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Thread: 1966-76 Jensen Interceptor

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    1966-76 Jensen Interceptor

    retro-review: 1966-76 Jensen Interceptor
    By Eric Peters
    for immediate release

    Most people think hybrid vehicles are a modern invention -- but the quirky, quintessentially British Jensen automobile company of Birmingham, England had the idea long before Toyota -- and decades before there would be a Prius.

    Instead of MPGs, however, the focus of Jensen's "hybrid" was BHP -- brake horsepower. And the name chosen for the vehicle would reflect its purpose and mission:

    Interceptor.

    Built for roughly ten years between 1966 and 1976, the Interceptor was conceived as a sort of alternate XKE or DB6, combining the genteel elegance of an English two-plus-two saloon with the fine lines of a front-engined V-12 Italian exotic. But instead of a peaky, high-maintenance, high-RPM DOHC 12, motive power came from the deadly simplicity of a massive, Detroit-built big block V-8 engine -- providing easy, tire-annihilating torque.

    Marrying a British car with an oversized American V-8 wasn't a new idea, of course -- the 289 Hi-Po powered Sunbeam Alpine Tiger and the later 427 Shelby Cobras being two examples from about the same time period. But while the Tiger and Shelby Cobra were typically British minimalist two-seater roadsters with clown car-sized, tinny little bodies and few amenities, the four-place, two-ton Interceptor was as large-living as the 7.2 liter "Super Commando" 440 cubic inch Chrysler V-8 under its long hood -- with generous back seats, sumptuous accommodations up front and remarkable for the day advances, including Girling four-wheel-disc brakes with a mechanical anti-lock system and available all-wheel-drive (in "FF" trim).

    The combination worked -- delivering sports car handling, muscle car quarter-mile times and the easy big-engine power required for hours of effortless high-speed touring.

    None of this came cheap, though. Base Interceptor coupes cost roughly twice the MSRP of a new Corvette -- about $16,000 at a time when a 'Vette sold for around $7,000 or so fully loaded. Convertible Interceptors and FF models with all-wheel-drive tickled $25,000 -- stupendous money back in the early-mid 1970s.

    But this was a special car -- far more than just a British car with a big engine stuffed into it.

    The Italian styling house Vignale was commissioned by Jensen Motors, Ltd., to pen what became the Interceptor's sleek (though unfortunately rust-prone) bodywork -- and came up with the car's signature compound curved glass hatchback (a complex and expensive shape to produce at that time), backswept A, B and C pillars, raked windshield and long, Ferrari Daytona-style hood. Though it's true Vignale borrowed some styling cues from both Ferrari and Aston Martin -- especially in the front end, where the influence of the DB series cars can be seen -- the Interceptor's exceptionally well-proportioned 2-plus-2 shape stands on its own as a credible reinterpretation of classic forms -- neither cheaply derivative nor clumsily imitative.

    Vignale rendered the prototype in four months -- just in time to get completed show cars put together by October, 1966. The cars were assembled at Jensen's West Bromwich factory near Birmingham, right up to the last year of production, 1976.

    A beautifully hand-crafted, aviation-inspired interior with "Qvale" wood dash (named after Kjell Qvale, the Jensen company's major shareholder), matching three-spoke steering wheel, hand-fitted leather and sumptuous Wilton carpets coddled the driver. Air conditioning and a premium (for the day) audio system were included standards. There were toggle-style controls and a floor-mounted shifter on a handsome floor mounted center console; virtually all Interceptors were right-hand drive.

    The first Interceptors off the line were fitted with 383 Chrysler big blocks with a performance grind hydraulic cam and single Carter carburetor -- producing 325 (gross) horsepower. This gave the hybrid British/American supercar more muscle than the 1966-68 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 -- whose far less torquey 3.3 liter V-12 managed only 300 hp at 8,000 rpm.

    Shortly after production began, however, the ante was raised considerably when Chrysler's famous 440 cube big block became the standard Interceptor powerplant -- with either a single four barrel or -- if you were exceptionally fortunate -- the same three two-barrel "Six Pak" set-up used in muscle car legends such as the Charger Daytona and Plymouth Superbird. Before emissions regulations and the ever-escalating cost of fuel began to choke the life out of the mighty 440 (as they were doing to all U.S. performance engines after about 1972), it delivered as much as 375 BHP and pushed the two-ton Jensen to 60 mph from rest in about 7 seconds flat and to a top speed close to 140 mph -- excellent numbers for the time. (440-equipped early Interceptors were almost exactly as quick as the four-place Ferrari 400 GT -- and quicker than the '68-'78 Lamborghini Espada.)

    Had the Interceptor been equipped with an overdrive transmission and better gearing, its top speed would very likely have been comparable to that achieved by the GT Ferraris and Lambos of the era -- but the inherent limitations of its non-OD three-speed Torqueflite automatic kept the car from having the 150 mph legs of the Italian thoroughbreds.

    A very small handful of Interceptors did leave the factory with Hurst-shifted 4-speed manual transmissions -- and these cars were noticeably quicker than the automatic versions -- and are exceedingly collectible today (as are the Six Pak-equipped "SP" and all-wheel-drive "FF" versions).

    Jensen also supposedly looked into the possibility of offering the 425 horsepower 426 Hemi in the early '70s Interceptor, but cost considerations ultimately proved prohibitive.

    The Jensen's suspension, like its powerplant, was straightforward -- with a live axle/leaf spring rear and coil-spring front suspension. But the Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock system was a true leap forward; no other production car of the time offered anything like this technology -- which had been developed for aviation use. It would be decades before ABS became a common feature on even high-end luxury and sports cars.

    The 10.75-inch Girling four-wheel-disc disc brakes were also state-of-the-art equipment for the era and together with the anti-lock system gave the Interceptor not just the stopping power but also the control of a modern car.

    By the mid-70s, emissions regulations and double digit inflation conspired to sap the Interceptor's might (its 440 cube V-8 was down to a so-so 220 net horsepower) even as it became even more expensive -- factors which helped accelerate the demise of the car, and ultimately Jensen Motors, Ltd. The Birmingham factory fell silent after 1976, when the last of the original models -- the Mark III -- rolled off the line.

    Fewer than 7,000 cars were produced, all told -- including a small percentage of convertibles and FF all-wheel-drive examples.

    Still, its very respectable ten-year production run (impressive for a low-volume marque) testifies to the car's appeal and the basic goodness of the design.

    In 1986, the Jensen company was briefly reorganized as Jensen Cars Limited -- and an attempt was made to resurrect the Interceptor nameplate with an updated Mark IV series. However, the effort failed and Jensen -- after another brief resurfacing in the 1990s -- faded away for good this time and the Interceptor became a piece of automotive history.

    Interest in these unusual hybrid English/American/Italian road cars has endured over the ensuing years -- and there continues to be a strong following of enthusiasts and would-be owners dedicated to their preservation. The Interceptor's rarity and interesting hybridization of the best that England, Italy and America could put together on four wheels assures its future collectibility.

    Even better, you can still buy tune-up parts at any NAPA store -- a joy unavailable to owners of Ferrari 400s and Lamborghini Murias.

    END

  2. #2
    D_E_Davis
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    Re: 1966-76 Jensen Interceptor

    And now that you mentioned the Jensen, you should turn your eyes to the Isso Rivolta of the same era. Powered by the same engine as in the Corvette of the same year, it used many suspension components as the Jaguar to carry a lovely Italian all-aluminum body.

    Very interesting and rare car - check it out.


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    Re: 1966-76 Jensen Interceptor

    The AC Cobra was also fun.

    As to the Jensen Interceptor, fun was necessary, because of reliability issues they rarely arrived at the intended destination, and handling was, well, appalling... so the many which came here were quickly associated with posers.. people who are not famous for mechanical nous. And they are still an object of scorn. 7 litres and 12 mpg never got traction here either. <g>

    Now the AC Cobra... THERE was an hybrid-of-sorts! And a sore derriere!

  4. #4
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1966-76 Jensen Interceptor

    Yes, I've seen a few Issos - and they are very interesting cars; my friend Marty Schorr (who was involved with the Motion Camaro "back in the day") turned me on to them several years ago. Love to get a chance to drive one!

  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1966-76 Jensen Interceptor

    Hey now! I'm packing 7.5 liters in my 'Bird (and maybe 10 mpg)... though there's not much traction, I'll admit!

    Cobras are definitely fun (I've driven a few repro/kits, most with Ford 5 liter engines) and they are fierce; but they're a very different animal from the large GT type of car that the Jensen was. I'm partial to big cars with big engines... the big part from being fairly big myself. Squeezing into a Cobra is enough to cause sterility for me (which might be a good thing, eh?) while I can spread out in a machine like the Jensen.. or my thunderchicken Trans-Am!

  6. #6
    D_E_Davis
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    Re: 1966-76 Jensen Interceptor

    I worked on an Isso that had been severely neglected because it was the centerpiece of a bitter divorce. It took detective skills to ferret out who had made each broken bit. Not a spectacular-looking car, it was almost unnoticeable until a patch of twisty road showed up.



  7. #7
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1966-76 Jensen Interceptor

    I like iconoclastic/unusual/off-the-beaten-path stuff, so I appreciate those cars.

    I often wish I'd kep tmy Corvair - and hope to get another one (or maybe a VW Thing) sometime in the next couple of years!

  8. #8
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Re: 1966-76 Jensen Interceptor



    Reckon they were a stunning looking car in their day. Used to see quite I few in London when living there during 1975-77.

    Another hybrid was the AC427 a luxury alternative to the Cobra. they had a V8 427 from Ford as the powerplant.
    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  9. #9
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1966-76 Jensen Interceptor

    I think they still look pretty cool today - and it's been awhile since I'vbe seen an AC427; those were also very cool!

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