My Car Quest

September 17, 2019

The Next Number One With A Bullet: Jensen Interceptor Convertible

by Wallace Wyss –

OK, I admit it straight off–that headline is a little too gung ho. They are not rising that fast in value. But I do think the Chrysler-powered Jensen Interceptor convertibles have hit bottom and are poised for take off.

The reason I say this is that they aren’t badly engineered compared to say, that other American V8 powered GT luxury car, the Iso Grifo. And they only made one, count ‘em, one Iso Grifo convertible but several hundred Interceptor convertibles.

Now I gotta admit being a great fan of Giorgetto Giugiaro, who designed the Iso Grifo, that he did by far the more dramatic styling job.

You might even say the Jensen Interceptor has a “every man” nose and “every man” tail, that could have gone on any car; It doesn’t say “Jensen” by virtue of its shape.

Jensen Interceptor

But from the side view. the Jensen Interceptor convertible really looks good. In that It is perfectly proportioned with the cockpit exactly in the middle, an ample tail with good luggage room and ample engine compartment. And it is sportier than the Rolls Royces and Bentleys of that period with the rear seats actual buckets, not benches. Plus there’s that wood dash.

Some have gone so far to say that the 1966–76 Jensen Interceptors are an alternative to an Aston Martin Volante V8. I won’t go that far because those are “purebred” cars, i.e., the engine is made by the people who designed, engineered and built the car while the Iso Grifos are hybrids (in the old sense of the word before the electric/gasoline car came along). Interceptor prices have been depressed for some time, in the $25,000 to 50,000 range. I don’t think the cars are getting their due attention. They fill a need that is not being met in the current collector car market.

Jensen Interceptor

British coachbuilders Allan and Richard Jensen created the Jensen brand and one of the first ones they made was on a ’34 Ford chassis bodied in the UK before WW II.

The Interceptor name first came attached to a car in 1949, but they didn’t find success until they made a fiberglass 541 coupe in 1955. But that had an Austin Healey six rated at only 130 hp. Not enough to get the attention of Americans. After Facel Vega in France proved the Chrysler V8 could handle the task of luxury touring, that led Jensen to try a 305 hp 383 cubic-inch Chrysler V8 in the CV8 in 1962, which got it up to 130 mph. So now it was a luxury GT car but the styling was uh, weird, so when an American car importer Kjell Qvale (pronounced Shell Que-Volley) got on the board he went to Touring in Italy for a design though it was built by Vignale.

I am not recommending the coupe however. I am going to “narrow cast” my prediction for success on the four seater convertible. I don’t like the coupe’s wraparound fishbowl greenhouse at the back. Maybe if I had a convertible I’d buy a coupe cheap as a backup for parts. The Jensen Interceptor with Chrysler V8 was a heavy car at 4000 lbs but could do 0 to 60 mph in seven seconds and again top 135 mph.

It was admittedly a gas pig, at below 12 mpg. But I am talking long range investment value here. There are other British GT cars which offer open luxury grand touring, but they all cost a fortune to run, let’s say rebuilding an Aston, Rolls or Bentley engine would cost $25,000 to $50,000. Yet the Chrysler engine that powers the Interceptor could probably be found in junkyards coast to coast for $2000. That replacement engine cost is so low it makes up for other teething problems with the car.

Interceptors were high priced cars in the day, with the $8,124 price tag in the U.S. in 1967 (seems low but would be $60,000 today). By 1976, new they were $26,650, the final year.

WALLY’S MAGIC NUMBER

I have a certain production number for any given car that I consider the ideal number. That is the number 1000. For instance Mercedes buffs say there were 1400 gullwings (I say 1485) but that makes them numerous enough to get parts and find service but still rare.

One source, quoting the Jensen Museum, breaks down the numbers this way:

– 1024 MK I Interceptors (1966–69)

– 1128 Mk II models (1969–71), which introduced power rack-and-pinion steering, power brakes, and windows

– 4255 MK III models (1971–76).

Total: 7141

Total convertibles out of that total:

– 456 convertibles from 1973–76.

Qvale is said to be the driving force for having a convertible in the lineup. It was introduced in 1974, with the idea of supplying the American marketing. Wikipedia says 267 convertibles were made, but perhaps that was the number for the European market.

Jensen Interceptor
There were minor variations such as a 385-hp 150-mph SP (Six Pack) models which had louvered hoods; 232 were built from 1971–73. And then for those who hated the hatchback, 46 peculiar notchback coupes from 1974–76.

Back then big engines were cheap and Qvale was responsible for sourcing the even bigger 440 cubic-inch engine in 1971 but though he made it more of gas guzzler he brought needed items like standard A/C and 4 wheel discs.

There was even a coupe with four wheel drive.

Only 320 found buyers in six years:

– 195 Mk I (1966–69)

– 110 Mk II (1969–71),

– 15 Mk III (1971).

When a recession hits, the first thing to suffer is luxury goods. Jensen was done in by a recession and then teething problems with the Jensen Healey, a smaller car. The company went into receivership but still managed to make Interceptors until 1976.

Later, a group of investors arrived to save the day in the late ‘80s with a model called the Series 4, an updated version of the original Interceptor V8 series giving a new lifespan for the Jensen brand and its car production was resumed. The car came back as a low-volume hand built car but the price was ridiculously high, over £70,000. And yet the engine was down to a Chrysler 360 cubic-inch (5.9 liter) rated at a mere 250 bhp.

The company sold again in 1990 and 36 more were built. A new design, the Series 5, was developed but didn’t get in production before the factory doors were closed.

One thing that holds back the Interceptor from being thought of as a sporty enthusiast car is that only a few had manual shifts, an estimated 24 cars.

Now I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say the cars have their, uh, quirks. Like overheating. But the owner of this car, who I encountered in Malibu, told me 30 years ago, he asked a mechanic and the mechanic said to install a Bosch fan among the three fans (two of which are running all the time). The Bosch fan prevented overheating ever since.

Another problem is rust. The Italian built ones would rust if you looked at them. The West Bromwich UK cars are better. And then there is fire. It is known some caught fire but one writer suggested too big an aftermarket battery was too much for the relays and fuse boxes.

I say the problems are not insurmountable. Everything is relative when you consider the low cost of the engine and transmission compared to made in Europe luxury car engines.

So I’m down to saying that, if you like to drive around in luxury in an imported car and want one with a cheap engine and transmission to maintain, you can’t get much better than this.

I had one for about a week when I was a barn finder. Everybody liked the styling. I was impressed by the sheepskin inserts in the leather seats, sort of wooley look. And the wood dash. But I sold it off for a small profit, thinking there would always be another one. Now, decades later, I’m thinking that is another one I should have kept.

In my mind, I envision a dream car, a tricked out RR Silver Cloud III dhc coupe with an American drive train but realize the Interceptor convertible supplies the same amount of luxury, power and style and it already comes with an American drive train. It just doesn’t command the respect that a RR SCIII or Bentley S3 dhc does. But it’s still a little bit of British luxury grandeur at a fraction of the purebred car prices.

What say you?

The Jensen Interceptor has been featured here as one of our Interesting Collector Cars For Less Than $50k USD.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is co-host of KUCR’s Autotalk show broadcast out of Riverside, CA each week.

 
 
 
 

 

 

Jensen Interceptor logo

Summary
The Next Number One With A Bullet: Jensen Interceptor Convertible
Article Name
The Next Number One With A Bullet: Jensen Interceptor Convertible
Description
The Jensen Interceptor Convertible may be an appreciating collector car.
Author

Comments

  1. SKIP HINOJOS says

    THIS IS ONE OF THE FEW , CONVERTIBLES, I EVER LUSTED AFTER , AND NEVER HAD. ALTHOUGH I ALSO WANTED A, TRIUMPH STAG, WITH ALL IT’S FAULTS.

  2. SKIP HINOJOS says

    PS; SHOULD HAVE HAD PIX OF DASH BOARD AND INTERIOR, AS WELL. I NEVER LIKED A BLACK INTERIOR IN ANY CAR, NOTWITHSTANDING A CONVERTIBLE.

  3. Scott M Fackert says

    I agree, a saddle interior would be better then black on black – damn hot with the top up or down…I have always liked the Big Mopar-propelled Jensen as well, but I am not a fan of automatics, one fitted with a tall rear gear and 4-Speed or better a 5 speed Tremec would do nicely.

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