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DRIVEN – 1974 JENSEN INTERCEPTOR

 NO RESPONSES AUGUST 27, 2015

Allan and Richard Jensen started business manufacturing auto bodies under contract for Austin. The firm also made bodies for the Volvo P1800, Sunbeam Tiger and Austin-Healey in addition to the first Interceptor built from 1950 to 1957 with various engines under an attractive glass fiber body.

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The Italianate styling of the Jensen Interceptor are attractive and purposeful with its broad hood and aggressive stance

The second iteration of the Jensen Interceptor was hand-built at the Carters Green Factory in West Bromwich from 1966 to 1976 and represented an ill-timed effort to capture the hearts and minds of the luxury GT marketplace. Unlike its predecessor, the new model was clothed in steel using a handsome body designed by Carrozeria Touring with the earliest examples built by Vignale before Jensen took over serial production. The styling was heavily influenced (if not outright borrowed) from the Brasinca Uirapuru, a limited production GT coupe manufactured in Brazil, and featured a distinctive large rear window that also served as the tailgate.

Powered initially by the Chrysler 383 cubic inch V-8 with an optional manual transmission (only 22 were so equipped) or TorqueFlite automatic driving the rear wheels through a limited-slip differential in Salisbury rear axle. Demand for more power (the car weighed almost 3500 pounds) led to an increased displacement of 440 cubic inches with a maximum available output of 390 HP. Befitting an anticipated place at the upper regions of the marketplace was a standard kit that included electric windows, reclining front seats, power steering (from 1969) and a modern stereo system with two speakers. Subsequent revisions led to the Mark II in 1969 with revised styling to the front of the car, a new interior and the use of ventilated disc brakes. The Mark III debuted just two years later and featured even more changes to the front styling and cast alloy wheels and saw the debut of the larger mill in 1973.

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The new leather cockpit is the equal of anything produced by Aston Martin or Bristol

The Interceptor suffered from poor timing in that it soon ran headlong into the oil crisis of the early seventies and the market for a bespoke GT from England decreased substantially with greater competition from the Jaguar XJ-S and other competitors from the Continent. It is best remembered, however, for the most unique variant of the range which was one of the first vehicles produced with four-wheel drive with the manufacture of the Jensen FF (Ferguson Formula) which was hailed at the time as a revelation with its attendant traction control and mechanical anti-lock brakes from Dunlop Maxarat. With an increased length by 5 inches over the Interceptor, the FF looked virtually identical despite the added length and was identified by an additional side vent and swage line on the forward wings. With only 320 FF variants produced (195 Mark I, 110 Mark II and 15 Mark III) it is unquestionably the most desirable and complex car of the range.

Driven

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In convertible form the Interceptor is a match for an Aston Martin DBS or Ferrari 330

The 1975 Mark III Convertible that we drove was well maintained and cared for and presents the perfect opportunity to sample what these cars would have been like when new. The Convertible is even rarer than the FF with only 267 examples produced from 1974 with most offered for sale in the American market. This particular example features a striking leather interior with an attractive wooden dash and switchgear that would be welcome in any of the other more well-known offerings from the United Kingdom like Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar and Aston Martin.

In fact, this car is the perfect alternative to a drophead from Newport Pagnell or Crewe with the added benefit of a lower initial purchase price and easier (and less expensive) maintenance afforded by its Mopar engine. Performance is superior to the Aston Martin DB6, similar to the Jaguar E-Type and just under the Porsche 911S from the standing start to 60 MPH and better than all in the quarter-mile save the DB6. Unfortunately, this performance came at the price of mileage in the range of 12-14 mpg at a time when the cost of gas was rising without check.

The first impression upon settling into the well-cushioned leather seat and surveying the instruments set in the wooden fascia is that the Interceptor is very much on par with an Aston Martin of the period save for the added cachet of the David Brown nameplate. Every surface is made of quality materials and it seems as if that quality has withstood the passage of almost four decades none the worse for wear. It seems to be a much larger car than it is (five inches shorter than the Chevrolet Camaro) which is likely due to the long hood, high doors and the bustle created by the folded top.

While the leather and wood interior trimmed with Wilton wool carpets literally screams Britannia, the first turn of the key brings an instant reminder that under the hood rests an engine with its roots firmly planted in America. The idle is utterly without tension and it seems as if hardly any effort would be required to reach the 135-MPG top speed. Use of the Chrysler engine and TorqueFlite transmission dictate that the driving experience is very familiar in the way that any large American V-8 with an automatic is eerily similar despite what the badge on the grill says. The engine still allows for acceleration that would be quick even by modern standards and the reserves of torque are fun to play with from the stoplight on Lincoln Boulevard in Marina Del Rey, California. Despite the urge afforded by the engine, the entire package is very relaxed and would be the perfect carriage for a trip up the Pacific Coast Highway with a long-legged and blonde haired companion seated alongside.

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One of the most rapidly appreciating examples to come out of the 70s, the Interceptor is now appreciated for its continental styling and the reliability afforded by its American engine

The interior is the epitome of Seventies luxury (for what that’s worth) and the seating position is comfortable and cosseting for long-distance travel. The brakes are soft in that overly boosted fashion of most American cars and the overall driving experience is a unique blend of Britain and Detroit with a touch of Italian style thrown in for good measure. For what it is, the Interceptor is the perfect alternative to its much more expensive cousins and is, perhaps, better suited for daily or occasional use than any of them. The rub is that as they were less desirable from new and more affordable in the days since it is difficult to find one in the condition of our test car. If such an example, however, finds its way across your path this Anglo-American hybrid with Italian styling is as fine a GT car as you could hope for.

Sampled – This 1974 Jensen Interceptor convertible was provided to us by Chequered Flag International in Marina Del Rey, California and is a rust-free California survivor. Treated to new interior trim and rolling stock it exemplifies 70s era-cool with its sparkling Tangerine paint and aggressive stance. With Interceptor prices on the rise this is an inexpensive path to bespoke British GT ownership with a vehicle that has taken recent star turns in the Fast & the Furious franchise and on Top Gear. Much more affordable than an Aston Martin or Bristol, the Interceptor is a car on the come.

 Moss Motoring