|Established by the Jensen brothers in West Bromwich in the 1930s, Jensen’s first cars were stylish, but otherwise technically mundane machines. Even by the 1950s and early 1960s their successors’ appeal was more in what they looked like, than how they were equipped. Then, buoyed up by the profits from a great deal of contract work (Jensen built complete bodies for the Austin-Healey 3000, and tackled complete assembly of the Sunbeam Tiger sports car), the decision was taken to modernise. The result was the launch of two stunningly handsome four-seater coupés, known as the Interceptor and the FF.
By combining the existing Jensen tubular chassis frame with a vast Chrysler V8 engine and automatic transmission, and swathing the whole in a body styled by Touring of Italy, the result was a modern-looking coupé, with graceful lines, a great deal of glass, and a well equipped cabin. This new Jensen, however, broke new ground, not just for Britain, but for the entire world of motoring. By co-operating with Harry Ferguson Research, Jensen offered one version of the car, the FF, with four-wheel-drive. This, and the use of Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock braking, was a massive technical breakthrough.
To do all this, the drive was split behind the main gearbox, a second propeller shaft was threaded forward alongside the engine, and the car’s wheelbase had to be stretched by four inches to accommodate a front axle ahead of the engine. By modern standards the installation looked crude, but it was a world ‘first’, and remarkably effective.
The FF was much more expensive than its rear-drive cousin: in 1966 the UK prices were £5,340 and £3,743, at a time when a new Rolls-Royce cost £6,670, and sales were always limited. It was the Interceptor which sold in quantity and helped give Jensen an entirely new image.
Not only were these very fast cars (an Interceptor could reach 133 mph, and an FF about 130 mph), but they were also easy to handle, enjoyable grand tourers in spite of their bulk. By the time the specification had settled down, they had power-assisted steering, were effortless to drive, and the equipment had received two upgrades. Demand was strong.
Although only 320 FFs were made before production closed down in 1971, the older the Interceptor became, the faster it sold. By the mid-1970s one version, powered by a 385 bhp Chrysler engine, could reach 145 mph, while convertible and hard-top versions added to the variety.
Unhappily, the after effects of the 1973 Energy Crisis, and Jensen’s other problems connected with the Jensen-Healey dragged down the Interceptor, which died in 1976 after 6,639 cars had been produced. Later attempts to revive the Interceptor, first in the 1980s, and then in the 1990s, both failed.