Mint it isn’t and nor should it be. Trim is scuffed, faded, tarnished, worn and cracked – but it isn’t the sight, sound or feel of this Jensen Interceptor which transports you from the insipid banality of anti-bacterial 2014. It is the rich, tangy and slightly gamey musk of its aged leather and timber-lined cabin. Is that a touch of tobacco, a drop of smoky single malt and a whiff of damp brogues? Whatever, it smells of life.
When invited along to recently relaunched Jensen specialists Cropredy Garage (near Banbury) – a firm acquired by Matt Watts and being marketed as ‘the original home of Jensen’ – it was really to be shown a much later Interceptor. Well, that was the plan. To experience what it would have been like to take delivery of a brand-new Interceptor in the Seventies, by going for a spin in a newly-completed car which has been built for a Middle Eastern customer.
It was and is very impressive – the style, the spec, the fit and finish, the way it drives and the way it survived the Charlesworth right hoof without mishap, hesitation or kerbside meltdown. It’s a very tempting alternative alternative for someone with enough imagination and money (think around the price bracket of other turn-key modernised classics). It’s certainly a more individual choice than blindly joining the modern Tupperware GT herd in a ‘car’ packing all the soul-less, interpretive originality of an act on The X-Factor. But…
My eyes, and soon heart, had already been captivated by the car bearing the numberplate HEA ID. It is the oldest surviving prototype and the first true Jensen Interceptor built on an Interceptor chassis (the first Interceptor body had been fitted to a CV8 chassis). Unlike other prototypes which were destroyed – as per industry practice – EXP 115 was renumbered EXP 115/2495 and this Vignale-built car was registered on the 15th September 1966 for press use prior to October’s 1966 Motor Show.
Since those glory days, the Interceptor’s image has fallen from grace and become more than a little battered – as its original customer-base aged and global circumstances made running a big V8 a financial challenge. No longer a suave, sleek and desirable machine beloved of young-ish business execs and playboys, Interceptors fell into the swingers and dodgy publicans category. Before many were sentenced to lurk flat-tyred under a tarp in the yard of a bloke called something like Barry – a walrus-’tached one-time roadie for King Crimson. That though – as reflected in the rise of Interceptor values – has all changed and the sexiest Jensen of them all is now enjoying climbing values and a far healthier outlook. Its days as a tart’s handbag cum battered shed are over.
When the company sort to replace the CV8, design submissions were invited by Ghia, Vignale and Touring – with the latter’s winning. However, given the carozzeria’s big money troubles, Touring sold the rights to Jensen because it was unable to ready the design for production. Jensen then approached Vignale with this in mind, and two experimental chassis were bodied – the other being EXP 116.
‘HEA 1D’ boasts a similar specification to its later production offspring: front independent suspension (via coil and wishbone), while the rear is a live axle located by Panhard rod. Braking is by four-wheeled discs, steering by manual rack and pinion, and transmitting the 6.3-litre Chrysler V8’s 325bhp and 425lbf.ft output sternward is a three-speed Torqueflite automatic gearbox.
By December 1967 the car had covered 25,000 miles and was eventually sold by the Works for £3100, but not before it had done the ‘rounds’. This car appeared in Autosport (14th October 1966), Motor (4th February 1967) and Autocar (5th January), when it was summarised at the beginning of the magazine’s 2113rd road test as: ‘New Italian body for Jensen CV8 in steel. Top speed higher but acceleration reduced slightly up to 100mph. Powerful brakes fade free. Superb smooth quiet American engine with well-matched automatic transmission. Ride more comfortable. Road-holding well balanced. Luxurious interior but heating and ventilation could be better. Very satisfying high-performance touring car with practical seating for four plus luggage. Total price £3742 11s 2d.’
A sluggish starter-motor full of sleepiness, spins the Chrysler V8 into life – awakening the tacho with a jerk. The MkI’s sculptured cowled dash is so ’60s Italian with its style, dials, wood-rimmed wheel and toggle switches. In the chic jet-set stakes, this Gordon-Keeble(ish) leather womb is second only to Burton and Taylor in The VIPs. Slip the Torqueflite into ‘Drive’ – this prototype doesn’t have a ‘Park’ facility – and off we waft.
Performance stats for the 36.7cwt Interceptor include a top speed of 138½ mph, a 0-60mph sprint in 8.3secs – or 7.3secs when held (given first gear is good for 53mph at 5100rpm redline, you can lead to your own conclusions about which gear it was held in!) and a five-star thirst of 11.3mpg. So it’s a good job the price of dinosaur juice is coming back down to earth.
Driving over beautiful rolling Oxfordshire roads, with the burbling V8 and the auto occasionally shuffling betwixt its three ratios, it quickly becomes evident that the 5100rpm redline is going to remain untroubled. Unless of course, I suddenly transform into the biggest red-eyed mechanical rapist – in the world.
The manual Cam Gears rack and pinion does feel a little tired, almost as if its teeth have been worn down with age, for there is a degree of slop and straight ahead vagueness which would normally only be found in an average steering box. However, I suspect this might be the design of the system rather than any fatigue, for Cam Gears was the firm responsible for the devil’s own ‘Bishops Gear’ worm and peg steering box.
The all-around Dunlop brakes are ruthlessly over-servo’d, but for an old Citroëniste it’s merely a matter of recalibrating your right foot to something approaching-but-not-quite Citroën’s hydraulic power braking system. Once reset, the brakes work well and can be depended upon with seldom any praying for extra emergency retardation.
At parking speeds the steering is certainly heavy in a modern context, but nothing exceptional against its contemporaries. You might think that with that 6.3-litre V8 bearing down on it that it feels like winching up the QE2’s anchor, but it doesn’t – and when moving, it loses weight quickly.
Through bends it is initially hard to rid your thoughts of that sizeable bow-mounted V8, but with mileage comes trust in the Interceptor’s cornering. It is far more nimble than you would think and while it rolls, it doesn’t wallow. Allowing you to get the awkward introductions over and done with quickly, before relaxing and indulging in some genuine Sixties first-class GT travel. Yeah baby, fab.
Even by 2014 standards, the Inteceptor is quick and comfortable, and today, it looks and feels far more slender than in period. Meaning that you can gorge on its performance capability without worrying that an approaching Billy Bunter crossover is about to restyle your off-side during a poorly-gauged B-road encounter.
Overall, this car is soothing yet capable, stylish yet not trying too hard, powerful but not aggressive or threatening – an observation supported by the positive reactions from other traffic and passers-by. People who seem neither to notice nor care about its dulled paint, slightly oxidised scarring or its patina.
Back at Cropredy Garage, into ‘Neutral’, the first Jensen Interceptor falls silent and I get lost in my thoughts.
HEA 1D certainly doesn’t dazzle with its immaculate polished-to-perfection presentation, flawless liquid-like paint or freshly bolted together integrity – unlike the company’s fully restored customer Interceptor – but this car did leave a deeper impression with far greater resonance.
And if I have to explain why, well, perhaps old cars are not really for you.