Connections : Jensen

Best known for the legendary Interceptor, Jensen Motors Limited operated from their West Bromwich factory for over 40 years, often leading a rather precarious existence. During that time, their fortunes were intertwined with those of the BMC>Rover companies on several occasions.

Here we take a look at some of the post-war connections which arose between Jensen and the BMC>Rover companies.


1947Jensen Straight Eight (PW) saloon

When Richard Jensen first saw the Austin Sheerline he was convinced its styling had been copied from his company’s yet-to-be-released Straight Eight saloon, which had been displayed the year before. He demanded a meeting with Leonard Lord, and was ready to give him Hell, but was placated with Lord’s offer of the Sheerline’s 4-litre engine to replace the Jensen’s Meadows straight-eight, which had since been discontinued.

1950Austin A40 Sports

Jensen won the contract to build the bodies for the so-called A40 Sports, which was in essence a smaller version of the 1949 Jensen Interceptor (both cars having been styled by Jensen’s Eric Neale). Austin had high hopes for the model in the US market, but of the 3200 examples built, fewer than 650 found their way to the States.

1951Austin A90 Atlantic convertible

This one-off conversion was personally commissioned by either Leonard Lord or George Harriman. A modified front panel from the A40 Sports was grafted on to the Atlantic’s bodywork, while the bonnet was an adapted A70 item.

1952Austin sports car prototype

Even after the formation of BMC, internecine rivalry meant that Austin wanted its own sports car to compete with MG’s. Leonard Lord asked Jensen to come up with a prototype in time for the 1952 Motor Show, but Jensen didn’t quite have the car (seen here) ready in time. Instead, Lord got talking to Donald Healey at the show, and the rest, as they say, is history. However, all was not lost for Jensen (see following entry).

Austin-Healey 100

Leonard Lord spotted Donald Healey‘s new Austin A70-based sports car at the 1952 Motor Show preview and struck a deal with him there and then to build and market it as an Austin-Healey; a new badge was made overnight and fitted to the car by the morning! Lord planned to get the coachbuilders Tickford to build around 40 bodies per week, but Richard Jensen caught wind of this and suggested to Lord that Jensen had the capacity to turn out as many as 150 bodies a week.

Result: Jensen won the contract to build the Austin-Healey. Lord (standing) and Healey are seen here in a photo taken at Longbridge the following year, with one of the first production examples.

1958Jensen Tempo 1500

Jensen’s own van and light truck was based on a German design, but featured numerous improvements. In truck form, it had an innovative hydraulically-operated load platform which could be raised to align with a loading platform, or (thanks to the model’s front-wheel-drive configuration) lowered between the rear wheels to ground level if there was no platform. The BMC connection? It used the 1489cc B-Series engine.

1959Austin Champ

Jensen built this style of bodywork for Austin’s pretender to Land Rover’s four-wheel-drive crown. The contract lasted some four years, ending when Austin decided to discontinue Champ production due to the model’s poor sales.

1960sAustin A40 Farina convertible

Though it has yet to be confirmed, Jensen are thought to have been responsible for this one-off A40 Farina. The hood was operated by an electric motor and hydraulic pump, which were housed within the boot area. The photograph shown here was taken by a former owner, and it is not known whether the car has survived.

1967Austin 1100 convertible

Jensen purchased an Austin 1100 Countryman and created a convertible with the intention of selling the idea to BMC for a production run. However, nothing came of the project and, after being shown at the 1967 London Motor Show, the prototype was registered and sold to a Jensen dealership.

More…

1969Norwegian-born Kjell Qvale was a major US distributor of BL cars, including Jaguar, MG and Austin-Healey. Following a meeting with a disaffected Donald Healey (see below), Qvale was persuaded to take a majority interest in the Jensen company, effectively becoming its owner. Qvale would later go on to build the Qvale Mangusta supercar in Italy – until the operation was bought by MG Rover for £7million, and the car was redeveloped to become the MG XPower SV.
1971Jensen-Healey

In the years following the formation of BLMC in 1968, Lord Stokes set about dispensing with BMC’s royalty agreements with John Cooper and Donald Healey, a move which saw the only remaining Austin-Healey model become the Austin Sprite for its final year on sale. Healey wasted little time in turning to Jensen with his plans for a belated replacement for the Austin-Healey 3000, and thus the Jensen-Healey roadster was born. Styled by William Towns (of Minissima fame), the roadster was joined in 1975 by the stylish Jensen GT coupe. However, Jensen Motors Limited was in serious financial trouble by this time, and the company folded the following year.

1975
1976
and
1987
Jensen Interceptor coupes

In 1975 Jensen, released a closed coupe version (top picture) of the Interceptor, effectively a fixed-hartop version of the ultra-rare convertible which had been launched in 1973. The hartop was designed by Panther Westwinds, and along with a distinctive smoked glass strip built into the roof section, it also employed the rear screen from the Jaguar XJ6.

Few of these coupes ever saw the light of day, and Jensen had already developed a more straightforward replacement (middle picture) – still using the XJ6 rear screen – when the axe fell on the company the following year. However, the company was relaunched as Jensen Cars Limited by Ian Orford in 1983. In 1987, Orford revived the 1976 concept, building a further prototype (bottom picture) updated to Series IV spec.

Once again, the project went no further, as the company struggled to maintain production of the standard Series IV Interceptor.

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19 Comments

  1. Does any more information exist on abandoned project by Ricardo to develop a Twin-Cam 16v head for the Chrysler / Simca Type 180 engine block for use in the Jensen-Healey to replace the unreliable Lotus 900-Series engines?

  2. While the styling could have been significantly improved upon (or simply not screwed up by Jensen at the clay model stage), how could one seriously expect the Jensen-Healey to be a big seller in the US as a indirect replacement for the Austin-Healey 3000 when it was limited by a 4-cylinder engine instead of using larger 6-cylinder or even V8 engines notwithstanding the fact the 4-cylinder in question was the underdeveloped Lotus 907 unit?

    Sure neither Jensen and the Healeys nor the newly formed BL wanted anything to do with each other at that point, yet it seems they (specifically Jensen) were at least willing to entertain the idea of using the Rover V8 in the early stages of what eventually became the Jensen-Healey (with the likes of Morgan, TVR, Marcos and Ginetta going on to use the Rover V8 to good effect).

    Together with a later entry-level model using a 2.3 Twin-Cam 16v version of the originally proposed Vauxhall Slant-4, now equipped with fuel-injection (increasing the output from 131-135 hp to 150+ hp or around 115-120 hp to 134+ hp in US emissions compliant form) followed by possible turbo variants and such a car would have likely been a lot more successful than what eventually ended up being produced.

      • Perhaps BMW would have been willing to provide its M30 Inline-6 engines in lower-volumes at the upper-end of the range, while the Jensen-Healey range is further complimented by a larger-volume entry-level 4-cylinder engine from either Vauxhall or Saab.

      • Looking at things a bit further had relations between BL, Jensen and Healey not soured another potentially suitable engine (albeit 4-cylinder) engine that comes to mind for the Jensen-Healey in the event it was an option would be the 145-170 hp 2.2-litre Rover P10 16-valve DOHC fuel-injected engine.

        That engine more then exceeds the 130 hp power target as well as pips the output of the Lotus 907 engine, whilst theoretically being more reliable than the Lotus engine given it was derived from the P6 OHC.

        • A Downton tweaked E6 could have been a better option, as it would least have more than 4 pots.

          A Downton E4 1750cc tested in Qcar in February 1970, shows that the 0-60 had improved by over 6 seconds to 10.5 secs, while 0-80 had 18.6 seconds taken off the standard car. If they could do that to the E4 imagine what could have been done to the E6. And in a lighter shell of the Jensen. Only problem would be the height of the engine.

          • A Downton tuned E6 would have made some degree of sense had the height been reduced like on the later related S-Series 4-cylinder (amongst many other changes) before slotting into some form of Jensen-Healey, however it would have also needed to have been compliant with US emission regulations.

            At the same time along with significantly improved styling, some alternate form of Jensen-Healey could have also benefited from adopting a TR7/TR8 like approach in featuring the Rover V8 (possibly with fuel-injection) as well as a 2.0-2.2-litre version of the Rover P10 Twin-Cam 16-valve fuel-injected engine to make some dub such a car a “Rover-Healey” (like the unbuilt AH 4000 ADO24 “Rolls-Healey”).

  3. Eric Neal designed all Jensens from 1946 until the FF/Intercepter introduction. I had the privilege of talking to him on a long telephone conversation in 1969 or 70. My then girlfriend (now my wife of 47 years) and I started and ran the Austin A40 Spirts Car Club – later handing over the club to the Austin Counties Car Club. As so often happens in motoring history, what was once considered rubbish is now appreciated and revered. In 1969 I paid £40 at a village garage in Wiltshire for a car that was in very good condition. People had no interest whatsoever – it was just an old banger that most people could hardly remember. A man called Tom Fleetwood raced one with some success in the mid 50’s – I have some photos of his real dicing with TR2’s etc.
    My wife and spent a year trying to find and buy a really good A40 Sports but they are as rare as hen’s teeth. We are ‘Life Members’ of the ACCC but even so struggled to find an available car. What I find interesting is that when one shows a picture of an A40 Sports to a 30’s something enthusiast they invariably comment so favourably, with comments like “it is just so beautiful – it looks like a Cistilia – every line is perfect”.
    Well, we thought that nearly 50 years ago but precious few agreed at the time.

  4. It’s surprising what cars have been in the banger category, even E-Types & Interceptors were disregarded in the late 1970s.

    I can understand cars like the big old Jaguars with their thirsty engines & frumpy looks being out of favour in the 1970s.

    • @ Richard Davies, the big Humbers had become upmarket bangers by the mid seventies due to the energy crisis and being out of production since 1967. Also Jaguar really struggled to sell the last E Types as they were so thirsty and old fashioned by 1974. In some cases, old Jaguars, Humbers and big Fords were dumped at the roadside as resale was so low. Yet those who did take a chance with these sub 20 mpg cars did get a lot of car for their money and the energy crisis faded by 1976.

      • I imagine the big Vauxhalls were also undesirable at that time, with high runing costs and rust.

        Oddly I’ve heard that Rover P4s were popular in the 1970s with DIY mechanics, I guess because they were mechanically simple and bit more rust resistant.

        One another site someone who had grown up in a working class part of London posted that his Dad & friends would often fix up old cars at the weekends. Often they would run a car until it had too many problems then swap parts onto a better one. Many 1950s-60s cars could be picked up for a song so they could be treated as disposable.

        • PC Crestas, Mark Four Ford Zodiacs and Vauxhall Ventoras, while not particularly old in 1974, would have been hard to sell due to their big sixes struggling to reach 20 mpg and badge snobbery. Yet these were bargains if you could afford to fuel them and a three year old Ford Zodiac with all the wood and leather would be a nice car to swan around in at a low price.

          • In the early 70s a work colleague who had a company car (Escort Estate) also owned a MKIV Zephyr 6 that his wife used for local journeys, so fuel consumption wasn’t a problem.

          • I seem to remember that when I were a lad, late sixties/early seventies, big, thirsty motors like Crestas,Zodiacs, and Westminsters were popular choices as minicabs. I had a grandmother who kept poor health and was a frequent user of the local taxi firm and they always seemed to turn up in such cars. Fuel costs didn’t appear to be a concern for them!

  5. The 1952 Austin sports car prototype is known as the Jensen 504 prototype.

    Also fascinated by the unbuilt Jensen P66 prototypes that were apparently conceived to replace the Austin-Healey 3000 after BMC sought to replace it with a badged-engineered MGC as the Austin-Healey 3000 MKIV, even if the Healeys rejected the MGC was there a way for Jensen to use the car as a basis for its own rebodied Healey-replacing sportscar project or did BMC also not want anything to do with Jensen by that time?

    • The 504 looked so much like the MGA it is uncanny – weird arrangement with the spare wheel in a letterbox at the back though.

      The P66 went onto become the basis for the Interceptor – Eric Neagle designed a Healey replacement the P66 which the owners of Jensen thought was not pretty enough and got Vignale to build another design, as they thought Italian design would sell better – hence the Interceptor. Due to this Eric and the Jensen brothers resigned from the firm.

      • Have read elsewhere claiming the MGA-like front was not the original prototype’s front-end.

        Know the P66 was said to have been based on the CV8 (with the latter possibly receiving a P66 style rebody) yet am surprised the P66 formed the basis for the Interceptor. In retrospect the latter should have formed the basis of a SWB Interceptor derived car to fill the Healey like niche of the P66 or at least attempted to use the MGC for an Interceptor style full rebody.

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