Jensen Interceptor – A Parts Bin Car That Boasted Innovation
Look at the Jensen Interceptor from the back and you could easily mistake it for that of a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda with its dominant and sweeping rear windscreen. Look from the front and you’ll see the angles and curves of an Austin A40. Under the bonnet, you’ll see the mass of an American powertrain.
Yes, the Interceptor was a mishmash of parts-bin pieces and influences from that of Italy, America, and Britain. And the small British company sold very few over a long ten year period. But despite what seems to be a sad looking history, the car has become a cult classic. It’s even featured in the Fast and Furious franchise, but let’s not hold that against it.
Jensen began back in the years before World War II, in a market that contained an abundance of small, hardworking, quirky manufacturers. Little specialist garages tweaked the Austins of the day and those in the know were able to add more power to Coventry’s Standards. Chassis were shared and coach-builders ran riot with good looking, high performance rarities.
Jensen was one of these companies, and were hard at work in West Bromwich near Birmingham, stuffing American V8s into small British cars. World War II hit hard, but five years after the end of the war, the company wanted back in the industry. And this time, they wanted to make not just a ripple, but a splash.
At the time they were building bodies for Austin under contract, so it wasn’t a surprise that their new Interceptor took on a slight resemblance. Although, despite primarily building car bodies for other companies such as the Volvo 1800, Sunbeam Tiger, and Austin-Healey, they outsourced their own car body to an Italian coach-builder. Touring, a Milan based company, got the job of designing the car and the Italian house of Vignale was commissioned to build it.
This resulted in an oddly balanced car, but it did have a certain muscular element to its design that some found attractive. Obviously, it couldn’t compare to its home-turf rival, the Jaguar E-Type, but due to its rarity, it still swivels heads. As would its exhaust note, as its powertrain was taken straight from over the pond in the form of a Mopar V8 – a 383-cubic-inch, 6.2-litre power plant that sang to the tune of 325bhp.
According to accounts, the car was ready in just ten months, but this wasn’t without its drawbacks. Parts were taken from wherever the company could get its hands on them, and this left customers unsatisfied when sales began in 1966.
It was a slow ten years for the Jensen brothers, with just over 600 cars being sold per year. But this didn’t stop them trying to improve their product. It had Girling disc brakes at each corner (a rarity at the time) and later in its life, Jensen offered a four-wheel drive version dubbed the FF. The system was developed by tractor manufacturer Harry Ferguson, becoming one of the first ever fitted to a performance car. Although no one knows it, the Interceptor was one of the most innovative vehicles of its time.
The Interceptor was a large car, partly to house its huge engine, but also to maintain enough interior space for it to be a comfortable touring car. And its engine only became larger with the swap to a Chrysler 440 cubic inch motor. 60 came and went in 7.1 seconds, and it would power on to 135mph.
But alas, the fuel crisis was soon upon the world, and a car that slurped fuel like it was water simply couldn’t live in the sudden hostility. Jensen filed for bankruptcy in 1976, and the car that put up a hell of a fight for ten years died alongside it.
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