The true story of the Jensen Interceptor

Few cars can honestly be said to have captured the imagination of a generation. E Type. DeLorean. Golf GTI. Ferrari Daytona. Jensen Interceptor.
The evocatively named Interceptor deserves its place on that list if the feedback from our customers is anything to go by. For men of a certain age - and, it seems, younger too - the Jensen sums up an era of glamorous excess.
And yet the Jensen almost never happened and when it did it went from design to driveway in just 3 months. Back in 1966 Jensen Motors was in poor shape. With the founding Jensen brothers still at the helm it had been making cars since the 1930s, progressing from stylish designs on proprietary running gear to making their own fully formed cars as well as assembling low volume models for companies like Volvo and Austin.
When Austin and Volvo pulled the contracts to build, respectively, the Healey 3000 and Volvo P1800, Jensen was left struggling. Factor in virtually non-existent sales of the 'Chinese Eye' Cv-8 and it was clear the brothers faced a problem.
The West Bromwich firm's fortunes had been erratic for a few years already, resulting in a sell-out to Norcros Holdings, which kept the Jensens at the helm. Their solution to the dilemma was to plough on with the CV-8 and launch a smaller convertible to scoop up the market vacated by the Austin Healey. Called the Interceptor and designed by in-house stylist Eric Neale this car was developed for launch at the 1966 Geneva show.
It never happened, of course, for which we have to thank a talented engineer called Kevin Beattie. A relative new-comer to Jensen he saw that the combination of the ugly CV-8 and lacklustre Interceptor convertible would leave Jensen dead in the water. Beattie was head-hunted to Jensen after a career at Rootes, including a stint in Australia. A driven and studious man, he had a powerful work ethic and a strong individualistic streak. He had been at Jensen since 1960 and, despite working on the Interceptor convertible, he argued for shelving the small convertible project and reclothing the CV-8 in more attractive bodywork as part of a strategy that would focus production on profitable, low volume cars. This approach, he reasoned, would enable Jensen to cut costs and increase profits. His confidence in this approach was helped by the recent involvement of the more commercially minded Norcros Holdings.
The Jensen brothers, with Eric Neale, strongly resisted this idea because it undermined the strategy they had pursued. So Beattie went to Norcros to fight his corner. And won. Norcross forced the Jensen board to back the Beattie strategy and the Interceptor we know was born.
Beattie was immediately dispatched to Italy to develop designs with Touring and Vignale. Back at West Brom the Jensens and Neale resigned in disgust to be replaced by more commercially minded directors. For this Beattie has been viewed as a arriviste back-stabber who ruined Jensen, but this seems a little harsh since his motives in saving Jensen would appear sound and valid.
Beattie faced an uphill struggle to deliver a totally new car in time for the Geneva show in 3 months. That he did exactly that was a remarkable achievement. An unnamed designer at Touring penned the shape which was put into production by Vignale using the CV-8 chassis and running gear. It seems that the original plan was to build the Interceptor at Vignale, perhaps because of infighting at Jensen. But after 20 cars were built this way production moved to Jensen because of poor quality at Vignale.
The Interceptor was launched to a stunned world and was instantly successful. It was displayed alongside a 4WD version of the CV-8, an odd anomaly that may reflect the problem of bringing two and four wheel drive versions of the Interceptor to market with such a tight timescale. In any event, the Interceptor FF followed soon after and the CV-8 quietly died.
The success of the Interceptor catapulted Jensen into the big league alongside Aston Martin. But the company neither dealt with the demand very well or capitalised upon it. The Interceptor always suffered from its rushed birth being unreliable due to poor detailing and not always very well constructed. Essentially it was a low volume 1950s design in a flash new suit. Jensen's expansion into overseas markets meant it needed deeper pockets to resource further afield. Although the Interceptor was progressively improved during its 10 year life, most of the changes were cosmetic rather than fundamental. Jensen focussed on pushing cars out the door to generate cash, like its close neighbours at BL there was little thought about minimising warranty and maintenance costs.
This omission came home to roost when the company put into place part 2 of its development plan, a smaller high volume convertible. The resulting Jensen-Healey repeated many of the mistakes of the original Interceptor convertible, even though it was project managed by Kevin Beattie.
The Jensen-Healey had rather awkward looks and customers were effectively unpaid development engineers. It was poorly finished and unreliable. While a mk2 version addressed most of the problems, Jensen was hit hard by warranty claims in the UK and USA.
While the problems with the Jensen-Healey rumbled on the company tried to develop a replacement for the Interceptor. This proved difficult due to lack of cash and time. A dumpy William Townes designed coupe nearly made production, built on Interceptor running gear, but fell at the final hurdle. This may have been because the Interceptor was selling well - and Jensen was focussed on the Jensen-Healey.
Ironically, while the Interceptor is commonly blamed for Jensen's demise during the fuel crisis, it was really the Jensen-Healey that hammered the nails in the coffin thanks to poor sales and high warranty costs. By the mid 1970s Jensen had missed the opportunity to develop a replacement Interceptor and had run out of cash and options.
Had the Jensen-Healey worked out of the box perhaps things would have been different. Yet that was probably always going to be a tall order. Jensen should have focussed on low volume, exclusive cars that it could support easily around the world, not a mass-market car that needed to compete with models made by much more sophisticated manufacturers. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The Interceptor story, of course didn't end there. In 1976 the them MD Ian Orford bought the Parts & Service business and the production tooling, with plans to begin building a Mark 4 Interceptor with a new engine. 11 of these cars were built with 'production' ending in 1990. Many more Interceptors received Mk4 upgrades to varying degrees.
The Interceptor tooling went to Martin Robey Ltd in Nuneaton - who still manufacture parts - and the intellectual property around the Jensen brand scattered to the four winds. Since then there have been various attempts to resurrect the Interceptor and the Jensen brand, including the SV sports car - built in Liverpool - and the Interceptor S and R built in Banbury using existing cars. Now plans are underway to build a brand new Interceptor to launch in 2014 and built in Coventry.
As a lifelong Jensen and Interceptor fan I hope the latest resurrection works. But we should also remember Kevin Beattie, who died in his early forties, for bringing to life, in an impossibly short time, a car that has inspired so many.
We have three Jensen Interceptors available to hire in Devon, Yorkshire and the Cotswolds. Prices start at £249. Mention this article to claim 10% off. Www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.












In praise of the 1950s sales rep

1957. The first motorway was under construction and just a year away from launch. This vast ribbon of tarmac, scything through the landscape, would transform Britain and in particular the life of the country's army of travelling salesman.
My thoughts turned to them yesterday as I trundled up one of our newest motorways, the M40 through Oxfordshire at the wheel of our 1957 Morris Minor Traveller.
For a variety of logistical reasons I was driving rather than trailering the Morris back from its stint on display at the Royal Horticultural Society's Spring exhibition in London.
The Traveller, of course, is the estate version of the venerable Morris Minor, the back end constructed with an ash wood frame in the American 'woody' style. It was hugely popular, a sort of progenitor of the hatchback (or GT in BMW parlance). Its clever name reflected its use by holidaying families as well as sales reps, its capacious boot filled with suitcases or carpet samples. These buyers were taking advantage of Britain's burgeoning road network to travel further afield in their increasingly comfortable and reliable cars.
That may well be but after my trip I do rather pity the poor travelling salesman collecting the keys to his new company Morris Minor Traveller in 1957. With the new M6 just 12 months away his world was about to change rather dramatically.
It may seem remarkable now but the humble Morris was the car that got Britain motoring. It was cheap family motoring. This wasn't a short distance run-about, it was intended as an economical car in the Ford Focus mould.
Today's travelling sales people have never had it so good. As soon as they jump in their cars the outside world is locked away behind tight window seals and thick soundproofing. They sit on a seat that has endless adjustment permutations to exactly suit their posture. The steering column adjusts, the windows move at the touch of a button, there is a radio, probably a satnav, a phone system. The car's cabin temperature can be intricately adjusted and automatically maintained. There are airbags, tyre pressure warnings, an engine temperature gauge, remote releases for boot and fuel flap. Low fuel warnings. Rain sensing wipers. Heated screens. Power steering. Central locking.
Wing mirrors. Some of these features even now we take for granted. Power steering? Imagine a world where that didn't exist! Central locking? Did they ever make cars without it?
The sales rep of 1957 accepting the keys to his new Traveller had none of the above. He also had no rev counter, no screen washers, no seatbelts, probably no heater and no ashtray for his perma-burning Woodbine. And yet this wasn't austerity motoring. The Traveller had wind up windows. Adjustable individual seats. Electric window wipers (rather than vacuum operated). A floor mounted gear shift. But that was it. A heater was an option. No engine temperature gauge. No self cancelling indicators. No radio.
As I discovered on my wintry 130 mile drive, to sell carpet samples up and down Britain in 1957 you had to be made of tough stuff. Crawling out of London in rush hour traffic was quickly tiring as the awkward floor-mounted clutch wore out my ankle and the lack of synchromesh on 1st made stop start traffic a tough call. The wheel is big and well placed - very easy to lean on for a rest - and the steering is light but the long-legged driver sits in a hunched, knees up position, right knee knocking against the window winder.
Once up to speed on the A40 and M40 - by which I mean an indicated 55mph - other challenges presented themselves. Principle among these were my numb feet. Although our Morris is a Delux with optional heater and leather seats, the former doesn't work very well. At all. Credit where it is due, it is exceptional at heating the air within 3mm of the vent, less effective further afield.
Next up was the wind. I began to feel that I was driving the Morris head on into a hurricane. Slight inclines blunted speed by 20-30%. The wind whistled around the flat screen like a howling banshee. Strangely when I stopped at the services the air had miraculously stilled.
Trucks and vans were a real hazard. Stuck in the inside lane everything passed me, usually at ferocious speed. Trucks created a swelling headwind that virtually brought me to a standstill. The air pressured created by speeding vans caused the door skins to flex against my arm.
Fortunately I had no need to change lanes. I like to think that I'm a confident driver but the Morris' lack of speed and puny - optional - wing mirrors made judging lane changes genuinely frightening. Other drivers gave such manoeuvres short shrift (yes, I mean you spikey haired man in the white 318d). One thing 1957 man had in his favour, I suspect, was much less traffic and a more rational, less aggressive approach to his fellow motorist.
Did I mention the headlights? Notable by their absence. There are doubtless candles of greater luminescence. Even with the optional Driving Lights switched on I could only manage to dimly light the area 3 feet in front of the car. Fortunate, then, that I was going so slowly.
Taken in context, the Morris Minor of 1957 is a remarkable car. Easy to drive with light controls, excellent interior space and a smattering of innovations - like those electric wipers - it would have been cutting edge in its time. The Travelling salesman, used to cars with big cycle wings and draughty sliding windows would have relished his new company wheels.
So it is a little unfair to deride the poor Morris by pitting it against modern motorways. And yet, within a year of this car's registration the world of motoring would be transformed by motorways. They would eventually force rapid change in cars to cope with the demand for long distance comfort and more speed. Which, over 50 years, took us from Morris Minor to Ford Focus.
I enjoyed my Morris adventure, but next time I'll stick to A and B roads. Today it is perfect for pootling around the Cotswolds, stopping regularly for tea and cakes, its days of high mileage motoring are thankfully well behind it.
You can hire our Morris Minor Traveller, one of 5 Minors on our fleet, by visiting http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.




Living With A DeLorean

For the past year we've run a DeLorean on the fleet. The car is owned by a local enthusiast who bought it to hire out, which also helped justify his dream buy.
It has been popular, very popular. It's the only one for self drive hire in Europe and it's one of those cars, like James Bond's Aston DB5, that everyone knows.
We've enjoyed having it - the flux capacitor jokes less so - but it has't exactly been reliable. That, and other factors, forced a decision. It has to go because over the last few months we've worked hard to make our fleet as reliable as possible because we hate letting people down.
The DeLorean, of course, has a reputation for being unreliable. While we've run it on the fleet the problems it has suffered have been quite different to our other cars, which mainly fail because if age rather than design. With the DeLorean it was an endless catalogue of silly things mainly caused by poor design and build. Like the gear lever snapping off. Several times. The front suspension collapsing. The passenger door opening, even when not asked to. The electrics not electrifying. In the first year on hire we expect all of our cars to go through a stage of growing pains (note to hirers - always ask how long a car has been on hire) but these were not use-related issues. They simply shouldn't have happened.
Then there is parts supply. Everything fitted to a DeLorean is easily available because it comes off something else more mundane and humdrum. The trouble is, no-one is always entirely sure what. Take the clutch, which failed two weeks ago. Off a Renault Espace, naturally. Except on our car it isn't. So the part has to be sent off to be matched. We're still waiting and 5 customers have lost their dream day out.
That said, it is an utterly amazing car and if I didn't run a hire company I could easily live with these foibles. Sure, it's a bit of a pig to drive - its guiding principle, ironically, is Blind Spots - but it looks incredible. I don't enjoy the attention when driving it but it grabs it like no other car on our fleet.
I'll be sad to see it go but I won't miss trying to winch it onto a trailer at 1am or telling a distraught customer it's in the workshop again.
The DeLorean will leave the fleet on 31st May. To hire it before it goes visit www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.



The People Have Spoken

Classic car magazines are an excellent resource and they run regular back to back tests to help readers decide which car to buy. We regularly use them to find new additions to the fleet.
When it comes to discovering which cars are more popular though, you can't beat market research. We're not talking about finding out which cars are better out of a range of choices, merely what is more popular. Sadly, they're not always the same thing.
Take the Triumph Stag and Mercedes SL. They're regularly put back to back as fine examples of that rare thing, a useable, practical classic convertible for all the family. Usually opinion is equally divided , the Stag winning for its v8 burble, the SL rated for its sheer usability.
We have run SLs and Stags on our fleet for several years. Both live up - or down - to their reputation. The SL is virtually bulletproof, save for a remarkable propensity to rust. The Stag, well it's no surprise we've nicknamed it The Snag. When it goes, it goes brilliantly. Thanks to a lot of tlc we have probably got a pair of the most reliable Stags in Britain - one made it to Monte Carlo without problems - but we're never entirely sure what might go wrong next. Luckily, this usually happens to us, not hirers.
We sold our Mercedes SL a year ago because the colour and spec weren't quite right. Since then we've concentrated on the Stags we have in Yorkshire and the Cotswolds.
The problem has been that customers haven't exactly thrown themselves at our Stags. Who knows why? There are a lot available to hire but then there are a lot of MGBs and ours fly out the door. The situation made us ponder the Stag anew and we came to the conclusion that despite it's multitude of advantages it has remained a bit of a niche car. If you know them you quite rightly love them, if you don't you don't.
So we've made a decision. We're moving on our Stag in the Cotswolds in order to concentrate hires on our Yorkshire car, which is a virtually concours example with an exemplary hire record. In its place we're adding a beautiful sky blue metallic Mercedes SL convertible. The spec of this car ticks all the boxes as the photos show. We particularly like the chrome steel wheels. The SL we had was always popular and it is always a car we get asked for.
Although I'm sad to lose the Stag, I'm more than made up with the SL. There is nothing a hirer of classic cars likes better than a car he can trust. And the Mercedes is such a car. Sure, there are some bad ones out there but their problems are self inflicted through poor maintenance. The quality of the SL is such that it could have been built yesterday. Like the VW Beetle and early Porsche 911 we hire, it is a solid, no-nonsense classic car that you can depend on.
Of course, I've probably jinxed it now. But isn't that ultimately what we all want from a classic car? Sure, the not knowing whether it will start or arrive adds a soup├žon of fun to any journey, but it isn't enduring is it?
We have made our fleet of classic cars dependable but with the SL it starts further along on that journey so it needs less work.
So you, the people, have spoken. It's Mercedes SL not Stag. We're still making the choice available because the Stag remains a fine car - and ours is a good one - but for now it's Germany 1, England nil.
For more details visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.



The facts laid bare


I've got a bee in my bonnet and it's about classic car maintenance. This particular bee has been creeping up and bothering me for several months now and it all started with the Government's decision to scrap the MOT for pre-1960 cars.
I was and am rather incensed about this, not helped by the MP responsible playing fast and loose with popular notions of common decency when responding to enquiries. But one positive outcome is it made me even more committed to improving the quality of our classic hire cars because it really matters to me.  It matters that we provide a quality car because my customers are generally fulfilling a lifetime's dream. It also matters because I want my cars to be as reliable and safe as possible, otherwise everyone gets stressed. And I don't want that.



I'm not being glib when I say that maintenance and improvement of the fleet has always been a central part of Great Escape Classic Car Hire. Before we had our own workshop I spend thousand and thousands of pounds with specialists ensuring that each car was improved and made more reliable. Since we've had our own workshop and a highly competent mechanic we've been able to do more of the same because it is costing us less. So we can afford to really invest in the cars, rather than just keep them going. This means we don't just mend the things that go wrong, we improve the parts that we believe need improving, from bodywork to gearboxes and suspension. Most customers would never know, for example, that we've fitted a new gearbox to an E Type or rebuilt the suspension on the XJS, but we do.  And it matters to us.



The reason for this preachy rant is that until a customer arrives to collect their classic hire car they have generally only seen photos of it. And photos, by anyone's reckoning, are not a good way to assess a car. Like most web-based businesses we rely on images to sell what we do. But I feel that isn't enough.
So now our website not only shows photos of the cars with a written description, we also list the major repair and maintenance work since 2010 on each car. This is the work we've done on the car over and above our normal servicing and maintenance regime and our 18-point pre-hire check. it's the things that turn an average hire car into a great one, whether it's improved aesthetics like a respray or new interior or a mechanical overhaul.  We are providing this information to make our hire service as transparent as possible.  We can never guarantee that our cars won't break down or develop a problem but we can be sure that we've done everything we can to prevent it happening.
So rant over. I'll let the facts do the talking.  Visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk to discover what we've been doing to our classic car hire fleet over the last 2 or 3 years. Or call 01527 893733 for more details.

The sensible TVR



It's 7 years since the last TVR rolled out of the factory, in which time the company's reputation seems to have dwindled such that many would sum it up as a story of mad cars made badly.  Despite TVR's almost wilfull desire to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, I favour a more positive spin on things.
The reason we're musing over TVR here at Great Escape towers is because we've dipped our toes in the murky world of TVR with the addition of another one, a TVR Chimaera. Those with a long memory will recall that for a few years up to early 2012 we ran a TVR Tuscan Speed Six on our classic car hire fleet, a distinctive and popular car that died on us thanks to cam lobe wear after just 16,000 miles. This is a common problem with Speed Six engines - "I'm surprised it lasted that long" said our sage and wise TVR specialist.



After that experience of TVR longevity we decided to give TVRs a bit of a rest for a while. And then the bug itched again, fuelled by regular requests from customers for a TVR. This time we wanted to err on the side of caution and stick with the more tried and tested end of the TVR spectrum. Because, being frank, scheduled engine rebuilds after 16,000 miles aren't really our cup of tea. We wanted a TVR with a durable engine, not a screaming race engine with the longevity of a banana.
This is a fairly well worn path for TVR fanatics, of which there seem to be two types allied to the different phases of the company. TVR is a much older company than most people realise, tracing its roots back to 1946.  It pioneered glassfibre manufacture in the late 1940s but hit its stride in the 1960s and 1970s with a succession of light, quick cars with an ever-changing range of proprietary engines. In the late 1970s TVR started to knuckle down and introduced the upmarket 'wedge' models, which followed the vogue for Origami Design typical of the DeLorean DMC, Aston Martin Lagonda and many other mainstream and performance models. In the case of the TVRs, not entirely successfully.
In the 1980s and 1990s TVR, under the guidance of owner Peter Wheeler, played it fairly straight, creating fairly mainstream models with phenomenal performance and little in the way of driver aids.  The wedges gave way to more stylish, curvacious designs in the early 1990s with TVR offering a range of cars that looked good and went well. From the mid 1980s until the late 1990s all TVRs used versions of the tried and trusted Rover V8 in a variety of sizes from 3.5 to 5 litre.
This period of product development turned TVR into an almost-credible Porsche competitor, a company providing almost practical cars with a modicum of reliability. Cars from this period, such as the Chimaera and Griffith make good weekend classic cars because they are reliable enough for light use, practical and stylish.
The problem for TVR came when supply of the venerable Rover engine began to dry up. TVR also had aspirations to hit the big time and compete with Porsche.  Those two factors combined to push TVR into developing a home grown engine. The resulting TVR-designed engines were excellent. When they worked. As our experience with the Tuscan shows, they weren't built for longevity and they couldn't survive high mileages or daily use.
TVRs had always been weekend cars rather than built for the everyday commute but when the company switched to its own in-house engines the problem got worse.  TVR's reputation for building stylish static displays became legendary.  Its dogged determination to build eccentricity into every model didn't help either - the Great Escape Tuscan had plenty of crazy ideas that simply reinvented the wheel, substituting something round with something square.  Unmarked buttons, no doorhandles and an inaccessible engine bay and battery were almost wilful attempts to undermine TVR's success.
By the early 2000s the combination of unreliability and eccentricity had reversed TVR into a corner that it couldn't get out of.  It had some cracking cars, like the Sagaris, but nobody would go near them. Sadly in 2006, after a couple of years helmed by a 24 year old Russian millionaire, it all came to an abrupt halt.



Which brings us back to the TVR Chimaera that we've added to our classic car hire fleet. In the 1980s and 1990s TVR did, largely, get it right. Perhaps the cars weren't ideal for the daily commute but 20 odd years down the line that hardly matters.  Cars like the Chimaera and Griffith are brilliant weekend cars, effortless GT and performance cars that eat up the tarmac like few other home grown British classics.  They also look like TVRs - stylish and distinctive. Britain has a long history of building brutish open top cars and the Chimaera fits comfortably into that tradition.  It is as close as TVR got to a mainstream model, without sacrificing the quirky eccentricity that is an essential part - in moderation - of the TVR experience.
You can hire our latest addition from our Shropshire site, near Shrewsbury.  For more information visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.



Four get their tops off in the Cotswolds



For some reason known only to car manufacturers the history of motoring is not over-abundant with proper four seater convertibles. Despite the dearth of family-friendly drop top cars we've been doing our best to add a few to our classic car hire fleet in order to satisfy customer demand.  More and more families want to hire classic cars - a simple, inexpensive classic convertible car that that seats for is the ideal way to spend a day out.

We already have Triumph Stags and Morris Minor convertibles for hire at our main sites in Yorkshire, Cotswolds and Devon, which can all seat four in comfort.  But we felt we needed more variety for customers, plus these cars have been getting very busy. So recently we added a VW Beetle convertible to our fleet in Devon - which seats four comfortably - and this week we bought a Triumph Herald convertible project, which when finished will go onto our Cotswolds fleet.


The Triumph Herald is a brilliant, inexpensive classic car because it's so simple and versatile. It's easy to drive, it's reliable and it seats four in comfort.  We've plumped for a 1360 Herald rather than the GTI version, the Vitesse, because we feel the 1360 offers a better combination of performance, comfort and simplicity when used as a hire car.

The latest addition is a 1968 car currently finished in light blue with a black vinyl interior.  The car doesn't need much work to be ready for hire and we will do the welding and cosmetic work in our own workshop in Worcestershire.  We are considering respraying the car too, but we'll see how it cleans up with a good polish.


We'll post updates on the Herald project here and let you know when it is ready for hire. We'll be pitching it as a cheap weekend convertible similar in price to our Morris Minors. So hopefully it will be a car that families can enjoy when they visit the Cotswolds.

The Herald joins our existing fleet of Triumph hire cars which include Triumph Stag, TR6 and Spitfire.

To find out more about our fleet of family-friendly four seater convertible classic cars visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.

Classic winter warmers


There's no other way to describe March. It's cold. When it's cold, frankly, you need to be warm. When it's warm we want to be cool.
So here is our list of classic cars that will warm your heart and keep you warm.

Jensen Interceptor

The Jensen performs many useful functions for the lover of warmth. It cossets like few other cars, thanks to huge leather armchairs made from quite a lot of cows. It has a superb heater backed up by a nice warm transmission tunnel that reaches far into the footwells. And its prodigious thirst is probably contributing to a warmer planet, not in all seriousness that we condone or encourage such an outcome. But facts is facts.

Jaguar E Type coupe

In the early 1960s Jaguar didn't do heaters very well. Perhaps when you were scooting around on a blag in your Mk2 or being liberally draped in supermodels in your E Type, keeping warm wasn't a top priority. Despite a history of freezing its customers, by the mid to late 60s Jaguar had realised that man (or woman) cannot live without fully functioning organs. So it started fitting decent heaters to its car. The coupe E Type is the place to be wen it's cold outside. It's warm and, wait for it, cool at the same time. And in the colder weather you stand a much better chance of being able to hire on of our most popular cars.

Jaguar XJS

By the 1970s and 80s Jaguar was well and truly 'on' the heating vibe. The 1980s XJS in coupe or convertible form is a virtual pean to warmth, such is the furnace like nature of its heater. And in case that wasn't enough the convertible has heated seats. Coupe or convertible, we have both available to hire.

Mercedes SLK

Back in 1969 could silken-scarfed MGB man ever comprehend the idea of the 'air scarf'? This breakthrough by Mercedes makes Cold Neck Syndrome a thing of the past. Just drop the top on our Peak District SLK, flick the Airscarf function and revel, literally and metaphorically revel, in the blast of warm air around your neck. Anyone who says this is namby pamby motoring is silly. Who wants to wear the automotive equivalent of a hair shirt?

All of our classic winter warmers are available to hire from Great Escape Classic Car Hire. To find out more visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.

The Camera Always Lies


The internet has made our world more image-driven than ever before. Photos, pictures and images are critical to the performance of the websites where we select and buy more and more of the things we need.
The trouble is, pictures aren't always an accurate or reliable basis on which to make a purchase. Anyone who has ever inspected a car on Ebay and then turned up to view a rather substandard vehicle will know the feeling. This equally applies to classic hire cars.
Virtually all classic cars are booked based on the information and images displayed online. We regularly sell several thousand pounds worth of hire based on what we say and show online. As most customers tend only to buy once - so repeat purchases due to customer satisfaction are not critical - it would be remarkably easy for us at Great Escape to cut a few corners with some flashy photos of shiny cars that in reality are rather ropey.
Obviously we don't do that. I have to sleep at night and I have pride in what we do. But I can't speak for anyone else. I know from bitter personal experience that what others consider as suitable for hire would not leave my unit under any circumstances. The majority of well established classic car hire companies are reputable, but not all.
The issue is two fold. Fundamentally a car must be safe. A valid MOT does not provide that guarantee. The hirer must maintain the car on a weekly basis and monitor condition before and after every hire. Brakes, steering, tyres, suspension and countless other components can fail or wear and compromise safety.
Secondly, the car must be of a hireable standard. At Great Escape we expect any car we hire to be a good, solid and well presented example of the model you want to drive. If we have to excuse faults or deterioration, we won't hire it.
Over the years I have taken on or inherited many cars from other hire companies. Without exception none of those cars was suitable for immediate hire. The cars were either unreliable, aesthetically poor or downright unsafe. In two examples the cars each had four bald tyres, in several cases they had not been serviced for several years. One car had insecure doors that flew open on corners and had only one brake circuit connected to a servo.



Before I took the cars on they were on hire to customers. They looked great in the photos, in some cases they looked good up close. But it would have been foolish and morally dubious to hire them.
We are particularly concerned about this issue because we hire on behalf of owners, as well as managing our own sites in Yorkshire, Devon and Cotswolds. I want customers to be more than happy with the experience because it's my name on the door.
Recently we have trimmed our network of sites in order to maintain and improve standards. If we cannot guarantee the quality of the cars or service we won't represent the cars. It's as simple as that. Many of these cars have subsequently reappeared on hire with a competitor. All I'll say is this - an MOT is no proof safety and the website photos look great.


We are constantly improving the Great Escape Classic Car Hire website to provide reassurance to customers about how we work and demonstrate our approach. Over the next few weeks we will be adding a section to each car's web page showing the maintenance and improvement work on that car within the last 2 years. This lists major work, rather than standard routine maintenance and checks, which are part of our established servicing and maintenance regime (which we publish on our website and in our confirmation paperwork).
Since 1st January 2013 we have spent £10,000 on parts and 500 labour hours improving our cars. That work rate is typical of the level of improvements we undertake throughout the year. We also have a strict pre and post hire check regime to capture any issues reported by customers or that we discover.
The purpose of all this time, money and effort is to achieve one goal - to provide the customer with a good quality, reliable vehicle that will deliver the dream drive they may have waited a lifetime to fulfil.
To find out more about our cars and our maintenance regime visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.

Porsche 911 at 50



Back in 1963 would anyone have laid a bet on a go-faster Beetle whose design layout defied the laws of physics becoming the longest lasting and arguably most revered sports car of its era?
That, remarkably, is the tale of the Porsche 911.  Launched into the middle of the Swinging Sixties – with that wavering rear end, that is somehow rather appropriate - as the successor to the 356, the 911 had a lot to live up to.  Designed by Ferdinand ‘Butzi’ Porsche in 1959, the goal was to move the 356 game on by offering a more sophisticated, comfortable and powerful car that would, crucially, be more expensive and therefore more profitable.  Launched initially as the 901 – until Peugeot protested – the 911 was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1963 and production began in September 1964.  With the familiar Porsche rear-mounted, flat ‘Boxer’ engine configuration, the 911 replaced the 356’s swing axle with an independent set up.  Aerodynamic styling and a low weight meant decent acceleration and a high top speed from the small 2 litre 130 bhp six pot engine.
The original ‘A’ series cars, built up to 1969, were produced on a short chassis similar in size to the 356, which continued in production until 1965 in order to give Porsche a cheaper alternative to the 911.  The 356 was replaced in 1965 with the introduction of the four cylinder 912, but this low power car only lasted a few years.
The 911’s reputation as a widow maker probably dates back to these early cars. With a short wheelbase, low front end weight and a decent turn of speed it didn’t take much to create 911-shaped holes in hedges as the back end took on a mind of its own in the event of sudden changes of direction or speed, such as when cornering.  Yet in a strange way, this dogged waywardness and singular commitment to an alternative sports car vision sealed the success of the 911.  The car quickly became one that you had to master – the contemporary view was that those 911 hedge re-designers were drivers who couldn’t handle a 911; to successfully tame the car was a signal of its success.  Porsche’s success with racing versions of its road cars helped reinforce this argument.


Inevitably, though, Porsche had to do something or else the 911 risked becoming a niche car for petrolheads. So it lengthened the wheelbase in 1969, created the B-Series cars and added more power. At Great Escape Cars we have one of these early cars, a 2.2 911T – there were initially three performance levels, T, E and S – and it is an absolute joy. There is something pure and honest about these early cars that later cars somehow lack, despite their considerably improved performance and handling.
I have had the good fortune to drive both short chassis and long chassis early cars.  The earlier car is remarkable for its solidity and pliant ride but I will offend purists by saying that to drive it feels like a low-slung Beetle. It also, in my view, doesn’t look that great either – it’s too short, which makes the car look hunched and, frankly, rather beetle-like. The handling also isn’t much cop – you can throw it around far more than you might expect but the lack of power and persistent sense of a heavy pendulum hanging out the back of a short body hinders ultimate enjoyment.


The long chassis 911 is a revelation by comparison. The extra length in the wheelbase transforms the appearance, making the car longer (obviously), lower and much more sporting.  In a decent colour you can relish the attention to detail that lies behind each panel.  The extra engine capacity and horsepower also make it much more fun to drive – the early cars are no firebrands but they are plenty quick enough, delivering a healthy shove when you plan your foot. The extra length transforms the handling – the B Series car feels considerably more sure footed and clings and points as you would expect of a sports car.
The search for extra power that was laid down with the first B-series cars set the template for the next 20 years as Porsche progressively launched ever more powerful versions of the basic 911 concept, a progression that not only furthered the 911 legend but also improved Porsche’s profitability. This culminated in the 1980s with the whale-tail turbo-charged models, a development that arguably saved the 911. 
In 1973 Porsche launched the G-Series cars with improved crash protection and other safety improvements designed to meet new US legislation.  Despite the launch of its first turbo model in 1974, the introduction of higher capacity engines and a full convertible model, by the late 1970s Porsche was growing increasingly concerned about how to keep the aging 911 going.  It seemed that the 911 had reached the limits of its development and was starting to look long in the tooth compared to modern rivals. The consensus was that the company needed something new and, crucially, more profitable.  Cue the 928.
The 928 was intended to replace the 911. It was bigger, more comfortable and more practical. But it wasn’t a 911. The 928’s rather poor reception forced Porsche to refocus on the 911 in the early 80s. It responded by creating the wide body 911 Turbo.  So then, a 330 bhp rear engine, rear drive car with an enormous rear spoiler and invariably bright red paintwork.  The 911 Turbo hit the 80s zeitgeist full on and became the four wheeled plaything of choice for aspiring City types, a role it has never quite shaken off in the 30 years since.
To capitalise on the unexpected popularity of the 911 Porsche sprinkled a little Turbo stardust on its lesser models. In came big colour coded bumpers and an array of options that included white wheels and that tea-tray spoiler. Some of the changes were technical rather than cosmetic, including a new gearbox that for aficionados transformed the slightly clunky shift of the early cars.
The 1980s 911 was inevitably all about power. Gone were the sub-3 litre lightweight sports cars of the 60s and early 70s, in came more cubic capacity and more power.  I have driven coupe and Targa versions of these cars, a 3 litre and a 3.2, both naturally aspirated.  The 3 litre coupe was an real joy, despite feeling much older than its 1989 build date.  I regretted the Eighties-isation of the interior, all tweedy type cloth, tan plastics and crude electric window switches.  But lurking behind the signs of progress was the same car as the early 911T I had driven. Alive, tactical, pointy but much, much faster. I enjoyed it, very much so, but I’m not sure I needed or actually enjoyed all the extra power. This car felt like its limits lay a long way off down on a road I wasn’t quite ready to travel.


The Targa was different again. The 3.2 litre engine is barely discernible from the 3 litre, offering about the same power and similar delivery.  In all other respects, it drove like the coupe. The problem for me was that Targa roof.  It niggled me for two reasons. Firstly, it squeaked and rattled a lot and there was a lot of scuttle shake. But more importantly, it ruins the 911 shape. From what I could see all of that was to no particular advantage because the removable roof achieves little more than the sunroof did that was fitted to the coupe.
Porsche persevered with the original 1963 car until 1989 when it launched the 964. The new car was probably a response to the success of the 1980s 911 and the failure of the 928, being both softer and more upmarket than the car it replaced in order to bridge the gap left by the 928. The 964 didn’t get a great reception from the press, who felt it had lost some of its purity, but it did herald major innovations including four wheel drive and a Tiptronic gearbox (early 911 had the option of a ‘sport-o-matic’ box, much derided and not just because of its silly name).  Many of these developments were taken from the 959 supercar.


The final air cooled cars were the 993 series of 1994 to 1997. Retaining the middle section of the original car, Porsche grafted on a new front and rear and installed a new multi-link rear suspension system that was claimed to finally banish the 911’s tail-happy tendencies to the dustbin of the past.  Larger capacity engines and more power also continued a common theme.
The late 993 cars are growing in stature because many see them as the ultimate incarnation of the air-cooled 911. They are quick cars but not supercar-quick, as would happen with later models. They also retain the diminutive proportions of the classic 911. For enthusiasts, a decent 993 is a good combination of modern reliability with classic Porsche design.  We have a 993 on the fleet and there is a lot to recommend it – the rear suspension does significantly improve the car’s surefootedness although to my mind the extra power and the technological advances rather cancel each other out in terms of the actual experience.  It goes faster and handles better than the 1969 car but is it actually more fun to drive? I’m not sure…
By the late 1990s Porsche had pushed the original 911 concept to breaking point.  Compared to the competition the car was small, a bit noisy, not entirely relaxed when cruising on the motorway and generally felt like an exercise in technological development that had reached its zenith.
All hail the 996.  Lets be clear – the 996 and its subsequent water cooled siblings are great cars. They share the same mechanical layout as the early cars but they are light years away from them in every respect, from performance to appearance and comfort. It had to happen, nobody wants a 1960s car in 2013.
The new car didn’t meet with a great reception, mainly because of its looks.  Whereas the original 911, right up to the 993, was small and delicately styled, the 996 was big, wide, long and chunky. It clearly owed its style to the 911 but this was the 1960s car’s lardy cousin. Critics disliked its similarities to the Boxster and its plain interior.
Of course the car was a massive success.  The market wanted a bigger and more comfortable 911 with much more street presence.  Porsche still offered the stripped our high performance versions for the die-hard fans, but the bulk of its sales were to people who would never dabble with opposite lock.  Perhaps in that sense Porsche was just repeating the trick it pulled in 1969 when it launched the tamed long chassis B Series.
With the 996 Porsche seriously went to town with the technological advances and the performance variations. The car was bigger and significantly more powerful than the 993, shunting the 911 into a new supercar market space that left room for the cheaper Boxster and Cayman. 
The 996 lasted until 2005 when it was replaced by the 997.  This car reintroduced some of the classic 911 design cues, including the bug-eye headlamps and styling cues from the 993.  Altogether, it was a better looking car. Still big and wide and technically very similar to the 996 but the styling changes made it easier to love.
The 996/997 platform was replaced last year by an entirely new design, the aluminium 991.  It moves the game on technologically by being light and fast – something the 996 and 997 cars hadn’t quite mastered – and it still looks like a 911. Undeniably the 991, and its 996 and 997 forefathers, are brilliant cars. They do what they do uniquely, and in a world of homogenised sports cars that is no mean feet. They also, in that sense, stay true to the original 911 concept of technological innovation and superiority. All that in a car that you can happily travel 500 miles in and get out feeling refreshed. Not something you can say about the first short-chassis 911, whose offset pedals are at best challenging to comfort.  And your ability to walk afterwards.


So what to make of 50 years of the 911? It is testament to Porsche’s singular vision that it has managed to keep the basic 911 format alive and relevant right up to the present day.  Whichever 911 you prefer it is fair to say that each one has been relevant and extremely popular with contemporary customers.  The later cars may be bigger, heavier and much, much quicker than the first cars, achieving their power through large capacity engines, but they have to be because that what people want to buy.
Your favourite 911, ultimately, says more about you than the car. Personally, I’m not keen on driving a car that I can only really enjoy on a race track. That’s why I’ll stick with the B-Series cars of the late 60s and early 70s.  This isn’t about some sort of automotive hairshirt – I simply enjoy their real-world performance, their lightness and their tactility. 
So here’s to the 911. You’re 50 and, with your new 991 shape you’ve lost some weight and regained your looks. What an achievement. Cheers.

Porsche 911 trivia:
·         820,000 911s made since launch in 1964
·         3 basic models produced in 50 years (2 up to 2012)
·         Porsche expected to build no more than 500 air cooled turbos. It built 32,335
·         Porsche only based the 356 (and by extension 911) on the Beetle because he couldn’t get hold of other car parts
·         There 16 different 911 models in the current line up. In 1964 there was 1

Great Escape Classic Car Hire has the largest choice of classic and modern Porsche cars for hire in the UK, including an early B-Series 911T and a late 993.  You can find out more about our Porsche hire fleet by visiting http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733




New Italian classic joins the fleet

The latest addition to the Great Escape fleet is a well respected mid-engined, rear-drive Italian classic.
Well, that is one way to describe our latest addition. It's a 7.5 tonne Iveco car transporter that will be used to improve our delivery and collection service for private, corporate and TV clients. The truck will also provide extra support for customers in the event of breakdowns or accidents.
The addition of the truck means that we now have a full delivery and collection service at our busy Yorkshire and Cotswolds sites. Our existing delivery vehicles cover 50,000 miles a year transporting cars around the UK for private customers and to support corporate events and provide cars for TV, film and advertising work.
Great Escape is one of the only classic car hire companies with full vehicle transport facilities. As well as improving our service for events and car deliveries our investment in transport means we can also respond faster and more effectively to breakdowns. Although they occur on less than 1% of all of our hires, when breakdowns do occur customers need a quick and effective service, including bringing a spare car if needed.
The new truck enables Great Escape to transport 2 cars at once and will be used to support our classic car hire business as well as our prop car service for TV, film and advertising companies.
Customer service is critical to what we do. We are not part of any associations or guilds for classic car hire companies because, as the largest classic car hire company, we set our own standards.
To find out more about Great Escape visit www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.