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Jensen Interceptor

Midlands Marvel Published: 11th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: MK II 6.3
  • Worst model: Anything bodged
  • Budget buy: None really
  • OK for unleaded?: Possibly
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): mm L 4720 x W 1750
  • Spares situation: Pretty good
  • DIY ease?: Better than you’d think
  • Club support: Good
  • Appreciating asset?: Slowly but surely
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Greatly underrated bargain
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The Interceptor is a Jensen that’s right on the button and offers superb value. So why does this sophisticated supercar remain such a non starter?

Pros & Cons

Looks, supercar credentials, value for money, sophistication
Poor reputation, rust, neglected examples, skinfl int owners, running costs
£4000-£30,000+

If ever there was a classic British thoroughbred that failed to catch on, then surely it was Jensen’s Interceptor – please tell us why! Known as the Birmingham Ferrari the Jensen’s CV – including Italian styling, muscular American V8 power and an interior that would do a Rolls Royce proud – was the equal to any Aston Martin. However, while DB prices have gone into orbit, the Jensen’s remain resolutely on terra fi rma. And there’s good reason for this. While people lavish tens of thousands of their hard earned on their prized Astons, Jensen owners usually crib about spending a few pence. Never has a cultured classic been so neglected. The good news is that there are signs that all this is changing, although it’s not the fi rst time that this Jensen has failed to get really started. So, if you want a bargain supercar, read on!

History

Jensen, a specialist manufacturer better known for making big Healeys and early Volvo P1800s, fi rst screwed the Interceptor badge to a plumplooking drophead in 1949, but the name returned in 1966 as a much more sleek and svelte supercar. Based upon the rugged and respectable CV8 chassis, styled by Italian design house Touring (and subsequently tweaked by Vignale), this Chrysler 6.3-litre V8 powered 2+2 sports hatch was way ahead of its time. And it still looks the part 45 years on. Priced mid-way between the Jaguar E-type 2+2 (£2427) and Aston’s pricey DB6 (£5084), the rich and the famous (such as Eric Morecambe, actor Tony Curtis and golfer Tony Jacklin) who could cheerfully stump up the £3743 price tag, loved their Interceptors. The ground breaking FF versions, with their all-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes, arguably laid down the blueprint for the modern cars that we drive now. The FF was co-developed by tractor maker Harry Ferguson, who pioneered an ingenious four-wheel-drive system for road use. Called FF (short for Ferguson Formula) this system beat the innovative Audi Quattro by 14 years, while other innovative features such as its Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock brakes are now taken for granted. Sadly, what should have been a world-beating package was sullied by reliability problems causing Jensen to ditch technology that was probably too advanced for its time. The FF, which sported a four inch longer wheelbase, was killed off in 1971, after being face-lifted two years earlier, along with the Interceptor; just 320 FFs were made. The 1969 SII examples enjoyed better ventilation, while the interior (which was always streets ahead of any DB or E-type) was made even plusher. However, perhaps the most important upgrade was making power steering standard. A wonderfully quirky lifestyle version wearing ‘Director’ badges was also offered. Claimed to be the work of one of the QE2 ocean liner’s designers, it boasted a built-in typewriter (located in the glovebox), a radio-telephone and even a TV! For ’72 came a new rear seat design. The SIII models saw the engine size increased from 6276cc to 7212cc, and an SP version was sold for the fi rst time (this stood for sexy ‘six pack’ and referred to the number of carbs employed!). This 385bhp GT did nothing for that horrendous thirst the Interceptor was famed for, and which was common to nearly all American V8s. Predictably, thanks to the Middle East war and the subsequent energy crisis, the thirsty engines helped to kill off Jensen in the 1970s. For 1974 the engines were detuned and a very suave drophead Interceptor joined the ranks, but both steps failed to stop the gathering slide. A really strange looking booted version that totally ruined those well balanced looks hardly helped either.

Jensen stopped making cars in 1976, with the remnants of the company carrying on supplying parts and service. The SIII was the most popular, with almost 3419 made out of the 6300 odd overall. Just over 100 SPs were built and 267 rag tops (60 coupes). This wasn’t quite the end of the Interceptor story, however, and very limited production restarted in 1982. Fixedhead and convertible versions, now with 5.9 V8s, trickled onto the market, but it was all to no avail. Today there are two major Interceptor specialists; the well known Jaguar expert Martin Robey and V Eight Cropredy Bridge. Robey has owned Jensen for more than a decade and has all the records of the cars made, so he can supply a ‘Statement of Origin’ giving full details of your car. He can also supply details of its service history and that’s brilliant news for any Jensen enthusiast – and all for £20! The final bit of good news is that the Interceptor refuses to die! As we reported in last month’s issue, JIA (Jensen International Automotive) has released the Interceptor R using modern Chevrolet power and running gear – yours for just over £100,000 however.

Driving

The Interceptor was way ahead of its time and, nearly half a century on, doesn’t feel that dated. With a big, lazy 330bhp V8 sitting under that aircraft carrier-style bonnet (385bhp on the 7.2-litre SP models), this Jensen can still hold its own with any of today’s GTi cars, with 60mph coming up in under seven seconds and almost 140mph full chat according to one test of a 6.3 SII back in ‘69 (although others put it in the 7-8 sec bracket, according to model). That’s Aston DB eating pace and from a slushbox of an automatic too (on all bar 24 of the earliest cars). The later 7.2-litre was choked with emission gear and is no quicker. What is impressive is the torque fi gure of well over 400lbft at under 3000rpm, which only today’s lusty biggest diesels can match, allowing for rapid low-rev Jensen motoring. Talking of diesels, an Interceptor can’t match one for economy, of course, and many cite this as one of the reasons for the car’s continued lack of popularity. We don’t buy this – even with unleaded at some £6 a gallon. Okay, so the 15mpg or less fuel economy is horrifi c, but the same goes for any Aston Martin, while you’d be hard pushed to see 20mpg from an E-type. But has this put off buyers of these classics?

The Interceptor boasts surprisingly agile handling that makes an Aston feel like a lorry in comparison. However, road tests of the 1960s did remark that, once the period of predictable understeer had been breached, the rear can snap away in an alarming fashion – albeit at very high speeds back then (try modern tyres, we’re told). However, don’t get too carried away by thoughts of Audi Quattro-like ability with the rare, grippier FF even though weekly Motor considered it the best handling car of its size and class back in 1968, chucking this large 36cwt vehicle around, “…as if it were a (Hillman) Imp”. As expected, this 1960s design, developed by a tractor maker, is a fairly crude 4x4 system and feels much like old-school Range Rover, with a fair amount of shunt, slop and clonks when compared to modern stuff. The Interceptor is best as a leisurely cruiser. It’s just about enough of a 2+2 for small children but that hatchback facility is pretty usable. For its day, the Jensen’s equipment levels were extremely benevolent and still on par with today’s repmobiles. Certainly, traveling in a good, well sorted Interceptor is a deeply satisfying experience that’s on par with any Aston.

Prices

Interceptors can still be intercepted for a song, but you’ll be buying trouble. They go from about £1500 and you couldn’t buy an E-type bonnet or a set of wheels for that outlay. However it could cost you up to £20,000 to put such a car back on the road, warned one expert. It’s the fault of us classic car mags really… We keep going on that you can buy a decent one for under £10,000 – but, as Bob Cherry of Cropredy Garage warns, there’s a world of difference between these runners and the top examples which now retail for £25,000 or more. Everybody still bangs on about cheap Jensens but Cherry says well over 60 per cent of the cars he sees aren’t fi t for showroom space. He admits that, while Jensen values are ascending, it remains a very slow curve. Buy the best you can afford, of course, because repairs and resto work could negate all those upfront savings. And, when you consider what a lot of metal you’re getting for your money, especially compared to an Aston, the equivalent Jensen is still an astonishingly cheap supercar.

Improvements

Let’s start with the cooling system, w h i c h may be marginal now. After ensuring that the system is in tip-top shape, fit an uprated, higher fl ow radiator (from the likes of Radtec) and modern cooling fans. As it’s a big, lazy engine to turn over, a beefi er, faster spinning starter is also available. As the engine is Chr ysler, a lot of M o p a r - d e r i v e d tuning par ts are readily available in the US, although even in standard tune, a well sorted car should prove fast enough. Handling benefits from Koni or Spax dampers plus renewing the 16 bushes employed. Good tyres help; Pirelli P4000 are said to suit the car well, although are becoming in short supply. AP produces a brake upgrade. A later four-speed Torquefl ite auto box for more relaxed cruising can be substituted.

What To Look For

  • The biggest problem is lack of past care and too many bodges, thanks to their low values. Bob Cherry, of leading specialist Cropredy Garage, says he sees dodgy handiwork all the time such as domestic fl ex pipework for engine air ducting – stuff you never see on a coveted Aston, for example. Putting back a Jensen into respectable shape costs a lot of money.
  • The biggest problem when vetting a Jenson is normally the years of bodging. Not every owner has been willing to shell out E-type maintenance budgets and so cheapskate repairs are rife. That said, more and more enthusiasts are spending proper money on these cars.
  • Interceptors rust, and 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 fl oor-pan or boot fl oor problems.
  • By and large, chassis tube rot isn’t an issue on two-wheel drive versions. However, 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. The good news is that surprisingly few ever get that bad.
  • 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 fi ller area deterioration while you are checking.
  • That massive fi shbowl tailgate’s frame corrodes if its drain holes become blocked – and they do, so check carefully.
  • Mechanically the Jensen is pretty okay and mechanically tough but look for signs of overheating from those V8s, plus low water levels – and 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? Rads silt up; £200.
  • 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. You may get lucky with Chrysler ones instead of Jensen type.
  • Fuel economy will never be good and there are plenty of carb components to wear out, making setting them up diffi cult. Aftermarket fuel injection was becoming popular, since it not only improves mpg by a couple of digits, but also improves hot starting, which can be a problem due to the sheer heat soak under that massive bonnet. Cropredy Bridge Garage is regarded as the best expert on this conversion, but is throttling back on this mod of late due to some reliability issues.
  • Look for rear suspension settling, as tired springs are a familiar malady. Armstrong Selectaride dampers were originally fi tted to SIs, but penny-to-a-pound they are now defunct and best replaced by conventional types from Spax or Koni, which will also aid handling.
  • Check for fl uid 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.
  • A variety of different rims were fi tted to the car over the years and many may have the later alloys, from the SP, fi tted.
  • A cheap Interceptor will often be running on equally low rent tyres. Incidentally, Jensen rims fi t Rover P5s a treat!
  • 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.
  • The usual caveats for low-volume specialist cars apply to the Interceptor and a tired cabin will be costly to rectify. Check to see if the interior boot release is doing its stuff. It’s sited in the B-post and has a wicked cable run to reach the boot. Replacing it is a pain, we are informed, but the good news is that most trim parts are available for a cabin resto.
  • Some other good news! Parts supply is surprisingly good, even for body panels. Martin Robey, better known for his Jaguar expertise, has most of everything you’ll ever need, either new, remanufactured or second-hand, including a certifi cate of authenticity for £20. Door skins cost about £100, rear quarter panels £200, while the critical front wings cost a reasonable £400 per side. A bonnet can be had for a around £800 – butif it’s for an FF then multiply this by fi ve at least because the lid is unique for that car and not interchangeable

Three Of A Kind

Ferrari Mondial
Ferrari Mondial
Instead of a Birmingham Ferrari, have the real thing. The Mondial came from another era and, despite rave reviews when new, this 2+2 has always remained a backwater Ferrari, keeping prices down to Jensen levels. Early 8vs are okay but later models are much better performers. Cheap to buy, but not to run, and this Ferrari requires specialist help.
Aston Martin Virage
Aston Martin Virage
Agreed, the DBS was the Aston that shadowed the Jensen when new, but values for this once unloved DB started to rise some years ago. No, if you’re after a bargain old school Aston it has to be its replacement, the Virage. Early models were never liked but the V8 always went well and Aston got the car back on track with the redesigned Vantage. Excellent value from around just £10K!
Jaguar E-type S3
Jaguar E-type S3
Closest E-type to the Jensen has to be the big V12 S3, which is 40 this year. More a softer GT than the harder core S1/S2s, there’s other benefi ts beside the silky, speedy V12, such as better brakes and a nicer cockpit. Most are automatics and coupes rather than roadsters. The S3 remains the bargain of the E-type fold, costing about the same as a Jensen to keep and fuel.

Verdict

Why do Jensens remain so cheap when compared to Astons or Jags? It’s because the badge lacks the pedigree or motorsport success of these rivals, rather than a fault with the car, which is a cultured classic of the highest order. We keep saying that these cars will soar in value, but they haven’t yet. Rest assured that their time will come and you’ll kick yourself for not intercepting a Jensen when you had the chance.



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