GKN Jensen FF | Epic Restoration
In 2011, Pirelli F1 Motorsport Director, Paul Hembery, embarked on a restoration journey with marque specialists, Rejen. The subject matter, a MK.I Jensen FF, chassis number 119/189. The car having been ordered new in 1969 by GKN, the global engineering firm. The term Epic Restoration is often used today, but this particular restoration truely lives up to the term.
So, lets go back to 2011. Location, Rejen, the Hampshire-based Jensen specialists, run by co-directors, Jason and Paul Lawrence. A telephone call comes through to Jason Lawrence. “my name is Paul Hembery, I’ve always wanted a Jensen Interceptor, and I hear you guys are the only people that have the knowledge to rebuild one to as new condition for me”.
Lawrence thanked him for his kind comments, and said that Rejen certainly could rebuild an Interceptor for him. With that, Hembery made an appointment to visit and discuss cars.
Less than a week later, Hembery arrived at the doors of Rejen, and after cordial hand shakes, the two men entered into discussion. Hembery’s remit, took things further than Lawrence was expecting. His dream was to be given the keys to a Jensen that was the closest thing possible to jumping in a Tardis, and being given the keys to a new Jensen in 1969.
In addition to an already tall order, Hembery also threw in the caveat, “..and I would also be expecting the same full warranty that Jensen would have given with a car in 1969.” It was a tall and daunting order, but Lawrence found himself agreeing in principle to the project.
Rejen always hold a selection of cars requiring restoration, and Lawrence took Hembery around the motley collection of sad looking Interceptors. Hembery’s caveats continued, the chosen car would have to be correct in terms of factory specified trim, and factory specified paint and options. Obviously, his chosen car would need to be in a paint and trim specification that he liked.
Lawrence started to pick out cars, “that one was primrose yellow originally, that one over there was silver grey”. Meanwhile, Hembery had stopped by a particularly sad looking white Jensen. Having noticed the double side grilles, and slight bulge to the bonnet, he had recognised the car as being a rare four-wheel-drive Jensen FF.
“Wow ! an FF”, said the surprised Hembery, “that’s what I really wanted, but never thought I could find one, trouble is, I just can’t live with white”. Lawrence interrupted, mentioning the original colour had been California Sage.
Hembery knew the colour well, as a similar California Sage was used on Aston Martins. And this was a colour that he really liked. Additionally, Hembery was informed that 119/189 was ordered new by the renouned engineering company, GKN. A combination of perfect colour specification, and fascinating history was enough for Hembery. Instantly, the conversation moved towards the same criteria as already mentioned, but restoring the FF. Yes, again, in principle, Lawrence would accept the project.
It’s important not to lose sight of the immense undertaking that would form this project. Hembery’s exacting ‘dream’ would lead to a style of restoration never before undertaken on a Jensen. It was at this point that Lawrence discussed the project with Jensen Museum curator, Ulric Woodhams. Excited by the uniqueness of the project, Woodhams agreed to act as a consultant. With the combined expertise of both Lawrence, and Woodhams, it could be guaranteed that every detail of the FF, however small, would be correct to the year of manufacture, 1969.
Suffice to say, this immense undertaking was going to be expensive. Although at this starting point, it was difficult to give Hembery an exact finishing figure, Lawrence; having committed some pricings to paper; realised the final cost would easily slip over the £100,000 mark. And this was still at a time when the £100,000 + Jensen FF (now a common occurance) had still to happen.
With agreement from Hembery for the project to proceed, initial work started at the beginning of 2013. The first step was the laborious job of slowly and very carefully removing every last nut and bolt from the shell.
Each and every piece was catalogued, bagged, and boxed. Later, everything would be cleaned, overhauled, and sprayed in the exact finishes that were used by the factory. The attention to detail was awe-inspiring, going down to every nut, bolt & screw. In fact all the original Chrysler bolts were carefully cleaned, painted and later re-used.
Once everything was removed, and Rejen were left with a completely bare shell, the shell was transported to off to be dipped. Typically, on return, the bare metal shell revealed the true extent of rust. That said, most of what was revealed, was no less than was expected. Areas around the front, behind where the front grille were quite bad, the inner wing sections, including the box vent sections that allow air to travel from the front down to the footwells inside.
Obviously all the lower panels were rusty, and this was clear in any case, likewise the sills and chassis tubes, which were in a particularly poor state on this car. Other not so obvious areas, included the roof panel where it house the hinges for the rear tailgate, along with the channelling between the body and the tailgate.
The extensive welding work started in 2014. Brand new chassis tubes were fabricated to pattern, every precise measurement was taken down, and the shell strengthened ready for the removal of the existing tubes. Then the job of removing the old chassis tubes began, and everything made ready for the new tubes to go into place, including welding in new floor pans.
Throughout 2014, the welding work continued, meanwhile, in the background new old stock parts were being located, and existing parts were being sent away to specialist firms to be fully overhauled.
Finally with the new tubes in place, and the majority of welding work completed, Rejen were in a position to move the shell on for final finishing, in preparation for the primer coat, and lastly the colour coat in California Sage. In words on paper, this sounds like a fairly simple procedure, however, this stage of the work is critical, and eats up literally hundreds and hundreds of hours alone.
In particular, the bonnet, a new skin of which was purchased from Robey’s, took over two weeks of solid work simply to get it fitting correctly within the bonnet aperture.
Likewise, doors ate a huge number of hours. Firstly the door frames required new metal in places. Then new skins had to be fitted. Then the finished doors had to be made to fit the door aperture perfectly. To do this successfully, meant completely building up the doors to make sure the apertures were correct, but also making sure the doors opened and closed perfectly, that the door frames fitted perfectly, and that the door glass went up and down freely. Although time consuming, it’s far better to do this at the bear metal stage, then strip back down, in the knowledge it will fit up correctly when sprayed.
While work was progressing with the shell, the interior was also moving on. Although the black leather interior had survived quite well, the agenda was to complete the car as new to original specification.
Enter Vaumol. Unavailable for years, the Connolly Vaumol range had been resurrected particularly for the classic car market. The Jensen FF, along with the Interceptor, had Vaumol leather trim originally. Luckily, Rejen were in a position to trim the FF exactly to original specification. Even the specific vinyl, used for items such as the dashboard top was also sourced. It may interest readers to know, Rejen acquired all the original Jensen Motors trim shop templates some years ago. Rejen’s trim shop bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Jensen Motors, and the original templates are still used for cutting out the interior patterns.
While the shell was being prepared, and the interior was slowly being trimmed, there was still a myriad of other parts to be reconditioned / replaced. The engine and gearbox had been sent away, both for total reconditioning to as new. Likewise, the entire brake system, the front and back differentials, the radiator. A new petrol tank needed to be fabricated.
The Armstrong Selectaride shock absorbers required complete rebuilding. All the glass needed to be checked, and anything with scratches replaced. The car required a brand new wiring loom to original specification. The Rostyle wheels had been sent away to be de-rivetted, stripped, re-chromed and re-black painted to as new condition.
Tyres were no problem, as Hembery had a set of Pirelli Cinturatos sent down for fitting to the car. In fact Hembery; being the Pirelli F1 Motorsport Director; had sourced the original drawings for the Cinturatos, and arranged for them to be put back into production. Although, Jensen Motors didn’t fit Pirelli Cinturatos as standard, the Pirelli tyre was a high quality alternative that some owners had fitted back in the day.
By the beginning of 2016, the shell was finished, painted back to its original California Sage. The engine had been run for a couple of hours on an out-of-car test bed. Once given the all clear, the driveline was ready to fit in. Slowly, all the running gear was bolted into place. The braking system attached, the drive-line went in. The car was at last taking shape.
The fit-up of chrome is yet another job which looks easy enough. However, Rejen were priding themselves on using most of the original screw holes, and were using the original types of screws. To fit everything in place correctly is another procedure that eats hours. In particular, the large stainless steel wrap, which covers the edge of the tailgate and glass. Few Jensen cars; on close scrutiny; have this absolutely perfect.
While the slow build up was taking place, the new wiring loom; which was already fitted; was now in a position to be checked. One by one, each electrical appliance, being fed by the loom, was checked for operation. This being done while the exterior build up was also taking place.
The job was now also an exercise in time saving. There was a deadline for a finished car, which was the 2016 NEC Classic Car show, held in November. The FF was going to be ‘stand-alone’ on the Rejen stand, without any other cars to take away the FF’s moment of glory.
As November approached, work to the FF intensified, and working through to late-o-clock in the evenings was becoming the norm. Even the day before the car was being transported to Birmingham for the show, a courier was delivering one pair of newly fabricated stainless steel sill panels. Finally, at about 1.0am, the morning before transportation, the Rejen work force could down tools and go home. Something towards 5000 hours had been lavished on the FF by this time.
At the end of the epic restoration, a decision had to be made on one very small item. Should the original Jensen Motors 119/189 chassis plate be re-affixed to the engine-bay, complete with decades of scratches and use. Or should a new reproduction plate be fitted. In the end, as a mark of both sympathy, and integrity to 119/189, the original was screwed back into place.
The GKN FF has been an epic and unique restoration. The finished car is; without a doubt; the closest one could ever get, to going back in time and ordering a new Jensen FF in 1969. It is the Jensen Museum’s conclusion that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for any other company to have pulled this restoration off. The level of perfection is firmly down to one man, Jason Lawrence, but it was the combined effort of the entire Rejen workforce that made it happen.
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