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.
CC Jensen-Healey: Care To Take It For A really Long test Drive? DS
Would love to have a GT but they are pretty hard to find.
Was there ever a comparison between the Jensen GT and the Lotus Elite? I cannot find one and cannot remember ever seeing one. Would loe to see the outcome as they had so much in common. The Lotus had more sophisticated suspension but at a far bigger price.
I had a mild and brief fascination for these for a bit, as they had become ultra cheap after about 20 years. Seemed pretty exotic for pennies, but having looked at one, I realized I really couldn’t like the looks. The Euro-car dealer selling it kindly told me not to even think of it: I’m sure I looked as penniless as I was. We actually then had a long chat, and told me to buy an old Mercedes, if I must drive an old Euro, though adding that when they broke, so would I be. A good man.
Did this car actually have 140hp in the US? Motor’s UK road test of an early one says 140 in dirty form, and the performance (7.6 to 60) seems about right for such a lightweight car with that power (and ability to rev so high that it could go over 60 in second). If the 110hp in the mildly-tuned, considerably heavier Cosworth Vega mentioned gave 12.3, I reckon just under 10 here probably means power about the same as the Chev.
Ofcourse, there’s another possibility. Could anything that came from Chapman really be taken as gospel?
I’ll try an attach a link to the UK test (which, btw, gives very similar verdict to R&T, albeit without knocking the dullard looks).
The comparison data with the Datsun 240Z really shows how the Japanese put the Brits out of the sports car business in the 70s, in a similar fashion to what they did with the motorcycle business a few years earlier.
If the early Z had been offered in a roadster version, the decimation probably would have been even faster and more complete.
A roadster version. Well Nissan left that to Mazda some 20 years later with the Miata. Why oh why did Healy fit an un warrantied untried engine”.
Yea the engine had it’s problems. Typical for Lotus to finish development with it’s customer. The other problem was with assembly. Just wasn’t a good time to build British cars. Today, these are kind of a bargain, and of course plenty of options to improve the motor thanks to the Lotus Esprit
Actor Martin Sheen, portraying a stock broker, drove a Jensen-Healey in an early episode of The Streets of San Francisco. It was very unique for the program to highlight a brand of car throughout an episode, other than a Ford product. A Mercury Capri may have worked as well, reflecting Sheen’s character, and youthful playboy lifestyle. Not surprising, the show used blackout tape to conceal the lower bodyside ‘JENSEN-HEALEY’ branding. lol
Only the Lotus head was untried the shortblock lived in thousands of CF Bedford vans and the OHC Vauxhall Victors and Viva GTs already since 1967, they were quite good thats why Chapman chose it as the basis for his LV engine series.
, the Jensen Healey was just the Vauxhall parts bin in a sporty suit.
I was working in an import shop in the 90s where a woman would drop either one of her two JH cars to be serviced as necessity required. So much better than the MG/Triumph fare we also serviced. Once leaks were addressed they ran quite well.
I recall the handling was what I like best. Flat cornering with the ability to soak up bumps. The typical Lotus approach with soft springs and large anti-sway bars. Made so much of an impression that I’ve set the suspension on my current 74 911 in a similar fashion….
I kind of like these, sports cars aren’t my thing normally but issues aside the Lotus four is a really cool engine on paper and the design, and whole car really is kind of unfairly maligned amongst British sports car fans only because it had a wide generation gap from predecessors and competitors that were mostly pretty ancient in both engineering and styling.
There was always a hierarchy among car producing nations among the editors of Road & Track. England sat comfortably above continental Europe, with the gaps between the French, Germans, and Italians significantly smaller. The US and Japan were punching bags.
Why did Road & Track so dislike one of the last attainable British sports-cars that they damned it with faint praise? They must have been really obsessed with the Austin Healeys; cars whose appeal was completely lost on me from the moment they replaced the four-cylinder engine. The Jensen Healey may have had quality issues and teething troubles, but so did everything else from the UK after 1966. It may have had styling similarities to the TR6 and Spitfire 1500, but I don’t recall Road & Track saying to stop buying Triumphs. Here was a car that performed with the best small convertibles, that had an exotic engine, and that was released nearly a decade after the last really new MG, and a few years after Triumph updated the TR250’s TR4-inherited styling to make the TR6. You’d think they’d have been happy to have a sign that maybe it wasn’t all over for the British sports car. Instead, they were too hung up on the five-years-dead, decade-obsolete Austin Healey. It isn’t like they’d conceded that the 240Z made all the roadsters redundant.
I have had my J-H for 40 years and I love the car [of course I have modified/improved/fixed everything on the car]. I refused to own any sports car that was not a convertible.
The J-H was a five time SCCA National Champion. The SCCA 1973 racing J-H pulled 1.1 g on the skidpad.
The size is perfect, bigger than an Alfa and smaller than an XK-E or a Corvette like the 1968 Convertible I had before I bought my 1973 Healey. I am 6’1 and the car fits me like a glove.
Rebuilding the engine with a 2.2 liter crank and Dellorto carburetors or fuel injection will easily give you 200+ HP and 190 ft-pds torque in a 2200 lb car with excellent handling.
I also added 4 pot front disc brakes and bigger wheels and tires. I built mine as a street legal track day car. Fast and fun.
Fix it up and it is a superlative roadster.
I love my J-H. Owned it for 40 years. J-H was a 5 time SCCA National Champ.
The SCCA Champ J-H was 7 seconds faster lapping the old Riverside Race track than a street Ferrari Daytona and only 1.2 seconds a lap slower than a full FIA Daytona that raced at LrMans [R&T September and November 1974].
I have no desire for anything else.