The Jensen Interceptor has had some bad press over the years, but Dep-O’s Robinson finds that there’s plenty to recommend about a 7.2-litre SIII
“A Jensen Interceptor!” I excitedly, er… exclaim upon opening the SMMT Test Day pack on arrival at Millbrook. “I have got to have a go in that!”
And so I do, despite the fact that – at a few weeks shy of 34 – I was born well after this leviathan’s heyday. I suppose I could be more like these idiotic youngsters you get on quiz shows nowadays, who when asked something like: “Between what years did World War Two take place?” often respond with that most banal and infuriating of replies: “Ooh, I don’t know, Alexander/Jeremy/Chris/Victoria (select as appropriate) – it’s a bit before my time, that.” Presumably these morons believe that the professors of Oxford and Cambridge who can teach us about every facet of the Roman Empire or Ancient Egypt are several thousand years old.
But thankfully I’m not like that, and so I take an interest in historic machines – and they don’t come with much more allure than the Interceptor. Part of it probably revolves around its appearance in Jason King; maybe more comes from the fact that it’s a striking looking thing, with its huge conk and shooting brake rear; as already mentioned by Clarkson on Top Gear, it certainly has the best name of any car ever made; but I suspect that, if you’re like me and you take a childish glee in bonkers headline figures, anything with a 7.2-litre V8 behemoth beating away beneath the bonnet (sorry, went a bit Troy Queef there) is going to be of great interest to you.
Of course, another big part of the Interceptor legend is that it was rubbish. The story goes that they were made in a haphazard fashion by lazy socialists who spent more time round a burning brazier than on the production line, with parts sourced in an ad hoc fashion – meaning no two Jensens left the factory with the same spec. I’m sure some of this is embellishment, but the mere presence of a viable company called Jensen International Automotive – which takes old Interceptors and re-engineers them to modern standards for a lot of cash – suggests that there are plenty of weaknesses to remedy with these Seventies grand tourers.
Driving this blue SIII example, though, I’m inclined to disagree. While a factory Interceptor will never win any awards for the way it eats up a B-road in North Wales, if this one is anything to go by they’re hardly a total shambles. It might be that this is a rogue good example in a sea of disasters, but I can only report as I find.
Climb in and there’s a real feeling of luxury, despite signs of ageing here and there that could kindly be called a ‘patina’. I prefer the term ‘aura’ with classics, although why one owner has shoved an incongruous CD head unit with a ghastly LCD display into the dash, I’ll never know. Stick a Becker unit in there. Anyway, there are plenty of luxuries, it’s spacious enough and the driving position is fine too.
The starter motor is reluctant to fire the mammoth V8 up, so there’s a real sense of occasion and delight when the engine does eventually catch, whereupon it treats you to a thunderous rumble. Aah, those heady days before mpg and CO2 blighted the landscape – this is a lump of unapologetic pig iron and there ain’t no substitute for cubic inches, in this case 440 of them.
There’s a certain amount of give’n’take to all these theatrics, though. It may well be a 7.2, and it may well have been claimed to knock out 285bhp in its pomp, but I am guessing that in the intervening 40 years someone opened the stable door, let loose a shotgun and then only closed it again when around two hundred of the horses had bolted, and were three fields away and accelerating fast. As with the XJ12 also at SMMT, this is a three-speed auto in the best Seventies style, but it struggles to convey any urgency from the goings-on up front to the rear wheels – and I suspect that is more to do with the combustion unit rather than the slushbox.
That doesn’t mean the engine is a bad thing, though – far from it. Unfettered by any pretence of eco-BS, it emits a brutish gurgle at low speed, then woofles its way up the small-ish rev range until the gearbox lazily serves you another ratio. And it is a glorious noise. While you’re only ever making acceptable progress, the soundtrack is enough to convince you that you’re actually going much quicker. And it’s a smooth operator too, only adding to the Jensen’s GT credentials.
Once burbling along at, ahem, ‘higher’ speeds, the major controls all display a wooliness that is not unexpected. The steering is very light, the brakes rough, the suspension too soft – but again, it’s not that bad. The Hill Route at Millbrook is a pretty demanding thing even for twin-scroll turbo moderns, yet the Jensen doesn’t disgrace itself, keeping up with ditherers who have twice the horsepower and half the weight at their disposal.
And then you get out at the end, and look back at it. And it’s very hard not to go ‘phwooaar’ in a needlessly blokey way. “Better than I expected,” is my colleague Simon’s verdict on the Interceptor, and that is not damning it with faint praise. I could see myself living with a tidy SIII like this in 2013, even without recourse to JIA and its re-engineering package. There’s a lot of character in the old dog yet, and I kind of like its easy-going attitude.
The final plus point for this Interceptor is that you can hire it from www.greatescapecars.co.uk if you fancy a weekend of Seventies nostalgia. So pack your best flares, slap on a fake handlebar moustache and drop them a line – if you’re a genuine car enthusiast, the chance to drive a motoring legend is surely too good to miss.
Tech Spec Jensen Interceptor S3 7.2
- Body Front-engined three-door coupe
- Engine 7212cc 16v SOHC V8 with Holley four-barrel carburettor
- Transmission RWD, three-speed auto
- 0-60mph 7.3 seconds
- Top speed 135mph
- Max power 285bhp @ 4800rpm
- Max torque 325lbf.ft @ 3400rpm
- Fuel consumption c.13mpg (combined on unleaded)
- CO2 emissions NA
- Price from £15,000+
The Truth & Nothing But…
Jensen Interceptor S3 7.2
+ What a reputation – the dream car of the early Seventies. Huge engine, beautiful yet unusual looks, and that name. It’s also quite nice to drive, being not half as bad as some people would have you believe.
– It’s not as powerful as the figures suggest, and it’s hardly the last word in precision engineering.
∴ Stunning – a classic that deserves a second, third and even fifteenth look. Don’t believe the scare stories – if you get a reasonably good’un like this SIII, it’ll put a smile on your face from the moment you open the door and get in until the unspecified point you walk away from it having emptied half the reserves of OPEC. Unashamedly old school, and all the better for it.