When they were new…
An original road test taken from the Motor Sport archives, January 1969 | by Bill Boddy
Recently I was able to bring my knowledge of Jensen affairs up to date, by driving the advanced FF (Ferguson Formula) model as well as a modern Interceptor.
With the innovation of four-wheel drive and Dunlop Maxaret anti-skid braking on the FF, the small West Bromwich company makes one of the world’s most advanced cars. The first impression was that there is absolutely no way of telling that there is anything unconventional about the transmission, although it is extraordinarily unusual, using hypoid drives front and rear, that additional differential, a driveshaft passing along the engine’s nearside and chain drive transfer to this shaft. Yet in action there is no transmission noise and the power steering gives no hint that the front wheels are being driven.
Fortunately, going up to Silverstone for the VSCC Driving Tests the roads were wet, and I was able to appreciate the FF’s superiority over conventional motor cars. It is possible to turn on the power of the 325bhp Chrysler V8 engine with impunity. Corners can be negotiated under power – you just turn the front wheels and the FF goes where it is pointed. This is not only impressive and reassuring, but makes for excellent cross-country average speeds.
The Maxaret braking is of immense value on slippery roads. The knowledge that the wheels will not lock 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. Kick-back from the pedal on slippery going is no worse than we used to experience on certain vintage cars whose chassis frames flexed – a 6½-litre Bentley, for example.
Couple this braking with 4WD and you have one of the safest cars on the market. The FF costs £1809 more than the Interceptor; whether this is worthwhile will depend on how a driver rates his skid-avoidance skill. From limited experience I can say that the FF transformed my method of driving.
The Jensens are well made, fully equipped cars. They do not challenge the Rolls-Royce market in respect of either quietness or absolute refinement, being essentially high-performance cars for four passengers rather than the epitome of luxurious travel.
On the road the FF excels in 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 the adhesion remarkable.
The FF and Interceptor, 4WD apart, are virtually the same, except that the FF frame tubes are farther outboard 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. Being somewhat heavier it is 3mph slower, 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. A brief test showed 10.9mpg of 100-octane petrol, where the Interceptor did rather better, giving 14.5mpg on a long journey. Refuelling is needed about every 200 miles and the FF even more frequently. On 99-octane fuel, the engine pinked like a prudish young bride. Both cars have steel-panelled four-seater bodies welded up and upholstered by Jensen, using some panels imported from Italy, the styling being by Vignale.
Two fully adjustable bucket front seats are separated by a wide veneer-finished tunnel and console, with a shaped back seat having a folding arm-rest. A multitude of flick switches located on the console confuse a driver unaccustomed to a Jensen, but are generally satisfactory. 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.
The instruments comprise Jaeger speedometer and tachometer, the latter going into the red from 5000rpm – this Chrysler engine is comfortably under 3000rpm cruising at our pathetic top speed limit. 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 controls. The horizontal area of the console contains the rather ornamental short lever controlling the commendably smooth-functioning three-speed auto transmission, which has a kick-down that postpones the change into top until about 80mph has been reached.
Both Jensens have plenty of creature comforts – Connolly leather, opening side windows, deep visors, Britax safety-belts, first-aid kit, electrically retracting radio aerial, provision for headrests, anti-dazzle mirror and so on. The carpeted boot is spacious, the rear window constituting its lockable lid, but luggage has to be humped up into the boot. For stowing small objects there is a lockable cubby behind the console.
The Lucas dual headlamps gave a ridiculously cut-off beam on both Jensens, when dipped, while 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.
In both cars the 6267cc engine gives very effortless, impressive and useful acceleration and easy fast cornering, at the cost of some exhaust boom, but in handling the Interceptor falls from grace when sampled immediately after the super-safe FF. Sliding the Interceptor is fun, but there is always the feeling that front-wheel adhesion is low. Initial mild understeer changes to lurchy oversteer, and in neither case does the steering give much confidence, being too low-geared for quick control. The ride tends to be choppy, although suspension hardness can be varied.
These Jensens will do 100 to 110mph almost anywhere, with ample reserves of power to press on to 130mph or more on the motorways of civilised countries. Both are high quality British luxury cars and the FF is one of the world’s most sophisticated approaches to safe control of a fast, powerful car.
Jensen FF factfile
Max speed: 130mph
World’s first 4WD performance car plus ABS; stunning looks and four proper seats with V8 power. Should have been a milestone but stifled by price and complexity.
Ideal spec: any of the 320 that didn’t rust…