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.












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