Jensen Interceptor Convertible
On the 22nd March 1974, Jensen Motors announced the new Jensen Interceptor Convertible. The new drop-head Jensen was the inspiration of Company President, Kjell Qvale, and was being pitched as a viable and sexy alternative to the Rolls Royce Corniche. This was an awkward time for all major automobile manufactures, let a lone a small company based in West Bromwich, England.
Jensen Interceptor Convertible | Background
The launch of the Convertible coincided with war in the Middle East, oil shortages and the inevitable rising petrol prices which followed. And then, there was the issue of US safety legislation, which had killed off many drop-head cars from being imported into America.
Was this a moment of egotistical madness on the part of Qvale, or a sound business decision ?
With the FF due to fall by the wayside in 1971, a new flagship was required. Ideas thrown around the boardroom at Jensen Motors had come up with an easy conversion of an Interceptor, using Chrysler’s so-called Six-Pack engine.
A modified 440 with tuned-up internals, and the three twin-choke carburettors. Named simply, the Jensen SP, the new car gave Jensen Motors a breathing space with a ‘quick & dirty’ flagship model.
This was only ever going to be an interim flagship. There was just a very limited batch of engines for disposal to Jensen Motors, and once they were gone, the model would have to end.
Meanwhile, as the Jensen SP, was launched, work was starting on an entirely new Jensen, secretly named the ‘F’ Type. Another project, named the ‘G’ Type, would follow on shortly, and then there was the Jensen Interceptor Convertible.
Qvale was enthusiastic about all these ventures, but the Jensen Interceptor Convertible was an obvious low development budget choice – and it could enter the market with speed.
The Jensen Interceptor Convertible would give the Company a new and urgently needed flagship model – at least until production of the Interceptor was curtailed in favour of the ‘F’ and ‘G’ Types.
Understanding America’s car market, particularly that of the West Coast, Qvale believed (quite correctly) that a convertible version of the Interceptor would be an instantly successful Interceptor derivative. A flagship model that could take over easily from the interim SP flagship.
In fact the Interceptor Convertible concept wasn’t new. Back in 1966, Touring had produced drawings for a replacement for the Jensen CV8. When Vignale were given the contract to build the new ‘CV8’, they also produced drawings for a convertible version. Jensen decided the time wasn’t right, and the drawings were shelved.
Jensen Interceptor Convertible | Development
With the Jensen Interceptor Convertible given the go ahead in December 1971, the left-hand-drive MK.II prototype Interceptor, JM/EXP/120, which had now served its purpose, was given over to development. This car would become the test-bed for the new Interceptor Convertible.
This was an exceptionally busy time for the Development Department. There was the new Jensen-Healey, which Qvale had been pushing hard to have finished and onto production. Then there was the ‘F’ Type project. Development would soon have the ‘G’ Type project to look at, and now the Jensen Interceptor Convertible.
When the prototype CV8 Convertible had been produced and test driven, the then Deputy Chief Engineer, Kevin Beattie, was less than happy with the finished product.
He found numerous issues with the car, including torsional weakness, chassis oscillation, exhaust boom, strong understeer, and a feeling of general sloppiness in the way the car drove.
In conclusion, Beattie stated that much more development work would be required before a CV8 Convertible could be put into production. To put such a car into production in its current form would lead (in his opinion) to a high level of customer complaint. Undoubtedly, Beattie would have resurrected his notes in regard to the CV8 Convertible.
However, in many respects this was an entirely different beast. Although the CV8 and Interceptor shared the same basic chassis design, the Interceptor had an all steel body welded to the chassis. This would alleviate a lot of the issues brought about by a bolted on fibre-glass body.
In fact, when work started on JM/EXP/120, little work was required to strengthen the car. Typically, the sills were strengthened, and obviously the ‘A’ posts were reinforced by inserting additional metal sections inside.
Stiffening panels were also placed into the rear wings, each side, and additional flat metal sections were welded against the inner wheel arch to allow the mechanism to bolt to. The rest of the work was designing and putting together a reliable set-up for the electric hood.
Alan Vincent, former Technical Director at Jensen Motors, remembers the background to the Convertible’s hood,
“Qvale had taken a close interest in the whole Convertible project, and had looked at a range of hoods fitted to American convertibles. The hood arrangement he liked the best was on the Ford Mustang.
He arranged for a couple of the Ford Mustang convertible frames to be sent over to us. Once with Development, it was down to us to make it fit the Jensen. The proportions of both cars wasn’t dissimilar, so actually the work required to make them fit wasn’t extensive.
Once the frame and hood fitted and looked right, Qvale came to see it and was happy with the finished look. I think the other modified frame went off to a company like Coventry Hood & Side Screens, for them to make them in quantity for the production cars.”
Mike Jones returned to Jensen Motor in 1972 as Chief Engineer, having left the Company in 1967. He remembers the situation with the Interceptor Convertible at the time of his return,
“Most of the engineering work on the Interceptor Convertible had been completed before I arrived, including some minor stiffening of the chassis structure and design and prototyping of the hood frame operation, using a hydraulic pump and electric motor, with many micro switches. These later became a headache. They needed to be set up in the car, and the adjustment was critical.
My involvement with the Interceptor Convertible was minimal. As Chief Engineer I merely had to ensure, with much help from John Lindley [based in the drawing office, Lindley dealt with all matters to do with legislation], that the Interceptor Convertible met all European, Japanese and USA regulations, and that enough detail information, mostly in terms of reference patterns, as opposed to detail drawings, were available for Manufacturing.
As for the treatment of the boot area, this again had been straight forward enough. With the Interceptor’s massive rear glass tailgate removed, and the roof gone, the design for a boot lid more or less fell into place. And, in any case, there were the Vignale drawings to fall back on.”
As Jones mentions, the hood was powered by an electric motor, along with a shaft-driven rotary hydraulic pump. Both were mounted within a separated compartment within the boot. There was two large angle-mounted rams, both fed by the hydraulic pump, and attached to the hood frame irons.
Typically, two clamps attached the hood to the front screen frame. Once released, a rocker switch started the electric motor, allowing the hood to be lowered towards the boot.
A clever part of the design, is that if the rocker switch is held after the hood has completely lowered, then it activates the electric window motors, lowering the rear quarterlight windows. These neatly dropped into the wing cavity.
Former assembly line finisher, Clive Kendrick also remembered the micro-switches mentioned by Jones,
“When a Convertible came along the line, my job was to fit the hydraulic pump in the boot, and then fit the rams. I also fitted the micro-switches. These were cheap horrible things made by Lucas. They were a flimsy black plastic box, and apparently quire a few of them just didn’t work in the first place.
Discarded switches were sent back to Lucas for refund. I seem to remember that the very first Convertibles had been set up so the hood and rear quarter light glasses went down together, which was pretty flash. I think the switch set-up for this kept going wrong, so they decided to set it up so the hood came down first and then the quarter light glasses.
After I had finished putting in the pump, the rams, the switches and some wiring up, the car continued down the line when the carpet, interior and hood assembly went on.”
Alan Vincent concurs with Kendrick’s memory of events,
“Qvale liked the idea that the hood and rear quarter lights would go down together. We certainly set up the first car to work like that, but it was problematic. Eventually Qvale agreed to the hood coming down first, and then by continuing to hold down the switch, the rear quarter lights dropped down. “
Since there wasn’t any additional length built into the Convertible, allowing the hood to be completely lowered forward of the boot, the hood had to sit on the body (just as had taken place on the CV8 Convertible).
A leather covering (which was kept in the boot area) would cover the hood and fasten down with pop-fasteners. Once again, the designers had thought ahead.
In case someone inadvertently tried to raise the hood with the cover in place, they came up with a simple way of stopping this taking place. A wire fitted to the hood cover earthed the current via two of the pop-fasteners.
A thermal switch was mounted on the steering column, which prevented the hood being lowered if the front clamps hadn’t been disengaged. Thermal switches were also used for both rear quarterlight windows, just in case the window apertures became blocked.
With safety at the forefront, the hood could only be lowered or raised when the car was stationary. This was an easy design fix, using an inhibitor switch which didn’t allow the hood to work if the gear select was in anything other than neutral or park.
Jensen Interceptor Convertible | Ready For Production
By the end of 1972, JM/EXP/120 was completed and being used for testing. Two further prototype Interceptor Convertibles were also in the process of being built. With finished cars to hand, Good Relations were given the job of marketing.
Interceptor Convertible PP101, a left-hand-drive pre-production prototype finished in yellow, was given over to Good Relations. Resident Jensen photographer, Michael Cooper, undertook the photography.
One of Qvale’s great passions was horse racing, and so he asked for a horse racing back drop for the brochure photographs. In fact the initial photo-shoot took place at either Qvale’s stud, or that of his Warwickshire-based friend, Charlie Turriff.
Tony Marshall, former Sales Manager at Jensen Motors, remembers the initial photo-shoot with some degree of humour,
“The photo-shoot had been arranged with Good Relations, and Michael Cooper was travelling up to Warwickshire to do the photography. Our Jimmy Branson [Sales Administration Manager] was tasked with driving the Convertible down to Warwickshire for the shoot.
Well, just as he was entering the stud, he misjudged the entrance posts, and knocked the offside front wing. All the photos from that day were taken from the back of the car. The car had to be quickly repaired, and then another photo-shoot arranged, to get the frontal shots for the brochure.”
The second photo-shoot took place at Qvale or Turriff’s stud, and then moved to Warwick Race Course, just down the road. It was one of the images taken at the stud that was used for the front of the Convertible brochure.
Jensen Interceptor Convertible | Official Launch
The launch of the Interceptor Convertible was set for the New York Motor Show, held in early April 1974 at the Coliseum. This would work well, as the supply of SP engines had been exhausted, leading to the demise of the SP in 1973.
It was decided to bring the official launch of the Interceptor Convertible forward to March 1974, and the car was officially launched to the public on the 22nd March 1974, which conveniently coincided with the Geneva Motor Show, which ran from the 14th to 24th March.
That said, there wasn’t a Convertible available to be used on display, so the Geneva stand had a saloon and two Jensen-Healeys. Geneva would have to wait until their 1975 Motor Show, before they would see the Convertible. Meanwhile, UK-based Jensen’s dealers were given a pre-launch viewing of the Convertible at Birmingham’s Top Rank Suite.
The motoring publication, Autocar, were given loan of an Interceptor Convertible in September 1974, on the lead-up to the Earl’s Court Motor Show. The feature went out in the 26th October issue, just after the Motor Show. It was a predominantly positive verdict, although criticism was made of noise levels, and having to fit the hood cover one’s self,
“The not-so convenient part of the operation is fitting the hood cover, for which no power is available other than your own weight, which may be needed to compress the hood frame enough to allow all of the numerous press studs on the cover to be done up.”
It is interesting to note the change in attitude towards fuel consumption. This was towards the middle 1970s, and with the war in the Middle East and rising petrol prices was starting to have a profound effect.
The matter of fuel wasn’t lost on the Autocar chaps either. The summary of the Interceptor Convertible was,
“Remembering its price, and the company it is therefore among, one must be strict about the Interceptor Convertible. There are points which we have felt deserve criticism, but it must be stressed that for a man with a comfortable enough wallet (both to buy it and pay for the fuel bill), it will be a highly enjoyable car. We certainly enjoyed driving it – and, even remembering the price, it has little competition.”
The American motoring journalist, John Christy, was also interested to run a feature on the new Convertible. Here was a man that truly knew his cars – a long-term friend of Carroll Shelby, Christy had been the first to have loan of the prototype Shelby Cobra back in ’61. What would he think of the Jensen Convertible. Christy was given an invite to look around the Jensen factory in Autumn 1974, see how the car was made, and get the chance to see how the Convertible performed.
After enjoying a full day at the West Bromwich factory being shown around, it was time to take a run out in the Convertible. Kevin Beattie, the then Managing Director, offered to take Christy out for a run, where they could stop off at a Cotswold Inn for dinner, and then afterwards, he would drop Christy off at his hotel in Warwick. Unfortunately it was far from Convertible weather – Christy takes up the story,
“I first met the convertible one rainy night outside of the West Bromwich plant, after spending a day seeing how it was put together. It was one of those rainy nights that only England can come with – rain that seemed wetter than mere water, and the sort of cold that seeps into the bones, a darkness that was all most tangible, and large raindrops that rattled like hail. I ran out of the plant and into the waiting Interceptor Convertible, and at first thought I’d gotten into a hardtop by mistake.
There was none of the usual rattle of rain on the convertible top, and it was only when I looked around that we could see that the car was indeed a soft-top. In fact, if anything, it was quieter, the heavy rain being barely audible through the muffling wool inner liner.
Our destination was dinner at an inn in the Cotswold hills, and eventually the hotel in which we would be staying in Warwick. The route lay over typical English secondary roads, high crowned, twisting, narrow, almost too narrow for the massive Jensen.
Driving the car was no less a personage than Mr.Kevin Beattie, formerly chief engineer, now managing director of the Jensen works. Mr.Beattie takes his driving seriously in the English manner, which is to say he drives very well and very fast.
Like many people for whom driving is prerequisite to making a living, I am a poor passenger, nervous, watchful and a bit paranoid when someone else is driving in other than the normal urban/suburban situation.
But, the combination of Jensen and Beattie, even on those narrow roads in that awful weather, left me totally at ease. The big car glided rapidly, smoothly and quietly over the thin, wet macadam ribbons without a single indication of approaching the edge of control.
Mr.Beattie’s skill not withstanding, a car with the mass of the Jensen driven at those speeds and under those conditions could be expected to exhibit some signs of nearing or being on the ragged edge unless it was very, very good. The conclusion, since there was no such signs perceptible even to a paranoid passenger, is that the car is very, very good indeed.”
Summing up his time at the factory, and road testing the convertible, Christy had this to say,
“A visit to the Jensen works bears a message out – everybody looks as though they really like what they’re doing and are proud of the results. That and the result of their labour of love goes a long way to explaining why the cognoscenti are knocking on the dealers doors for Mr.Qvale’s latest offering at $22,000. Looked at one way, that is a lot of money, but looked at another way, it’s 30 thousand dollars less than the price of admission to a Corniche.”
The general public also had their chance to see Jensen’s new Convertible at the 1974 Earl’s Court Motor Show. Two Convertible Interceptors were on display. A right-hand-drive car finished in magenta with magnolia trim and beige hood.
The other was a left-hand-drive Federal specification car finished in copper with beige trim and hood. Additionally, there were two Jensen-Healeys, and a standard MK.III Interceptor saloon also on the stand.
Jensen Interceptor Convertible | Production & Sales
Qvale had guessed the market well, and deposits for the Interceptor Convertible poured in. Just under 200 Interceptor Convertibles had been completed throughout 1974, with novelist, Harold Robbins, and American singer, Frank Sinatra, being early purchasers. Other celebrity owners included singer, Cher Bono, and actress, Linda Carter.
Harold Robbins collected his Convertible from West Bromwich. The car finished in oatmeal with tan trim was completed towards the end of May 1974. Robbins arrived at the factory the beginning of June to collect his car. Marshall takes up the story,
“This was one of my last memorable jobs, before leaving Jensen Motors towards the end of June 1974. Harold Robbins arrived, he was shown around the factory and then myself and Dick Graves had lunch with him in the boardroom. Robbins was dressed in this rather bizarre outfit, and I made some cheeky comment about his dress. Robbins replied, “Tony, I don’t normally dress like this you know, my publishers ask me to !”
Unfortunately, while Robbins was at the factory, the hood of his Convertible became stuck in the down position. It wasn’t a quick fix, and embarrassingly, Robbin’s was told the car would have to be kept back for the hood to be checked over, and he would have to collect it a few days later.
During the autumn of 1974, Alan Vincent had discussed with Qvale, the idea of extreme cold-weather testing. Vincent was familiar with extreme weather testing of vehicles from his previous work at Chrysler. According to Vincent, Qvale liked the idea, and the decision was made to take one of the Interceptor Convertibles over to Norway for testing purposes,
“I wanted to take a Convertible as there was more fabrics and plastics on the car to check out in those extreme conditions.”
The trip took place in January 1975, and the destination town would be Tynset, as that was known as being the coldest area in Norway during the winter. Temperatures easily dropped down towards -40%, giving the perfect extreme to test the car.
Accompanied by Martin Davies from Development, the two men took the initial prototype Convertible. Apart from one small drama, when they inadvertently went off road and had to be winched back onto the road by a passing lorry, the Convertible stood up to the testing very well.
While Vincent and Davies were undertaking extreme cold-weather testing of the Convertible in Norway, the Convertible took pride of place at the Brussels Motor Show. On the Jensen stand that year, was an Interceptor Saloon, the Convertible, and two Jensen-Healeys. The Jensen stand was run by Jensen’s Belgium distributors, Beherman – Demoen.
By the beginning of 1975, demand for the Jensen Convertible was outstripping supply, and there had been discussions about increasing production. Meanwhile, prototypes of Qvale’s newest car-of-the-moment, had also just been finished – the Jensen GT.
The smaller-engined shooting brake version of the Jensen-Healey was about to be put into production. Even with GT production taking over from the Healey line, over 250 Interceptor Convertibles were completed in 1975.
With the Receiver being brought in during September 1975, production of the Interceptor and Interceptor Convertible would fall dramatically. However, even with the Receiver coming in, various motor show venues had already been booked, and still went ahead. This included, amongst others, the London Motor Show, the Tokyo Motor Show, the Frankfurt Motor Show, and the Chicago Motor Show.
There was even a new single-sided colour brochure printed for the 1975 Jensen Interceptor III and Convertible. The image showed the new wooden dash finished Convertible. The burr walnut wooden dash was another idea which Qvale came up with.
Qvale’s thinking was that the traditional burr walnut dash board would allow the Convertible to compete more easily with its direct competitors. The new dash board was announced in November 1974, and during 1975, went into the Interceptor Convertible, Interceptor saloon, and the Jensen GT.
With the Receiver holding the purse strings, and not allowing the build up of Convertibles without firm orders, production decreased sharply for the five months of 1976 when the doors of Jensen Motors were still open.
Just over 50 Interceptor Convertibles were completed in the five months before Jensen Motors closed in May 1976. A few Convertibles were completed later in the year by Jensen Parts & Service Ltd. These were finished and sold against firm orders secured in advance by the Receiver.
Just over 500 Interceptor Convertibles had been produced between 1974 and 1976.
Jensen Interceptor Convertible
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Anthony Branson | Richard Calver, Jensen Historian | Tony Good OBE, former Chairman, Good Relations Ltd | Mike Jones, former Chief Engineer, Jensen Motors | Clive Kendrick, former assembly line finisher, Jensen Motors | Felix Kistler, Secretary Swiss Jensen Owners’ Club | Andre Klein, General Manager, Warwick Race Course | Tony Marshall, former Sales Manager, Jensen Motors | Rejen, marque specialists | Alan Vincent, former Technical Director, Jensen Motors.
COPYRIGHTS: The Jensen Museum | Ray Allsopp | Clive Kendrick | Felix Kistler | Rejen | Alan Vincent.
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