1973 Jensen Interceptor
1973 Jensen Interceptor
Photo: Bill Vance

by Bill Vance

Over the years, there has been a fascination with fitting big American engines in lightweight British cars. Examples are the Hudson-engined Railtons and Brough Superiors of the ’30s, Cadillac Allards and Nash-Healeys of the 1950s, and the Ford-powered AC Cobras and Sunbeam Tigers of the 1960s.

The English Jensen brothers, Richard and Allan, of West Bromwich, Staffordshire, were not immune to the lure of the large, slow-turning powerplant and the spirited performance of a high power-to-weight ratio.

The Jensens built their reputation as auto stylists and custom body builders in the 1930s, and toward the end of the decade produced some cars powered by Ford V-8 (both 60 and 85 hp versions) and Nash straight eights.

After the Second World War it took them a while to return to the car business, introducing their Interceptor in 1950. It looked like a larger version of the attractive Austin A40 Sports convertible, not surprising because Jensen was building the little sportster’s bodies for Austin under commission. They would also build the bodies for early Austin-Healeys, Volvo P1800s and Sunbeam Tigers.

The first Interceptor was powered by a 4.0 litre, inline-six from the large Austin Sheerline/Princess models. Few of these reached our shores. To North Americans the Jensen name means the big, luxuriously appointed, Chrysler-powered, four-seater Interceptor 2-plus-2 hardtops and convertibles produced during the ’60s and ’70s. The Interceptor was introduced to the public at the Earls Court Motor Show in London in 1966 and it was truly an international effort.

Although the Jensen staff had designed a new model, which it showed to the public in 1965, Jensen management was dissatisfied with it and insisted that the company go to an Italian designer for its new car.

Several were visited, with the Touring firm of Milan providing an acceptable design. Jensen bought the drawings outright from Touring and then took them to another Italian company, Vignale, and commissioned them to build the bodies. The first of these Interceptors was produced in the exceptionally short time of only 10 months.

The 2-plus-2 coupe was quite large with an over-all length of 4775 mm (188 in.). While often referred to as coupes, the company preferred the 4-seat GT designation. Jensen later designated a few notchbacks as coupes.

The multi-national Interceptor that emerged from the Jensen plant came with an English chassis, an Italian body, and an American Chrysler V-8 engine. The Interceptor was well received at the 1966 Earls Court show. It came as a hardtop model only at that time and featured quad headlamps and a plain, yet tasteful, horizontal bar grille. The most distinctive styling feature was a large, glass, fastback hatch.

It was lavishly appointed inside. The four passengers were coddled in leather seats and wool carpets, although those riding in the rear found leg room limited. A convertible model was added in 1974.

Not only was the Interceptor luxurious, it was also fast. When Road & Track magazine tested one in 1970 they found that its huge 6.2 litre (383 cu in.) 330 horsepower Chrysler V-8 was capable of accelerating the 1,676 kg (3,695 lb) Interceptor from zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 7.1 seconds. They reported a top speed of 196 km/g (122 mph).

In addition to luxury and speed, Jensen also featured some very advanced technology. Until 1972, it offered a version with a four-wheel drive system that had been developed by tractor king Harry Ferguson’s organization. This four-wheel drive Interceptor FF, as it was called, also pioneered the use of anti-lock brakes on a production car. Such features as four-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes are now common, but were very exotic then.

In 1967, 180 Interceptors were produced, gradually rising to 1,166 in 1973, its best year. Export of Jensens began in 1969. Over its 10-year life span, from 1967 to 1976, 6,387 of these second-generation Interceptors were built.

In spite of the addition of the smaller, cheaper Jensen-Healey 2-seater model, Jensen Motors Ltd. failed in 1976, a victim, like so many other specialty car builders, of increasing competition and spiralling production costs. A subsequently reorganized company, Jensen Cars, produced a handful of cars.

The Jensen Interceptor left behind a legacy of what touring in the grand style should be. One writer recently referred to the Interceptor as The Gentleman’s Express, which is an apt description. It superbly sums up the Jensen Interceptor, with its Italian styling, English luxury and American power, all rolled into one sumptuous grand touring machine.

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