Vintage R&T Road Test: 1973 Jensen-Healey – Competitive But Not Exciting

The Jensen-Healey is one of the sadder footnotes of the 1970s. It was anticipated with considerable excitement, as the Austin-Healey 100/3000 had made such a significant impact in the sports car market in the ’50’s and ’60’s. No wonder Donald Healey was antsy to follow it up; the name still had a lot of cachet.

But things were more difficult in the ’70s, and Healey didn’t have Austin as a partner. But despite the challenges, it came into being, and in a number of ways, it was a pretty appealing package. Sure, the styling wasn’t as emotionally-impactful as the old 3000, but time moves on. And the J-H did incorporate the new 5-mile bumpers on the front so much better than all those relics from the sixties, like the MGB and Midget. But was it inspired or innovative or exciting? Not.

We all know things didn’t turn out well for the J-H, as documented in David Saunder’s CC. But in the spring of 1973, it was new, it was pretty quick, and there was a lot of anticipation. R&T gives us the low-down.

R&T started out by noting that it has been quite a long wait since the J-H was introduced and finally available at your local…J-H dealer. The basic facts are laid out: it’s a quite conventional two-passenger convertible sports car, with suspension borrowed from Vauxhall, including the live rear axle with drum brakes, a transmission from Chrysler UK, and an engine from Lotus; an untried new engine at that, and one that Lotus would not offer any warranty on. Uh-oh; but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

R&T deemed the J-H to be a worthy competitor in its market segment, due to “the basic soundness of its design”. The 2 liter DOHC slant-four 16 valve four “breathes well and develops respectable power (140 net hp @6,000 rpm) despite its low (8.4:1) compression”. That’s with two Stromberg carbs, unlike the European version with twin Dellortos, to meet the latest US emission standards. Despite that, the engine ran quite well, except for a reluctance to idle occasionally. That 140 hp compares very favorable to the Cosworth Vega’s 110 hp, despite its fuel injection.

Performance was quite decent, with a 9.7 second 0-60 sprint and a 17.3 sec. 1/4 mile @80.5 mph. It would leave an asthmatic MGB in its dust.

Ride and handling were very different than the traditional British sports car, inasmuch as it espoused the modern practice of suspension design, which understood that with a stiff body structure, the suspension can be softer yet still handle better. In that regard, it again left the hoary Brit roadsters in its dust. Unfortunately, the dreaded cowl shake when going over potholes and such was still there, as a nod to the old timers, presumably.

The J-H’s folding top was a sop to the tweedy set too, firmly espousing 1950s technology.

The summation: The J-H offered a number of significant improvements of the old roadsters, but with some throwbacks and flaws, most of which could presumably be fixed. “But only if the J-H presented itself better! To remember the originality, the impact, the appeal of the original Austin-Healey is to know, and regret that the J-H is only competitive with the cars in its class”.

It’s hard to recapture certain things. In the meanwhile, although the J-H did most of what it was to do well enough (or better), it was doomed by teething issues with its Lotus engine. warranty claims piled up until they drowned the Jensen company. As usual, Colin Chapman had the last laugh.

Related reading:

CC Jensen-Healey:  Care To Take It For A really Long test Drive?  DS