Last autumn the Great Escape Classic Car Hire Cotswold site's Jensen Interceptor came a cropper on some armco, thanks to a wet road and powerful rear wheel drive. We got the car over to Cropredy Bridge Garage near Banbury, who specialise in Jensens. Now the car is back after major surgery.
There are plenty of Jensen Interceptors out there and the relatively low purchase prices that this sustains tends to mask the fact that this is a genuinely hand built bespoke car. Consequently, repairing the bodywork on a Jensen is a major task. The car also falls into the rare category of being a high volume handbuilt car, built by a company with constant cashflow problems. This means that build quality varies car to car and despite a programme of continuous cosmetic development by Jensen, the fundamental weaknesses of the car (which would have been expensive to rectify) remained, such as dodgy wiring (usually caused by heat soak) and poor quality ancillary components.
So when we knew that our Jensen Interceptor in the Cotswolds was going in for lengthy repair work we decided to invest in other improvements. The insurance work involved rebuilding the front suspension, respraying over half the car and rectifying various dents inflicted during the accident. In addition we had the rot fixed elsewhere on the car and fettled the engine and electrics. This work, which took several months to complete, cost in excess of £16,000.
Sure, we could have bought another Interceptor for that kind of money. But we need a reliable, high quality hire vehicle. This car has been on hire for two years, we know it inside out and we have continuously improved it. A new car would start without any track record - and no doubt would also need work in a year or two.
This experience, plus running Jensen Interceptor hire cars for 5 years and 60,000 miles, has taught us a few lessons, not just about these cars but hand built cars in general. Here goes.
1. Always use specialists - whatever the workshop manual says, these are handbuilt cars and every one is different. Specialists like Cropredy Bridge have seen most of the variations before
2. Pre-empt maintenance, don't react. We need reliable cars so we check and recheck and replace before failure. But it also saves us money by avoiding knock-on deterioration and damage
3. Buy a handbuilt car first and foremost on bodywork - it will always cost more to fix than anything else
4. Use good quality lubricants
5. Buy a carcoon - or use a dry and watertight storage unit (to protect the bodywork)
6. Agree a price for any major repair work before work starts - and regularly check up on it
7. Use it - Jensens hate lack of use
Perhaps these lessons are obvious, in which case they bear repeating. The Jensen is a very good classic car to own. But anyone buying one because they're cheap will get burned. Like the Porsche 928 (which we have also owned), the Jensen is a bargain, but only compared to an Iso or AC or Aston Martin. You can buy a Jensen for a fraction of the cost of one of those and get a car that is just as good if not better. But you need pockets just as deep as the Aston, AC and Iso owner.