 1969 – 71Note the higher front bumper with indicator lights set below, flat faced over-riders and different location for side indicators. The biggest difference from the Mk I was the front suspension and facia panel.
One thing that would be immediately noticeable from the rear is the absence of a tailgate release button. The tailgate was released from inside the car.
Mk III 1971 – 76 The most obvious external difference between the Mk II and Mk III is the latter’s alloy wheels.
Initially the Mk III was fitted with the 6.3 Ltr. engine carried over from  the Mk II but Chrysler were struggling to meet emission regulations in the U.S., this caused a reduction in power ,so, in 1974 Jensen started to fit the 7.2Ltr. 440cu.in.) engine, with a four barrel carburetor in order to
maintain the Interceptor’s performance image.


 

Mk III SP 1971 – 73  SP stands for ‘Six Pack’ referring to the the three twin barrel carburetors fitted to the performance version of the 7.2 Ltr. Chrysler engine. The SP was introduce in order to boost the Interceptor’s image as the ultimate performance Grand Tourer. Externally it is differentiated from the standard car by different style alloy wheels, two sets of bonnet (hood in U.S.) louvres and an ‘SP’ badge on the rear quarter panel. Most SPs also had a vinyl roof covering of a contrasting colour to that of the rest of the body.

 

Convertible 1974 – 76  Based on the III series saloon, around 500 Cabriolets cars were made. 

 
Coupe 1975 -76  This model was introduced at the requesof the company’s American owner Kjel Qvale. It was based on the Cabriolet’s body shell. By the time it came into production the company was in receivership and finally closed its doors as a motor car manufacturer in May 1976. Only around 50 coupe’s were produced.
 
What might have been………..
 
The Jensen F Model was developed in 1972 with a 1974 launch date in mind.
This William Towns styled car would have replaced the Interceptor but for unknown reasons, other than financial, these plans did not come to fruition.
I came across the photos, shown above, in the Jensen Motors Archive held in the ‘Modern Records Centre’ at Warwick University. In the same file there was a letter which refers to a company of the name Indestor, based in Turin, Italy.
 
I have obtained the following information, on a non attributable basis, from an authoritative source –
 
“Bill Towns made a 4/10 scale model for the F Type, and then ‘Indestor’ digitized the
exterior of the model to allow C
arrozzeria Coggiola, Torino, to use the digitized data to
make a full size plaster model.  From that plaster model, Motor Panels fabricated steel panels, and then assembled them into 4 prototype body shells, one of which I presume is the one that has been offered for sale on ebay recently.” –
 
 

Apparently this body shell has been purchased by a member of the U.K. Jensen Owners Club. The plan is to preserve the body shell in its current condition and display it at appropriate club sponsored events.

Jensen G Type

 
 

                                        Photos courtesy of Lynx Motor company

The forerunner of what was to become the Jensen – Healey. This car was also styled by William Towns. The story goes that Donald and Geoff Healey vetoed this car in favour of their own design which was launched as the Jensen – Healey. 
It was planned for the G Type to use Chrysler France (Simca) mechanical components including their 2.0Ltr. engine.
It is known that a Dutch Jensen enthusiast bought a bare body shell (the only one?) at the time of the Jensen Motor Company liquidation in 1976. 
He contracted Lynx Motors (famous for its Jaguar XKSS recreations amongst others) to turn the G Type body shell into a road going car. 
It was fitted with a Lotus Excel SE 2.2ltr. engine mated to a Toyota five speed gearbox and modified Ford Escort suspension. It is believed that this car still exists. 

So we come to the close of a glorious story which was created by two talented and ambitious brothers from Birmingham U.K., my own home city. It could be argued that thanks to the cars they created, their current owners, Jensen Owners Clubs around the world, numerous parts suppliers and re-builders together with dedicated historians of the marque such as Richard Calver, Keith Anderson etc. this may turn out to be the most significant chapter. 
The Jensen story is one that motoring enthusiasts delight in telling, reading and listening to. 
Long may it be so.
As followers of the marque know, there have been several attempts to get Jensen cars back into production. The designs themselves have been very promising but the world has moved on since the 1970’s. The volume car producers offer a wide variety of cars, many of which cater for the rarefied tastes of the type of people who used to buy Jensens. In addition there is also a plethora of so called ‘Super cars’ available. Against that background and the almost inevitable under capitalisation of these ‘start ups’ they struggle to survive.
I am afraid that the market is not waiting with, bated breath, for a reborn Jensen. With the passage of time there are less and less people to whom the name Jensen Motors means anything at all.
If a rebirth is going to happen and have any chance of benefiting from fond memories, then it needs to happen now!. 
Before writing these last sentences I researched CPP (Car Prototype Panels) Ltd. Coventry, who announced in 2011 that they were going to build a new Jensen Car on the Browns Lane, Coventry, site previously occupied by Jaguar. Without going into detail that idea can now be regarded as another  ‘pipe dream’. But one day………. you never know!

Another Dimension – a couple of ‘Specials’

Vignale Jensen Nova

This is a 1966 Jensen Nova, a Michelotti designed one-off Vignale fibreglass body.
It is a re-bodied Jensen Interceptor that was shown at the Geneva Motor Show in 1967. 

 Jensen Esperando
Commissioned by a Jensen enthusiast who had been impressed by Lamborghini’s Espada model. The Esperando was designed by Bob Curl, designer of Nomad Racing Cars and built by Hastings Motor Sheet Metal Works.
The Third Part of this Jensen brothers series will deal with the ‘contracts’ as referred to in Part One. 

Links –

Jensen Museum
Jensen Owners Club
Interceptor Mk.1 register

 

Nick
 
 Disclaimer
It is always difficult, when dealing with a historic subject, to access appropriate images. Most of my blog posts involve first hand experience and the photos taken are mine.
With the exception of the one of the Jensen D.O. all the images I have used in this post have been taken from the internet. Very few have been taken from the original source and therefore, on that basis, can be considered to be in ‘the public domain’. 
Where I have been able to trace an image to a clearly definable source I have acknowledged that source.
I do not wish to cause any offence and if anyone who has a legitimate claim to the original of an image I have used and objects to it being used on this site then upon being informed of that objection I will gladly remove such image.