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Jensen Interceptor/FF

Jensen Interceptor/FF Published: 15th Dec 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jensen Interceptor/FF

Fast Facts

  • Best model: MkII 6.3
  • Worst model: Anything bodged
  • Budget buy: None anymore
  • OK for unleaded?: Possibly
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 4720 x W 1750
  • Spares situation: Impressively good
  • DIY ease?: Better than you’d imagine
  • Club support: Extremely good
  • Appreciating asset?: We all should have really bought one years ago!
  • Good buy or good-bye?: A true Gentleman’s GT
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Strangely ignored prestige GT that’s now coming into its own as cheaper, as good, alternative to an Aston but there’s too many badly cared for ones around

Without wishing to say we told you so, Classic Motoring predicted that the Jensen Interceptor would soar in values and appreciation a good ten years ago. Agreed, it may have taken half a century for the ‘Birmingham Ferrari’ to achieve the genuine classic status it’s so richly deserved for a decade at least, but the Interceptor is now right up there with Astons and that Italian car marker yet it’s still one of the lowest valued prestige classic you can buy yet it’s also one of the easiest to own – all strong reasons why you should buy now before values well and truly head further up the M1.

The Interceptor may have had rather more in common with its angry-faced C-V8 predecessor than Jensen would care to admit, but with such an all-new sharp suited Italian body that was years ahead of the game, it didn’t matter that the mechanicals were surprisingly low-tech (a positive benefit for a classic car).

Besides, if you wanted cutting-edge technology, there was always the fourwheel drive FF – developed in conjunction with tractor maker Harry Ferguson and, dare we suggest, the blueprint for Audi’s mould-braking Quattro of more than a decade later – to opt for.

History

1966 At launch, the Interceptor packed a 6.3-litre Chrysler V8, which like the chassis, was a carry-over from the CV-8. Styling was by Touring, with assistance from Vignale, the latter also building the earliest cars.

1967 However, Jensen took the decision as early as less than a year into the production to take building in-house, in a bid to improve some disappointing quality control and also contain costs. After all, anyone shelling out £3750 on their new Interceptor had a right to perfection – not that they got this…

In fact, the advanced FF proved to be so unreliable that Jensen soon gave up on this Ferguson Formula four-wheel drive, Dunlop anti-lock braked supercar, after five years of trying, in a bid to make it all work properly.

Carrying a £600 premium over an equivalent Interceptor, the FF’s body was stretched by four inches, all ahead of the windscreen – where the extra space was used to accommodate the 4x4 transfer gears for sending the drive to the front wheels. These four-wheel drive editions are distinguishable by their dual air vents behind each front wheel; the Interceptor features just the one.

1969 Inevitably Jensen announced a revised Interceptor, the MkII although changes were generally fairly slight, restricted to a re-profiled nose, and a higher quality interior. More useful though were better brakes and the standard fitment of power steering, which most of today’s classic owners will feel absolutely necessary on a supercar with that huge cast-iron lump of a V8 residing over the front axle. This welcome chassis revision also resulted in a new front suspension, now boasting telescopic dampers all round.

1971 Bi-annual development continued, with the MkIII appearing in time for London motor show. The futuristic but fickle FF was dropped in favour of the new SP (six-pack, donating six sexy Holley carburettors) model as Jensen’s flagship. While the regular MkIII Interceptor produced around 300bhp in high compression form, the beefier SP could generate a prodigious 385bhp and a massive 490lbft of torque, but – as owners quickly discovered – keeping all six of those carbs in check could – and still is – a nightmare of a job and boy can it drink the stuff.

Also introduced was a wonderfully quirky lifestyle version wearing ‘Director’ badges. Claimed to be the work of one of the QE2 ocean liner’s designers, no less, it boasted a built-in typewriter (located in the glovebox), a radio-telephone and even a TV, which probably won’t work now due to the discontinuation of 405 transmission lines in the mid 80s!

1972 As if that mighty 6.3-litre hunk of an engine wasn’t big – or thirsty – enough, from November for the US market – but not until May 1972 for UK buyers – there was a Chrysler 440 7212cc engine in place of the previous 6276cc unit to address the power saving anti smog stuff that the MkIII wore. While the engine is somewhat meatier, some prefer the more agile previous unit which feels as powerful; much like Jaguar’s 3.8 and 4.2-litre comparisons.

By August, Jensen was equipping air-con and Sundym glass as standard on the MkIII, but in truth Interceptor’s hey-days were on the wane.

1973 The Middle East fuel crisis and resultant hike in oil prices of late ’73 led to the understandable demise of the extra juicy and tetchy SP. Also the high compression regular 7.2 saw its compression ratio lowered and as a result power dropped from 305bhp to around 280bhp.

1975 Jensen calls in the receivers; the following year it sadly ceased trading. In the meantime though, in 1974 the V8 saw a further slight detune to improve economy, plus there were two curtain call derivatives. First came the introduction of an Interceptor convertible (509 made) followed by a quirky notchback coupé that dispensed with the lovely globular glass hatch in favour of a fibreglass roof and a Jag XJ6 rear window. Distinctive but hardly the best looking Interceptor range we feel, sales were few due to company troubles, meaning that over time they – along with perhaps the earliest Italian-built examples – will become some of most collectable of the breed.

1976 By the time Jensen went belly-up during that long hot summer, healthy 6408 examples of the Interceptor had been built in MkI, MkII and MkIII forms. Many of those were left-hand drive, as the US was a lucrative market for Jensen; the FF, however, was built in right-hand drive form only. By the time the FF was canned, just 320 examples had trickled out of the gates of Jensen’s West Bromwich factory.

Just 232 Interceptor SPs were produced and less than 50 of the quirky fixedhead coupé, a model you rarely see come on the market. However, it’s the Interceptor S4 that’s the rarest of them all. This arrived in 1983 and under a reconstructed company soldiered on for a decade, but production was barely a trickle for that duration. Just 14 examples of this car, sporting a new, slower but lighter 5.9-litre V8 were made, including open and closed versions.

Driving and press comments

So how did the Jensen compare with a rival Aston Martin DBS? The answer is very well indeed and the Interceptor was deemed a class apart from a brash Bond Aston and so attracted celebrity status as a result: Eric Morecambe, Mike Yarwood, Tony Jacklin, Tony Curtis, Sir Matt Busby, Henry Cooper, Dusty Springfield, Sir Cliff Richard and legendary drummer Ginger Baker were all staunch Jensen fans.

If you’re of the view that there’s no substitute for cubic inches when it comes to grunt, the Interceptor is the perfect supercar classic for you. With a minimum of 6.3-litres of American iron under the bonnet, the Interceptor demolishes the longest of journeys care of its long-legged cruising abilities and standard Torqueflite slushy autobox – although 24 Mk1s were built with a four-speed manual.

No matter who changed gears, the Jensen was seriously quick for its time, hitting 60 in as little as 6.4 seconds back in ’69, which beat both the E-type and the DBS6 although the 12.9mpg was not a laughing matter even back then. There again, it isn’t in a V12 E-type or any Aston either yet the juicy nature of the Yank engine was continually blamed for the Jensen’s poor sales and subsequent popularity – a shame because as owners will tell you, the Interceptor was as good as any of its rivals and better than most in all areas although perhaps best as a leisurely-to-swift cruiser where there is passable 2+2 space for a family and even that hatchback is fairly usable, too.

For its day, equipment levels were deemed extremely generous and are still well on par with today’s family cars. Certainly, travelling in a good, well sorted Interceptor remains a highly satisfying experience half a century on although you have to put its roadholding and handling into perspective; any mighty V8 marshalled by a old Cortina-like rear suspension design need due care and respect!

Predictably then, when Autocar first drove one the mag was hugely impressed by the car’s wide-ranging talents, summarising it as “a very satisfying high-performance touring car with practical seating for four plus luggage”. The magazine’s testers were also taken by the car’s refinement, strong brakes, powerful V8 and its “well-matched automatic transmission”.

They weren’t so keen on the Jensen’s heating and ventilation mind, but did say that the luxurious 2+2 cabin was some compensation for this, along with the excellent ride and handling – which it strangely criticised in a later test saying that it was more a “point and squirt machine” because snap oversteer could be sudden and hard to catch (although it did remark that the car’s dampers were quite shot at the end of the test).

If the Interceptor is good to drive, a properly sorted FF is even more so thanks to the security of that permanent four-wheel drive. It’s not as slick as the type you’d find in a modern Audi of course; there are no electronically controlled diffs employed either so things are really quite agricultural – a bit like an original Range Rover some say – but in poor weather there are few modern classics that can keep rolling with quite the security of an FF. This point was highlighted by the same weekly a year later when Autocar tested the facelifted FF II. “We can think of no other car, let alone one with 330bhp under its bonnet, which can remotely compare with the FF II…”, it crowed, heaping special praise on its handling, stability and traction – yet still regarded anti-lock braking as somewhat “controversial”.

Car magazine, in its yearly round up (1973) highlighted the new craze of ‘gazumping’ back then (the term referring to the shock rise in property prices with buyers outbidding each other even though the deal had been agreed in principle-ed), calling the £6800 Interceptor the “answer to property speculator’s prayers” whatever that meant! Yet, it generally praised this ageing supercar with its “easy loping performance” if not the cramped rear confines but it certainly regarded one a better punt than the £9600 Aston DBS which it described as being disappointingly made and furnished even though it was better handling GT.

The muscle-bound SP had Motor in a quandary in March 1972. The testers had few qualms about the performance or even the handling, the latter which it said “on one of favourite corners taken fast in a Lotus Elan can be taken nearly as fast in the Jensen.” No, the quarrel centred around the peculiar ‘pressure’ rather than straight mechanical throttle that lacked the instant and precise control that 330bhp really demanded. Especially in the wet… Autocar was more surprised that the carb’s butterflies could sometimes open of their own accord at 100mph without the driver consciously pressing the loud pedal any harder!

VALUES AND MARKETPLACE

When you consider Interceptor cost 50 per cent more than a Jaguar E-type when new, and only around 20 per cent less than an Aston Martin DB6, it’s amazing how moderate values continue to be for the Jensen – although values have risen in less than five years; the days of ten grand Interceptors are long gone, unless you fancy tackling a project. Goers will relieve you of at least three times this and good examples £40,000 minimum.

Excepting the notchback Interceptor Coupé where values the sky’s the limit, due to sheer rarity and novelty, it’s the FF which has seen the biggest gain with value, on average, 60 per cent above Interceptor coupés and more in line with the Convertibles which seem sought after. The good news is that while the Jensen’s more glamorous British rivals have gone stratospheric, you can still pick up an immaculate Interceptor for under £70,000 (add £20K for a convertible) and while fab FFs can break the six figure barrier, they are still cheap compared to a comparable Aston and the best E-types.

Regular Classic Motoring contributor and classic expert Jeff Bailey has owned no less than five of these ‘Brummie Ferraris’. “The key is always to ensure the cooling system is ok – even better, that it’s been uprated with a higher flow rad.

I’d always recommend going through the engine bay and replacing all hoses as a matter of course, too. These two simple things will ensure that high underbonnet temperatures don’t catch you out.

“Apart from that, the Chrysler V8 American engines are typically lightly stressed and bullet-proof in service”.

In Bailey’s opinion, the MkII is the best car because it has the MkIII’s vented dash and sumptuous interior, plus the smaller 383 Chrysler unit (same as the Dodge Charger) which doesn’t run any emission gear. It’s far more responsive than the emission-strangled 440 (7.2) lump and quicker in his view.

Improvements

There aren’t many Interceptors that are still to the same spec as when they left the factory. Not ideal for sticklers on originality it’s true, but that’s actually a good thing because these cars weren’t especially well developed over their ten year run. Cooling systems can struggle; so too can the starter motor and alternator. As a result, any car that’s had these things upgraded along with the addition of electronic ignition is more attractive due to better reliability.

The same goes for the suspension system. The Interceptor’s chassis isn’t especially high-tech – it’s almost old fashioned in its design and layout – which is why it’s worth playing about with the springs and dampers, to improve the handling but speak to Jensen specialist on the best set ups.

All Interceptors and FFs came with carburettors, but a modern mapped fuel injection system can be substituted that transforms the car’s hot starting as well as its economy no end. However, only so much of a transformation is possible; you’re never going to get more than 20mpg out of any Interceptor V8, and that’s on a leisurely run. If fuel costs aren’t important, these well known and trusty Chrysler engines boast a wealth of tuning gear and experience back in their homeland. Only a handful of manuals were made but auto suits the car’s character and is made even better with a modern four-speed conversion.

What To Look For

General

 

  • Parts availability is excellent thanks to a network of specialists which remanufacture and stock parts; there’s also a good selection of used bits available, along with an enthusiastic club.
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  • The Jensen brand is owned by Martin Robey, who also has all of the factory’s archives. As a result he can produce a Statement of Origin detailing a car’s original spec, as well as a huge range of reproduced parts.
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  • Never has the maxim that you should buy the best you can afford been more applicable than here. Average car, let alone projects are guaranteed to be money pits, especially where bodywork is concerned. If you can, try to drive a few to gauge the standard as cars will vary.
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  • 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.
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  • The usual caveats for low volume specialist cars apply and a tired cabin will be very costly to rectify – up to ten grand. Check to see if the interior boot release is doing its stuff; it has a wicked cable run.

 

Body and chassis

 

  • This is the Interceptor’s weak area, as the bodywork is hugely rot-prone. Key areas to check for rot include the beams that run down either side of the car; proper sill repairs can easily run to more than £2000 apiece. While you’re on your knees (not financially, we hope), check out the state of the footwells, windscreen surround, wheelarches, jacking points etc.
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  • By and large, chassis tube rot isn’t an issue, but those on the FF mounted on the outer edge of the chassis also act as vacuum chambers for the brakes.
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  • 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 stainless steel sill covers hide rust. That massive fishbowl tailgate’s frame corrodes.
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  • Robey, has most of everything you’ll need: Door skins £100, rear quarter panels £300 each, sills £60 a side (the real cost is labour while the critical front wings cost an incredibly reasonable £300 per side. A bonnet can be had for £500); FF maybe four times this …

 

Running gear

 

  • Chrysler Torqueflite auto is extremely strong and longlasting, but it will wear out eventually. If it’s been allowed to run dry, it could need work even if it hasn’t covered many miles. Feel for any jerkiness with the shifts, signifying adjustments or a rebuild are needed. Expect to pay around £1200 for an exchange rebuilt box and half to rebuild your one – four-speed upgrade is worth considering if you need a new unit.
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  • Don’t be too put off by the complexity of an FF’s mechanicals – or its age say specialists; any fourwheel drive-specific bits over and above those of an Interceptor don’t cause any problems at all, as it’s just about bomb-proof. If there are problems, good Jensen experts can fix them.
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  • The Austin-derived suspension has a hard time of things due to power and weight of the car; one key weak spot is the rear leaf springs, which sag and as they’re currently unavailable you’ll have to get the existing springs re-tempered. If you can’t fit two fingers (pardon?-ed) between the tyre and wheelarch with the car unladen, it’s sitting too low and the springs need attention. Front dampers originally lever arm; only replace with good quality ones.
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  • Check for fluid weeping from 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.

 

Engine

 

  • The famous Chrysler pushrod V8s used in all these cars are very tough indeed and like all good US unit is supremely under-stressed, meaning they’ll soldier on if not neglected. However, if badly maintained or have been three times round the universe (they’ll usually manage two), a rebuild will be due although are readily available both side of the pond. A good rebuild costs around £6000.
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  • There’s debate over which engine is the most desirable; the 6.3 unit is more free-revving but the 7.2-litre lump is noticeably torquier (ala Jag XK). You can see which one is fitted by looking at the exhaust manifold through a front wheelarch. If there’s a manifold/downpipe bolt angled towards the wheel it’s a 7.2-litre unit; if they face front/rear, then it’s the earlier 6.3. A vivid orange air cleaner assembly should also donate the J-series V8.
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  • Overheating is not uncommon; make sure the car runs to temperature and that the thermostatic fans cut in. If it runs too cool, then has the thermostat been removed to mask problems (shades of the Stag)?
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  • Cracked exhaust manifolds are pretty common (they cost about £200 to replace), and the car’s low slung stance means damage to the system is all too common as well so check its condition and look for past welding and bodging repairs
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  • Fuel economy will never be good plus there are plenty of carb components to wear out, making setting them up difficult, more so on six-carb SP models. Typically, look at around £1000 per year on maintenance but it’s the most straightforward supercar you can DIY.

    Electronic ignition is a wise fitment if not already done.

Three Of A Kind

Aston Martin DBS
Aston Martin DBS
The DBS arrived a year after the Interceptor, although wasn’t offered in V8 form until ’69. This is another classic that was left in the doldrums for ages, in terms of values but ironically it’s their rise in value that have help improve the popularity of the Jensen. DBS6 is usually cheaper but the vigour just isn’t there, particularly in auto form, but the Aston’s handling is superior to Interceptor.
Bristol 409/410/411
Bristol 409/410/411
Like the Jensen, this discreetly-styled Bristol is big, exclusive, fast and also powered by a hunk of a Chrysler V8. As a result, buyers are scared off by the supposed complexity and running costs even though build is exemplary. Like the Interceptor, you’re on safe ground if you buy a good one – but again, revival costs are potentially crippling so buy well from the beginning.
Gordon-Keeble
Gordon-Keeble
A British special that’s Italian styled and with American V8 power, the even more exclusive Gordon-Keeble has much in common with the Jensen but sadly closed its Southampton factory doors around the same time the Interceptor was launched. That said, it’s reckoned about 90 per cent of the 99 made still survive although even the best ones sell for just £35,000-£50,000.

Verdict

What took this Jensen so long to find favour? Lack of perceived pedigree and any notable motorsport heritage are two plausible reasons – plus James Bond didn’t drive one! We urge you to slip behind the wheel of this svelte supercar that sets you apart from the herd. There’s no better time to buy an Interceptor before values really blast into orbit although take care when viewing and vetting and don’t bother with the FF unless you really want one.



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