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Jensen Healey

Published: 1st Nov 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jensen Healey
Jensen Healey
Jensen Healey
Jensen Healey
Jensen Healey

Buyer Beware

The pressed-steel monocoque can rot badly and few original cars are left; the low values of Jensen-Healeys means that they’re often bodged rather than repaired properly.

To restore the all-important sills, the front and rear wings need to be removed, although they’re bolted on. As the lower portion of each wing also rusts, it’s usually necessary to replace these too.

If major corrosion has spread into the fl oors, then it’s time for a major rebuild, which even though values are rising will cost far more than the car will ever be worth.

The all-alloy twin-cam engine is now pretty tough if looked after, but Lotus lump won’t tolerate neglect. The engines used in the MkI car were notoriously fragile; a much stronger casting was designed for Mk2 cars and Lotus models.

None of the interior trim is available new, and it’s now hard to find decent used bits. By the time a car is broken for spares, its interior trim is usually beyond redemption - or already spoken for.

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No, not that Healey, but the 1970’s Jensen replacement, which, apart from the name, has nothing in common with the classic Austin. But the Lotus-powered Jensen-Healey may stil be right up your street believes Alan Anderson

A Triumph Spitfire on steroids hardly seemed like Donald Healey’s ideal vision of a hairy-chested sports car for the 1970s, to replace his iconic Austin roadster. But, in all honesty, what did we expect – another Big Healey?

The Jensen-Healey has always been a misunderstood and overlooked classic sports car, despite its impressive pedigree, comprising of that Healey name, Lotus power, plus build by Jensen! Thankfully, 41 years on, the car is being seen in a much better light, and not before time. If you’ve had your fill of MGBs and TRs and yearn for something new, but can’t stretch to a Lotus, then the J-H may now be the perfect answer. Read why!


There were essentially two derivatives of Jensen-Healey made over four short years, the original Roadster and then the later sports hatch GT, which saw out the production by 1976, after a turgid life.

As expected, there are more of the Roadsters around (10,926 made and 7700 went to the States) than the GTs, which were only in production for a year to be fair (473 built). It depends what you want from a sports car, of course, but the GT was the better developed of the pair and decidedly the more luxurious.

The original Jensen-Healey was a bit of a rough diamond and it lasted only two years, before a much needed cosmetic and mechanical revamp took place, the most important changes being an improved and more durable Lotus 2-litre engine; it had yet to power anything from Hethel – and came without any warranty from Lotus!

Power was originally planned to come from Vauxhall’s latest 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, seen in Firenza SL Sport, Magnums and VX4/90s, and was the basic engine that Lotus used to make its own. However, the Luton powerhouse wasn’t emission friendly, or powerful enough in standard tune. The rest of the running gear was Vauxhall Firenza-based, mind, but the car used a Sunbeam Rapier transmission.

The MkII featured more refinement thanks to a wood-grain finish for the dash and better soundproofing. A Getrag fivespeed gearbox replaced the previous fourspeed unit in late 1973; the extra ratio was a bonus but the best bit was the greater durability of this new box of cogs. In a bid to widen the car’s appeal, a rather delightful sports estate was launched in July 1975. Called the Jensen GT, there were no Healey references whatsoever because Donald Healey had walked away from the project by this time.

J-Hs used to be given away as projects for a few hundred pounds, but that’s all changed now. Five figure sums for the bestof- the-best aren’t that far away; £8000 buys a top car and even decent ones leave little change from £5000 – the times really have changed! But you can take a punt that, in a decade’s time, we’ll all be eyeing a Jensen- Healey with no small slice envy.


A car made for the 1970s, so it’s no surprise to learn that the Jensen-Healey feels right from the moment you strap yourself into the heavily bolstered seats, with your legs fl at out to the pedals. The steering wheel is also shaped so that your hands fall in the time-honoured 10-to-2 position; special hand grips helping here. It feels completely different to, say an MGB or TR, far more modern and comfortable. The early cars featured a rather slick, if suspect, Sunbeam Rapier H120 four-speed gearbox, which has a nicer action than the later heavy-handed (if superior) Getrag unit, with the useful added cruising ratio.

The Vauxhall Viva/Magnum was one of the best handling cars of its type, and its abilities were transferred to the J-H, while the ride is excellent for a sports car, almost too much so, as the chassis is set up more for comfort than all-out sports car handling. And then there’s the engine, of course! On paper it promises a hell of a lot 40 years on and, to be fair, if in good order and tune it certainly goes well enough, although the twin-cam four becomes rather harsh at high revs. Nevertheless, 140bhp in standard guise ensures that a good Jensen-Healey will blow a typical TR6 away with fair ease, even if it doesn’t sound as nice!

There are many badly sorted Jensen- Healeys around, thanks to their gutter prices, but a well set up car is an absolute delight to drive, and far more modern than an MGB or TR; it’s more like a British Alfa Romeo Spider – or an interpretation of a ‘new’ Lotus Elan, before the MX-5 came along and that can’t be bad, can it?


Thanks to its mix-and-match of mechanical parts (Vauxhall and Chrysler) the Jensen- Healey is easier to maintain than its make up suggests. More spares are being made with the help of an enthusiastic owners’ club and Jensen specialist Martin Robey, although good trim is scarce and likely to remain so.

The Lotus engine was greatly improved over time and served Chapman’s company well into the 1980s, so it’s easy to swap to a later unit and also gain improved torque from a 2.2-litre motor (made after 1979) although will never be cheap to keep sweet (cambelt changes are critical) or repair – nor is the Getrag transmission for that matter.

If the worst comes to the worst (and these engines are becoming pricey to buy so best buy a complete basket case Eclat for spares) you can always substitute it for a Vauxhall unit which drops straight in, or perhaps slot in a V8 to make an interesting Stag alternative – has anyone done this? Regular dousing with Waxoyl is a wise move and a sensible owner fits electronic ignition, as well as an uprated radiator – two items we feel are pretty much essential on any classic to be fair.


Don’t expect MGB-like dependability or ‘fix-ability’ here. If the engine is in good tune (and those twin choke Dellortos usually aren’t as they need specialist attention to get them spot on, plus are mega dear to properly overhaul), then you can expect 20-25mpg - but most more the low 20s.

In terms of civility, it’s understandably better than the older, antiquated, MGB and on par with, for example, a TR7, and just as roomy. Jensens equipped with five-speed transmissions are much more restful, and quite okay for modern roads. The later the car, the more substantial the kit, and the GTs feel nicely plush and are good sporty holdalls, feeling akin to a posher MGB GT or GT6.

We Reckon...

Let’s have a spot of classic car crystal ball gazing! Four decades after its much hyped launch, we can see the Jensen-Healey becoming the cult car those iconic names suggested – just look at the car’s pedigree if you still don’t believe us! It’s a bit of a classic car cliche to say that ‘the time to buy is now’, but in the case of Donald’s dream sports car, we feel that it’s more applicable than in other cases.

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