Ever since the late seventies when I saw a Jensen Interceptor passing me by on my bike, on my way to school, I knew this was my dream car.
Of course I had been reading about it in the magazines but it was unreachable, like a Jaguar E-type or a Maserati or such exotica. I would admire these at classic car shows or museums.
Only later when I learned the Interceptor used rather ordinary Chrysler V8 engines, I became really interested.
Exactly the same Chrysler V8 was used in a lot of Chryslers (and Dodges/Plymouths). Jensen used the 383 cubic inch (6.3 liters) version for its early Interceptor, later versions used the 440 ci (7.2 liters). Most had the Torqueflite 727 auto transmission which suited the engine very good but there were a handful of cars with an agricultural 4-speed manual gearbox too.
Jensen used the Chrysler pack (engine and transmission) first in the Interceptors’ predecessor, the C-V8. Although a fine car on many accounts, it lacks the jaw dropping lines of the Interceptor.
I knew there were three versions of the Interceptor. Mark One (1966-69) had a low front bumper, pointy overriders, a very sixties dashboard and slim rear lamps. Mark Two (1969-71) had a more modern dashboard, different seats, the front bumper was fitted higher – just below the grille, square overriders, larger rear lamps and amongst other changes the front suspension received ball joints instead of king pins. Air conditioning was now an option. Mark Three (1971-76) had once again different seats, new (unique for the Interceptor) aluminum wheels, a larger engine and air conditioning was a standard fitment.
After Jensen went bust in 1976, the tooling was saved. Most original tooling was sold to a Jaguar parts supplier, which still can supply many Interceptor parts including new pressed panels (hood, fenders, doors).
A nice thing about Jensen is that it was a small factory specialized in making their own bodywork and interior. Jensen earned their money by assembling Austin Healeys, yes every Austin Healey was “produced” by Jensen. This gave Jensen the money to make / hand built their own cars (541, CV8, Interceptor, Jensen Healey and GT). For these they had to make use of many available generic parts. You might recognize parts from Austin, Triumph, Jaguar, Chrysler. For me as a DIY maintenance guy this is a positive thing because these parts generally are easier (and cheaper) to come by. The fact that the Interceptor basically is of a simple construction (rear suspension is a big rear axle with leaf springs, there are no fancy electronics, all bodywork except for the outer skin are straight panels) made me realize an Interceptor was a car I could take on – provided I could find one good and cheap enough.
Comparing the three Marks, which objectively is an impossible task because every newer generation always has improvements over the older one, I chose the Mark One as the most attractive.
So I started looking, summer 1999. For months I looked in car magazines and online ads. Internet has only just begon and there were few online ads to be seen. Not on Ebay or other big automotive selling sites. From earlier visits to the UK I knew there were local ad papers. I asked a UK friend to send me these papers now and then. Then they started displaying their ads online which made checking much easier.
I was in no hurry, did not want to make a wrong buy.
I made a spreadsheet with all more or less affordable Interceptors I could find. Mark, left hand drive or right hand drive, location, visited by myself?, asking price, minimum price, registration, description. During the two or three years I was looking I even found a few Left Hand Drive Mark One for sale, these are very rare – no Mk1 cars were exported to the USA and only a handful LHD in Europe. All cars in the Netherlands or Belgium were more expensive compared to prices in the UK. It made no sense to me. So I turned back to the UK ads.
In October 2001 I saw this LooT ad for a car in Manchester:
Jensen Interceptor MK1 tax free and MOT, stunning condition, lots of new parts fitted, sell or swap what-have-you, £6,000.00
Interested and curious – there were no pictures in LooT – I fired off an email.
A few days later I received a long reply. Bill, the seller, said he had owned the car for five years while he restored it. It had received many new panels (wings, doors, rear hatch, valances, bonnet), rubbers everywhere (suspension, hoses, doors), overhaul of the king pin suspension, bumpers were rechromed, new carpets, new stainless steel exhaust system and the car had a new yearly inspection ticket. With the car came (from a scrapped car) extra wheels, rear axle, radiator, rear hatch, glass, interior. He sent many pictures showing the welding to the car has been done to a pretty high standard, panel joints were lead loaded as were done originally by the Jensen factory.
Well, that sounded promising. But the asking price was a too high, and transportation would be a big problem. Manchester is a long, long drive from the ferry ports of Dover, Hull or Harwich. I did not dare to drive an unknown car to me for such a long distance, and then there were all the spare parts. I replied I was interested but it would be too expensive to get transport arranged.
Months passed. I checked the ads weekly but not many other interesting candidates appeared. I checked LooT often as well, the asking price of the Manchester car had gradually gone down to £4,000 seven months later. I phoned Bill that I would come over to check out the car. A flight was booked for the next week and I was picked up by Bill. The car was as advertised, Bill was a gentle and honest person.
He explained the car was hard to sell because it was not good enough for those looking for an as new restored car, and too expensive for someone looking for a cheap car. It still needed work, under the hood it looked old and needed detailing. The interior was good but it had cheap carpets, the electric windows were hard to close. The chrome was pretty good but the glass surrounds ideally would need a rechrome. The water pump leaked a little. And so on, it was definitively not a perfect or 100% car. I made an offer of £3,500 and we had a deal.
A friend owned a big J20 Jeep and offered to go along. We hooked a car trailer and invited another friend, and off we went, taking the ferry across the North Sea. Loading up the car in Manchester, we needed all the space there was in the huge pick up because of the mountain of spare parts and wheels. The Interceptor followed on the trailer. It was quite a sight!
The M62 motorway from Manchester to Hull at one point is the highest point for a motorway in the UK. While the Jeep on flat roads could cope well with the maximum weight in the pickup area and towing a heavy car, it did slow down markedly on the long slope to the top. But no bad words to be said for the 25 year old Jeep, it did its work admirably. I could have hired a big van but this was getting a stylish car in style!
To be honest, the Jensen really was bought at a bad time. I lost my job, and found another one but had to travel for it. We had decided to build a bigger garage and extend our house. To save on costs I did much myself. This resulted in very little time for cars, and even that time was needed to keep the road going cars on the road. The Jensen stood and stood.
I made some progress, the under bonnet area is so much better now. New Hardura lining was fitted to the inner wings and bulkhead. The heater box was removed, de-rusted and painted. Same for the relay box. Jensen in their wisdom did not put a lid on the relay box, although older versions did have a lid. I wanted a lid so I made one from aluminum. Much of the under bonnet wiring was renewed. I fitted a heavy duty Mitsubishi alternator and made a new bracket for this. The fans were overhauled, cleaned and painted. I replaced the ignition points with electronic ignition (Mopar orange box).
The water pump was replaced and I changed the timing chain. The timing gears were found to be still of the original nylon-dipped type. This is a known weak point for these engines. When new, the nylon gear wheels were introduced to make less noise. Over time the nylon degraded and pieces broke off into the sump. I guess I was lucky that no real damage was done to the engine.
The exhaust pipes hung too low, they were cut and rewelded so they hung closer to the underside of the car. The trunk compartment was cleaned, de-rusted and painted. The whole underside of the car was scraped, de-rusted and painted.
In the mean time, to keep up momentum, I sometimes drove the car on borrowed garage plates. This helped to keep me going as it seems there was no end to the work that needed doing to the car.
The right hand (driver’s) door window was difficult to close. This is one (of many) of the hard things to do on a Jensen. Being coach built, it means adjustment is possible in all directions. Which is fine but there is no starting datum point. The door window frames should sit against the aperture rubbers, not too tight, not to loose, not too much forward or too much backwards. At the door top the glass should sit not too far inside or outside. And, important, the glass should be able to slide free in its frame runners. In all, not a job done in a couple of hours. I removed the motor and tried another (spare) but that also could barely make the window close. So I replaced the motor and sliding system with a modern Jaguar system – it took some fabrication and welding but I got it working and it does get the job done easier.
The interior lamps were not working, I replaced all the wiring. I wanted to fit door mirrors but was unsure what type to fit. Back then, they were not fitted by the factory which is the reason you see Mk1s fitted with wing mirrors (various kinds) or door mirrors (various kinds). There is very little room inside the door to tighten nuts for the door mirrors so, you guessed it, it is not a 10 minute job. A remote door locking system because the door keys are tiny and I did not want the risk breaking them. Also, an Interceptor is quite wide which makes (un)locking the other door from the inside a bit hard.
The inspection for getting a registration was not too difficult. The inspector could see a lot of attention was done to the car and had no problem assigning a new registration. I had to convince him the plate containing the chassis number was a factory welding job to the bottom cross member of the chassis. It does look a bit like an amateur job but it is not. As precaution, I brought many pictures of other Interceptors showing their chassis number plates welded in the same location.
Since then, tires have been replaced and the Carter carburetor replaced. After a few months running, I got fed up with the huge fuel bills so installed a LPG system. The engine runs great on LPG and the fuel bills have been more than halved.
Owning a Jensen is nice. I lost count being asked what kind of car it is. Jensen? Most people have never heard of the make. Most people, even younger who usually are not interested in old cars, like the car. Which is no surprise because what is not to like? Long hood, big rear screen, beautiful inside and out and the subdued growl of a V8 from its big exhaust tips.
The Jensen community is great. One of the first things I did after buying the car was becoming a member of the Jensen Owners Club (UK). This really is an excellent club, even for people like me not living in the UK. They have a very active forum online, a nice glossy bi monthly magazine and are active on social media. People are friendly, not snobbery (I have had some bad experiences with a Jaguar club) and helpful. For such a small defunct car company, there is a wealth of information available.
A fascinating and huge book has been published by a Jensen historian which lists EVERY individual Jensen car made, by their chassis number. For months he was at the car factory after it went down but when they still had all information. The book is the result of years of digging deep into the factory and tracing cars in the last decades.
In all the years I have the car, it was always garaged. In spite of this the paint has degraded. When I bought the car, it had been painted two years before and it looked very good (to my then amateur eyes). Not an original colour, although a buyer of a new Jensen could specify whatever color he wanted, but a modern BMW color (Alpine blue). If you look closely now you can see scratches below the surface everywhere. Also, the panel gaps are not the best.
However, I know these are shortcomings an owner has to live with. Less than ideal panel gaps, bad paint, scuffs in the leather, pits in the chrome, a scratch in the glass. I try to embrace the faults because I know I would hate the “proper” solution even more: dismantling, restoring, repaint, re-leather, rechrome. More months, maybe years not driving. The faults are just small parts of the car’s history. Does it really have to be like a showroom example? Not for me.
The car still looks pretty damn good (from a distance). I just should not park it next to immaculate Interceptors!
So what are the future plans for it? Well, to use it a lot more. The car has some minor niggles which could be improved. The cheap home made carpet set should be replaced by a better quality. I will replace the wheels (now from a Mk3 Interceptor) to the original, refurbished chromed Rostyle wheels. If I like it enough I might even consider switching the steering wheel to the left.
This was the final COAL from me. I have enjoyed writing these! Searching for old pictures and remembering anecdotes. By publishing the stories on Curbside Classic I did get many reactions which I liked a lot.
This will not be the last piece you will see from me on CC. There will be the odd piece now and then, but not weekly like the previous 20 weeks. See you next time!
My previous COALs can be found here: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/author/dion/
Further reading on Jensen and the Interceptor. David Saunders has an excellent article:
Tatra87 did a thorough history on Jensen: