The Jensen Interceptor

Ultimate cruiser for Sixties smoothies
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The Jensen Interceptor was among the most handsome British GT cars of the 1960s: low-slung, with a lengthy bonnet and a smoothly curving, glass fastback. Under the bonnet was the beefy growl of Detroit muscle car power. If the red-blooded owner wasn't too well-endowed, an Interceptor was excellent compensation.

The Jensen Interceptor was among the most handsome British GT cars of the 1960s: low-slung, with a lengthy bonnet and a smoothly curving, glass fastback. Under the bonnet was the beefy growl of Detroit muscle car power. If the red-blooded owner wasn't too well-endowed, an Interceptor was excellent compensation.

Jensen began as a West Bromwich coachbuilder, soon graduating to making its own complete cars. By the 1960s, however, the Jensen CV8 was dated and ugly. Although phenomenally fast with its Chrysler V8 engine, sales were derisory. It drove like an Aston but looked like an Austin.

The company was divided about the solution. The chief engineer, Kevin Beattie, was convinced that the new car should be styled by one of the Italian maestros; he was probably inspired by the Gordon-Keeble of 1964 which, though the product of a small British company, sported an exquisite GT body by Bertone (and actually penned by the designer Giorgetto Giugiaro). But Richard and Alan Jensen, the brothers who founded the firm in the 1920s as stylists, were appalled that someone outside the family firm should have a hand in a new Jensen. In the end, Beattie got his way and flew to Italy in late 1965 to find a firm to style the new car. The Jensen brothers retired shortly afterwards.

The new car had to be ready for the Earl's Court motor show the next year, 1966, just 10 months away. After a whirlwind tour of Italy's leading designers, Beattie finally found one, Carrozzeria Touring, whose glamorous design proposal struck the right note. However, the company was unable to build the prototype so he took the plans to nearby Vignale where, in just a few months, it took a standard, glassfibre-bodied Jensen CV8, ripped the body away, and built the first, all-steel prototype of the car the world would later know and love as the Interceptor. Amazingly, by June 1966, Beattie returned to Italy to take this precious prototype on a four-day road test.

It must have been an exceptional job because the finished car made it to October's London motor show, where it was one of the stars. It was priced at £3,743 and came with a 6.3-litre Chrysler V8 and three-speed automatic transmission. The car was never going to be as rapid as the lighter, plastic-bodied CV8 but, with 325bhp of flexible Chrysler horsepower, the heavyweight Interceptor managed 133mph and thundered to 60mph in 7.4 seconds. Rapid cruising speed was the goal, not racing car performance: there were four leather seats and plenty of luggage room.

The Interceptor quickly became the darling of the stockbroker belt, the preserve of middle-aged smoothies and pools winners. Jensen proved adept at product placement, loaning Interceptors to creaky showbiz and sporting stars who were likely to stoke interest on the golf courses of Wentworth and Palm Springs.

The Jensen FF version of the Interceptor was, for techno-philes, highly significant. FF stood for Ferguson Formula, and was the only outward sign that this Jensen boasted four-wheel drive. The brainchild of the tractor designer Harry Ferguson, it was coupled to the world's first anti-lock braking system, and pre-dated the Audi Quattro by almost 15 years. All noble stuff, except that hardly anyone bought one. Of the 6,727 Interceptor-type cars built, just 320 were FFs.

"Buyers liked the idea of safety," Jensen's former public relations director Tony Good told me recently. "They just wouldn't pay a premium for it over the standard Interceptor." It cost £5,340 in 1966.

The basic Interceptor remained unchanged throughout its 10-year production life. There were MkII and MkIII cars, a high-spec SP version and, in 1974 and 1976, elegant convertible and hardtop coupé versions respectively. The main mechanical change was an engine upgrade in 1973, from 6.3 to 7.2 litres.

This made the Interceptor one of the thirstiest gas-guzzlers of its fuel-crisis-bedevilled era but had little to do with Jensen's bankruptcy in 1976.

By then the firm was owned by the San Francisco businessman Kjell Qvale, and its insolvency was the endgame in a hostile power struggle between his management and an apparently militant workforce. As the receivers moved in, Qvale claimed - bitterly - to have a full Interceptor orderbook.

This evergreen popularity triggered a revival seven years later, but the price for an Interceptor MkIV ballooned to £100,000 when a Ferrari 412 was £60,000. Consequently, only a dozen were sold over another 10 years, after which the Interceptor became a swinging 1960s relic to be enjoyed in retirement by those who could never afford one of these virile cruisers in their heyday.

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