Thursday November 3, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts
The Jensen Interceptor, to put it frankly, does not look 50 years old.
That Carrozzeria Touring coachwork is so timeless that it takes a genuine leap of imagination to consider it was launched at a time when steam trains were still in service on British Rail and when many public call boxes still required you to ‘Press Button A’. Jensen had been using Chrysler V8 engines since 1963 and the name of Interceptor had previously adorned a rather handsome 4-Litre tourer in the 1950s. Beneath that svelte 3-door styling was the chassis from the outgoing CV8 but the steel- as opposed to GRP – coachwork marked quite a departure for Jensen. It was rumoured that the new body did not meet the approval of Alan and Richard Jensen, the company’s founders, for it was indeed a departure from their previous offerings.
The first Interceptors were built at Vignale in Turin, with the fully painted and fitted bodyshells dispatched to West Bromwich. When the chaps at Motor magazine tested an early example equipped with Torqueflite transmission in early 1967, they found that the top speed from the 6.3-litre power plant was nearly 140 mph and that the Jensen was ‘a splendid piece of engineering and very exhilarating to drive’. The automatic gears would have been unthinkable on a Jensen made only seven years earlier but by 1966 the company needed to appeal to the sort of Captain of Industry who needed to speed up the M1 to yet another corporate takeover. In the event, very few manual Interceptors were ever built as the typical Jensen owner of the mid-1960s sought a combination of effortless luxury with performance – and were prepared to spend £3,742 for the privilege. In 1966 this sum would have alternatively bought you six new Minis but the Inceptor’s price still undercut the Aston Martin DB6 Vantage and the last of the Gordon Keeble.
Rather naturally the Interceptor caused a sensation at the 1966 Earls Court Motor Show, with Cortina and Super Minx owning visitors dreaming of the day when they would be elevated to the boardroom and drive this wonderful new GT. Famous Interceptor motorists included Eric Morecambe and the Interceptor starred on the big screen in Hot Millions. But the Jensen stand was graced with a second new model, the incredible FF. On the surface, the main differences from the Interceptor were an increase in bonnet length of four inches and double, as opposed to single, vents on the front wings but the FF was both the world’s first 4WD GT and the first production car fitted with anti-lock brakes. The former was developed by Ferguson Research Ltd and the latter by Dunlop, resulting in a Jensen that was far from inexpensive but one of the few cars that could be genuinely described as ‘ground-breaking’.
The FF was produced until 1971 while the Interceptor was made, in its original incarnation, until 1976. The history of both cars was marked by quality control problems – Vignale’s standards of construction were often regarded as ‘sub-par’ – but nothing could blight the legacy of these truly great vehicles. They are cars of genuine presence, and whether you marvelled at an FF basking in the autumn sunlight by the River Hamble – one of my own great automotive memories – or view a cross-looking Robert Vaughan at the wheel of an Interceptor in The Protectors, they are unforgettable.