This is always a tricky one, writing about yourself. I mean, what in all modesty do you say?
Those who know me know what a funny fellow I am. Until the end of 2002, I was working for the UN in the Balkans, doing my bit for peacekeeping during the day and spending my spare time digging into Jensen history at night, among other things. Who's to say which was the more profitable waste of time? Well, I won't bore you with details of the day job but I guess the Jensen side deserves a few comments.
Try as I have, I cannot work out exactly what it was that first got me interested in Jensens. I bought an Interceptor II in Australia in 1985. I'm not even sure why I did that except that some strange force seemed to be compelling me to buy a performance car. The praises I'd read about Jensens in motoring reviews over the years had stirred my interest but as to why I decided to buy a Jensen over the Bentleys, Alfas, Isos, Astons, Ferraris, Jaguars, Lagondas, Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Rovers, Volvos and Monteverdis which I was also considering, I cannot say.
I think price had a fair bit to do with it. I had just dragged my girlfriend down to Melbourne on a hectic day trip out of Canberra to look at a rather nice Interceptor III which turned out to have been sold a few minutes before we arrived. This didn't please me much, particularly as we had just spent six hours on the road rushing down to see it. So, after looking at a couple of other cars whose owners were asking what I thought was quite a lot of money, we returned to Canberra in rather a foul mood, me unsatisfied with the day's events, exhausted with the driving and despairing of ever finding a car. SWMBO's take on the trip is better left unrecorded.
However, to my great surprise, the following morning brought news of another Interceptor for sale, this time for far less money and, wonder of wonders, not ten minutes' drive from where I lived. Never had I heard of any Jensen for sale in Canberra, let alone one which was priced to sell. In retrospect, I should not have bought this car but what did I know. Buy it I did, on the rebound as it were, without a proper inspection or expert evaluation. All I knew was I wanted it and I felt good snapping it up ahead of some other bargain-hunter who wanted it just as badly. I took particular pride in the fact that the car came with what I was assured were several boxes of spares. After a few weeks, I determined that most of these were original parts out of the car. Even so, I was unfazed. I kept the two-tone beast, later dubbed "the Ferret", for 31 years, even though my mates were telling me I'd be better off scrapping it. Eventually it went to a good home in 2016 and received the restoration I had planned to give it.
Possibly in recompense for sins in a former life, I wound up in the Middle East during the late 1980s. Being in the Australian Foreign Service, I had come to the conclusion that, of the posting options available in 1985, Brussels was shaping up as the best bet. It offered stability, proximity to Jensen-land and a three year stint as a diplomat in Europe. Perfect. Unfortunately, my carefully worded application was greeted with snorts of amusement. A counter-offer of an assignment in Iraq was the comeback, something I had not expected. I considered it with a mixture of curiosity and dread, particularly as it seemed to be an offer of the take-it-or-you'll-regret-it kind. Before long, I was heading out of Australia on what would turn out to be an absence of four years, most of it spent in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Contrary to expectations, my time among the Arabs turned out to be a cracker and to this day I do not regret the opportunity it provided, both professionally and in terms of my burgeoning interest in Jensen cars. In 1986, on my way out to the Middle East, I made a point of going up to the Jensen factory ar Kelvin Way, West Bromwich, run at the time by a kindly fellow called Ian Orford. When I mentioned that I owned a somewhat dilapidated Interceptor II and was interested in knowing a bit more about it, Ian took me up to the attic and pulled out the Ferret's chassis file, in effect handing me the birth certificate of my car.
I was amazed that such a detailed record on any car should exist. More than that, as my eyes wandered around the loft, I began to think of grander schemes than having my car restored. There under the hot tin roof, in layer upon dusty layer, were the build records of all the Jensen cars ever made, or so I thought. What untold stories lay within those dog-eared folders? What might be found were someone to sit down and work his way systematically through the lot? Had anyone tried to do this? Would anyone care if someone tried now?
To cut a long and potentially boring story short, I will say simply that I decided to take up the challenge. Taking advantage of generous amounts of leave provided by my employer, I began visiting Blighty on a regular basis. During these trips, I would ensconce myself for days in the loft, poring over the files and extracting from them the basis for what would eventually become my Jensen databook. With Ian's blessing I delved deeply into the records, digging out not only facts about the cars but also the seeds of an understanding of what Jensen history was all about. The notions which germinated at that time have been refined over the years and several books have been the outcome. All who wondered what went on at the factory in years gone by, the hows and whys of Jensen car production, have had many questions answered.
After I finished with Iraq in early 1990, I moved over to England full-time on long service leave. I lived in West Bromwich for four months, in effect becoming one of the factory crew and "going in to work" every day among the records while others went about their business of restoring, servicing and resurrecting cars in the workshop below. Being in a somewhat more liquid position as a result of my travails in the desert, I succumbed to the urge to acquire more Jensens. In this suspect frame of mind, I managed between 1988 and 1990 to scout out the Swiss ski-slope FF, a derelict H-type from the pre-war era and a rather sad-looking Interceptor III whose cherished licence plate eventually cost me more than I paid for the whole car. All three were in terrible order but my outlandish ambition was to bring each back to life in a kinder environment where the cars could go on to enjoy a long and healthy existence. Of course, reality soon set in and one by one each of these worthies had to be abandoned before my departure for home. The Interceptor, which had by then benefited from an extensive and expensive restoration, confounded my expectations by proving the most difficult to sell. The derelict FF and H-type went to avid buyers almost immediately. Thirty years later, the FF is almost fully rebuilt to its original specification but the H, I regret to say, is probably in worse condition than when I last saw it in 1990.
Shortly after my return to Australia, Saddam invaded Kuwait. This was not good but I had warned my people about underestimating the Iraqis. My caution had fallen on deaf ears but my conscience was clear. On the plus side, my experience in a land which no-one had much cared about suddenly became quite useful. I was recalled from what leave was still owing and life became interesting again for a while. The downside was that our Embassy in Baghdad, where I had been sending my accumulated research materials from England, was under threat of evacuation. Had it not been for the exertions of the Ambassador's wife, who carried out all of the documents which I'd been squirreling away in Baghdad, the fruits of my labours in the West Bromwich attic would have been lost for good. Libby Lloyd was awarded an AM for her efforts in Iraq. I like to think she got it for saving my research.
Well, wheels turn and years come and go. By 1991, I knew I had enough on Jensen to produce a book. Originally, it had not been my intention to issue the chassis data as the first instalment of the planned history the techno-stuff was going to be the last volume to come out. But assessments change with the exigencies of life and taxes, and with the accumulated weight of data hampering my ability to get on with the work still needing to be done, I decided that the databook would have to come out first. Now began the exhausting process of transcription. The computer I had used in Iraq, abandoned to its fate, didn't even have a hard drive so all my work to that point had been accomplished on a twin 5¼ floppy machine. Back in Canberra and relieved of about $4,000, I became the proud owner of a 386 with an 80Mb hard drive. Luxury! Between long shifts in the office dealing with the Kuwait crisis, I set to work late in 1990 on getting the book together. By March 1991 it was done and by June I was handing out the first copies to friends in Canberra. More copies were soon in the mail to clubbers around Australia and then to the rest of the world.
Just when you think it's over, it isn't. By late 1992, I knew I was not destined to remain for long in Australia. Somalia and Yugoslavia were burning and for some reason I put up my hand to go off with the UN and fight one of those fires. The one I chose was Somalia, based as I recall on some slightly dodgy assumptions about the weather being warmer in Africa and the food better in the Mogadishu cafeteria. By a quirk of fate, however, I ended up in the Balkans and in June 1993 I arrived in Zagreb at the start of my second stint in foreign parts. At last I had made it to Europe. Only trouble was, it was not Brussels. I soon discovered that someone had rewritten the diplomatic rule book quite comprehensively.
There's always a bright side to a tricky situation and as far as I was concerned it was that I was close to England again and happily in a position to get on with some of my unfinished Jensen business. By this stage, Ian Orford had relinquished control to Hugh Wainwright and Hugh in turn had found that he had bitten off more than he could chew in trying to take the Jensen company forward. In 1992, he suffered a near-fatal illness which was followed by the return of the Receiver to Kelvin Way. In 1993, just as I was starting my ten-year stint with the United Nations, the Receiver sold all of Jensen's material assets and records to a Nuneaton-based classic Jaguar operation run by Martin Robey, a car enthusiast of long standing who had decided to branch out into Jensen spares.
As for me, I managed to escape the Balkans in 2003. Of the tens of thousands of personnel who served with the UN while I was there, I can think of only one who was there when I arrived and still there when I left. I saw a lot of action and had some good times, exceeding by a considerable margin what had started out as a notional two-year secondment, but that wasn't a bad thing. Over the past 35 years, I've been able to shuttle back and forth to Blighty, delving ever more deeply into the Jensen history and gathering materials for more definitive publications on the subject. With five books produced so far, I still have more to do, but as always it depends on whether Jensen owners are prepared to pay to hear the tale. To paraphrase Carroll Shelby, "research costs money, son. How much do you wanna know?"
On a side note, and because my abortive attempts to broaden my Jensen collection in the late 80s were still nagging at me, I took advantage of a fellow clubber's distress sale in 1997 and acquired another pre-war car. I had known about this one for years, it being the only pre-war Jensen in Australia. Restoration started in 2005 and the boxes of bits which make up a running car are slowly — I said slowly — going back together again.
OK, that's about it for this little black duck. Hope I haven't bored you too much. Take care, keep the faith and maybe I'll see you around.
© Richard Calver 2000-2021