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Jensen 541/CV-8

Published: 13th Jun 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jensen 541/CV-8
Jensen 541/CV-8
Jensen 541/CV-8

Buyer Beware

The 541’s steel chassis can rot badly, although damage is usually focused away from the nose of the car. You’ll still need to take a look at the tubular steel framework forward of the front bulkhead.

The key rot spots are the cylindrical side members, which rot from the inside out. While you’re underneath look at the mounting points for the rear leaf springs.

The panelwork doesn’t usually give problems, but it can crack and craze; refurbishing the bodyshell will typically cost up to £5000 to rectify.

The Austin-derived straight-six provides miles of motoring. You can’t just slot in a six-pot engine from an Austin truck, as they’re not interchangeable with the Jensen powerplant; the block and head both differed. Ditto a 3-litre Healey unit isn’t a straight swap.

In terms of general wear, the most likely malady is worn main bearings or piston rings and heads can crack.

While the 541 and DeLuxe had cam-and-roller steering, R and S derivatives featured a rack-and-pinion set-up. However, while the R featured a left-hand drive MG Magnette rack (mounted upside-down), the S has a bespoke rack that’s impossible to replace, it’s said.

The front suspension is Austin A90-derived, apart from the 541S’s, which comes from the larger A110 range. The biggest problem is with the 541R, which suffers from a weak stub axle design. The best solution is to fit Austin-Healey racing spec parts.

The rear suspension is basically durable. Potentially the biggest problem though is worn spring shackles, which can lead to the springs making contact with the chassis. Incidentally, there’s a grease point on each outer wheel bearing at the rear. It often gets missed at service time.

All 541s featured a brake servo as standard, and the Clayton-Dewandre item fitted to the 541 and DeLuxe is now hard to find. However, the Lockheed unit of the R and S can be rebuilt for just £200 or so.

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The Household HEALEY

Austin-powered, they share the same character but there’s also room for four in comfort with the Jensen. So what’s not to like?

Ever wished for a Big Healey but more family-sized and refined? Well there is one but it’s not made by Austin-Healey – try Jensen who tied up with Healey to make the Jensen-Healey back in the 1970s.

And if you thought that Jensen only made those suave 60’s Interceptors, then think again. The Jensen 541, and the later CV8 are earthy, manly old guard GTs of the 50s just like the Austin-Healey (of which it shares some parts) and can be almost as easy to own and run.

Not that these Jensens were Healey crude when made during the same decades. Can you name the first production four-seater to be offered with all-round disc brakes? Or the first car fitted with front seat belts as standard? Or how about the first production car to feature glassfibre bodywork?


Not only are we looking at the strain of 541s (why did the model get this name?-ed) but also the overlooked CV-8 replacement. The 541 was a rival to upper crust Brits like Alvis and Bristol and said to have taken just six months to develop. By April 1953, a brand new chassis had been designed, with the engine set well back to even out the weight distribution. Fuel tanks were located beneath each rear seat for the same reason with the steering and suspension loosely based on the Austin A70.

The first cars, which didn’t reach owners until 1955, featured a 117bhp engine, stopped by drum brakes, but the 541 DeLuxe that debuted in October 1956, thankfully had discs. The 541R of 1957, utilised the Princess (DS7) limousine’s twin-carb engine upped to 140bhp with an overdrive gearbox.

The final incarnation of the 541 was the 541S in 1960 boasting a more spacious interior, restyled nose (there was now a grille instead of that distinctive nose-mounted flap – see main pic) a move to automatic transmission and extra standard kit.

By January 1963 541S production had ceased, the car being superseded by the CV-8, which had been introduced a year earlier.

Experts say that the best 541 is the R, the ‘worst’ (if there is such a thing) the automatic S and the first version is the most keenly priced, although in the end it all majors on a car’s condition, we feel.

And the C-V8? Well it’s more than a bigged up, beefed up 541 for sure! Chief change is the new 305bhp Chrysler Golden Commando 5.9-litre V8 saddled with a Torqueflite automatic. Almost as fast as an Aston DB4, it’s slightly bigger than the 541 and more a cut-price Aston than household Big Healey but common to all Jensens of the pre Interceptor era are their remarkable value for money; a 541 is probably cheaper than a comparable Big Healey while top end CV-8s sell for not much more than £25,000. In fact, we saw a really tidy example sell at a recent Brooklands auction for just £14,000 – great value but with just 546 examples of the various 541s made, when examples do come onto the market they’re either cheap £5000 projects (which few people want to take on due to the perceived cost of rebuilds) or they’re very good cars which can be too costly for the casual enthusiast to contemplate.


When it comes to these Jensens, it’s all torque you know! Drive a 541, let alone a CV-8, and you’ll know exactly what we mean. Armed with mountains of the stuff, these Jensens are some of the most relaxing, easy-driving GTs ever.

Quick enough too. When Autocar drove the 541R in 1958 it was the fastest four-seater the magazine had ever tested, and when rival Motor put the original press car through its paces, the conclusion was that it offered “fast motoring the easy way”.

Handling is in tune with its era but the ride could be better and the steering (with just 2.5 turns lock-to-lock) is heavy enough to consider an electric power steering conversion. Later cars are more reassuring to drive with their all-disc brakes, but all 541s are surprisingly refined at speed thanks to the thick glassfibre panels, a well trimmed interior and tall gearing.


With a fuel consumption of just 13mpg or so for the thirsty C-V8, hardly but the Austin-powered cars fare much better, especially on a run with overdrive; overall they are as juicy as a normal Healey.

The 541’s Austin-derived straight six provides effortless motoring as it is geared to give around 30mph/1000rpm in top. Healey-like to drive, expect heavy controls although the Jensen is far more comfortable and quieter than that Austin sports car as you’d expect. While the car can be regarded as a genuine 2+2, it’s not especially roomy for today’s larger frames and the high set driving position also cuts space if you’re taller than usual.

It’s worth fitting front discs to early cars, although rear discs aren’t worth the trouble; Volvo 240 front callipers fit nicely we understand and cheaper than original spec.

Thankfully, the steering can be made lighter with an electric Vauxhall Corsa rack or an electrically pumped, power steering system (Astra pump plus Jaguar rack).

Just don’t fit a smaller steering wheel with an original steering rack or box – parking will go from difficult to impossible!

Better headlight units are worth fitting too. It’s a standard conversion, so is an alternator, which is especially worthwhile when an electric power steering conversion is fitted. While you’re doing that, it’s worth changing to a negative earth system, to use modern gadgetry more easily.


The simple make up of these old Jensens means there can’t be simpler super cars to maintain at home – even the V8 is as easy as an A-Series Minor engine to look after.

Martin Robey (024 7638 6903) is one of the leading lights in all things Jensen and after taking over the company in 1993 is the official parts supplier. And apart from spares and advice, he can also trace the history of virtually every car as well as provide a certificate of authenticity.

While the plastic body can’t rust the chassis makes up for it – new chassis tube rails can cost £3000 per side to fix and because they act as vacuum pipe for the brake servo, it’s worth rigging up a conventional set up as many owners have done because if they do become punctured by rot, the brake performance is affected…

In contrast, the mechanicals are inexpensive – used V8s can be picked up for less than £500 for example.

Polyurethane bushes are worth fitting when rebuilding the suspension as are an anti roll bar along with coil over shock absorbers at the back. Original thermostats are now hard to find we’re told, so fitting a modern design is a good idea even if it requires minor modifications to the cooling system. Thankfully, the Jensen Owners’ Club can help with this, as it’s a popular and practical upgrade, along with other worthwhile mods for modern motoring.

We Reckon...

Like all post war Jensens, the 541 and the CV-8 remain seriously underrated prestige classics. We've mentioned the ‘family-sized’ Healey analogy more than enough times in this feature and with justification. However, they also make creditable left field alternatives to an XK Jag, Alvis and even an Aston Martin yet for much less cost.

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