Harold Robbins’ Jensens
Best selling author, Harold Robbins, was big news at the Jensen factory during the 1960s and 1970s. He purchased one of the first MK.I left-hand-drive Interceptors, then a MK.II Interceptor, and a Jensen Convertible.
By the 1960s, Robbins was on top of the authoring game, having dished out a variety of novels, some of which were controversial for their sexual content. Certainly, Robbins’ best known novel was The Carpetbaggers, which was set in the opulent world of the aeronautical industry, and Hollywood glamour. After The Carpetbaggers, came Where Love Has Gone, and The Adventurers, which was published in 1966.
By 1968, 25,000 people were buying one of his novels every single day. When Pocket Books published a report on best selling authors in that same year, no less than seven out of the ten best sellers were Harold Robbins novels.
By this time Robbins was living both in the South of France, as well as Beverly Hills, California. It was with the introduction of the new Italian-designed Jensen Interceptor, that Robbins became a convert to the small Midlands-based company, Jensen Motors.
Shortly after introduction, Robbins placed an order for a left-hand-drive Interceptor, through the London distributors, Charles Folletts. The order was placed in June 1967, and Robbins stated his desired specification as;
Charcoal grey with grey trim (specifically mentioning that the interior should have hide-trim). In regard to options, he wanted power-assisted-steering and an electric aerial. Robbins had obviously picked up on the fact that the initial production of Interceptors were trimmed in vinyl, with leather as an option, a point overlooked by some customers, much to their discontent.
By the following month, Folletts received another communication from Robbins, now wishing to add a pair of headrests to the option list. To slightly complicate matters, Robbins also wanted to have exemption from purchase tax, on delivery of a car within the UK. This would mean that Robbins could take delivery of his Jensen in the UK, and drive the car on UK roads for a period of time before either driving, or shipping, the car out of the UK for permanent export. Robbins wanted to drive the Jensen in the UK for a short while, and then have it shipped out to his property in California.
Chassis 117/2642 was assigned to Robbins. The ‘117’ being the Jensen Motors prefix for left-hand-drive cars. Wyndham Powell, Sales Manager at Jensen Motors, was in charge of the order, typically promising Robbins an early delivery of his car. In fact by this time it was already July 1967, and yet Powell was promising a completion of Robbins’ car for an August delivery. It would seem that Robbins was relaxed about the inevitable delays, since as August moved into September, the car’s chassis file is devoid of the usual letters of annoyance.
By early October, Robbins’ Interceptor was virtually finished. With the delays in delivery time, Robbins’ itinerary had obviously changed. He was no longer collecting the car personally from Jensen Motors, instead, the car needed to be shipped direct to California.
The dangers of shipping, with the damage and theft that often take place are well known. Back in the 1960s, way before containerisation, the situation was far worse than today. To this end Jensen Motors would remove various parts from the car, which were crated up and shipped separately. Powell was informed of the items stripped off the completed Interceptor to avoid damage or theft;
2 x front overriders
2 x rear overriders
4 x wheel centres
2 x wiper blades
2 x wiper arms
4 x ashtrays
1 x interior mirror
2 x safety harness
1 x tool kit
1 x first aid kit
2 x front carpets
2 x rear carpets
1 x boot carpet
In addition, various useful spares were also crated up for despatch, which included the later ordered headrests.
Further work to prepare the car ready for shipping included;
Wax spray of exterior (except glass)
Masking up of all chromework & brightware
To make up, and fit, felt lined wooden battens to protect the bumpers
On Tuesday 17th October 1967, 117/2642 was taken from Jensen Motors down to Knowle, and then transported to Harwich en route for Bremershaven. From there, the Jensen would be shipped across to Los Angeles. The vessel, with 117/2642 aboard left Bremershaven on 24th October 1967. It was middle December before the vessel docked at Los Angeles, and was cleared ready for pick up by Robbins.
The glorious Los Angeles sun heralded one of the first issues Robbins had with his new Interceptor – the lack of air-conditioning. Chrysler was contacted immediately, and they were asked by Robbins to fit air-conditioning. The work was carried out in early 1968, and utilised a blower system attached to the rear shelf, with much of the pipe-work fitted in at the rear of the boot, directly under the rear shelf.
Back at West Bromwich changes had taken place. Carl Duerr was now the new Managing Director of Jensen Motors, and even with the inevitable mountain of paperwork on his desk, Duerr found the time to personally write to Robbins, both introducing himself as the new MD, and asking how he was getting on with his Interceptor. In particular Duerr wanted to know how the fitting of the air-conditioning system had gone, along with Robbins’ evaluation.
Robbins’ car was the first Interceptor to have air-conditioning fitted as an after-sale, and Jensen Motors were particularly interested to know the outcome of the Chrysler fitted system. By the end of the next year, the company had taken the idea on board, and it was an option on the new MK.II.
In addition to the MK.I, Robbins also purchased a MK.II Interceptor, and one of the first Jensen Convertibles. Not that Robbins had tired of his old MK.I, far from it. In the early 1970s, 117/2642 was shipped from California to Robbins’ villa in the South of France, at which time it received the French registration number, ‘7961 R506’. Meanwhile, his MK.II was exported over to his property in California.
By 1974, Robbins’ Jensen Convertible was completed. Robbins flew over from the South of France to collect the Convertible from the Jensen factory, and drove it back to France. It wasn’t long before the Convertible needed a first service, and there were also issues with the electric roof mechanism, in addition, Robbins’ MK.I Interceptor needed work.
Robbins contacted the Jensen factory to discuss the situation; he really didn’t think it was worth having the car transported back to the factory for rectification work; and suggested that one of the factory’s mechanics be sent out to his villa; all expenses paid; to undertake the work.
David Millard, the Service Manager at Jensen Motors agreed, and one of his engineers, John Page, was sent out to Robbins’ villa in the South of France. Page told the author that it was purely by chance that he was chosen. There were three full time engineers whose job it was to be sent out from the factory to rectify problems with cars ‘on site’. All three had full schedules at that time.
This would be the first trip abroad for Page. To give a perspective to what Page was confronted with, on his arrival at Robbins’ villa, we have an interesting account by author, Andrew Wilson. In his biography of Robbins, Wilson writes about a meeting with a young aspiring American writer, Michael Mewshaw and his wife Linda in the late 1970s.
Mewshaw and his wife had managed to get an audience with Robbins, via a mutual friend, whilst they were staying in the South of France. It had been agreed that the couple would meet Robbins in the luxurious Carlton Hotel, Cannes. During their conversation, it came out that it was Linda’s twenty-fifth birthday, and with that, Robbins said, then you must both join me at my villa for supper. Wilson takes up the story,
“Robbins led the way in his red Jensen Interceptor, up the hill towards his villa in Le Cannet, with Mewshaw following behind in his beat-up Volkswagen. The young writer, in Europe on a Fulbright Scholarship, was immediately impressed by the lavishness of the property, with its rows of cypress trees, the tops of their branches shaped into Doric columns, perfectly manicured lawns, heated swimming pool, and air-conditioning.
The house looked as though it had been transplanted straight from Beverly Hills to the South of France. Robbins proceeded to show off his pool – “a rectangle of cobalt gleaming under the evening mist” – which he said was the first heated pool in the Côte d’Azur, and his air-conditioning, a system that was then new to this part of France. Then Harold turned and pointed out something in the bay below. “That’s my yacht, “ he said. Michael and Linda gazed down below at the marina of ostentatious boats, “Nice said Michael. “Not that one”, replied Harold. “The one next to it. The biggest one”.
The biggest one, as Robbins put it, was certainly no exaggeration. The yacht, made by the prestigious yacht manufacturers, Esterel, was twenty six meters long. Robbins’ had huge Chrysler petrol engines fitted to make the yacht even more powerful than it would usually be with standard engines. It was named Gracara, after his wife and daughters. Gracara had pride of place at the marina in Cannes, which meant it was just a short drive down from his villa, where his Jensen had permitted parking.
Page flew to Nice, with the parts for the convertible hood, along with a few tools in his suitcase. Page remembers being hit by the intense heat on his arrival at Nice. He was met at Nice Airport by the steward of Robbins’ yacht, and taken to the yacht which was moored in Cannes. Once aboard, Page was introduced to the steward’s wife who also happened to be ‘ships cook’. She prepared lunch for them, and the three sat down and chatted. Afterwards, Page was dropped off at his hotel in Cannes.
The next morning; directly after breakfast; Robbins’ chauffeur arrived at the hotel to collect Page and drive him up to Robbin’s villa. Once at the villa, Page was ushered into the kitchen, where he was greeted by Robbins.
Page remembers the meeting as informal, with Robbins still in his dressing gown. He made coffee for Page and himself whilst they chatted. After coffee, Page was taken to the garage to undertake the modifications to the hood of the Jensen Convertible, and to give it an initial service.
By lunchtime the work was finished. Robbins’ cook, an attractive French lady, made Page lunch, and afterwards, the chauffeur returned him to his hotel.
There had been brake related problems with Robbins’ MK.I Interceptor. The car was with a local garage in Nice, so the next morning, Page was chauffeured to Nice and dropped off at a small garage. Greeted by the mechanics, Page found they were struggling to put back together the early Dunlop handbrake assembly.
Together with Page, it didn’t take long to have the assembly back in place and working. Page mentioned that the garage was intolerably hot to work in, but over in one corner was a fridge, full with bottles of ice cold beer.
While they were working, there was an almost constant supply of beer. Page wondered how they ever got any work done. Robbins’ chauffeur remained outside, and once Page had cleaned himself up, he was driven back to Nice Airport in time for his flight back to England.
It’s quite possible that whilst working on the Convertible, and undertaking some mechanical work to Robbins’ MK.I, that the suggestion was made that the MK.I could be renovated back at the Jensen factory. The car was now nearly seven years old and was showing obvious signs of wear and tear. However the decision came about, Robbins committed to transporting 117/2642 back to Jensen Motors for a complete renovation in 1975.
Changes were going to be made to 117/2642. Robbins wanted his old MK.I painted in red, and the interior re-trimmed in a saddle tan leather to compliment the red paintwork. Additionally an electric sunroof was to be fitted along with a tan vinyl roof covering.
The renovation wasn’t going to be skin-deep. A full engine, transmission and brake rebuild would take place at the same time, along with new rubber pipes and seals throughout. The total cost of the renovation was in excess of £3,500, and the completed car was ready for collection at the beginning of 1976. Robbins’ Interceptor would be one of the last cars finished before Jensen Motors closed their doors after going into receivership.
117/2642 remained in Robbins’ ownership until his death in 1997. After his death, the car was offered for sale with a French classic car company. Seemingly, they traded the car out to a Belgium dealer, who in turn sold the car to the Dutch classic car specialists, Oldtimerfarm. In 2014, 117/2642 was acquired by the London-based classic car dealers, Classic Autombiles Ltd, the car finding a new owner in 2015.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: David Millard, former Service Manager, Jensen Motors Ltd. Tony Marshall, former Sales manager, Jensen Motors Ltd, John Page, former Engineer, Jensen Motors Ltd
COPYRIGHTS: All images and text copyright of The Jensen Museum
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