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Jensen Interceptor

THE BIRMINGHAM FERRARI Published: 5th Jun 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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A stylish, talented yet vastly underrated GT boasting Aston-like qualities for TR6 money. At last, this Jensen is gaining respect, recognition and specialist support but many have been badly maintained in the past so beware when buying one Few cars have had as many rivals – or revivals – as the Jensen Interceptor. Since it made its debut in 1966, this V8 bruiser has disappeared on numerous occasions, only to be reincarnated once more. Along the way the styling has been updated along with the mechanicals, but several key things have stayed the same; those unmistakable lines, distinctive proportions and brute power cut the same dash that they did almost half a century ago. This was a car that had the pace of an E-type, the lines of a Ferrari and the exclusivity of an Aston. Yet it's still one of the lowest valued prestige classic you can buy. But for how much longer?

HISTORY

A stylish, talented yet vastly underrated GT boasting Aston-like qualities for TR6 money. At last, this Jensen is gaining respect, recognition and specialist support but many have been badly maintained in the past so beware when buying one

Few cars have had as many rivals – or revivals – as the Jensen Interceptor. Since it made its debut in 1966, this V8 bruiser has disappeared on numerous occasions, only to be reincarnated once more. Along the way the styling has been updated along with the mechanicals, but several key things have stayed the same; those unmistakable lines, distinctive proportions and brute power cut the same dash that they did almost half a century ago.

This was a car that had the pace of an E-type, the lines of a Ferrari and the exclusivity of an Aston. Yet it’s still one of the lowest valued prestige classic you can buy. But for how much longer?

HISTORY

The Interceptor may have had rather more in common with its CV8 predecessor than Jensen would have liked to admit, but with an all-new body it didn’t matter that the mechanicals were somewhat low-tech. Besides, if you wanted cutting-edge technology, there was always the four-wheel drive FF, developed in conjunction with tractor maker Harry Ferguson and unlike anything else on sale with its Dunlop Maxaret vacuum-operated anti-lock braking system.

1966 At launch, the Interceptor packed a 6.3-litre Chrysler V8. Styling was by Touring, with assistance from Vignale, the latter also building the earliest cars. 1967 However, the following year, Jensen had taken this latter task in-house, in a bid to improve pretty 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… Indeed, the advanced FF proved to be so unreliable that Jensen gave up on it, but not until after fi ve years of tinkering, in a bid to make it all work properly. Carrying a £600 premium over an equivalent Interceptor, the FF was stretched by four inches, all ahead of the windscreen – 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 Jensen announced a revised Interceptor, the MkII. Changes were generally fairly slight however, as they were restricted to a reprofi led nose, stronger brakes and a higher quality interior. More useful was the standard fi tment of power steering, which is really necessary on a car with that huge cast-iron lump over the front axle. This also resulted in a new front suspension boasting telescopic dampers.

1971 The development continued, with a Mk III appearing two years later. In SP (six-pack, for six carburettors) form this took over from the FF as Jensen’s fl agship; from this point on, all of the company’s cars would be resolutely rear-wheel drive only. While the regular Mk3 produced 300bhp, the beefi er SP could generate a prodigious 385bhp, but keeping all six of those carbs in check could – and still is - be a nightmare of a job. 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!

As if the 6.3-litre engine wasn’t big enough, from November for the US market – but not until May 1972 for UK buyers – there was a 7212cc engine in place of the previous 6276cc unit. While the engine is meatier, some prefer the more agile previous unit. By August, Jensen was fi tting air-con and Sundym glass as standard on the Mk III, but the Interceptor’s hey-day was nearly over.

1973 The fuel crisis of ‘73 led to the demise of the SP, then in 1975 Jensen called in the receivers; the following year it ceased trading. In the meantime though, in 1974, there was one fi nal development, with the introduction of an Interceptor convertible.

1976 By the time Jensen went belly-up during that long hot summer, a 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 an important 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.

On top of these fi gures, there was also the Interceptor SP; Jensen constructed 232 examples of this, but it’s the Interceptor S4 that’s the rarest of all. This arrived in 1983 and offi cially soldiered on for a decade, but production was barely a trickle for that duration. Just 14 examples of this car were made, including open and closed versions.

DRIVING AND PRESS COMMENTS

If you’re of the view that there’s no substitute for cubic inches, the Interceptor is the perfect bolide for you. With a minimum of 6.3 litres of American iron under the bonnet, the Interceptor demolishes the longest of journeys with its long-legged cruising abilities and standard Torquefl ite slushbox – although 23 Mk1s were built with a four-speed manual. No matter who changed gears, the Jensen was seriously quick, hitting 60 in 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 is continually blamed for the Jensen’s poor popularity.

Predictably, when Autocar fi rst drove an Interceptor it 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 refi nement, strong brakes, powerful V8 and its “well-matched automatic transmission”.

They weren’t so keen on the Jensen’s heating and ventilation, 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 you’d fi nd in a modern car of course; there are no electronically controlled diffs here so things are really quite agricultural – a bit like an original Range Rover – but in poor weather there are few classics that can keep rolling with quite the security of an FF, a point highlighted by the same weekly a year later when it 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 “controversial”.

PRICES

When you consider that the Interceptor cost 50 per cent more than a Jaguar E-type when it was new, and only around 20 per cent less than an Aston Martin DB6, it’s amazing how low values continue to be for the Jensen – although purchase costs have risen over the past two or three years.

While the Jensen’s more glamorous British rivals have gone stratospheric, you can still pick up an Interceptor that’s worth having for all of £12,000 or so. That’ll bag you a tatty Interceptor hatch; for something nice you should expect to pay closer to £18,000, while the best cars can fetch up to £40,000.

Most of the cars available are priced between £16,000 and £25,000; if you want one of the Series 4 cars you’ll need to pay from £30,000 upwards.
You’ll need deeper pockets to pick up one of the much rarer convertibles or fi xed-head coupés though. Just 451 open-topped Interceptors were built and they rarely come onto the market; if you do get the chance to buy one, expect to pay at least £30,000 for something that isn’t a liability, or £40,000 and then some for a car that’s really nice.

However, for a low-mileage drophead with a few sympathetic upgrades you can still easily pay £50,000. Meanwhile, Jensen made just 49 examples of the convertible-based fi xedhead coupé. As this issue went to press there was one for sale in the US for $160,000; if you’re lucky enough to track one down in the UK, expect to pay £60-100,000 depending on condition.

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, but that’s defi nitely 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 is more attractive.

The same goes for the suspension system. The Interceptor’s chassis isn’t especially high-tech – it’s utterly conventional in its design and layout – which is why it’s worth playing about with the springs and dampers, to improve the handling.

All Interceptors and FFs came with carburettors, but a modern mapped fuel injection system can be fi tted that will transform 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.

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.

The Jensen brand is owned by Martin Robey, who also has all of the factory’s archives. As a result he can produce a certifi cate detailing a car’s original spec, along the lines that BMIHT produces.

Never has the maxim that you should buy the best you can afford been more applicable than here. Project cars are guaranteed to be money pits, especially where bodywork is concerned and you’ll spend a lot without getting very far with one.

BODY AND CHASSIS

This is the Interceptor’s weak area, as the bodywork is hugely rot-prone. What makes things worse is that these cars were built by hand, with much fettling of panels required to make them fi t. This included lead loading, which makes proper restoration that much trickier and dearer.

The key areas to check for rot include the beams that run down either side of the car; proper repairs can easily run to more than £2000 apiece. While you’re on your knees (not fi nancially we hope), check out the state of the footwells, windscreen surround, wheelarches and all joints/seams.

RUNNING GEAR

The Chrysler Torquefl ite auto is extremely strong, 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.■ Don’t be put off by the complexity of an FF’s mechanicals; any four-wheel drive-specifi c bits over and above those of an Interceptor don’t cause any problems at all, as it’s just about bomb-proof.

The suspension has a hard time of things; one key weak spot is the rear springs, which sag and as they’re currently unavailable you’ll have to get the existing springs re-tempered. If you can’t fi t two fi ngers between the tyre and wheelarch with the car unladen, it’s sitting too low.

ENGINE

The Chrysler pushrod V8s used in all these cars are very tough and understressed, 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.

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. You can see which is fi tted 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, it’s an earlier 6.3.

That’s standard on every economy car now of course, as are extras that were also fi tted to the road test car, namely a stereo costing a whopping £71 16s 2d (you can buy a CD player in Halfords for under £50 these days!) and air con which added no less than £220 to the sales invoice. Bear in mind that the typical wage was less than £40 back in ‘70 – so you can see why climate control the preserve of the extremely well off!

Three Of A Kind

ASTON MARTIN DBS
ASTON MARTIN DBS
The DBS arrived soon after the Interceptor, but it wasn’t offered in V8 form until 1969. This is another car that’s been in the doldrums for ages, in terms of values – but the last couple of years has seen prices and desirability rise sharply. One of the all-time great muscle cars, watch for our buying guide next month.
BRISTOL 409/410
BRISTOL 409/410
Like the Jensen, this discreetly styled Bristol is big, exclusive, fast and also powered by a Chrysler V8. As a result, buyers are scared off by the supposed complexity and running costs. Like the Interceptor, you’re on safe ground if you buy a good one – but again, revival costs are potentially crippling.
JAGUAR E-TYPE
JAGUAR E-TYPE
By the time the Series 3 arrived, the E-Type had become more of a grand tourer than a sports car, especially in 2+2 and coupé forms. Values have started to rise quite sharply after its 50th, although 2+2s and S3s remain not exorbitantly priced, if you buy right. Make no mistake, this Jag is a safe place to put your money into.

Verdict

The Interceptor has been so affordable (to buy, at least) for so long, that you have to wonder whether values will ever really pick up signifi cantly. Even if they do, they’re unlikely to reach Aston Martin levels. Those low values are the usual double-edged sword, because while it brings good cars into reach, it also means restoring poor cars is rarely economically viable.

While it’s true there are some dogs about, there are also some superb examples that have been properly restored and upgraded; your mission is to source one of these at the right price. Achieve that and you’ll have a super grand tourer that’s as good as any DBS even if it lacks the pedigree of an Aston, or even a Jaguar for that matter.



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