Warwick Healey Archive Bulletin IX



The Healey Jensen Connection

This is where I came in

I am old enough to remember that when we used to go to the cinema or ‘the pictures’ as we used to call it, you could enter at any time as long as there were seats available. Doing so would often mean joining the main film after it had already started, maybe even more than half way through. So, you watched until the end of the film and waited until it was shown again. Then if time was pressing, when the film reached the position you had originally joined it at you would nudge you companion and say “this is where we came in” then make your exit.

That’s how I feel with the topic chosen for this edition of the Bulletin. This is where I joined the Healey story! As I may have mentioned before, I joined Jensen Motors, as a junior draughtsman, at its Carters Green, West Bromwich, factory in 1959. The Austin Healey 100 > 3000 was still the main feature on the vertical ‘layout’ board in the drawing office, despite other projects having been introduced since it first appeared in 1952. Those other products were Jensen’s own car the 541 (the S version by this time), the Volvo P1800 and the Tempo van/mini-bus.  I was assigned to work on both of the latter vehicles and I remember the drawings that I did then very clearly after all these years.

An Austin Healey drawing on Jensen headed paper

Up until a couple of years ago I would have told anybody who asked that I did not do any drawings for either the Jensen or Austin Healey cars. In March 2016 I was invited by Ulric Woodhams curator of the Jensen Museum, Church Stretton, Shropshire, to help him identify 400 plus Jensen drawings that he had bought. They had been rescued in 1976 and then, subsequently, been bundled up in bin liners and left in an attic since that time.  All the drawings carried the Jensen logo but I would say a third of them were drawings of Austin Healey 100 and 3000 body components. This confirmed to me the extent to which Jensen’s drawing office and its chief engineer, Eric Neale, had contributed to the continuous development of the production versions of these cars.                                    As we flicked through these drawings I was able to identify which car they were for, if it wasn’t obvious and in most cases I was able to give the name of the draughstman. There were some names that I didn’t recognise because the draughtsmen concerned were not at the company when I was there. We got to around the three hundred mark and I became very disappointed that we had not come across any of my drawings. Then towards the very end of the pile there was one signed with my recognisable initials, NRM. And guess what? it was a scale layout drawing of the underside of a ‘Big Healey’ showing where fixing holes for brackets holding brake lines etc. should be drilled. So I did produce Austin Healey drawings after all, one at least! (see below). That made my day. It still left the question what happened to all my other drawings? I guess those for the Volvo P1800 would have gone to Sweden when the contract with Jensen was cancelled and production taken back to the home country.

Jensen’s Kelvin Way, West Bromwich, factory and the Jensen FF

I left Carters Green in 1961 to join Ford but rejoined Jensen in early 1965. By this time the Carters Green factory had been closed and all the administration offices, including the the D.O., moved to Jensen’s Kelvin Way, West Bromwich, factory. This is where the Austin Healey bodies had been assembled since 1955, prior to that they were assembled at the the rather cramped Carters Green factory. At Carters Green the Body and Chassis D.O.s were separate and in different locations within the factory but at Kelvin Way both Body and Chassis design functions were carried out in the same office but with strict demarcations as to the skills of the various draughtsmen i.e. you were either a chassis man or a body man.
I worked in the Body office at Caters Green but in the meantime had swopped disciplines on the basis of giving up on any hope of being a car stylist, my original ambition. I was studying mechanical engineering at College so I reasoned that the knowledge gained there was better used in chassis design. When I rejoined Jensen I was given the job of designing the front sub-frame and differential carrier for the famous Jensen FF (Ferguson Formula, four wheel drive) model. In retrospect, although making good progress in my career in the automotive industry, I look back with pride on that Jensen FF sub-frame and cast aluminium front diff. carrier. When I first visited Ulric’s Jensen Museum in Shropshire I was surprised, delighted and amused that he had fitted a glass top to an FF sub-frame to make a coffee table. Brilliant!

Jensen FF front sub-frame turned into a coffee table with the front diff. carrier LM25 casting on top. Courtesty Ulric Woodhams curator and owner of the Jensen Museum, Church Stretton, Shropshire.

Healey Jensen connection – the documents

There are quite a number of documents and drawings in the Warwick Healey Archive which reflect the close relationship that the Donald Healey Motor Company had with Jensen Motors Ltd. By using the word “close” I do not wish to imply ‘buddy – buddy’, I don’t think that it was that type of relationship, it was mostly about business and getting the job done. The first connection came about as a result of Leonard Lord awarding the body building contract for the Austin Healey 100 to Jensen. The second connection resulted from Californian Kjell Qvale, who in 1970 had become the majority shareholder of Jensen Motors, contacting Donald with a view to designing and producing a car that would fill the gap left by the demise of the Austin Healey 3000. Donald and son Geoffrey (mostly the latter) had already been working on this idea and had some designs and a prototype to show Mr. Qvale. As we now know that car became the ill fated Jensen-Healey. I had left the company well before then as had the Jensen brothers, Alan and Richard and their long serving Chief designer, Eric Neale. They had all resigned within months of each other in 1966, before the launch of the Italian designed Interceptor model.
As I say, there are many documents and drawings in the Warwick Healey archive which tell their own story about these two periods of the Healey Jensen connection. I am going to share some of them with you here –

The Austin Healey years

**CR4804/2/16 Letter from GCH to Mr Blakey, Austin Motor Company, re costings for AH 100
** CR4804/2/16 Agenda notes from DHM re a meeting with Austin Motor Company.
** CR4883/1 Jensen drawing, by Nick Maltby, showing hole locations, in Austin Healey BN4 & BN6 chassis, for pipe and cable clips.
Austin Healey 3000 bodies being assembled at Jensen’s Kelvin Way factory with Jensen C-V8s being assemble alongside. Photo courtesy of the Birmingham Mail
Annotated aerial view of the Jensen Motors Kelvin Way, West Bromwich factory. Courtesty of Mr. Felix Klister, Secretary of the Jensen Owners Club, Switzerland.

The Jensen – Healey years

The Healey X500 project

** CR4804/2/198 &199 The Healey X500 project prototype. Donald and Geoffrey had already anticipated the end of the ‘Big Healey’ contract with British Leyland and had started looking at a replacement. Eventually this turned into the Jensen-Healey. But the X500 was pre Jensen and Kjell Qvale.

**CR4804/2/200 Clay models produced by Hugo Poole for the Jensen – Healey. These particular designs were not ‘bought off ‘ by Kjell Qvale.

** CR4804/2/201 Another design for the Jensen-Healey this time by William Towns. Again this design wasn’t accepted but Towns was invited to restyle the front and rear ends of the Jensen prototype, see photos below.

** CR4804/1/23 Notes from Jensen Board Meeting.
The First Jensen produced J-H prototype produced after much burning of the ‘mid-night oil, hence the toasting of the achievement of getting it ready on time with Champagne in crock mugs! This photograph was taken in the Experimental department with which I was very familiar. I knew the the majority of the men in the photo. They are from left to right – Alan Belcher, son of Joe, R.peckover, C. Edwards, B Clee, Horace Sayers, J. Wright, Les Oldnall, Peter Churm, R. Groom, Frank Jones, G. Birch, Joe Belcher Body Shop foreman, Brian Spicer Cheif Engineer, Vic Parsons, Chassis Shop foreman, Harry Cottell, John Moore, M. Davies, Joe Darby, Stan Greatorex, development driver, Peter Robinson, Ian Skidmore, S. Dyson. Despite all the hard work, this prototype had to be revised particularly at the front end, to improve aerodynamics.


Yet more celbrations – for the management this time. Kevin Beattie, Engineering Director, is second from the right. Third from the left is Barry Bilbie, the chassis designer who was with DMHCo. for many years.
** CR4804/3/175 DMH at Jensen Motors Headquarters, Kelvin Way , West Bromwich, with production Jensen-Healeys in the background.
** CR4804/2/205 Jensen-Healey on the forecourt of the Donald Healey Motor Company Showroom and works at Coten End, Warwick


Yet another Healey Jensen Connection

Ex Donald Healey Jensen 541 S fitted with a ‘Short Block’ Chevrolet V8 engine. Photographed outside what was left of the DHMCo. ‘Cape works’ Warwick, in 1995′.              JME Healeys currently occupy a section of the old site.

There is much speculation as to why DMH wanted to fit a Chevrolet V8 into a Jensen 541 S car. Here are some of the known facts –

  • Jensen had a history of fitting American V8s (Fords) to its cars before WWII but apart from a ‘one off’ order from an American customer they had not carried that idea into 541 production.
  • DMH and Caroll Shelby were friends, Caroll had driven for Donald in the Record Breaking attempts in the 1950s. One could imagine Caroll sharing his thoughts with Donald about fitting an American V8 into a British chassis.
  • In the early fifties DMHCo. had supplied a couple of Healey Silverstones to Briggs Cunningham for him to fit Cadillac 33i cu.ins. V8s.
  • Then there is just the sheer logic of it all. Donald needed a ‘Grand Tourer’ for his frequent commutes between Trebah, Cornwall and Warwick. The 541 had already established such a reputation with its Austin ‘lorry’ engine, why not take it to the next stage with a bit of typical Healey imagination?

So, in May 1962, a Jensen 541 S, without engine or gearbox, was delivered to The Cape works, Warwick, where it was soon fitted with the Chevrolet 327 cu. ins.V8 engine and automatic transmission.                                                                     This car still exists and is the pride and joy of a JOC member. For the full story visit the Jensen Museum link at the bottom of the page.

The items (marked thus**) are credited on the website as ‘Part of the Warwick Healey Motor Company Archive held at Warwickshire County Record Office.’

For guidance on ordering copies visit – http://heritage.warwickshire.gov.uk/warwickshire-county-record-office/county-record-office-services/county-record-office-copying-services/

Note: –

As I keep flicking back and forth checking facts with the Warwick Healey Archive catalogue, I find myself saying “this or that item would be good to use in the Bulletin”.  And then I have to remind myself that the purpose of the Bulletin is to only give a glimpse of the kind of material that is in the archive: it is not to reveal all material that is relevant to any particular topic.

The whole purpose of the Bulletin is to encourage Healey enthusiasts and researchers to either visit the archive itself, in Warwick, or to order items of particular interest after viewing the ‘online’ catalogue.

Researchers not residing in the U.K. might wish to use the services of a local (to Warwick, U.K.) independent researcher to do the ‘spade work’ for them. There is of course a charge for this work. I have an affiliate who has recently undertaken such work on behalf of a prominent U.S. author.

If you would like to avail yourself of this service please contact me at –warwick.healeyarchive@carsceneinternational.com

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