Jensen-Healey Mk. 1 1972-73

Most devotees of the Jensen marque will know the outline of the Jensen-Healey history, of how this sports car first appeared at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1972 and entered series production four months later.

To recap briefly, California-based British car importer Kjell Qvale became interested in a new sports car project in 1968 when production of the popular Austin Healey 3000 came to an end. Qvale’s idea was to line up a replacement for the Austin Healey, the bodies for which had been built under contract by Jensen Motors of West Bromwich. Somewhere along the way, Qvale realized he could gain control over the whole operation — building, marketing and selling the cars — if he owned the means of production as well as the means of distribution. In April 1970, he acquired a majority stake in Jensen Motors and set about bringing his ideas to fruition.

Donald Healey’s design for what would eventually become the Jensen-Healey was a done deal as far as the chassis went but the styling was far from settled and the choice of engine was also nowhere near finalization. So while the stylists set about finding a shapely form which would allow the required top speed from the projected engine power, others set about trying to find a suitable power plant. Units from Ford, BMW and Saab were all considered and found unsuitable for one reason or another, but a chance encounter between some Jensen and Lotus people on a commuter train one day in 1971 led to the adoption of an untried Lotus design. What many people don't know is that, at one point, Jensens were talking to Porsche about using one of their engines in the Healey. The mind boggles! 

Eventually, Qvale and Lotus boss Colin Chapman reached an agreement on the engines which had not then appeared in a production Lotus car. Qvale took them without a warranty, a risky move and one which soon had the Jensen factory embroiled in service woes. Partly because of troubles with the engine, the Jensen-Healey’s entry into service was not a happy one and the early models were superseded in August 1973 by a revamped version known as the Mk.2. The earlier models became known retrospectively as the Mk.1.

By late 1973, most of the teething troubles had been sorted out and thirty years on it’s fair to say that all of the problems have been licked. These days it’s the Mk.2s, with their improved interiors and 5-speed gearboxes on the latter examples which tend to be the more sought-after variants. But when you start rebuilding them for motor sport, concours or even general usage, it really doesn’t matter what you start with. Any Jensen-Healey, no matter how tatty, can be rebuilt as a very driveable, performance sports car — but at a price.

From a collector’s or restorer’s point of view, it is the Mk.1s which are the rarer and arguably the purer examples of the type. The European versions of these, with their Dellorto carburettors, were also a bit peppier than the Stromberg smoggers sold in North America. In general, the Mk.1s can be distinguished from the Mk.2s by their more spartan interiors, by their square-section headlight surrounds (the nacelles of which should be painted in body colour rather than black as on the later cars), plainer bumpers, lack of body rubbing strips and their chassis numbers which lie in the range 10001 to 13349.

In all, 3357 Jensen-Healey Mk.1s were made. The total includes 10 roaded prototypes and 3347 regular production examples. The table below gives the number of Mk 1s actually passed off by the line inspectors in the respective calendar years. Britain does not work to a model year in the same way as the United States so these figures cannot be broken out into the “model year” figures familiar to North Americans. The 1972 figure includes five of the roaded prototypes, additional to the 1970-71 prototypes.

CALENDAR YEAR

NUMBER BUILT

1970-71

5

1972

866

1973

2486

TOTAL

3357

.The prefix to the VIN or chassis number of each car gives the drive and marketing area and without going into that in too much detail, this is what those numbers mean:

VIN PREFIX

EXPLANATION

NUMBER BUILT

55000

Prototypes

10

1110

LHD NADA

1950

1120

LHD Europe

120

1140

RHD

1277

TOTAL

 

3357

Because the Jensen-Healeys were designed to sell in the US sports car market, it is not surprising that the States was the main outlet. The detailed market breakdown looked like this:

COUNTRY OF SALE NUMBER SOLD COUNTRY OF SALE NUMBER SOLD
United States of America 1818 Ireland (inc Northern Ireland) 17
Mainland UK 1085 Netherlands 14
Canada 127 Belgium 11
Japan 62 Channel Islands 11
Switzerland 55 Portugal 8
Australia 52 Spain 8
Hong Kong 36 Isle of Man 1
West Germany 29    
New Zealand 23 TOTAL 3357

Unfortunately, all of the factory service records for the Healeys were junked back in the distant past. Whatever was held by the dealers in the States probably went in the trash too so not much documentary evidence survives about the service histories, the reliability improvement, the problems in the export versions and so on. The surviving factory paperwork consists of little more than the build cards and the log of sales.

By Jensen standards, Healeys were a mass-produced car so you don't find as many detail differences between individual examples as you do on Interceptors. That said, there were changes early on as in-service modifications were made to the ill-fitting hoods and various specification changes were made to the engines and other componentry. Eventually a whole new hood mechanism was introduced, as was a new windscreen assembly. There were other changes as well involving wheels, console and a few minor items. A significant upgrade was the introduction of a revised engine, incorporating several improvements which addressed customer complaints with the earlier versions. The changeover occurs at serial 2760 in the engine number sequence, around VIN 12600-700 in the chassis number range, and in June 1973 in the assembly sequence.

Almost all of the Mk.1s were totally standard as regards options, colours and trim. Until a month before the end of Mk.1 production in August 1973, the only trim available was Black vinyl. Just ahead of the introduction of the Mk.2, Tan was added as an alternative and so is quite rare on Mk.1 cars. Except for a hardtop, which became available in limited supply in 1973, or the possibility of fitting a tonneau cover, you didn’t have much of an options list.

The paint options were fairly limited with just the odd example receiving a non-standard colour. The paint quality was not the greatest and a lot of work went into bringing the finish up to an acceptable standard. Most of the early cars were sprayed with air-drying formulas but the later examples received low-bake enamel, once the factory had completed its tests with the paints. From VIN 11376, all Jensen–Healeys were low-baked. Prior to that number, there was a haphazard mix of air-drying and low-bake paints. Repaints for hot climates like Australia and the United States are frequently done in two-pack anyway, for durability, but if resto-perfection is your bag you’re in luck because the factory records specify whether a car was air-dried or baked. Martin Robey keeps the job cards so a word in the ear of one of the Jensen counter staff should turn up the info you need. You could also order one of Robey’s heritage certificates on your car — for that go here.

It could be said that the Mk.1 was the epitome of the little red sports car. Red was the commonest colour, making up nearly a quarter of the production. But the colour breakdown for the Mk.1s bears little relation to the chip samples handed out by the factory. In fact, it looks like this:

PAINT GROUP PAINT COLOUR NUMBER PAINT GROUP PAINT COLOUR NUMBER
RED Red 730 MUSTARD Mustard 368
WHITE White 698 GREEN Moss Green 176
YELLOW Yellow 624   Oakland Green 38
  Positano Yellow 1   British Racing Green 14
BLUE Pacific Blue 323   Unspecified green 62
  Malaga Blue 45 TANGERINE Tangerine 42
  Monza Blue 1 BLACK Black 19
  Renault Blue 1 UNRECORDED   2
  Crystal Blue 1      
  Unspecified blue 212 TOTAL   3357

The factory scribes got a bit sloppy with their shorthand while building the Mk.1 Healeys and the job cards don’t always reveal exactly which paint was used in the blue and green categories. The unspecified blues should be either Malaga or Pacific Blue and the unspecified greens should be either Moss, Oakland or Britishing Racing Green (an unlisted colour). As a rough guide, you can narrow down the possibilities by manufacture date. You’ll generally find Oakland Green on cars made up to April 1973, Moss Green on cars made between August 1972 and June 1973, and BRG on some of the first cars in 1972. Malaga Blue is found on cars made from April 1973 through July 1973 while Pacific Blue can be found throughout the Mk.1 Healey range.

As for how many of these cars survive today, well, who knows? I have fates for less than 200 in the past five years. This is in part due to a lack of information at my end as the cars were not cheap to buy and most would have been well cared for in their early days. All the same, many would have suffered from engine reliability problems and rust issues, and both probably led to a greater than expected breaking rate. Have a look here for the overall survival rate on Jensen–Healeys.

I’m always keen to hear from owners of any kind of Jensen because the more inputs there are, the better documented the history becomes. If you look down the Healey tables in the databook, you will see that almost none of the original US state license plate numbers, few of the British registration numbers and few of the fates are recorded. As noted above, there are also question marks over the exact numbers of blue and green-painted cars. What's that? You haven't got a databook? Well, look here for a description of this worthy tome and try to find one. 

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

Of course, as with any type of Jensen, I am more than happy to chat with current owners. Contact me at tfmuch@bigpond.com.

 

The first edition of this article was prepared in 1991 for publication in the Australian Jensen club magazine. It was revised for republication in club magazines elsewhere around the world during the 1990s. This text is a further revision based on information available in 2000.


19912016 Richard Calver

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