A Visit to the West Bromwich Factory
Last month we published road-test reports on the superbly safe four-wheel-drive Jensen FF and the less-expensive Jensen Interceptor, both powered with 6.3-litre Chrysler V8 engines. These are essentially hand-assembled cars, very carefully built and finished at the rate of 18 a week. Some notes follow on a visit to Jensen Motors Ltd. at West Bromwich, where the World’s only production 4-w-d cars are constructed.
It is interesting that until all servicing problems are ironed out, the FF will not be exported. Ferry Porsche shows great interest in the car, Porsche having bought the first of them, and the German company liaises with Jensen in evaluating the special factors involved in servicing the FF model. Other companies which have purchased Jensen FF cars include General Motors and Kaiser-Jeep. The problems have not caused any anxiety but Timken have done research into front-wheel bearings, which bear extra heavy loading on f.w.d. cars, and the transmission has been the subject of consultations and liaison between Harry Ferguson Research Ltd. and Jensen Motors.
This FF 4-w-d (FF for Ferguson Formula—not for Formula Ford in this case—a reminder that Jensen have beaten everyone—General Motors, Ford, Leyland, the lot, in respect of 4-w-d and anti-lock braking) has not posed any particular problems. Transmission noise has been no difficulty, and so cool do the various drives run that at one time it was thought that condensation in the lubricant might be met with. This anticipated shortcoming proved to be a myth, but the low lubricant temperatures do prove how small is the power loss over the whole of the transmission. Naturally, Jensen’s Engineering Director, Mr. D. K. R. Beattie, follows closely all Ferguson developments, such as last year’s Ford Mustang and Ford Zephyr 4-w-d experiments, and is thinking in terms of four electronic sensing units should Dunlop anti-lock braking ever be applied to rear-wheel-drive Jensen cars. There would not be a 4-w-d car in production today if Richard Jensen had not been extremely enthusiastic about using the Ferguson Formula. The original idea was that Alvis Ltd. would build the transmission but when this proved impossible Ferguson Research came in on the project, and supply complete 217-lb. transmission units for Jensen to install, most of the parts for which are machined by Laystall.
Coming to a brief description of what goes on at Jensen’s West Bromwich factory, round which we were conducted by Mr. Graves, Jensen’s genial Marketing Director, the body construction is steel, fibreglass being used only for internal body components, although as recently as the CV8, Jensen cars had fibreglass body shells. Assembly is very much on hand-built lines, the chassis being moved through the assembly shops on trolleys, manually-shunted.
The Jensen chassis has two tubular side-members, which are further outboard of the welded-up chassis pan on the FF than on the Interceptor, to accommodate the wider transmission. The tubes on the FF are of 5 in. dia., whereas those of the Interceptor are 4 in. in dia. The chassis are constructed stage by stage on the aforesaid trolleys, and the bodies likewise welded up, three lines of trolleys passing up the body-building shop. The Jensen factory is spacious, and has the unhurried air of efficiency we have seen in another factory, at Crewe. There is even more space available since bodies for the Sunbeam Tiger and Austin Healey 3000 have ceased to be made there (sub-contracting is now confined mainly to Healey spare parts).
The Jensen factory has moved from the original works to larger West Bromwich premises which have since expanded. It consists, broadly, of the East Works and the West Works, the former containing the body shops, the latter the glass-fibre shops, etc. Some 400 employees work on the shop floor and the total employed, inclusive of office staff, numbers in the region of 500 persons. Although they do not indulge in competition activities, Jensen Motors Ltd., under the direction of Carl Duerr, takes considerable pains to interest the workers in the reputation of the finished product. It had picked workmen on its stand at Earls Court, it invites workers to bring their wives and girlfriends on visits to the plant, and it notifies them of Jensen appearances on TV and similar mediums. With Jaguar, Jensen emphasise that quality begins on the shop floor. Only they, and Rolls-Royce, make their own bodies and it may take as long as seven weeks to build a Jensen motor car.
As the body proceeds through the long assembly shop, doors, boot lid, bonnet and other parts are added to a structure based on steelpressings supplied to Jensen by Vignale in Italy. Small components are spot-welded in a special shop, by Jensen themselves. Joints in seam welds are rubbed down very carefully by hand.
The completed body shell is steam cleaned, then taken, still on a trolley, to be washed with water by a man-applied mop. The whole body is then immersed, almost to roof level, in a vat of undersealing compound, so that this penetrates outside and inside the structure, rather as Saab conscientiously apply underseal. As output is only 15 to 8 bodies a week steps are taken to circulate the fluid to prevent it congealing.
The next process is applying paint. The body enters the paint shop for an undercoat. It then goes, on a rotatable jig, into the spray booth, where paint is sprayed on by hand. Jensen finish their bodies in what they term the 8 thou. paint job, using I.C.I. and Carr’s paints, in metallic and straight colours. The process is as follows : Undercoat is applied, rubbed down, and another application of undercoat is sprayed on. This is followed by the colour coat. The body is then rubber-solution undersealed, after which a second colour coat is applied, to a thickness of 8 mm. Twelve standard colours are available, and special colours, even two-tone finishes, are optional, to special order. Each body is very carefully examined after painting, and cracks are sealed and “deadener” applied.
In the glass-fibre shop Jensen make such parts as facia panels, front seat surrounds, transmission covers (these in two sizes, for FF and Interceptor), rear-seat back-rests (with metal sockets to take detachable head-rests), instrument bezels and nacelles, etc. Incidentally, one man does nothing else except make spares for the glass-fibre-bodied Jensen 541 and CV8, although these are obsolete models.
There is also a spray shop set aside for painting damaged bodywork, which comes in from dealers repairing crashed Jensens. The completed cars undergo the usual scrutiny, very thoroughly conducted under neon lamps, for paint blemishes, etc. An individual touch is the fitting of Jensen protective covers to bonnet and boot, while work is in process on cars already painted. These covers are also supplied to Jensen dealers’ repair shops.
Body trim is undertaken in full at the West Bromwich factory. In the trim shop seven Singer sewing machines are used. Six Connolly hides are used to upholster each Jensen, and roof linings are stitched up with notable skill. The facia finish is a combination of real leather and Ambla, the latter being used where leather will not stretch so satisfactorily round instrument bezels, etc. There is a choice of five different colour upholstery leather.
Jensen FFs are assembled on a separate, single-trolley-line, on the same system as Interceptors. The silver paper heat insulation used on their bulkheads and on the underside of the transmission tunnel is now used for all Jensens. It is fitted by hand as the bodies travel through the assembly shop, at roughly the point when the wiring loom goes in. The suspension is fitted after the body trim has been completed.
The power units arrive in crates from Chrysler—325-h.p. Type 383 D-series vee-eights—and are not run on the bench at the Jensen factory. Bowman supply radiators, Rubery Owen road wheels, but Jensen stamp out their own light-alloy radiator grilles, assembled from a series of flat plates, to form a very strong and handsome prow. Outside components are subjected to special testing and checking, and such items as wiring cars for stereo-players, using four speakers, and driving each car for road tests of up to 100 miles, is commonplace to the Jensen engineers. Electrically-operated windows are used on both FF and Interceptor, the Italian motors formerly employed having been changed last year to those used on a Chrysler body in America. At the time of our visit a new system of i.f.s. was about to be introduced.
Every car leaving the factory has its own identity card. While we were there, a random check showed a car in Porcelain White for a customer of Charles Follet, while Cliff Richards was about to take delivery of a Positano Yellow Jensen, and Henry Cooper had recently been a popular visitor to the factory, to see how his Jensen was built.
Jensen Motors Ltd. has expanded since Wm. Brandt’s Sons & Co. Ltd., merchant bankers, acquired a majority holding in its equity capital. It is now second only to Rolls-Royce Ltd. in its annual production of specialist quality cars.—W. B.