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Jensen Healey

Jensen Healey Published: 9th Dec 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jensen Healey
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This pair of fab ’50’s GTs certainly are the Best of British but the right one for you may well surprise…

Before the Frog-eye came along, anything remotely sporty invariably spelt a big six-cylinder engine housed in a traditional chassis, best personified by the Big Healey and Jaguar’s XK – and there’s nothing wrong in that!

One GT that’s often overlooked comes from Jensen as is often the case with this specialist, due – it is widely believed – that it lacks the sporting heritage of Aston Martin and Jaguar even though the West Midlands outfit can match that pair for performance and prestige.

The 541 is a case in point. A serious rival to Jaguar XK140/150 and the Aston DB2 (and don’t forget the Alvis TD-TF) but for as little as a third of their respective values. Something worth thinking about before you shell out on an XK perhaps?



For this comparison test, we’ll ignore the XK120 as it’s more specialist, way out of the price brackets and it’s a two-seater only where as the Jensen 541 is a 2+2. When the XK140 came along it was made larger to incorporate a pair of very small rear seats – so if space is important the Jensen may be the one for you already and this goes for the driver where despite the increased interior space the XK can still feel cramped.

The XK’s racing pedigree is evident as soon as you open the bonnet and sight the still seductive looking XK engine, which in 3.4-litre (XK140) guise gives a quoted 210bhp with the XK150 250bhp or 265bhp when the engine was enlarged to 3.8-litres – if you believe Jag’s figures!

In contrast, the Jensen relied on a big and beefy Austin 4-litre engine taken from the old Interceptor; a truck-derived Austin unit rated at a more restrained 120bhp, although this was upped to a more respectable 150bhp in the last-of-the-line 541R (although only 43 of the 193 made as Austin had discontinued the engine by now) with the De Luxe of 1956 mid way at around 130bhp.

In terms of appointments the cars are quite evenly matched, boasting rack and pinion steering (on 541R) and disc brakes, although, despite Jaguar’s racing heritage, it was the 541 that became the first British car to have them fitted on all round in 1956. Jensen also had a jump on Jaguar by fitting overdrive as standard on the De Luxe where it was always an option from Browns Lane. Optional automatic transmission was available on both; the 541S used a Rolls-Royce gearbox allied to a limited slip differential and out of nearly 130 made only 22 were conventional manuals.

Trim-wise there’s not much in it as all were tailored to a high standard and nice places to be if still in good condition. The base 541 was dropped in 1958, and the 541R peplaced the 541S in 1960. Similar in appearance, the R had a longer, wider body and provided increased headroom but – rather like the 2+2 E-type – it never emulated the car’s earlier elegance which was certainly one of the best lookers of the 1950s. Jaguar always made the XK as a fixed roof or Roadster yet – despite its fibreglass build – Jensen never made a convertible. However, a handful were made by coach builder Abbots of Farnham and extremely rare they are too!



Despite a fibreglass build, at1422kg the 541 weighs exactly the same as an XK140 Coupé so given the Jaguar’s extra power you’d think would mean a decisive win for the Coventry cat. And if pure pace is your thing then it is, but the 541 significantly scores at high speeds care of its more aerodynamic body; an impressive 0.39Cd was recorded at the Longbridge wind tunnel, further aided by the horizontallypivoted front intake flap which can be dropped down from a control lever under the dash. Add vertigo-inducing tall gearing (Autocar clocked an impressive 125mph from the 541R, well up to XK speeds) and without doubt the Jensen is the most relaxing car to tour in. There again, the 541 doesn’t feel half as sporty as an XK due to that large, lazy, low revving (4250rpm max) engine which is as different as chalk and cheese to the famed XK unit. As a result, harnessing that truck engine to an automatic is not such a bad thing after all.

Again, given the Jaguar’s racing record you’d think the XK was the more sportier drive, especially considering its zestier engines. Not quite because the Jensen boasted near 50/50 weight distribution and gives a good account of itself on twisty roads – we doubt whether an XK would comprehensively blow one away, especially if it still relies on drum brakes – discs not fitted until the XK150 although many have been retrofitted by now.

The XK140 used SE-spec suspension with telescopic rear dampers but the later versions never matched the agility and feel of the nimbler XK120, largely because the weight distribution was altered by moving the engine forward to enable the front seats to be located 3inches further forward so a rear seat could be installed. It’s worth mentioning that – bizarrely – the 541R’s front suspension differs from the rest being designed with Armstrong piston-type dampers instead of the modern telescopic units found on other, lesser versions.

Summing up the pair, yes the XK is the sportier drive and has that sense of occasion only a Jaguar gives but the Jensen has the odd surprise up its sleeve (or should that be wheel arch?).



It’s hardly surprising to learn that, given the legions of specialists and well known owners’ clubs the XK will be prove to be the easiest to run and restore. If you want to deviate from standard as many do, experts such as SNG Barrat is not alone in producing a line of dedicated upgrades. In the case of SNG it includes five-speed transmission conversions, uprated dampers and torsion bars, and better brakes, including a rear disc kit. Added conveniences worth considering include better heaters, modern power steering and superior starters and alternators. And don’t forget, of course, the bucket load of engine upgrades where around 300bhp can be wrung out of the XK if you yearn for a scalded cat which will see even an E-type off.

The Jensen is not half as nearly well catered for but most of what you need is available. Martin Robey can supply most routine servicing parts but says more in-depth spares are difficult as individual cars changed so much over the production run. Andy Brooks of Richard Appleyard (0115 9325320/ is one of the best contacts. He told us that parts supply is like the curate’s egg; good in parts. A fair many engine parts (valves, guides etc) are common to the Big Healey as are stub axles and rear spring shackles. Some small trim parts (such as the chromed front grille surround are almost impossible to source but on the other hand a company in Holland is said to have started to reproduce body panels so restorations are going to be a lot easier.

Rejen, based near Winchester and has recently moved (01962 779556/ produces brand new interior trim for all models; typically a full retrim costs from £6000 upwards. It believes that more Healey parts can be used than most give credit for, adding that Donald Healey himself once slotted in a V8 before the CV-8 was even thought of!


Andy Brooks of specialist Richard Appleyard Parts admits to not exactly being a ‘Jag man’ so it’s not surprising that he would opt for the 541 and, to be more specific, a rare 541 S albeit with manual transmission (it’s the same Moss gearbox used by Jaguar incidentally). The later CV-8 is an entirely different animal and earlier Austin-power is more relaxed. But in general all are fine GTs he told us that – like all Jensens – simply lack the image of a Jaguar or Aston.


For many, the XK will be their only buy and with very good reasons – looks, image, parts availability, uprating potential and last, but not least, soaring values. Yet we wonder how many would equally like a good 541 if they drove one. They perform like an even bigger Big Healey but with better handling plus cruise delightfully and fairly frugally. With less than 550 made all told, these Jensens are much rarer than the Jags will ever be and have a style all of their own. Add considerably keener prices which can be lower than many Healeys, let alone XKs, and this Jensen makes a great choice for those who have outgrown that other Austin-powered sports car and now want a more civilised GT instead.

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