Jensen GT 1975-76

This review looks at the Jensen GT, a late and little-seen development of the well-known Jensen–Healey sports car. The only estate-bodied Jensen car made, the GT represented, along with the Coupé, the company’s swan-song. It remained in production right up until the last day the company was in operation before the liquidation in May 1976.

Introduced alongside the Coupé at Earls Court in October 1975, the GT shared with that car the dubious distinction of being a model introduced under the shadow of receivership. Of course, this was simply an unhappy coincidence of timing — work on developing the GT had commenced well before the 1975 Motor Show.

By late 1973, with the Mk.2 version of the Jensen–Healey in production, Jensens had finally proven the Lotus 907 engine. Some would say they had tested it literally to destruction: certainly they did so at great cost to themselves. Whatever, with the engine bugs now sorted out, Jensen boss Kjell Qvale felt he needed a car which combined the best of the Healey’s frugal but exhilarating brand of motoring with the refinement and exclusivity of the Interceptor — but at a much cheaper price. Thinking along these lines led to the design and production of the Jensen GT, a car not unlike the Lotus Elite S1 (introduced in 1974, and Lotus's first use of the 907 engine in one of its own chassis).

Although the GT was not unveiled until late 1975, ideas for something like it had been around for almost as long as the Healey. Drawings of an estate version survive from as early as 1972 and Kevin Beattie is known to have sketched out his concept not long afterwards. In fact, a trend was then emerging around the world which would become common in later years — that of the station wagon which grew from a sports car chassis. The Reliant Scimitar GTE SE5 of 1968 and the Volvo P1800ES of 1972 were cases in point (and Jensens had made the early P1800 bodies).

In January 1974, Chief Development Engineer Brian Spicer was handed the job of building the GT prototypes and he made two of them, both based on production line Jensen–Healey chassis but with Vauxhall 2.3 litre engines trialled as a possible replacement for the costly Lotus unit. The engineers were unable to extract enough reliable power out of the Vauxhall motors, however, and the GT entered production with the Lotus engine, as used on the last of the Healey models.

The LHD prototype, VIN 1110/13910, was painted yellow and road-registered in December 1974 as GNX 579N. The RHD prototype, 1640/19850, was painted in the attractive shade of Reef Blue and registered in February 1975 as GNX 581N. Orders for developing the air conditioning system and setting up the jigs and tools required to build the ‘Healey GT’, as it was coded initially, were issued in early 1975. The Healey name association was dropped after Donald and Geoffrey dissociated themselves from Jensen Motors so in production the car was badged simply as the Jensen GT.

For the United States, GTs were marketed as 1976 models which meant that the safety and pollution requirements for that year had to be complied with. The GT’s 30 mph impact test was ordered in July 1975; its 4000-mile emissions test was arranged in September 1975 and the Federal braking standards test was arranged the same month.

Not many GTs were made. Here’s a guide to the numbers signed off during the calendar years 1974–76:

CALENDAR YEAR NUMBER MADE
1974 1
1975 216
1976 294
TOTAL 511

On release, publicity for the GT played up the name in a way other ad-men hadn’t yet thought of. Jensens’ public relations people — Tony Good’s Good Relations — came up with the slogan ‘the Good Thinking car’, playing on a theme they thought appropriate in those newly fuel conscious times. Although the GT probably didn’t need this embellishment, it can't have hurt.

Mechanically, the GTs were little different from their predecessors, the Healeys, which ceased production as the GT came on line. The GT’s comprehensive specification included a ‘clubby’ English interior with burr walnut facia and a comprehensive range of instruments. The Lotus engine and Getrag 5-speed gearbox, as used on the last of the Healeys, carried over to the GT as did the Federally mandated 5 mph impact bumpers. Had the cars continued in production for longer than circumstances allowed, GTs would probably have followed the Healey in finding their way to North America in larger numbers. As it turned out, the majority did cross the Atlantic, although not in the high proportions of the Healey. Of the 511 GTs known to have been finished, 293 were in LHD and 218 in RHD. The numbers sent to the different markets were as follows:

COUNTRY NUMBER COUNTRY NUMBER
USA 260 Sweden 2
Mainland UK 230 Australia 1
Canada 9 New Zealand 1
Ireland (inc. NI) 4 Europe (unspec) 1
Greece 3 TOTAL 511

The VIN prefixes give the clue to the build/destination details. In brief, these may be decoded as follows:

VIN PREFIX EXPLANATION
1610 Federal (non CA)
1611 Federal (50 States)
1620 Europe
1640 Home (UK)
1641 Australia

A supplementary code, unique to the GTs, specifies whether or not air-conditioning was supplied by the factory. The codes are 01 for non-air-conditioned cars and 02 for air-conditioned. A California GT with air-conditioning would be coded 1611.2, for example, followed by the car’s serial number. For GTs, the production serial numbers are in the 30000 range, beginning at 30002 and ending at 30510. The two prototypes based on Healey chassis were presumably assigned against the 30000 and 30001 numbers.

Because GTs were built while the factory was in receivership, the pressure was on to cut costs and maximize the use of existing supplies before any new contracts for supplies or components were entered into. This diktat extended also to the engines with the result that all of the Federal cars (and the European deliveries too) received the latest version of the Lotus engine, designated the T75 (for 1975 with Stromberg carbs). For those who pursue trivia (and here I include myself), the very last of the Lotus engines, number T75.08.12169, was installed in a car signed off on 13 April 1976 and shipped to the USA.

For non-Federal markets, however, stocks of older units were used up. Many RHD cars received B74 and A74 engines (Stromberg and Dellorto 1974 units) and in a few cases even leftover 1973 engines. The four GTs sent to Ireland, for example, all had different engine types — B73, A74, B74 and T75 — which must have been somewhat confusing for the service agents. The British (home market) cars had a mixture of 1973, 74 and 75 engines with either Dellorto or Stromberg carburettors, again probably as a means of using up stock.

Paint colours for the GTs were standardized with those on Interceptors, simplifying the purchasing and stocking arrangements and making for more efficient use of the painting bays. The records give the paint colours used on the GTs as follows:

COLOUR NUMBER COLOUR NUMBER
Nevis Blue 63 Saba Blue 36
Sebring Silver 61 Copper Brown 14
Saturn Gold 60 Silver Grey 4
Pine Green 53 Brienz Blue 4
White 52 Yellow 2
Aruba Red 43 Reef Blue 1
Black 41 Unspecified 40
Cheviot Brown 37 TOTAL 511

There was a certain amount of confusion in the record keeping at this time and it is probable that the cars recorded as having been painted Silver Grey were in fact painted Sebring Silver. If so, this would make Silver the commonest colour on GTs (without allowing for the distribution of the many unspecified cars).

The lovely interior of the GT, complete in this case (30397) with the special blue patterned fabric on the seat facings 
and door trims, exclusive to the GT. This one has been around a bit over the years, including a spell in Hawaii – 
but in 2004 it was in California looking for a new owner and a sympathetic restoration. Thanks Rodger.

Complementing the new paint range and the car's fancy interior was a range of trim materials not seen previously on Jensen cars. Although the basic trim theme of the Healeys — Black or Tan ambla — was retained, the seat facings were now available in a choice of corduroy velour, blue patterned fabric or leather, these accents being repeated in the door panels. The fabrics and carpeting came from Firths of Cleveland while Connolly continued to supply the leather, as on Interceptors.

The factory records refer to the seat facings variously as fabric, velour and corduroy. I haven’t unravelled this terminology variation but my assumption for now, based on the press releases, is that these are descriptions of the same material, entered into the records in different ways by different people at different times. If this simplification is valid, then the trim combinations used on the GTs were as follows:

THEME FACING MATERIAL NUMBER TOTALS
Black Black velour 105 209
  Tan velour 28  
  Beige velour 19  
  Blue patterned fabric 18  
  Black leather 13  
  Beige leather 9  
  Blue velour 9  
  Tan leather 6  
  Unrecorded 2  
Tan Tan velour 142 260
  Beige velour 51  
  Blue patterned fabric 27  
  Tan leather 24  
  Blue velour 8  
  Beige leather 4  
  Black velour 3  
  Mocha velour 1  
Unspecified     42
TOTAL     511

In keeping with their up-market image, GTs received closer scrutiny as regards fit and finish. They were painted to Interceptor standards, their suspension settings were revised, a front stabilizer bar arrived at long last and improved noise insulation was fitted throughout. Air-conditioning, which had not been supplied by the factory on the Jensen–Healey model, was integral to the design of the GT. Although the records are non-specific about this, it appears as if air-conditioning was standard on cars destined for North America, and possibly some other markets, but optional on UK cars.

Unsurprisingly, with all the extra weight and with the stricter emissions requirements, GTs were not as peppy as their open topped predecessors. Some reviewers regretted the loss of performance but others praised the practical luxury of the new model.

GTs came well-equipped so there were few options. Some were given a Black or Tan vinyl roof (13 of each type are recorded, but there may have been more). The first 50 or so had what might be termed a black vinyl ‘bra’ at the front of the bonnet, as seen in the publicity brochure. A fabric sunroof was listed as a £117 option in August 1975 for the home market, though this had been deleted by February 1976. The cars do show some detail differences, perhaps reflecting the makeshift circumstances under which the factory was operating at the time. Parts were ordered only as needed and with the specific approval of the Receiver, which might explain why the first 50 or so cars (so I’m told) had aluminium footwells instead of the later fibreglass. The GT Parts Manual lists the option of a blue or red bonnet badge, and a blue one is visible in the factory publicity shots, but all the GTs I’ve seen have red ones.

Given the rusting problems experienced with the Jensen–Healeys, the factory went to some lengths to rust-proof the GT shells to a better standard. Whether this paid off in the long run is hard to say but the survival rate of GTs, while still low, seems to be approximately twice that of the Jensen–Healeys. Go here for the latest figures I have on that. The LHD prototype was broken in 1999 but the RHD survives in good shape and in 2009 was headed for a proper restoration.

GTs continued to be made right up until the last day of operations at the factory, Friday 21 May 1976, when eight were signed off. Although Interceptors continued to be made after that date by Jensen Parts & Service, no more GTs were built. One uncompleted shell, included among the goods auctioned off in the receiver’s sale in August 1976, was finished in 1987.

This is 30123, auctioned in August 1976 as an unfinished collection of parts. Completed privately in 1987, it has
since covered minimal mileage. This is the last GT made and thus, arguably, the last car with a connection to
the old Jensen Motors Limited. Thanks Ian.

Today, GTs are rare motor cars. Some have had an amazing amount of care lavished on them by their owners. One of the last examples built received a full restoration at the Jensen factory in the 1990s costing something like £20,000. It is in part because of their rarity and exclusivity that they are so prized by their owners.

Unfortunately for historians, the surviving factory records are quite sparse. Very little is known about the GTs aside from a bare-bones outline of their VINs, engine numbers and paint colours. Even these are far from complete — many of the engine numbers and paint or trim details are not recorded. For that reason, I’d be very interested to hear from anyone with a GT so that I can update the recorded information. Contact me at tfmuch@bigpond.com.

Details of all of the known GTs, at least as far as they were known in 1991, may be found in the chassis databook. The book also contains information on each of the 10,501 Jensen–Healeys built, plus all the other kinds of Jensen cars produced over the years.

I’m happy to talk about any aspect of GT history with anyone but, just so you don’t ask me INCREDIBLY ANNOYING things which you could find out through a little self-education, pick up a copy of the databook first. It’s available from club and commercial outlets in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. To find out about this weighty tome, go here — to contact one of the suppliers, go here.


© 2000–2011 Richard Calver

Back to model histories

HOME