Two Jensens

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Some notes on the four-wheel-drive, Dunlop-Maxaret-Braked FF and The Interceptor. Luxury cars with 6.3-litre Chrysler V8 engines.

My previous association with Jensen Motors of West Bromwich was four years ago, when I visited the factory and road-tested the then current 6.3-litre CV8 saloon. Recently I was able to bring my knowledge of Jensen affairs up to date, by driving the advanced FF (Ferguson Formula) model for a long weekend and a modern Interceptor—a very smart maroon one—for a longer period.

Richard and Allan Jensen entered the Motor Industry in the early 1930s as specialist bodybuilders, achieving fame with their Avon Standards, etc. Like Sir William Lyons, of Jaguar, they later built complete cars, such as the Ford V8-powered tourers and saloons (they were very cagey in those days as to the origin of the engine!), and subsequent models using 22 h.p. Ford V8 and 4.2-litre straight-eight Nash power units. Steyr and Lincoln engines were also used, and after the war there was on imposing 3.9-litre Meadows-engined car, until the Interceptor arrived in 1950, powered with an Austin A135 4-litre engine.

Jensen were pioneers of disc brakes on all four wheels in 1957, were early users of safety belts fitted as standard, and the 5.9-litre Chrysler-powered CV8 of 1963 led on to the current models and the innovation of four-wheel-drive and Dunlop Maxaret anti-skid braking on the Jensen FF. by 1967, the comparatively-small West Bromwich company thus making one of the world’s most advanced cars.

Because it sells safety of the kind which makes a driver to avoid accidents, instead of safety that protects the car’s occupants during an accident, the four-wheel-drive Jensen is a great advance in automobile engineering technique. I was naturally anxious to try it, and have waited a very long time for the privilege. Taking an FF away from the factory, the first impression (after a thoughtful and observant pedestrian had stopped me to say the fuel tank was leaking—the cheap and nasty A.C. bayonet-type cap had not been replaced after replenishing) was that there is absolutely no way of telling that there is anything at all unconventional about the Jensen FF’s Laystall-made transmission, although it is extraordinarily unusual, with four-wheel-drive on the Ferguson system, using hypoid drives front and rear, that additional differential, and a drive shaft passing along the n/s of the engine, and transfer to this shaft by means of a chain drive.

Yet, in action, there is no transmission noise and the very good power steering gives no hint that the front wheels are being driven. On dry roads, likewise, the Dunlop anti-lock Maxaret braking feels entirely normal. Fortunately, going up to Silverstone for the V.S.C.C. Driving Tests the roads were wet, and I was able properly to appreciate the superiority of the FF over conventional motor cars. It is possible to turn on the power of the 325 b.h.p. Chrysler V8 engine with impunity, because the car goes exactly where it is pointed. Corners can be negotiated under power—you just turn the front wheels and the FF goes where it is pointed. With the power of an average American automobile at your command, this is not only impressive and reassuring—it makes for excellent cross-country average speeds. My experienced passenger remarked: “It must feel very safe”, realising that I would not be driving a rear-wheel-drive car as quickly without courting a shunt.

The Maxaret braking, with Mintex M74 pads, is likewise of immense value on slippery roads. The knowledge that the wheels will not lock until the car is stationary gives great Confidence—you approach a road junction, or tuck-in between two moving vehicles, and just stamp on the brake pedal, no matter how wet or greasy the road surface. If the wheels attempt to lock up they release automatically, before so doing, at the expense of kick-back from the pedal. On normally slippery going, or if a wheel becomes air-borne on a wet patch, this pedal reaction is no worse than that we used to experience on certain vintage cars whose chassis frames flexed over rough roads—a 6½-litre Bentley, for example. It is on abnormally gripless surfaces, such as wet grass, that the action could be alarming, both from the aspect of violent kick and clunking from the system, unless the driver has been forewarned. But the car stops in a straight line, without any need for cadence braking on the driver’s part. On a dry road the Maxaret stopping distances may not be quite so short as with a normal system. But the FF’s foolproof braking is entirely satisfactory and this insurance against wheel locking reduces driving tension—and should reduce insurance charges!

Couple this safe braking with four-wheel-drive and you have one of the safest slippery-road cars yet put on the market. The FF costs £1,809 more than the Interceptor; whether this is worthwhile will depend on how a driver rates his skid-avoidance skill and how much fast driving under skid-prone conditions is likely to be undertaken. From my limited experience of the FF I can say that it transformed my method of driving, and the pleasure I derived from driving, this powerful and large motor car.

The Jensens are well made, fully-equipped cars. They do not challenge the Rolls-Royce market in respect of either quietness or absolute refinement of detail, being essentially high-performance cars for four passengers rather than the epitome of luxurious travel for up to five occupants. The FF, incidentally, suffered from a few shortcomings which should not be found in a £7,000 car. For example, the driver’s (electric) window-lift worked jerkily and stuck down on one occasion, the front passenger’s seat was of a most uncomfortable shape, the engine tended to stall at parking speeds with the power steering on full lock (the Silver Shadow isn’t exempt from this), the l.h. heater control was at times absurdly stiff to move, and at speed the boom from the twin exhaust pipes became somewhat irritating—more so on the Interceptor than on the FF. In addition, the o/s screen wiper blades did not properly clean the glass, even after the washers had been used, and I cannot imagine the owner of an FF, perhaps while listening to the Warsaw Concerto on the Voxson stereo-player (which I was able to do while driving the Interceptor), liking to have to get out and wipe the screen with the backs of his gloves. Both cars suffered from reflections in their windscreens.

Having disposed of these criticisms, most of which, curiously, were not present on the less expensive Interceptor, I am free to pay tribute to the excellence of the FF’s speed, acceleration, comfort, good driving position and, above all, its impeccable controllability. Its cornering tendency is neutral, with a trace of oversteer if power is taken off in mid-corner—and it takes even an experienced driver quite a time before he is willing to exploit to the full the remarkable adhesion of this remarkable car.

The FF and Interceptor, four-wheel-drive and Maxarets apart, are virtually the same, except that the frame tubes are slightly heavier, and further outboard, on the former, as the transmission tunnel is wider. The FF is recognisable by two vents on the bonnet sides instead of one on each side and an air-intake on the bonnet lid. Its body is slightly less aerodynamic, so the top speed of the Interceptor, 133 m.p.h., is higher by perhaps three m.p.h. The FF is also somewhat heavier, the transmission weighing about 180 lb. and the Maxaret unit approximately 20 lb. But it would be the faster car in point of average speed, especially in the rain, and to drive it in these conditions is to add a new experience to the motoring repertoire. I was unable to do a full fuel-consumption check in the time available, but a brief test showed 10.9 m.p.g. of 100-octane petrol.

The Interceptor did rather better, giving 14.5 m.p.g. on a long journey. As the low-level warning light shines with only 30 to 36 miles to go before the tank is dry, refuelling is needed about every 200 miles and the FF even more frequently, in spite of a 16-gallon tank. This will represent less than 2½ hours’ motoring on Continental roads, so these Jensens are not true GT cars! There was a little difficulty about refuelling the Interceptor in Herefordshire, and thereby hangs a short tale. A Shell garage was closed, a Regent garage had only regular gas in stock. So I arrived at a B.P. filling station with about a pint in hand and was obliged to take on 99-octane fuel, on which the engine pinked like a prudish young bride. This suggested one of three things—the ignition was abnormally far advanced, B.P. super grade fuel is inferior to other brands, or B.P. Superblend pumps can cause the customer to receive the wrong octane fuel.

The Interceptor, like the FF, has a steel-panelled four-seater body welded-up and upholstered by Jensen, using some panels imported from Italy, the styling being by Vignale. Whereas the CV8 had a fibreglass body, this material is confined to interior body parts on Modern Jensens.

Dealing now with the Interceptor, the concept is a fairly “close-coupled” saloon, two fully-adjustable bucket front seats, separated by a wide veneer-finished tunnel and console, with a shaped and generously upholstered back seat, having a folding centre arm-rest. The wide screen sill, central facia and speedometer and tachometer nacelles are upholstered in black anti-dazzle Amblia-cum-leather, veneered wood being confined to the console. A multitude of flick switches conveniently located on the console confuse a driver unaccustomed to a Jensen, but are generally satisfactory, except for the insensitive action of such controls when applied to rheostat panel lighting. The switch nearest to the driver in the bottom row puts on the lamps (foot-dipper), and half the big sloping back window is demisted by a Triplex heater. There is a comprehensive cold/hot air system of ventilation and heating, each with its own fan, supplemented by fresh air from three swivelling facia vents and foot-level inlets.

The instruments comprise Jaeger speedometer and tachometer before the driver, the former calibrated every 20 m.p.h., and the latter “going into the red” from 5,000 to 6,000 r.p.m.—this Chrysler engine does not “rev” as fast as more Modern American V8 engines, but peaks at 4,600 r.p.m. and is comfortably under 3,000 r.p.m. cruising at our pathetic top speed-limit. (The top axle ratio on both cars is 3.07 to 1.) Between these two big dials is a combined oil/temperature gauge, not altogether easy to read. It is intended, I think, that the needles shall lie in line when all is well—in fact, in recording normally just under 50 lb./sq. in. and just above “N”, they don’t quite do this. Of the warning lights, those for oil pressure low and hand brake on are right in front of the driver. A reasonably accurate Jaeger electric fuel gauge and a Lucas ammeter occupy the facia, angled towards the driver, and at the top of the console there is a loud Smith/Jaeger clock, flanked by the electric window-lift controls.

The horizontal area of the console contains the rather ornamental, short lever controlling the commendably smoothly-functioning Chrysler Torqueflite-8 three-speed automatic transmission, which has 1st and 2nd gear “hold” positions and a kick-down which postpones the change into top until around 80 m.p.h. has been reached.

Both Jensens have plenty of creature comforts—Connolly leather upholstery, push-down internal door locks (the doors are sill-less and unincumbered by woodwork) openable side windows (fixed front ¼-lights), deep vizors with vanity mirror, Jensen/Britax safety-belts, cigar lighter, first-aid kit, pull-out ash trays upholstered to match the leather trim, electrically retracting radio aerial, lift-up inside door handles conveniently below the arm-rests, provision for fitting headrests to the front seats, anti-dazzle mirror, etc. The carpeted boot is spacious, the spare wheel being below it and the rear window constituting its lockable lid. But luggage has to be humped up into the boot. If bulky luggage is to be carried the rear-window shelf can he removed, after undoing seven nuts, giving more “roof” space in the boot, but the attachment of this shelf, and the cover plates giving access to the rear-lamp wiring, leave something to be desired in a £7,000 car, or even in a £4,700 one! One of the covers was difficult to replace, for instance. For stowing small objects there is a very long, lockable lidded well behind the console, two rather shallow under-facia shelves (pipe-racks, perhaps?) and covered wells forming outboard arm-rests, at each end of the back seat, as well as pockets on the back-seat squabs. A data panel is provided under the lid of the stowage well, and a good handbook accompanies the car. The petrol filler flap requires a key to open it and the ignition and boot-lid keys are the same shape, which is confusing. The bonnet lid is self-supporting, with a prop for safety, and the boot opens nicely and stays open—both compartments are illuminated. The car can be wired for stereo, or front/rear radio speakers. The bumpers are rubber-tipped, and the radiator grille is of solid alloy sections. The Lucas duel headlamps, the outboard ones iodine quartz lamps, gave a ridiculously cut-off beam on both Jensens, when dipped. A I.h. stalk controls turn-indicators and headlamp flashing and an old-fashioned button sounds a genteel horn note. The small steering wheel has column adjustment, is sensibly low-set, and has a non-slip leather-bound rim.

The tyres fitted are tubeless, nylon Dunlop Road Speed RS5s, 6.70 x 15 (H15 on the FF), Jensen not having come to grips with radial-ply tyres. The Rubery Owen pressed steel wheels were originally made specially for Jensen.

In both cars the 108 x 86 mm (6,267 c.c.) D-series engine, with 10 to 1 c.r., gives very effortless, impressive and useful acceleration and easy fast cornering, at the cost of some exhaust boom. The Interceptor ran 550 miles without needing oil (sump capacity 8½ pints). The automatic choke of the Carter carburetter gives prompt cold starting.

It is in handling that the Interceptor falls from grace to go with the pace, especially when sampled immediately following the super-safe FF. On both cars the rack-and-pinion steering is entirely free from lost movement and is geared 3½ turns lock-to-lock, with a small turning circle. The FF’s power steering is excellent. On the Interceptor the harsher, rather heavier action of the power-assisted steering is immediately apparent, nor do the handling characteristics encourage liberties to be taken. I did all the fast driving of the Interceptor on dry roads—perhaps fortunately. In these conditions, sliding the car round corners is great fun, but there is always the uncomfortable feeling that front-wheel adhesion is low. This is especially so when sudden movements of the steering wheel have to be made. Initial mild understeer changes to lurchy oversteer, and in neither case does the steering, which becomes light as adhesion is lost, give much confidence in correcting these cornering tendencies. From the straight-ahead position the steering suffers from “stickiness”, but the gentle castor return is satisfactory. The steering is free from kick-hack and vibration, but is too low-geared for quick control of incipient understeer.

The 11 in. Girling disc brakes of the Interceptor are adequate and progressive for normal driving but could with advantage give more powerful retardation for really fast motoring. The hand brake nestles close to the driver’s side of the wide transmission tunnel, being angled on the FF.

The ride tends to be choppy, although a four-position Armstrong Selectaride for the ½-elliptic back springs, with its control on the console, does enable suspension hardness to be varied. Front suspension is independent, using upper and lower wish-bones and coil springs. On the FF there is considerable “wump” as road gulleys and humps are taken with the ride on “hard”, this being rather less apparent on the Intercepter. The doors incorporate red warning lights but lack effective “keeps”.

These Jensens will do 100 to 110 m.p.h. almost anywhere, with ample reserves of power for getting quickly beyond “the ton” and on to 130 m.p.h. or more on the Motorways of civilised countries. The FF is one of the World’s most sophisticated approaches to safe control of a fast, powerful car. Both are high-performance, high-quality British luxury cars, literally hand-assembled. Whereas the FF is for really ambitious drivers, the Interceptor has far lower limits of safe handling in slippery conditions. The former costs £7,007; the latter £4,728, or £4,258 with a normal gearbox, inclusive of p.t.

Next month I will describe how these cars are constructed with care and fine workmanship, at the average rate of 15 a week (three FFs and 12 Interceptors) at Jensen’s West Bromwich factory.—W. B.