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Jensen Healey

Jensen Healey Published: 10th May 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jensen Healey
Jensen Healey
Jensen Healey
Jensen Healey
Jensen Healey
Jensen Healey
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Why not own a...? Jensen-Healey

As we write this, the UK is well and truly snowed under, hardly the conditions to consider a summer sports car but mark our words, the misunderstood and overlooked Jensen-Healey will soon be hot stuff. And why not, with famous names such as Lotus, Sunbeam and Aston Martin (stylist) also involved, the Jensen-Healey certainly has all the right ingredients even if it left a bad taste in the mouth of many owners when new. Costing much less than any other Healey, TR and MGBs come to that as a classic, the car virtually sells itself – to you perhaps?

Model choice

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

Naturally, there are more of the Roadsters left (10,926 made and 7700 went to the States) than the fixedhead GTs, which were only in production for a year (473 built). It depends whether you want hood down thrills, but the coupé GT was the better developed of the strain as well as being the more luxurious like the big brother Interceptor.

The original Jensen-Healey was too much of a rough diamond and lacked development, resulting in a much needed cosmetic and mechanical revamp late in 1973, the most important changes being an improved and more durable Lotus 2-litre engine that had yet to power anything from Hethel.

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 Firenzabased, mind, although the J-H used a Sunbeam Rapier H120 transmission, albeit without the overdrive option Sunbeams used.

The MkII, identified by slim side stripes, featured added refinement, better soundproofing and a woodgrain finish for the dash.

Mechanically, the changes amounted to a more durable Lotus engine and a Getrag five-speed box; the extra ratio was a bonus but best of all was the greater durability of the German. A rather delightful sports estate was launched in July 1975. Called the Jensen GT, there were no Healey references whatsoever now because Donald Healey had walked away from the project by this time. And that was sadly it with Jensen folding a year later after 10,453 Roadsters.

 

Behind the wheel

If it wasn’t for the build and reliability issues, plus Jensen folding in 1976, then the J-H would have become one of the best British sports cars ever we reckon. For starters, it was one of the most comfortable and ergonomic sportsters around with a fine driving position and more than ample space for two.

Despite its faults, the Lotus engine was no mean performer in the J-H even if it never sounded as happy as the old Ford-based twin cam. But 140bhp was a respectable figure in the early 70s and still provides plenty of sports car shove that will blow any TR6 away, even if you have to work hard to get the horses going.

Despite the Jensen being set up on the soft side to appease the US driver, handling was always deemed excellent as was the ride; in fact, the chassis was, if anything, too supple for such a sports car. The Vauxhall Viva/Magnum was one of the best handling cars of its type, and its abilities were transferred over to the J-H. A well set-up example feels far more modern in feel than any MGB or TR although can do with stiffer dampers. The Jensen-Healey was the logical development of those 1960’s classics but better suited to today’s driving thanks to modern dynamics and better crash protection.

It’s no surprise to learn that the Jensen-Healey feels right from the moment you strap yourself into the heavily bolstered seats, feeling completely different to, say an MGB or TR. 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.

Then there’s the Lotus 16 valve engine. On paper, it still promises a hell of a lot and, if in good order and tune certainly goes well, although the twin-cam four becomes rather harsh at high revs – unlike the unit found in the Alfa Spider, its closest rival in terms of specification and pedigree. A British Alfa Romeo Spider – or an interpretation of a ‘new’ Lotus Elan, before the M100 and the MX-5 came along … and that can’t be bad comparisons, can it?

 

What to pay

The Jensen-Healey has been an ignored bargain for too long and the tide is quickly turning say specialists, so if you want one act swiftly.

Owners are cottoning on to their increasing values and some are prepared to spend sizeable sums on theirs to make good – we’ve heard of up to 30 grand on restorations. The general price for a good example is around £6000-£9000. The much rarer more upmarket GT, which makes a great alternative to an MGB GT, is probably worth up to £2000 more. Condition counts over whether it’s a MkI or later MkII although the GT’s rarity of less than 500 made means it’s a case of what you can get.

Projects can still be bought for not much more than £1500 depending upon their state of decay but rest will be pricey. For instance, sills corrode from the top down and whole panel has to be replaced in one go. They’re around £130 each, but by the time any welding has been done and the wings replaced, the total bill is going to be at least £600 per side; to fit and spray new wings you can spend up to £1500 or more.

 

Making one better

There’s far scope here thanks to the mix and match of parts used. The suspension is mostly Vauxhall Magnum items, which benefit from a damper and spring swap plus ‘polybushing’ the rear axle retaining arms although Jensen used its own bushes that differ from Vauxhall spec. Strangely, in standard trim, the sports car lacked anti-roll bars but there’s no reason why Viva GT/Firenza items can’t be utilised. Stock Viva 2.3/ Magnum discs are fitted and with harder pads, such as EBC’s Green Stuff, may suffice for most needs before going to a larger disc and calliper combo; note that Firenza HP used plain but larger Victor/Ventora discs so these can technically be substituted for an effective low cost improvement – if you can find them.

Plus if you use Victor/Ventora front wishbones it gives better geometry into the bargain – the main problem is locating them.

The Lotus engine (2.0-litres but a lustier 2.2 after 1980) can yield in excess of 250bhp (as it did in the Lotus Esprit). Healey himself says he wished he’d had also tried the versatile Rover V8 (which fits in quite nicely) and we’ve seen cars packing (Ford) Pinto power.

But in our view it’s a shame to ditch that Lotus unit because, once set up on a rolling road to banish the flat sports, performs more than adequately and quite frugally.

 

Maintenance matters

Thanks to its mix-and-match of mechanical parts (Vauxhall and Chrysler) the Jensen-Healey is easier to maintain than its prestigious make up suggests although don’t expect MGB-like dependability or ‘fix-ability’ to the engine in particular as they still need specialist attention to get them spot on, plus are pretty dear to properly overhaul. But the Lotus engine 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.

If the worst comes to the worst (and engines are becoming pricey to buy so best buy a complete basket case Eclat for spares) you can always substitute it for a plainer Vauxhall unit which drops straight in, or perhaps slot in a certain V8 to make an interesting Stag alternative – that stalwart Rover unit fits!

Repairs to both the Sunbeam gearbox and the Getrag transmission are being hindered by spares supply. You could try the Toyota ’box that’s fitted to the later Lotus Excel and dead reliable, of course. Clutch plate is Sunbeam Rapier H120 but the clutch cover is the same found on TR5/6 and 2.3-litre Vauxhalls, so it’s all out there somewhere, if under another name.

For example, the Jensen brake master cylinder costs more than £130 but a TR6 one bolts straight on but the bore is slightly larger, affecting pedal pressure. We further understand a Land Rover SWB (short wheel base derivatives) type is identical (and that includes the bore size) plus is cheaper than the proper Triumph item…

Apart from this the Jensen-Healey is surprisingly easy to keep going as virtually everything you will need is available. An ever increasing number of spares are being made, (including interior trim parts, with the help of an enthusiastic owners’ club and Jensen specialists such as Martin Robey, Rejen, Cropredey Bridge and Appleyard either new or used, apart from bonnets, sadly which are extremely scarce and will remain so as the original press was destroyed.

The Jensen-Healey Preservation Society (an apt title) is a great site as is American Jensen-Healey Parts & Spares who it appears has a fine supply of bits and tuning gear, so check out the website as well.

 

Buying tips

 

General

The majority of interior panels are now available; Rejen says a complete interior package costs in the region of £1500. Carpet seats are under £300 as are seat covers and it can recover vinyl seats with leather inserts.

Look at the condition of the hood, as replacement isn’t cheap; vinyl will cost around £400 with mohair a few hundred more, plus fitting. The hoods were notoriously bad fitting on the Mk1 and the header rail rots. Hard tops were made by Lenham and then Jensen.

 

Engine

The all-alloy twin-cam is okay if looked after, but hates neglect. Original units were notoriously fragile, but a much stronger casting was designed for the MkII.

Bottom end is a mix of Lotus and Vauxhall – where the latter’s cast iron crank was retained. Parts supply is reasonable, but you can’t use a stock Vauxhall block and fit Lotus head on it without considerable re-engineering.

 

Running gear

Earlier Chrysler (four-speed) gearbox is weak as it was designed to handle not much more than 120bhp. If the ’box is on its way out it’ll jump out of gear. Parts aren’t exactly plentiful, try a Rootes’ club. Vauxhall axles inherently whine.

Although mostly Viva-derived, Jensen used different compliance bushes although Vauxhall ones may well have been used. Also Vauxhall dampers and brake pad material differs.

 

Body and chassis

Rot in the chassis legs is an MoT failure point obviously, and an involved job to put right as access is poor and the metalwork awkward to plate. A full front end strip – engine, gearbox and front suspension all have to be removed – is required if it’s to be done right.

To restore the sills properly, the front and rear wings need to be removed also, although they’re bolted on to make matters fairly easy.

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

 

In conclusion

Donald’s dream of a modern Big Healey successor, may have fell well short of the mark when it was launched the thick end of 50 years ago, but we feel that this hotchpotch of famous names will finally come good – perhaps this year. In terms of design, it’s more a homage to the Italian Alfa Romeo Spider than any traditional British sportster (Lotus Elan excepted) but at a third of the prices.

We can see the J-H becoming a cult classic before too long so if you want one, fairly cheaply, don’t let the thought linger.



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