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The Jensen Interceptor: Chrysler-Powered British Luxury

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By Mike Sealey and David Zatz.

Allan and Richard Jensen's auto business started before World War II, when their first Interceptor was made. They started out making Austin bodies under contract, so the first Interceptor resembled an Austin A40; they also made bodies for the Volvo P1800, Sunbeam Tiger, and Austin-Healey. Jensen Motors claimed the first use of resin-bonded glass fibre on car bodies and the first use of four-wheel disc brakes.

The first Jensen Interceptor used a 4 liter Austin in-line six; the company also used Nash Twin-Ignition Eight and other engines. In 1962, Jensen launched its C-V8, which used a Chrysler 361 B-block engine.

The 1966-1987 Jensen Interceptor kept the basic C-V8 Mark III chassis, with dramatically different styling. Chief engineer Kevin Beattie insisted on Italian styling, and after a round of proposals, Carozzeria Touring won with a fastback coupe; but they were unable to finalize the design. Finally, Vignale (of Milan) finished it, giving Jensen prototypes and early steel production bodies built on English CV-8 chassis. Jensen later used the jigs and tools, which were sent by Vignale to the West Bromwich factory.

The Interceptor was based on the C-V8, using a similar or identical steel chassis (made from sheet steel welded into box-sections); where the C-V8 used a composite fiberglass and aluminum body, though, the Interceptor used steel welded to a tubular framework. The body was stronger and stiffer but weighed 11% more.

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The body had two doors, a low beltline, and fishbowl rear glass in a handsome 2+2 design. The 1966 Jensen Interceptor, with its 105 inch wheelbase, weighed 3,500 lb. The rear wheel drive car used a hypoid bevel final drive with Powr-Lok limited-slip differential, with a 3.07:1 gear ratio.

At the Jensen Interceptor's launch, power came from a choice of engines, the little 273 V8 and the big 383 cubic inch (6.3-liter) Mopar V-8, with an easy 325 horsepower and tire-lighting torque. The engines were coupled to a choice of four-speed, fully synchronised manual gearbox, or a a Chrysler three-speed Torqueflite automatic. A zero to sixty sprint took a mere 7.1 seconds - an excellent time for 1966 - with a 135 mph top speed for the 383 and 120 mph for the 273.

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Autocar reviewed the Interceptor favorably; they obtained 0-60 in 7.3 seconds with the automatic, with 30-70 running 6.2 seconds, and a quarter-mile time of 15.7 seconds. 0-100 mph took exactly 19 seconds. Autocar's top speed was 133 mph and gas mileage, 14.2 mpg. Autocar rated the 383 at 325 hp @ 4,600 (Jensen rated it at 330) and 425 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm (figures are gross); they found absolutely no speedometer error, unusual for the time. They found the automatic shifted normally at 3,500 - 4,000 rpm unless overridden. Their figures were taken at 6,000 miles.

Autocar found the Jensen Interceptor to have very similar 0-60 times as the Aston-Martin DB6, Jaguar E-Type, Pontiac GTO, and Porsche 911S; it beat the DB6, was nearly identical to the Jaguar, and was a little slower than the GTO and 911S. In the quarter-mile, the Interceptor was beaten by the Aston Martin, even with the Jaguar and Pontiac, and was a hair faster than the Porsche. Gas mileage was better than the Aston Martin and Pontiac by a good margin but much worse than the Jaguar and below the Porsche as well. (The Jensen was considerably cheaper than the Aston, much more than the Jaguar, and similar to the imported Pontaic and Porsche.)

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In 1965, Autocar wrote, "To say that the acceleration is electrifying is something of an understatement. The TorqueFlite automatic transmission is standard and really cannot be faulted at all. ... Starting hot or cold is always instantaneous ... this one was entirely free from vibrations and practically silent in operation." They did complain about the headlights, air-powered rear defroster, and climate control.

The Birmingham factory produced about 600 of these Interceptors per year, with a starting price in 1965 of £2,394.

The rear suspension was identical to the Jensen C-V8, a live, rigid axle with dual-rate half-elliptic leaf springs and a track bar (Panhard rod) going from the left side of the chassis to the right end of the rear axle. The adjustable Armstrong Selectaride rear shocks were controlled from within the cabin.

Jensen also created a highly advanced, four-wheel-drive version Jensen Interceptor FF, with four-wheel disc brakes including an antilock system.

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The Interceptor was big for a European car, though small by American standards (five inches shorter than a Camaro), with an overall length of 188 inches. Front seat passengers were enveloped in splendor with leather-covered bucket seats, wood trim, and Wilton wool carpeting, but the rear seats were confined. Lockers at the end of each seat held the safety belts when not in use, and one had a first aid kit. The carpeted rear hatch had substantial luggage space - 16 cubic feet worth - and the spare was under the floor, and could be levered without having to remove luggage.

A convertible version appeared in 1974.

In addition to the 360, some 440-powered Interceptors were made, and the Hemi was under experimentation (the cost to bring the suspension up to speed, not to mention to import the practically handmade 426 Hemi, would have been prohibitive).

Jensen might have made a 440 Six Pack interceptor, the extremely rare Interceptor SP. This may have been offered in both two wheel drive and FF form, but if any SP FFs were made at all, they are not believed to have made it out of single digits. One is known to exist - it was made after Jensen closed its doors (Dave Horton's FF SP convertible).

Simon Templar used an Interceptor in the British TV series Return of the Saint; in the original series, Roger Moore drove a Jensen-built Volvo P1800.

After the release of the new Jensen Interceptor, the brothers hired Carl Doerr to raise sales; he doubled production shortly after being hired in 1968, but then arranged to have the company sold to merchant bankers. In 1970, it ended up in the possession of San Francisco's Kjell Qvale, today known more for his namesake adaptations of Mustangs which seem to be grossly over-represented in supercar shootouts.

Qvale put Alfred Vickers in charge, and invited Donald Healey to join the board, resulting in a car that was to be called the Jensen Healey; this was a two-seat roadster with an aluminum Lotus four-cylinder engine which Justin Davies said had "severe reliability problems...Lotus was accused of using Jensens as test beds for the brand new motor."

Healey left before the car started production, and the car was renamed Jensen GT. The car was fairly heavy for the little two-liter engine, and while the GT had Jensen's usual luxury, the sticker price was nearly four times that of a Valiant. According to the Jensen-Healey Preservation Society web site, "Wildcat strikes, continual parts shortages, inflation, a shaky financial footing, and bad economic conditions all contributed to closing the doors of Jensen Motors in May, 1976."

The Parts and Service Division was later reorganized with new management, new financing, and the Interceptor's tooling; it was reorganized into Jensen Cars Limited in the 1980s, making a low-production Mark IV series with the Chrysler 360 engine, in 1987 (the last 440-powered Series III was built in 1976). Jensen came out with new models in the late 1990s but appears to have submerged once again.

For more, see 1966-1991 Jensen Interceptor: Unappreciated Overachiever", by Graham Robson, Collectible Automobile Volume 8 Number 3 (October 1991), and the Jensen-Healey Preservation Society web site. This page was originally based on an article by Jack Nerad for Driving Today but was almost entirely replaced by research from the National Automotive History Collection of the Detroit Public Libraries.

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