- The biggest problem when vetting a Jensen is bodging due to the car’s minimal worth. Very few owners are willing to shell out E-type restoration budgets and so cheapskate repairs are rife.
- Interceptors rust - badly. Look for rust everywhere from about six inches up! Particular concerns include front and rear valances, which can virtually disintegrate unseen. Leaky water seals and damp carpets could spell rotting floor pan/ boot floor problems.
- Chassis tube rot isn’t an issue on two-wheel drive versions, but those on the FF mounted on the outer edge of the chassis act as vacuum chambers for the brakes and this isn’t good news if they are rotten to the core…
- Externally, look for rusty bonnets (hinge mount rust is bad news), crusty front wing tips and cruddy air intakes behind the front wheel arch. Inner wings can let go and the door bottoms invariably rot out. Those sexy stainless steel sill covers can hide buckets of rust and it’s worth looking for rear wing and fuel filler area deterioration while you are checking.
- Mechanically the Jensen is pretty okay. These cars are mechanically tough but look for signs of overheating from those V8s plus low water levels - and make sure the car runs to temperature. Cracked exhaust manifolds are common (they cost about £200 to replace), and the car’s low slung stance means damage to the system is all too common.
- Look for rear suspension settling, as tired springs are a familiar malady. Check for fluid weeping form the power steering rack. Seepage from ancillary piping and track rod ends is common and if the rack has to come off then this is labour intensive and costly.
- Watch for electrical woes caused by failing wiring. The under bonnet area gets very hot, so wire insulation can harden and perish over time. Ignition-related electrics are a particular weakness for the same reason.
- Parts supply isn’t too bad, with most mechanical bits and panels fairly easily available if you look hard enough. A bonnet can be had for a monkey (£500) - but if it’s for an FF then multiply this by five times because the lid is unique for that car and not interchangeable. The car is well served by specilaist such as Martin Robey who has details of every Interceptor on record and a great help to trace any car’s history.
Not as sporty as Ferrari but a good GT. FF offers modern grip but coarse.
Hatchback makes the car surprisingly usable – economy less so!
Parts supply is improving, the trouble is wide-scale neglect.
Economy is dire but no worse than a DB or V12 E-type to be fair.
Opinions differ but we reckon they are superb value. Buy now is our advice!
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Has any classic supercar represented such great value for money, asks Robert Couldwell
The Jensen brothers formed Jensen Motors in 1937 as coach-builders of cars and later trucks. Its first grand touring car was also the first Interceptor a two-door coach-built car which sold in very small numbers. The Interceptor of the 1960s split the company, the Jensen brothers and the chief stylist leaving as they wanted a cheaper higher volume car to utilise the factory and not another expensive luxury car.
The Interceptor was launched in 1966 using Carrozzeria Touring designed, Vignale-built all-steel body work with the 325 bhp V8 and a Torqueflite automatic gearbox carried over from the CV8. The Vignale-built fullytrimmed body shells failed Jensen’s quality control and production soon moved to West Bromwich.
Sounds good and yet for almost 50 years the Jensen, along with the FF and SP derivatives, has consistently failed to achieve real classic status, this despite the fact that it was the choice of celebs over an Aston or E-type. Is it time that we appreciated the ‘Birmingham Ferrari’?
What model to buy
It was perhaps a good thing that Jensen’s chief stylist had left as the design of the Interceptor was a major leap from the rather quirky but lovable CV8. Most would agree that it still looks good today with a finely balanced outline yet with the practicality of a hatchback. It was a time of putting large lightly-stressed American engines into coach-built British cars such as the Bristol 409, Gordon- Keeble GK1 and the AC 427/428. As Bristol found when it tried to develop a new high performance engine in the early sixties, small manufacturers just couldn’t afford the development costs of their own engines and gearboxes.
When launched, the Interceptor, later to be known as the Mk1 utilised the same Chrysler 6276 cc V8 as the outgoing CV8 with the same Torqueflite automatic gearbox although a few manual gearbox versions were made. It is said that the Interceptor’s styling was based on the Brazilian Brasinca Uirapuru, one of those facts that not a lot of people know.
The unitary construction Interceptor was conventional with disc brakes all round, rack and pinion power steering, independent coil-spring/wishbone front suspension and a live rear axle on leaf springs. At 15’8” this was a large and imposing car with room for four adults. Thanks to 325 bhp and 425 lb ft of torque, the Interceptor posted tremendous performance for its era not fully illustrated by the 0-60 of 6.5 seconds and a maximum of nearly 140mph. The really useful grunt was in the mid-range sector allowing lines of cars to be despatched in one go. The Mk II was launched in 1969 with ventilated front discs, revised front and rear styling.
There was, more importantly, a completely new interior and dashboard incorporating a glove box. Air con was now offered as an optional extra. The wheels changed, still Rostyles but now 6J x 15” with a chrome centre section and a silver grey painted rim. The Mk 111 was launched in 1971 with cast alloy wheels, 10.75” ventilated discs, revised seats and in 1973, the capacity of the trusty, lusty Chrysler V8 was increased to a whopping 7212 cc to offset the increasing emission regulation. But despite the extra litre, powerwas increased by just 5bhp and some believe that the earlier engine feels more alive – a characteristic shared with the 3.8 and 4.2-litre Jaguar units.
There was compensation as Jensen created the SP at the same time with 385 bhp and a massive 490lbs ft of torque thanks to a compression ratio of 10.3:1 and three twin-choke carburettors. This produced 0-60 in 6.9 seconds, 100 in 16.8 a 145mph maximum and the fuel consumption of a jumbo jet. It was the most luxurious Interceptor produced with every available option fitted including a Lear-Jet eight-track player, special alloy wheels and upgraded interior.
From the beginning the Interceptor was available as the FF standing for Ferguson Formula (yes, that is the tractor man). With this version Jensen was one of the first manufacturers to offer all-wheel drive in a production road car. It was also in the forefront in featuring anti-lock braking and traction control which both worked well. The FF can be easily recognised by its four inch longer wheel base, brushed aluminium roof, bonnet scoop and twin side vents later adopted in the SP. Just 320 were built the last in 1971. By 1974 Jensen bucked the trend and introduced a beautiful convertible with a power hood and over the next two years managed to sell 467 before the firm closed. As to which to choose it will come down, as is so often the case, to cost. Any version providing it hasbeen properly re-built and its underside properly protected will give a great deal of pleasure although a lot of time will be spent at the petrol pumps and in the bank manager’s office. Imagine a late convertible, hood down heading towards the French Riviera along the old D roads with a pretty girl in the passenger seat – nothing available new today competes. If you have the money how about one of the remanufactured cars being created by Carphone Warehouse owner, Charles Dunstone which he reckons are capable of 20+ mpg using current engines (a Chevrolet unit) and today’s software. It’s called the Interceptor R from Jensen International Automotive – at £105,000 mind. On the other hand a good Interceptor can be had for around £15-20,000; anything less is usually false economy and there are plenty of ten grand models out there. What sort of E-type or Aston will that net you?
Behind the wheel?
Jensen Interceptors can’t stay this cheap for much longer
The old saying applies here; there is no substitute for ‘horses’ and all these cars have plenty of those. There is something about the feel and sound of a simple, large American V8 which no highly sophisticated expensive European multi-cylinder engine can match. The noise starts at tickover as a ‘wuffle’ and rapidly develops into a howl that raises the neck hairs till they are taut. When driving like this, it is good to know that these engines,thanks to their rugged build and simplicity do not cost a fortune to re-build unlike the similar powered engines from the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini.
These are big heavy cars with traditional suspension systems so it is a matter of slow in - fast out to get the best from the handling. Fortunately, those big discs all round and ventilated in the later cars are well up to the job. Thanks to the high levels of insulation and thick carpets these are quiet cars and restful on long motorway runs. Four adults, providing those in the back are not too large, can be comfortable and there is a decent boot with the benefit of a hatch; rare at this level. The Interceptor has the same engine and gearbox as contemporary Bristols so it is no surprise that the driving experience is similar although the Jensen is more film star and the Bristol more landed gentry.
The FF was praised in its day as being one of the most advanced and capable cars on the road – which it certainly was care of its four-wheel drive transmission and anti-lock brakes, all stuff we take for granted these days. However if you’re expecting Toyota RAV4 refinement think again as it’s a clunky old set up as you’d expect from a tractor maker (FF stands for Ferguson Formula).
The daily option?
Come on – hardly! Unless you’ve won the lottery this Jensen will be as impractical as it is costly with fuel returns barely making 15mpg. If you on the other hand you have a pile, an Interceptor will make a perfect daily driver, whether comfortably cosseted in a traffic jam or out on the open road enjoying that effortless power and smooth if slushy, slow going automatic gearbox. You will certainly lose the hot Golf and Focus at the traffic lights although that sort of behaviour is not appropriate to this class of car. Well, isn’t it?
A lot of servicing can be DIY as many of the parts are proprietary and fairly simple – the engine being a typical low rev American V8. The body construction is such that it is foolhardy taking these cars out in the depths of winter with salt covered roads and constant doses of Waxoyl or other similar products are essential.
Ease of ownership
Again if you have the money ownership is totally straightforward and it will certainly cost a lot less to run a Jensen or for that matter a Bristol or a Gordon-Keeble than a Ferrari, Maserati or Lamborghini. There are many specialists, such as Martin Robey and Cropredy Garage and parts supply is excellent as the running gear was used by several manufacturers.
However as one leading specialist warned us, the trouble with these old Jensens is that far too many have been bought by chancers on a shoestring which means years of neglect and cut price repairs.
Using a specialist for any classic is always a good idea but a Jensen could easily be maintained by any competent garage. Classic car Insurance is likely to cost no more than a modern hatchback and of course, the vast majority Interceptors are road fund licence exempt.
Spare parts can be expensive but on the other hand there’s sadly a good number of scrappy Interceptors around that are only good for parts. If you have the space and the inclination then you could always break one for spares to provide low cost motoring for years to come. It’s a thought…
Inteceptor/FF launched using CV8 running gear with stylish new sports hatch body from Touring of Italy. Power comes from trusty 6.3 V8 Chrysler engine fed via automatic transmission though some manuals were made.
SII cars introduced with many refinements plus a better ventilation set up. Also power steering, previously optional is now standard. A lifestyle version called Director is made, complete with a built in typewriter!
Advanced and adventurous four-wheel drive FF model is killed off due to lack of interest, high production costs and reliability woes after just 320 examples are produced.
SIII is ushered in with a new rear seat design and a massive 7.2-litre V8. Car known as SP – six pack thanks to its number of carbs employed to give 385bhp although many say the earlier engine was more 'alive'.
Engine slightly derated and a very suave drophead was introduced to widen the car's appeal, as a was a strange looking booted version. Jensen stopped making cars in 1976 although production was restarted in 1982.
Probably because of its considerable thirst, the Jensen Interceptor remains a much underrated car offering great style, superb comfort, prodigious performance and pure pedigree. Actually, we don't go along with the mpg myth that's been pedalled too long… Does such thirst put people off Astons or V12 E-types? Of course not! And don't let it sway you from one of the best GT bargains around that can't stay this cheap forever!
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