Road Test - Jensen Interceptor III

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A relaxing experience

Like the Aston Martin DBS V8 tested last month, the Jensen Interceptor III, with 7.2-litres in eight vee-formation cylinders to feed through its four-barrel Carter carburetter, is hardly the appropriate car to be using in the midst of a fuel crisis, but when the test was arranged with Gethin Bradley, of Jensen’s PR consultants, Good Relations, at Motor Show time, imminent petrol starvation was far from our minds. On the basis that MOTOR SPORT failed to give in to the Germans in the last war, so why should we give in to the Arabs, we decided to proceed with the test, 50-m.p.h. limit notwithstanding.

In a week when Joe Gormless was enjoying his Christmas holidays while the rest of the country suffered, when Barber announced his mini-budget aimed partly at some of the people who can afford Jensens, while I sorted out first-house mortgage problems of the sort which people who can afford Jensens are unlikely to experience, and while the IRA bombed London, one such bomb exploding not much more than a quarter-of-a-mile from where the Jensen was parked, merely driving this magnificent West Bromwich-built machine at a fraction of its potential proved an enormously therapeutic exercise. It soothed the mind and body, shrinking surrounding problems into insignificance, which made me wonder whether some politicians and Union leaders must drive around in Jensens permanently, a much more satisfactory method of hiding from reality than burying one’s head in the sand or living in cloud cuckoo land.

It had been some 2½ years since I had last driven an Interceptor for any distance, that being a Mk. II, ever since when I have had a soft spot for this Vignale styled car which on that occasion proved willing to reach a 137-m.p.h. maximum, threw a tread from a front Dunlop SP at 120 m.p.h. and virtually ran out of brakes, such was the thrashing they received. In external appear ance the Interceptor, updated to Mk. III in October ’71, has changed little since then, other than in the much enhanced looks of the wheels, changed from Rostyle steel to fivespoke alloy. However, rather more than a wheel change had gone into the Interceptor when a revised version of the Mk III was introduced in May 1972. The earlier 6,267 c.c. (383 cu. in.), 300-b.h.p. engine was superseded by a 7,212 c.c. (440 cu. in.), 284-b.h.p. unit of the same 109.72 mm. bore x 95.25 mm. stroke dimensions used in the Interceptor SP, the high-performance, 385b.h.p. option of the 6.3-litre Mk. II and III which has been dropped because of emission problems.

Like all the Jensen engines since the CV8 appeared in 1962, the Mk. III’s is supplied by Chrysler from the United States, along with the Chrysler Torqueflite Hi-Performance 3-speed automatic box, similar to that fitted as an option to the DBS V8, but in the Jensen’s case a standard, no-alternative fitment. Interior appointments received detail alterations in Mk. III form, though there was very little to improve upon, but the brakes were left alone—few can be ill-treated as much as those were 2½ years ago, and 99% of owners will find little fault with them—and Dunlop ER70, VR15, SPs retained for RHD cars with Pirelli GR70, VR15 for LHD models, of 205 section.

The RHD Dunlop-shod test car, still in my possession as I write, is to 1973 specification, though few modifications have been made for 1974, all of them advantageous:. the electric aerial is automatically controlled by the radio on-off switch instead of manually by a separate switch, the surface of the sun visors facing the occupants when they’re in use is now black to avoid reflection, the instruments are given rheostat-controlled lighting instead of three fixed positions and the steering wheel has been restyled for looks and instrument visibility. The Interceptor’s shape may not have changed since its introduction at the 1966 Motor Show, but like anything else its price certainly has- £3,473 was the original tag and £5,340 bought the brilliant four-wheel drive FF, no longer available. Today a cheque for £7,179 is necessary to command ownership of one of the 30 cars per week rolling even more rapidly (not long ago the figure was 10) off the West Bromwich lines, most of them destined for the States where they are marketed by Kjell Qvale, Jensen’s major shareholder and controller of the purse-strings. By current standards of prices for luxury cars, £7,000 makes the Jensen almost the best value for money on the market, excelled only by Jaguar’s unbeatable value. It is almost £2,500 cheaper than the DBS V8, partly justified by the Aston’s coachwork, more sophisticated suspension and racing specification, hand built, complex V8, offering superior performance, but not really by its overall impression from behind the wheel in automatic guise, and is roughly £1,400 cheaper than a BMW CSi or CSA if equipped with the options which are standard on the Jensen, a price differential which isn’t justified at all in relative terms. It is capable of more than 135 m.p.h, will accelerate from 0-60 m.p.h in not much more than 8 sec. and drinks fuel slightly more heavily than the Aston, at 10 to 14 m.p.g. All this is in spite of the massive engine being hampered by the fitment of US emission equipment, even for the British market, although one benefit is that the 8.2-to-1 compression ratio V8 will absorb happily almost any rubbish that the mechanical fuel pump will throw at it, right down to 88 octane two-star, which can mean quiet a saving every time the 20-gallon tank is filled. The main drawback to the emission equipment is a severe restriction on power output, more obvious on paper than from behind the wheel, 16 b.h.p. less than the old 6.3-litre engine and 101 less than the SP whose engine was somewhat different in design and carried three twin-barrel Holley carburetters. I confess to not having driven an SP, but imagine that the performance difference between that and the current Interceptor must be quiet marked. The difference between the latter and the old 6.3 if anything is one of improvement in spite of the power loss: it is quieter, smoother and obviously has more torque, which would seem to have required different settings in the gearbox, for change-down speeds appear to be lower. I had been warned by an acquaintance that this emission controlled engine had poor throttle response, or at least the car he had driven had. The test car’s pickup is beyond criticism, smooth and progressive with no lag and certainly none of that run-on sensation after the throttle is closed from which some emission controlled engines suffer. Overall, my impression is that the new engine’s effect has been to make the latest Jensen much more obviously a relaxed and effortless luxury car rather than a sports car. It has simply made the performance a little more subtle by removing some of the bark without interfering with the bite.

For many years Jensen relied on glassfibre coachwork for the 541 and CV8, but today the Nordic wing symbol graces an all-steel construction, which at least is less prone to damage by careless hands and leaners than is that rather more delicate aluminium panelling of the Aston. Rust-preventative treatment is obviously first class, for early examples appear to remain free of the need for body-filler. The body is gas and CO2 arc-welded to a massive tubular and boxed pressing chassis structure, which ensures strength and rigidity. After rust-proofing the body receives two coats of primer and three coats of final finish, all rubbed down by hand, followed by underscaling. It is a far cry from the multitudinous coats of paint applied to the Aston, but still, one gets what one pays for and while it does not have the Aston’s mirror-like effect, nevertheless the finish is excellent enough to deter a selfrespecting owner from feeding it into the barbarous tentacles of a car-wash, rather to set the gardener or chauffeur to work with a chamois.

Four quartz-halogen headlights grace the familiar front-end and at the other extremity is the unique “glasshouse” boot-lid, the curved Sundym heated screen opening to reveal a long, wide, flat, but fairly shallow, impeccably carpeted, 12 cu. ft. boot and an unobstructed view through into the interior. To enable more luggage to be carried, the rear parcel shelf within the boot lid can be removed by unscrewing a few knurled nuts. The lid is opened by means of a lockable lever in the driver’s door shut-face and many an owner has doubtless cursed himself and Jensen when he has shut the door with the key remaining in the lock, with disastrous consequences to the head of the key. On the test car the lid requires a superhuman effort to release it from its catch. The spare wheel is carried in a wind-down tray beneath the boot, open to the elements, and it doesn’t take much imagination to realise what road salt might do to the alloy spare. Windingdown mechanism is operated from within the boot by an adapter placed on the wheel brace, this, the Bevelift jack, spare fan belt and tin of paint being stowed in the centre rear of the boot while a comprehensive tool roll is carried in a compartment on the lef thand side of the boot. At last Jensen have moved the fire-extinguisher from its mounting in the boot, where it would have been accessible after the car had burnt out, to a clip below the front of the driver’s seat. Another detail safety aid is a first-aid kit stowed in the capacious lockable locker between the two front seats.

Wide doors have automatic red warning lights on their rear edges when open, their quarterlights are fixed, but their main windows motivated rapidly by electricity only When the ignition is on, the passenger door can be locked electrically and remotely by a switch on the driver’s door, though there is an over-riding manual lock too, and though the handbook and a hand-out photograph give evidence of door-pockets, the test car is bereft of them. There are generous full-length door armrests with door-pull apertures, large ashtrays are fitted, and the bottom front corner of each door contains a radio speaker, a further two being fitted one on either side of the rear passenger seats. The four speakers are activated by the standard specification push-button Radiomobile radio, or, for an extra £89.38, by the Radiomobile 108SR combined stereo radio and eight-track stereo, as fitted to the test car, or, for £161.05, a Philips RN712 stereo/radio/cassette player/recorder.

Six separate Connolly leather hides are used in each Interceptor, boast Jensen, and they’re certainly put to good and beautiful use. The front seats are exquisitely comfortable, have reclining back-rests and built-in head-rests, each with a cloth-covered cushion attached by Velcro and have map-pockets in their rears. Rear seats are deeply and separately shaped, split by a wide arm-rest containing two ash-trays and continuous with the front console, and after travelling in the rear of a Mk. II for a couple of hundred miles I can vouch for their comfort. However, leg room in the rear is severely restricted when the front seats are in a normal position, meaning that the driver would have to suffer discomfort should he wish to carry a passenger behind him. To help him, the steering column is adjustable in and out by two inches. To one side of each rear seat is a traditional Jensen lidded locker, and there is an opening quarterlight (fixed on 1974 US market cars) alongside each seat. Apart from the moulded facia cowl, virtually everything that isn’t upholstered in Connolly leather is treated to Wilton carpet, each front floor well being protected by a rubber heel mat.

The facia is excellently laid out to the advantage of the six Smiths instruments and Kienzle clock. In the centre of the facia, raised as close to eye-level as possible and angled in the moulding towards the driver are voltmeter, fuel gauge for the 20-gallon tank, oil pressure gauge and temperature gauge. Below them are four eyeball freshair outlets, in the centre of which is mounted the Kienzle clock, which the eyes, used to the ideally-positioned auxiliary instruments, are slow to locate. Directly in front of the driver lie the 160-m.p.h. speedometer with trip and 6,000-r.p.m. tachometer, red-lined at, would-you-believe, 5,100 r.p.m., the giveaway to an extraordinarily lazy and understressed engine. To the right of that are a brake warning light with a switch to check whether the warning light is working or not, a typically American compulsory fitment— unless you happen to check the light at just the right time, if it doesn’t work it probably means you’re dead anyway—which usefully doubles up as handbrake and worn pad warning light as well as low, or non-existent fluid level warning. Further right is the disappointing control for the otherwise excellent two-speed wipers and four-jet electric washers: it is an identical Lucas switch to that fitted to my TR6, featuring clockwise turns for the wipers and push-in action for the washers. Whilst it works, it is not the sort of detail I would .expect on a car of this class and I would hope that Jensen have plans to mount a finger-tip stalk on the vacant left-hand side of the steering column. The stalk on the right controls winkers and headlamp flasher only, the dip-switch being an organ pedal for the left foot to operate, an old-fashioned feature which I wouldn’t mind if it weren’t for the fact that I use my left foot to operate the wide pendant brake pedal in this automatic car, and on occasions I have had to transfer my right foot to that pedal part way through braking in order to dip the lights.

The central transmission tunnel is a massive structure which effectively isolates the driver from passenger, yet adds to the feeling of comfort while leaving adequate foot room. The console on top of the tunnel is trimmed entirely in leather, though American market cars feature a polished wood inset. A row of rocker switches lies at the top edge of the console where it meets the facia, controlling from the left the optional fog lamps, the electrically-operated fuel-filler lid on the car’s nearside (operable only when the engine is switched off), selector switch for the town and country horns, aerial switch (not fitted on the 1974 cars, with automatic operation), heated rear screen switch (without a warning light on the test car—or certainly not one that works), panel light switch (again redundant in 1974) and the lights switch. The radio lies below them and below that the rotary air-conditioning control switches, between which is a rocker switch to activate the air-conditioning pump. An aircraft-type sign below that screams “Fasten Seat Belts” if you haven’t. Electric window switches flank the conventional automatic gear-lever at the front of the flat part of the console and at the rear are a hazard warning switch, parking light switch to override the main lights to operate the driver’s side sidelights only, surely illegal now, a balance knob for the speakers and a cigar lighter. On the left of the facia is a lockable cubby hole, and underneath the facia a point for charging the battery. Naturally the 15 inch steering wheel, controlling a reasonable, for the car’s size, 38 ft. turning circle at 3.4 turns lock-to-lock, has a hide rim.

Inertia reel seat-belts should retreat into the sidewall on either side of the rear seats, but prove loth to do so and are confoundedly difficult to grab hold of from the front seats. Push-buttons to release the buckles from the fixed centre mountings are on the bottoms of the mountings, awkward to get at because of the centre console and seats and would be better switched to the tops. Belts are comfortable enough once they are on, but like most other installations their design is far from perfect.

Frequent reminders from passing pedestrians when walking away from the car after locking it have been invoked by the unusual feature of a thermo-switch connected to the interior courtesy lights, so that after the doors are closed the lights stay on for anything up to 30 sec., depending upon the temperature, before extinguishing themselves automatically. These two lights, each with a selfcontained switch (a remote switch on the console would be far better) are situated above each door and aren’t really bright enough to allow a London A to Z to be read.

General impressions of driving the Interceptor belie the old-fashioned and almost primitive design by current sophisticated standards, of the suspension, not too far removed from that of the old Austin Westminster. The live rear axle is suspended by semi-elliptic, dual rate cart springs with rubber button interleaved separators. The only other location is by a Panhard rod and Armstrong telescopic dampers. Independent wishbone-type front suspension has coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers and an anti-roll bar. The arrangement couldn’t be much less sophisticated yet it works admirably and has the added attraction of being relatively cheap and easy to maintain. Indeed the whole car requires very little more routine maintenance than an ordinary family saloon: service intervals are restricted to every 4,000 miles, when attention is required to, among other things, the good old-fashioned chassis grease points. This compares with every 2,500 miles for the DBS V8!

Adwest power steering is fitted as standard, and while it is fractionally inferior in feel to that fitted to the Aston Martin, it is slightly lighter without being too light. In other respects the Jensen feels a much easier car to drive, particularly with regard to parking and driving through narrow gaps, though this is no scarecrow at 5 ft. 9 in. wide, the Interceptor being 3 in. narrower than the DBS.

Girling ventilated disc brakes are fitted to all four wheels, 11 3/8 in. diameter at the front and 10 ¾ in. at the rear. There are separate systems for front and rear brakes with a tandem master cylinder, direct-acting servo, aided by a vacuum reservoir in the main chassis tubes, and with a load-conscious valve to prevent rear-wheel lock-up. Like the Aston, the brakes become quite rough while driving around London, once again a fair amount of gearbox creep and high tickover speed needing their frequent, light application. The pedal isn’t firm enough for my liking, but they stop the 35.7 cwt. car effectively from the speeds used in this test, if not inspiring the same confidence as those of the Aston. A hand-brake lever of non-flyoff type nestles between the driver’s seat and the console, from where it operates self-adjusting pads on the rear discs and seems to have no problems holding the heavy car.

In general the Interceptor’s handling is reasonable, its ride comfortable, while remaining firm enough to give good control without reverting to the sogginess of a Rolls-Royce system. However, it is far from being as sure-footed as the Aston, once again, and needs delicate control in the wet, particularly under power, when the rear end, in spite of a Salisbury Powr-Lok differential, can soon lose traction and sideways adhesion—and it is not an easy car to regain control of. This is very much a car to treat with respect when cornering at speed and really it is much more at home travelling flat out down motorways and autoroutes, when I recall that the Mk.II I referred to earlier was no noisier and no less stable at over 130 m.p.h. than it was at 80. Apart from a distant hum, wind-noise is non-existent at any speed and the big V8 behaves as though insulated in a sound-proof box. The Mk. II gave quite a marked V8 warble when opened up, while the Mk.III’s 7.2-litre engine is almost completely unobtrusive. When the throttle is floored the gearbox changes up at 40 m.p.h. and 76 m.p.h. or on a light throttle at 11 m.p.h. and 15 m.p.h. with the engine at not much more than tickover speed. Maximum speeds in low and intermediate gears available by using the -manual hold are 48 m.p.h. and 82 m.p.h., but this is purely academic, for this super-smooth engine can be left in Drive more happily than any other automatic car I can recall. Progress is lazy, effortless and utterly relaxed, it is a tremendously easy car to drive when not trying to break any records, yet when overtaking performance is required, kickdown gives a tremendous thump in the back, the start of impressive and safe acceleration which keeps this Jensen well up in the league of the World’s high-performance cars—certainly of the automatic variety. On the other hand, the current 50 m.p.h. limit is no real problem the V8 burbling happily (and quietly —tappets are hydraulic) at less than 1,500 r.p.m. with the occupants surrounded by almost absolute silence, breathing dehumidified air through the standard airconditioning equipment, which is less satisfactory at maintaining suitable constant heat than it is at demisting the interior. For this last trick the air-conditioner itself must be switched on—using just the heater causes a worse fog than ever. The rotary knobs are convenient to operate and usefully illuminated at night.

Starting those eight cylinders from cold is equally drama-free: the throttle is depressed fully and slowly to activate the automatic choke, after which the pedal is left well alone, the key is turned and the engine invariably fires and can be driven away smoothly and cleanly immediately. The hand-book warns that a small amount of throttle should be applied when starting a warm engine and that 15 sec. of churning is not unusual—the test car starts instantly with no throttle. Twin thermostatically-controlled electric fans and a 28-pint cooling-system keep the engine cool when it is warm and for customers who may use their cars regularly in hot climates —standard for the States—a louvred bonnet is available as a no-cost option as an aid to removing unwanted underbonnet heat.

After more than seven years, the almost futuristic Vignale body style is almost undated and the Jensen Interceptor remains the epitome of the high-speed executive express. It would benefit from a more sophisticated chassis design to improve its high speed cornering behaviour (not that it does a great deal wrong—it just feels that it might) and beyond that this hand-built West Bromwich product rivals that product from Crewe in terms of comfort and silence, is more relaxing to drive because it is more compact and has far more precise handling and is faster. ‘What more could a man require who doesn’t want an out-and-out sports car, but wants something more individual that an XJ12.—C.R.

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