Historic Car Brands
Brothers Richard and Alan Jensen built a boat-tailed sporting body on an early-model Austin ‘Chummy’ in 1926. Alfred Wilde, chief engineer at the Standard Motor Company was impressed with the design, to the point of asking Alan Jensen to design the first Standard Avon two-seaters that were produced between 1929 and 1933. Thus began the Jensen marque.
1930 Standard 9hp Avon Special
Under the aegis of the Patrick family’s Edgbaston Garage business the Jensen brothers built bodies for the Wolseley Hornet chassis, but when these were promoted as ‘Patrick Specials’ the brothers moved on in 1931.
The Jensen brothers worked for truck bodybuilders, WJ Smith & Sons, which they later bought out and renamed Jensen Motors Limited. In their early months at Smith’s, the Jensen brothers produced two- and four-seater models that were sold as Jensen Wolseley Hornets and these successful models were followed by bodies for Morris, Singer and Standard chassis.
1936 Jensen Ford – Jensen Owners Club
In 1934, the Jensens were asked by film star, Clark Gable, to produce a Jensen body on a Ford 3.5-litre, flathead-V8 chassis. That led to a deal with Ford to produce Jensen-Ford models.
At the same time, the White Lady prototype appeared and went into production in 1935 as the V8-powered Jensen S-type, available with a choice of 2.3-litre or 3.5-litre V8 power. Some were supercharged.
1938 Jensen 3.5-litre Drophead Coupe – Jensen Owners Club
This car was also available with a Lincoln V12 or Nash 4¼-litre straight-eight. The Nash-powered version sported a longer wheelbase and was referred to as the H-Type.
Regarding the 4¼-litre model, on 25th October, 1938, The Motor magazine stated:
‘It is felt that the man who is prepared to pay a fairly high price for a car is entitled to expect that he may use it to the best possible advantage no matter what the road conditions may be.
‘Similarly, it is fair to presume that such a buyer may wish to do quite a lot of his motoring on the Continent or still further overseas.
‘Conditions encountered in this country are so much less severe than those to be found elsewhere, that the Jensen has been designed to cope with all emergencies.’
The Great Depression was tough on all car makers, so the Jensen Brothers diversified into the commercial business again, selling light trucks under the brand JNSN. In the later-1930s they came up with a mini-semi-trailer design, called the Jen-Tug that went into production in 1946.
Jen-Tug – Jensen Museum
During Word War II Jensen produced military vehicle components, as well as ambulances and fire engines.
Post-War saw the commercial side of the business recover first, so the truck and bus business continued.
The PW – standing for Post-War – four-door saloon was launched in 1946. The launch vehicles were powered by a Meadows 3.9-litre, straight-eight engine that suffered horribly from vibration, so production machines were initially powered by Nash engines and, subsequently, by Austin’s new Sheerline four-litre, in-line six-cylinder engine. Fewer than 20 PWs were built.
1948 Jensen PW – Jensen Owners Club
Austin reportedly copied the PW design in producing its Sheerline saloon model and the ‘trade-off’ was a contract for Jensen to produce a drop-head, aluminium body for the Austin A40 chassis, known as the Austin A40 Sports.
Austin later commissioned Jensen to build the bodies for Austin-Healey models.
1954 Jensen Interceptor – Redsimon
The Jensen Interceptor made its debut in 1950, becoming the second car made by Jensen Motors after World War II. The car was based on Austin components, with a body built by Jensen and styled by Eric Neale. The styling was similar to that of the Austin A40 Sports, but executed on a larger platform.
The Interceptor used the Sheerline engine and the chassis was a lengthened version of the one used on the Austin A70, with modified suspension.
Production continued until 1957 and Jensen later reused the name for a second-generation Jensen Interceptor which debuted in 1966.
In 1953, American racing legend Briggs Cunningham had his left hand drive Interceptor powered by a 5.4-litre 180hp Chrysler Firepower Hemi engine that gave a top speed approaching 145mph.
1960 Jensen 541 R – Andrew Bone
The Jensen 541 was produced by Jensen Motors from 1954 to 1959, using fibreglass bodywork mounted on a steel chassis. It was powered by a triple-SU-carburettor version of the four-litre Austin engine, driving through a four speed transmission with optional Laycock de Normanville overdrive.
The body consisted of three major mouldings and the entire front was rear-hinged for engine access. The doors were aluminium. By employing lightweight materials, Jensen managed to make the car significantly lighter than the contemporary Interceptor model, with a dry weight of 1220kg compared with the older design’s 1370kg.
Suspension was independent at the front, using coil springs and a Panhard rod located the live rear axle on leaf springs. A choice of wire spoked or steel disc wheels with centre lock fitting was offered.
In 1956, the 541 Deluxe version featured four-wheel disc brakes and leather seats.
In 1957 the 541 R was introduced, and in 1960 the 541 S arrived with wider bodywork and revised grille styling. Production of the Jensen 541 ended in 1959 and the 541 S early 1963, when the range was replaced by the C-V8.
Jensen CV8 – Brian Snelson
The C-V8 series retained the 541’s fibreglass bodywork and aluminium door skin design, but all C-V8s used big-block engines sourced from Chrysler: first the 361 and then, from 1964, the 330hp 383. The engine was set back well behind the front axle, for optimal weight distribution. Most of the cars had three-speed Chrysler Torqueflite automatic transmissions.
1974 Jensen Interceptor V8
The C-V8 was one of the fastest production four-seaters of its era. The Mk II, capable of 219 km/h, ran a quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds and accelerated from 0–100km/h in 6.7 seconds – significantly faster than a Lamborghini Miura, Aston Martin DB5 or Jaguar E Type.
The Mk III, final version was introduced in June 1965 and was discontinued in 1966, after a total production run of 500.
1971 Jensen Interceptor MkII – Mr Choppers
For its eventual replacement, the Interceptor, Jensen turned to the Italian coach builder, Carrozzeria Touring, for the body design, in steel. The same 6.3-litre Chrysler wedge-head powerplant was used in the earlier cars with the later cars moving to the 440 cu in (7.2-litre) engine. The Interceptor was offered in fastback, convertible and a few coupé versions. The fastback was by far the most popular, with its large, curving wrap-around rear window that was hinged for access to the storage area, making the Jensen an early form of liftback.
1988 Jensen FF – Charles 01
The Jensen Motors stand at the October 1964 Earls Court Motor Show was highlighted by a prototype Jensen FF, equipped with all wheel drive and ABS. The ‘FF’ stood for Ferguson Formula, the brand of Ferguson Research, which was the inventor of the full-time, all wheel drive system. Also featured was the Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock braking system – one of the first uses of ABS in a production car.
At the following Show, in 1965, a production ready CV-8 FF was displayed, but remained a prototype and was succeeded by the 1966 Interceptor-based Jensen FF.
The FF was externally identical to the Interceptor, with an additional 100mm length in the bonnet and it had a second row of air vents behind the front wheels. Just 320 FFs were constructed and production ceased in 1971.
Behind the scenes at Jensen, the company had been acquired by Norcross Limited in 1959 and the Jensen Brothers saw their roles diminished. They finally departed the company in 1966. At the same time, the contracts to build bodies for the Sunbeam Tiger and Austin Healey range ended. Norcross sold out and the new owners brought in Donald Healey as chairman.
Jensen Healey – Pyntofmyld
In 1972 the Jensen-Healey was announced. The unitary body understructure was designed by Barry Bilbie, who had been responsible for the Austin-Healey 100, 100-6 and 3000, and the Sprite. It was designed to be easy to repair, with bolt-on panels, to keep insurance premiums down.
Power came from a Vauxhall-derived, Lotus 907, two-litre, dual overhead cam, 16-valve all-aluminium engine that developed 144hp and gave the Jensen-Healey a top speed of 192km/h and acceleration from zero to 100km/h in 7.8 seconds.
Jensen-Healey Lotus-Vauxhall two-litre engine
The initial transmission was a four-speed Chrysler unit, which was also used in the Sunbeam Rapier. The Mk 2 cars from 1975 onwards used a Getrag 235/5 five-speed gearbox.
Suspension was double wishbone and coil springs at the front, and a live rear axle with trailing arms and coils. Brakes were discs up front and drums at the rear. The suspension, steering gear, brakes and rear axle were adapted from the Vauxhall Firenza.
The 1973 oil crisis hit Jensen Motors hard, greatly damaging the sales of its V8 Interceptor model and thus degrading its financial condition. The Jensen GT was then hurriedly brought to market, requiring massive labour expense and taxing the firm’s budget even further.
The Jensen GT was introduced in 1975 as the shooting-brake version of the Jensen-Healey. The configuration was a 2+2 design with a very limited back seat. Aside from the body shape and seating, relatively little differed from the roadster, but acceleration and top speed were slightly reduced, due to the increased weight and additional smog control components on the engine.
During its short production run from September 1975 to May 1976, 511 Jensen GTs were built.
Amid strike action, component shortages and inflation, Jensen Motors liquidated in 1975 then closed the doors in May 1976.