Jensen Coupé 1975-76
In this survey, we look at the Jensen Coupé, the last model produced by the factory before it was wound up in 1976.
Rare among the Interceptor variants, Coupés are a largely unknown type and many people who might know a bit about Jensens have never actually seen one. A prototype was first shown at the October 1975 Earls Court Motor Show in London, the last Motor Show which Jensens attended before being wound up. The firm was, in fact, in receivership while displaying on the stand the Receiver had arrived a month earlier. He decided that Jensen Motors should try to trade its way out of difficulty, hence continuing efforts to market the cars at Motor Shows, especially the two new models for 1975 the Coupé on the Interceptor chassis and the GT on the Healey chassis.
All four of Jensens show cars in 1975 were painted blue and the LHD Coupé displayed at Earls Court was in Nevis Blue, one of a new range of colours introduced that year to replace the bewildering array used on the earlier cars. The show car, chassis number 1716, was configured as we know Coupés today with angular rear side windows and with a darkened glass panel running across the roof. In fact, two other prototypes had been tried with varying combinations of turret treatment, neither of which had glass panelling in the roof. 1850 had the angular side windows as seen on 1716, later adopted for production, and 1721 used the curved rear windows of the normal Interceptor saloon. Each of the glassless roof prototypes survives but the show car, which was the only Coupé properly finished in 1975, is not known as a survivor. Three other glassless roof cars are known, all conversions. One was made in later years from a RHD Interceptor III saloon, one from a LHD Convertible and one was done by the factory before the car was sold, this being a special build in LHD for the European coach-builders van Hool.
Why did Jensen bother building a Coupé at all? Thats a fair question, given their then shaky financial situation. The push for it seems to have come from Kjell Qvale, the American owner of the business he seems to have wanted something different to market in the States. As it turned out, this was probably a good thing car makers who turn out new models with regularity do tend to get the jump on their competitors. For Jensen, obliged by the failure of the F model in 1974, the introduction of a new-looking car was probably the best way to go, even if the underpinnings were dated by 1975.
The overworked Engineering Department started to get to grips with the Coupé during early and mid-1975, not long before receivership beset the firm. Panther Cars Ltd was contracted to design and build the special roofs and this, as with most jobs undertaken by or on behalf of Jensen in those straitened times, was done quickly and without due regard for reliability testing. When receivership was announced in September 1975, all expenditure of a non-essential nature had to cease and so, although work on the Coupé was started with due regard for quality production standards, the loss of development money meant that the final stages had to be rushed through.
The glass-roofed cars all had trouble with weather sealing and there seems to have been quite a lot of warranty work done to satisfy owners in rainy England. Constructed by seam welding, pop-riveting, tack welding and screwing, the tops were a water trap from day one. Unlike the saloon vinyl tops, the Coupé vinyl roofs were padded to conceal the irregularities of the roof shape. The owner of one of the RHD cars found that the fabric on the roof would stretch during long fast runs due to the low air pressure created over the top of the car. It appeared wrinkly and unattractive afterwards but contracted back into shape after a few hours. The problem was made worse if the weather was cold and wet as it took the roof a lot longer to reconfigure its shape. It was possibly because of such problems that van Hool ordered their car with a normal Interceptor roof, or maybe because they just didnt like the American-inspired top.
The cars themselves started life as unfinished Convertibles, built up on the line as complete motorized shells, even down to the power rams for the roof which were installed in the boot. Depending on orders received, the receiver would then authorize the finishing work to Convertible or Coupé spec. In the case of the latter, the cars would be sent out to Panther where the tops were installed.
All Coupés bar the Earls Court show car were finished and sold in 1976 but very few of them were shipped prior to the factory closure in May 1976. The others were completed by Jensen Parts & Service which took until December 1976 to complete the last of them. In general, they cost a little more than the normal Interceptor saloons and a bit less than the Convertibles. Whichever way you looked at it, at around £12,000 a throw they were extremely expensive cars. This, coupled with the fact that the factory was in receivership and having difficulties with its cautious suppliers, explains why so few were made.
The exact number built has been debated for years. Even today, one can still read in the popular motoring media a figure of 60 Coupés having been produced. This number comes from Graham Robson's A-Z of British cars of the 1970s, first published in Classic and Sportscar magazine in September 1985. Repeated over and over since then, and gaining currency with each ill-advised repetition, the figure of 60 has become the default setting for people who haven't updated their files since my databook was released in 1991.
Another figure of 54 floats around and tends to be repeated with greater authority each time someone finds it in an old magazine article. Fact is, many years ago, one of the men who worked at the Jensen factory recalled for a journalist that Panther had been contracted to supply 60 tops for the Coupé. As six of these tops wound up in the Spares Department, it was assumed that the balance had all gone into cars, hence the conclusion that 54 had been made.
I know that this was not a safe assumption. When I researched the Coupé files during my systematic study of the surviving records in the late 1980s, I read all there was to read at the factory about these cars and that wasnt much. Since then, I have identified 46 Coupés by chassis number. The number is not final because 15 late Interceptors are still unidentified as to body style. Yes, the factory record-keeping was that bad in the end, they didnt even bother writing down whether 116 of the last cars were saloons, Convertibles or Coupés. Through research over the past 35 years, I have whittled that 116 down to just 15 unknowns, as of 2020. In my view, its likely that most are saloons with perhaps three being Convertibles, but until we get those squared away well never know for sure exactly how many Coupés, Convertibles and saloons were made. Of the 46 identified Coupés, 21 are LHD and 25 are RHD.
As with most Jensens made around this time, the United States figured prominently in the sales pitch. In fact, the disposition of Coupés by market area was as follows:
Coupés were intended to be made to a pattern when conceived in the pre-receivership days but in reality they were made on an almost ad hoc basis, particularly as news of the impending wind-up of Jensen Motors began to spread early in 1976. While the firm was in receivership, the Receivers approval had to be obtained to build cars. He alone had the authority to commit resources or incur expenditure as he tried to balance the cash flow and keep the business afloat while he sought a buyer for the going concern. As a result, there are some slightly unusual features of Coupés in the late period which suggest that cars were finished off with whatever materials lay to hand. Some, for example, feature fabric seat facings, possibly to cheapen the cost of trimming or perhaps to make the remaining stock of hides last that little bit longer (some late Interceptors have this as well). Almost all of the RHD cars and some of the LHD cars have the half grille look with every second grille slat removed, giving the cars a more aggressive look up front, as some see it.
Engines on the production Coupés were all Chrysler 5-series 440s (1975 model year the Show car alone had a 4-series unit). These were well smogged for the US market but otherwise unchanged for the UK. All the Coupés featured the luxurious woodgrain dashboard first seen in 1975 on the US saloons and Convertibles. In addition, and in common with changes to other US cars for 1976, the Federal Coupés all carried the big double bumpers, a mandated item for that market.
There was a fairly good selection of paints on Coupés, all of them standard colours:
|PAINT COLOUR||NO. MADE||PAINT COLOUR||NO. MADE|
|Sebring Silver||5||Silver Grey||2|
Given the sloppiness in the record-keeping at the time these were built, I wouldnt be surprised if the cars listed as having been painted Silver Grey and Grey were in fact painted Sebring Silver.
The trim colours came straight out of the catalogue:
|TRIM COLOUR||NO. MADE||TRIM COLOUR||NO. MADE|
Sheepskin seat inserts are found on almost all Coupés seen today but the records are silent on what was actually built into these late models. Except for one of the original glassless roof cars, and apparently the van Hool conversion, all Coupés had their tops covered in either Tan or Black padded vinyl. Again, the paucity of records lends room for speculation but 20 cars are listed as having had Black vinyl tops, 7 had them in Tan and the rest have no details recorded.
Options-wise, Coupés came fully specified. Except for a choice as to paint and trim, you saw a Zemco trip computer on a few cars and maybe the odd Blaupunkt stereo. No separate owners handbook was issued for the Coupé and the special parts for the top were detailed only in a loose collection of roneod pages sent out to Jensen workshops, many of which had to try to work out how best to satisfy their customers' complaints of leaks.
Coupés continued to be made, like saloons and Convertibles, after the factory closed in May 1976. In fact, 34 of the 46 known Coupés were finished and sold after the official closure of Jensen Motors. Those despatched between June and December 1976 were completed by Jensen Parts & Service Ltd, one of the residual companies left behind by Qvale and the Receiver to serve the needs of those who were brave enough (or foolish enough) to buy these very expensive cars from a moribund car maker. Almost all of the late cars were sent to North America. Qvale himself kept a Coupé when he quit Jensens in 1976 and it survives in the United States. Three RHDs were sold off in the Isaacs auction of remaining factory assets in August 1976, all purchased by the same buyer. One was a glassless roof prototype and the others were uncompleted production cars which were finished off by Jensen Parts & Service later in the year.
Being the last Jensens made, Coupés probably stand a better chance of survival than any other Interceptor variants. In fact, I have fates for 44 Coupés over the years, most of them since 2000, so it looks as if they are doing well. I know of no Coupé having been broken.
With their de Ville American looks, Coupés are not to everyones taste some like them and some dont; some seek them out while others pass them by. They are certainly exclusive cars and generally this helps them command a premium over saloons in the market. In my experience, if Jensen owners as a breed have one thing in common, it is that they like something different. If you like something different, then a Coupé is about as different as you can get within the Interceptor fraternity.
If you own one of these cars and we havent had the pleasure of meeting, do drop me a line and tell me about your car the address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Theres an outside chance you might own one of the late model cars of indeterminate body style, in which case Id certainly like to hear from you. For a list of the wanted chassis numbers, have a look here.
As always, I'm interested to hear from anyone who owns a Jensen of any kind. Just so you dont ask me dopey things which you could find out with a little self-education, first do some research of your own.
© 2000-2020 Richard Calver
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