Jensen Interceptor 1966-70

Like the Jensen-Healey Mk.1, the first iteration of the Interceptor laid down the pattern upon which future variants of the type were developed. These were many and included the series II and III model revisions, the SP, the Convertible, the Coupé and (in theory anyway) the F-type, which never reached production.

I guess that, as with most evolving models, it is the more refined examples which tend to be fancied by collectors further down the track. Certainly this is the case with Interceptors but to me this seems a pity because the early cars have a sportiness and raw appeal which I personally find very attractive. They are no less powerful — and in some cases more so — than the later 440s, and with that crazy switch panel, the low-riding dagmar bumpers and no emissions or comfort systems on board to complicate your life, what's not to like?

First shown in London at the October 1966 Earls Court Motor Show, the Interceptor had a model life of three years, being superseded in October 1969 by the Interceptor II. A few LHD examples were actually completed after the introduction of the new model and the last of these were despatched to Europe in May of 1970.

The basic specification of the Interceptors didn't change over the years of production. They all had Chrysler 383ci engines (either V, A, B, C, D or E-series units) and a choice of the TorqueFlite A-727 auto or Chrysler's 4-speed manual transmission, the A-833. Beyond that basic similarity, the cars are renowned for their variety of detail, a result of both the "whatever you want, we can do" attitude of the factory in building them and an evolving specification. There are lots of sub-types and varieties, not all of which are obvious on first inspection.

First, the numbers built. There were four chassis series with the following quantities of each being produced:

CHASSIS SERIES EXPLANATION NUMBER BUILT
115 RHD automatic 923
116 RHD manual 23
117 LHD automatic 45
117 LHD motorized chassis for SINCAR 32
118 LHD manual 1
TOTAL   1024

They are all numbered in one sequence which begins with car number 2495 and ends at car number 3530, though not all intervening numbers were used. As you can see, the left-hookers were decidedly in the minority and today these are quite rare. In fact, the rarest Interceptor variant of all is one of these cars — the unique 118-series LHD manual. It survived for a long time in France, minus the engine and some of the other bits, until in 2001 it went to a buyer in the United States.

There was only one prototype Interceptor — a C-V8 Mk.II chassis used for the first body-build by Vignale in mid-1966. It was taken into service afterwards as a mule by the Jensen engineers, was in pieces by 1971 and seems not to have gone back together (scratch one Jensen). In addition, two experimental chassis were used for developmental work by the Engineering Department. These were renumbered as the first production examples in the 115 series. Both survive, one in Britain and one in Australia.

It took the factory a while to build up the output, partly because of delays in obtaining components and partly as a result of the difficulty of transferring the jigs and materials from Italy, a task which was completed in the first months of 1967. After that, production was concentrated in West Bromwich and both the numbers produced and the quality of construction slowly improved. The calendar year despatch figures eventually looked like so:

CALENDAR YEAR CARS DELIVERED
1966 17
1967 176
1968 449
1969 376
1970 6
TOTAL 1024

It is the 115 series (automatic) cars which are normally encountered in the UK, the 116 series (manuals) having been built to special order only. The manuals were not entirely satisfactory and a lot of owners — who might have been expected to be real enthusiasts — found them way too heavy on the clutch and a bit too unreliable to enjoy properly. Automatics, which had their problems too, were at least smooth and easy to drive by comparison.

As mentioned above, the first cars were built to the modified Touring design by Vignale in Italy and were sent off to the Jensen factory in varying stages of trim, priming or paint. There aren't very many of them — 59 of their chassis numbers are known with certainty, and perhaps another five were also Italian-bodied. Their significance lies not in their numbers, which are quite small when compared with the production total, but in the fact that they were the first Interceptors to go out to the buying public. Initial impressions count for much and unfortunately for Jensens the first impressions of the Vignale-bodied cars were not favourable. It would take several months before Jensens took over the press tools and jigs and found out for themselves just how hard it was to build one of these cars properly.

As part of their deal with Vignale, Jensens had agreed to motorize some of the chassis sent to Vignale. These chassis, when bodied, were were sold to Vignale's agents, Sincar, for sale on mainland Europe. All were LHD chassis and only 32 were made before Jensens got out of the contract early in 1967. A few survive in various parts of the Continent and a couple seem to have migrated to the States. These variants display many detail differences from those made concurrently at West Bromwich for sale through the regular Jensen outlets in the UK.

Another LHD chassis, on a specially shortened 100in. wheelbase, was supplied to Vignale as an experimental exercise and became the fibreglass-bodied Jensen "Nova". It survives in superb restored condition. In June 2000, in care of its French owners, it made the trip back to England where it took pride of place at the Jensen Owners Club weekend.

If we try to place ourselves back in the swinging sixties and forget about the Interceptor being the classic car it is today, then what we are dealing with is essentially a very, very expensive piece of transport. Not unnaturally, the people who bought these cars had high expectations of them, and this didn't help when things started going wrong. If you think you have problems with your Interceptor today, you wouldn't believe the hassles people had with them in the first few years of production. Kevin Beattie, Chief Engineer at Jensens, had done the best he could with the resources available to him but when the cars went on display at Earls Court in 1966 they were far from perfect. It took a long time to sort out all the problems.

I won't go into the reliability aspects here in any detail because there just isn't space (you'll have to buy another volume of my history for that!). Suffice to say that the first year of the Interceptor's life saw a great deal of effort devoted by the factory to improving the finish, reliability and function of the cars. By the latter part of 1967, Jensens were using the term "1967½" to refer to the improved model then being built and by early 1968 a new standard of vehicle was coming off the production line featuring leather seats, halogen headlamps and the option of power assisted steering. Air-conditioning was something which was missed by many buyers but it never appeared on these cars. The engineers had put their efforts instead into a myriad of other improvements such as locks, switches, sealing, electrics, fans, radiators, controls, chrome, paint, seats, lights — far too many areas to be listed here and most not even mentioned in your parts and service manuals. The standard of body-building continued to improve as well and it paid off in the long run with Jensens winning a gold medal for the coach work on one of the demonstration Interceptors at Earls Court in 1968.

American troubleshooter Carl Duerr arrived at the factory early in 1968 when things were looking pretty bleak. He was instrumental in pulling together all of the loose ends which needed tying up and he gave a real boost to Jensens when it was needed most. He took a highly personal interest in the cars and customers, bringing to the factory a sense of purpose and renewed confidence in the product which had sadly been lacking. He lived up to his name as a "turnaround man", seeing out the end of the Interceptor model run and staying on just long enough to deliver the Series II into production before another American, one Kjell Qvale, came along and bought the business.

The early Interceptors are rare beasts which seem largely unaffected by the herding instinct displayed by younger members of the species. You rarely get the chance to compare them side by side but when you do you find lots of detail variations. Among them are the Selectaride shock absorbers (the first European chassis didn't have them); the dashboards (sometimes trimmed in leather or in contrasting sections of Ambla); the seats (Ambla on early cars, differently shaped and trimmed in leather on the later examples); the absence or presence of headrests, sometimes on one seat only; air vents in the C-pillar (don't appear until well after Jensens took on the body builds); suspension and tyres (balljoints and radials appear in 1969, kingpins and crossplys before that); brakes (Dunlop up to 1969, Girling after that); axle ratios (2:88 fairly rare, 3:07 more the norm); alternators of different ratings (46 or 60 amp); unheated rear windows on the early cars (blowers instead); steering racks, seat tracks, quarter vent windows, etc etc.

Cripes, can't someone find me a better picture of an early Interceptor? This
is 2955 in her old age. And you thought the Ferret was bad. Goes to show
what can be done with a little imagination and not a lot of money. But did
the curious assembly on the roof house the plumber's gear, the roo shooter's
triple-two or the tinnies? Or was it a model airplane? Thanks Brian.

Most of the cars were sold to company directors and the like but other kinds of people bought them too. Former racing drivers Robert Ansell, Princess Chula and Ron Horton were among them, as were novelists Harold Robbins and Hammond Innes, comedians Mike and Bernie Winters, boxer Henry Cooper, actor Ian Hendry, singer Cliff Richard, British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, golfer Peter Butler and even Her Highness the Maharani of Cooch Behar. Miss World for 1969 — Australian Penny Plummer — was chauffeured about England for three months in one of these cars built expressly for the purpose. Another was photographed for a London fashion catalogue and specially painted in "Bitter Chocolate" to match the autumn wardrobe. One was given away as a prize in a charity draw.

The Interceptor was also the subject of some publicity-minded activity engineered by the factory and their PR consultants, Good Relations. There was the Jon Bannenberg "Director" model (launched on the floor of Harrods, though there were no takers); the "Topic" car, commissioned by Topic magazine's John Ball (who almost killed himself in it); and the "1000th Interceptor built", actually the 971st, handed over to Jensen's London dealer Pat Follett by Carl Duerr in a specially arranged media event.

Although overshadowed by the later models, the early Interceptors latterly have been coming into their own as people begin to appreciate them for the classic cars they really are. The ravages of time have reduced their numbers considerably and few are left today in running condition. The Interceptor's control panel (liked at the time by Carl Duerr but hardly anyone else) can be seen as elegant rather than confusing, its skinny tyres period rather than undesirable. A 1969 example with the E-series engine and 3.07:1 axle will see off any other Interceptor bar the SP, and that's only if the SP is in fine fettle (not many are).

Jensens were not exported in quantity until the release of the Federalized Interceptor II in 1970 so there are very few of the early cars in the States today. One which impressed me greatly was the beautifully rebuilt black example owned by Doug and Keri Meyer which was shown at the US National Weekend at Carmel in 1990. This car had originally been at the Brussels Motor Show in 1967 before being returned to the factory and shipped to a customer in January 1968. Near as I can tell, only two of the early Interceptors were sold new to the States — and none was sold in Canada.

Initially, the factory was reluctant to let Interceptors out of Britain because it didn't want to get caught with breakdowns in far-flung corners of the globe. Not that the United States was all that far-flung — it's just that the "hold the exports" policy applied pretty equally to all markets for a time. As things developed, of course, the North American market soon came to assume special significance for Jensens, but until the Interceptor II arrived the US hardly rated in the sales tally. For the record, the two cars delivered new to the States were chassis numbers 117/2544 and 117/2642. The first of them may have had an Italian body — it was used initially in England by its owner before being taken Stateside. I don't know if it survives. The other was the first of three Jensens bought by novelist Harold Robbins. He's passed on now but I have no fate for the car. Last I heard (1976), it was in his possession in the south of France.

Quite a few did escape to some rather exotic locations including, as we have seen, the second experimental car which went to Australia. Sales by market area were as follows:

COUNTRY NUMBER COUNTRY NUMBER
Mainland UK 893 The Netherlands 3
Ireland (inc NI) 25 Spain 3
Belgium 20 Unspecified Europe 2
Switzerland 18 USA 2
France 17 Canary Islands 2
Australia 16 New Zealand 1
West Germany 8 Dahomey 1
Channel Islands 6 Jamaica 1
South Africa 5 Monaco 1
    TOTAL 1024

Included in the UK total are some cars registered under the Export Home Delivery Scheme, an arrangement by which an overseas buyer could drive the car in Britain for up to 12 months without paying duty before exporting it. Not all of the files show where these cars ended up so it is possible that the export numbers are slightly understated and the UK numbers slightly inflated.

For movie buffs, the early Interceptor can be seen strutting its stuff in feature films such as Doctors Wear Scarlet, Endless Night, Hot Millions, Tam Lin and Speed Trap. In the latter, the Interceptor gets driven through a showroom window and wrecked in a chase scene. At least one episode of the TV series The Troubleshooters also features an early Interceptor.

There are lots of colours on these cars — both standard and special — and lots of variations among the options and trimming. My chassis databook has details of all of them and anyone who feels motivated to delve into it will be rewarded with a rich field for study. Go here to read about the databook, and go here to find out where to order one.

As a guide, here is the extraordinary range of paint colours used on the early Interceptor:

PAINT COLOUR No. MADE PAINT COLOUR No. MADE PAINT COLOUR No. MADE
Crystal Blue 185 Blue (unspecified) 10 Ming Blue 1
Mist Grey 180 Thunder Grey 10 Royal Flag Blue 1
Stratosphere Blue 102 Positano Yellow 10 Black Pearl 1
White 95 Black 7 Cadogan Brown 1
California Sage 75 Metallic Gold 3 Special Brown 1
Metallic Fawn 67 Special Red 3 Special Purple 1
Crimson 42 Roman Purple 3 Royal Red 1
Moorland Peat 41 Sky Blue 2 Topic Red 1
Regal Red 41 Bitter Chocolate 2 Peony Red 1
Flag Red 31 Cirrus Grey 2 Rubino Chiaro 1
Metallic Peat 25 Grey (unspecified) 2 Mercedes Silver Grey 1
Charcoal Grey 22 Metallic Green 2 Jewelescence Poly Green 1
Conifer Green 14 Pale Primrose 1 Mesquite Green 1
Quartz Metallic Aqua 13 Metallic Charcoal Grey 1 Unrecorded 8
Tangerine 11 Metallic Cornflower Blue 1 TOTAL 1024

The trim colours were far less varied, being based mainly on the standard range of Black, Beige, Blue, Red, Grey and Green materials. Remember — the earliest cars were trimmed in ambla, the later cars in leather. The full list of colours is as follows:

TRIM COLOUR No. MADE TRIM COLOUR No. MADE
Black 501 Mocha 8
Beige 237 White Gold 1
Blue 103 Dark Blue 1
Red 97 Mushroom 1
Grey 37 Unrecorded 12
Tan 14    
Green 12 TOTAL 1024

Of the 1024 Interceptors built, I have fates for less than 250 survivors at some point in the past five years — not many out of the production run. I'd like to think there are more hiding out there so if you feel like mailing me, I'd love to hear.

Of course, as with any type of Jensen, I am more than happy to pass on what I know of these cars to their current owners. Contact me at tfmuch@bigpond.com.

To buy a four volume set of my books, go here.

 

 

The first version of this article was prepared in 1991 for publication in the Australian Jensen club magazine. It was revised for republication in other club magazines elsewhere around the world during the 1990s. This text is an update prepared in line with information available since then.




© 1991–2016 Richard Calver

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