The cars we loved.
When British sports car were distinctive with quirks that endured them to sports car enthusiasts the world over, many small companies could be found all across the country. One of them was Jenson. Started by Allen and Richard Jensen in 1934, Jenson Motors started out designing and building cars from parts of others, most notably using Ford’s flathead V8.
After the war, Jensen became known more as a coach builder than a complete auto company. On occasion the company would build a complete car as it did with the Interceptor in the 1950’s. When the time came to build a new Interceptor, a considerable amount of time had passed. Jensen scrapped an in-house design before turning to Vignale in Italy to design the body (a growing trend in England during the 60’s and 70’s). Unlike the first Interceptor with it’s odd glass reinforced plastic body, the new car would have a conventional steel body. All interceptors were hand built in Jensen’s West Bromwich factory in England.
Inspired by the Brazilian-buit Brasina Virapuro sports coupe, the Interceptor’s most prominent feature was it’s rear wrap around glass hatch which functioned like a tailgate. Other wise the long hood and somewhat roomy interior suggested a powerful luxury cruiser. In returning to old habits, Jenson looked to America for power in the form of good old 6.2 L Mopar V8’s . These big durable engines produced 325 hp or more in early Interceptors. Like all MOPAR powered cars from the era, the Interceptor could scoot. O to 60 came in around 7 seconds and would not top out until 135 mph. In many ways the Interceptor resemble a Plymouth Cuda from the front with its round quad headlights and simple grille. From the side the car had a more striking appearance, not particularly graceful, but still sporty.
Jenson made few modifications to the Chrysler engines, but did adjust carburetors at one point for a special version of the Interceptor called the SP in the early 70’s. It had 390 hp making it the most powerful of the original era Interceptors. The MOPAR engines were always mated to TorquFlite automatic or four speed manual transmissions. The brutish power and its live axle with rear wheel drive, drew comparisons to American muscle cars, assumed by Europeans mostly as powerful brutes designed to race in a straight line.
Jensen silenced its critics in that regard with the Interceptor FF (Ferguson Formula). A four-wheel drive version of the Interceptor with anti-lock brakes and traction control (all of this in 1967!). Truly an advanced car for its time, it was a very low volume car in an already low volume company. As extraordinary as the FF was, it would take years for some of its technology to filter down to run of the mill Interceptors.
There were a number of small styling revisions (Mark II in 1969 and Mark III in 1971) with multiple series eventually being offered in G,H,J and S4 trims. The S4’s were the most luxurious. A convertible was available and was more likely than not sent to America where the big (by Euro standards) 2+2 was a popular choice for buyers seeking exclusivity.
The Interceptor featured a high quality interior. The dashboard was one of the most modern attributes of the car, with its blocky yet sweeping center stack leading to a fully instrumented gauge cluster. All the wood grained, power windowed glory expected in a luxury GT was there trimmed in hand stitched leather. Reclining bucket seats (front) were comfortable and supportive, even in back.
Heavy dependence on a single gas thirsty engine meant that Jensen would feel the full brunt of the fuel crisis. The low volume maker simply could not weather the reduced demand for big expensive cars and folded in 1976.
A few attempts at reviving the company happened in the 80’s and once again more recently, but nothing really materialized. That did not stop third parties who restored Interceptors with updated Corvette engines (Interceptor S). Some even went as far as revamping all the mechanicals to modern standards to build what was essentially a new car called the Interceptor SX. The SX came with GM’s supercharged LSP engine, good for 620 hp mated to a 6 –speed manual. Other proposals for an all new car never materialized. Today the Jensen Interceptor is considered a rare and interesting example in the long history of British sports cars.