Jensen’s CV8 Replacement | From Italy With Love
Directly after the boardroom battle which had taken place in autumn 1965, Deputy Chief Engineer, Kevin Beattie, along with MD Brian Owen, flew out to Italy with the drawings of the Jensen CV8, visiting Ghia, Touring and Vignale. Each firm were asked if they would supply designs for a body replacement based on the existing CV8 chassis. Here is the story of how the new Italian designed ‘Interceptor’ came about.
By 1965, the CV8 had undergone three main sets of improvement and upgrade, which Jensen Motors named the CV8 MK.I, MK.II, and MK.III. In addition they had also built the four-wheel-drive version of the CV8, named simply, the CV8 FF.
A replacement for the aging CV8 was desperately required, and this was to cause a major rift within the boardroom of Jensen Motors.
The Jensen brothers, along with their Chief Engineer & Designer, Eric Neale, had styled an altogether smaller sports style car, which they named the P66. In fact by the end of 1965, they had made both a convertible and also started on a hard top version.
The two brothers; along with Neale; argued the P66 should be put into immediate production, and had also put forward that the name ‘Interceptor’, previously used by Jensen Motors between 1950 and 1957, should be resurrected for the P66. In fact, for the October 1965 Motor Show, the P66 Convertible was already named, and badged as the ‘Interceptor’.
Meanwhile, Brian Owen, the Managing Director of Jensen Motors, along with the company’s Deputy Chief Engineer, Kevin Beattie, believed that it was necessary for the future of the company, to look to Italy for the styling of the CV8 replacement.
When this topic was brought up at the boardroom, it led to a fiery exchange, with both the Jensen brothers, and their Chief Engineer absolutely against the idea of styling in Italy. With the Jensen boardroom at loggerheads, Owen backed up by Beattie, attempted to persuade John Boex from Norcros.
After some weeks of indecision, Boex finally sided with Owen and Beattie – the P66 ‘Interceptor’ was put on hold until evaluation of a CV8 body replacement had been completed by Owen and Beattie.
Owen and Beattie flew out to Italy in November 1965, taking with them drawings of the CV8. This was necessary as the design house would have to come up with drawings that could work off the existing CV8 chassis. Owen and Beattie visited Ghia, Touring Superleggera and Vignale.
Ghia were working with Chrysler at the time and had little time to give over to another manufacturer, but both Touring and Vignale agreed to furnish designs for a new body style based on the CV8 chassis.
Vignale went further and outlined they would be happy to produce a package deal; as well as designing the new body, they would make all the relevant tooling and supply them to Jensen Motors.
It was the Touring design, drawn by their in-house stylist, Federico Formenti, which both Owen and Beattie preferred; however the company were not in any position to build the new cars. Jensen Motors’ workforce was used to working with glass-fibre, and the design by Touring required the new cars to be built with steel bodies.
An agreement was made to purchase the design outright from Touring, and to see if Vignale would be prepared to build the bodies (much to the disdain of Neale and the Jensen brothers).
Vignale appeared to like the design, and suggested to Owen and Beattie he could put forward a very competitive quote for whatever level of completion they required. The two men stayed overnight, continued their talks the following day and then left for England.
When Owen received the costs from Vignale for the CV8 body replacement, he was delighted to find Vignale particularly competitive. Based on this, another visit to Vignale was set up. Four men from Jensen Motors, left England for Turin on the 7th December 1965, destined for the Turin-based Vignale factory.
Here they would stay for three days, Beattie was heading the party, along with an unenthusiastic Neale. The other two men from Jensen Motors were John Cope-Lewis, the General Works Manager, and George Smith, the Chief Production Engineer.
The purpose of the visit was to examine in further detail the costs given to Owen. To this end they would check into the viability of initial production at Vignale instead of at Jensen Motors, along with looking into matters of licensing for manufacture of press tools using Vignale’s methods.
Possibly to placate the Jensen brothers and Neale, the team were to also to look into costs of Vignale producing the P66 ‘Interceptor’, although this seems to have been given nothing more than ‘lip service’
Vignale outlined to the group from Jensen Motors, that the drawing of the new Jensen required some slight alterations to fit in with their construction methods. Some of the design features were also modified slightly. These included streamlining the design by lowering the roof slightly, giving a larger bonnet aperture, larger rear quarter light windows, and putting on quite dominant stainless steel sill trims. Additionally side grilles were designed in to the front wings.
Beattie then brought up about the four-wheel-drive version of the car. This car would be 4” longer than its two-wheel-drive counterpart, so some changes to the drawings would have to be made for this model. Beattie wanted to see some subtle design differences between the two models, since the four-wheel-drive car would be priced considerably higher than the conventional model.
Vignale had been manufacturing the Maserati Quatroporte, which had a sleek looking bulge to the bonnet along with a chrome finished air intake. Beattie was shown the bonnet and was immediately impressed with the design, the bonnet styling was adopted for the FF without change. This would even cut down on production costs, since Vignale was sure Maserati would agree to selling Jensen Motors the chromed air intake finishers.
Further differences between the two models were made, by adding two grilles to each side (as opposed to the single side grille on the two-wheel-drive car) and squaring off the front section of the body. With the changes to the Touring drawing completed, and a suitable ‘look’ for the FF established, the visit to the Vignale factory was coming to an end.
The team were pleased with what they saw at the Vignale factory. All work was carried out to the highest standard, panel finish was of excellent quality, and the paintwork achieved in acrylic was quite acceptable. The trip was extremely successful, although matters of translation; even using interpreters; created difficulties on the odd occasion
A report of the trip by the Jensen team was compiled by Beattie, and typed ready for a board meeting just before Christmas 1965. The outcome was a contract being drawn up between Jensen Motors and Vignale in January 1966, which would allow the Italian company to build the initial bodies for the CV8 replacement; both in the two-wheel-drive form and the revolutionary four-wheel-drive form.
The P66 project was shelved, and just to put ‘salt in the wounds’ of the two Jensen brothers and Neale, Owen and Beattie decided to adopt the ‘Interceptor’ name for their Italian styled CV8 replacement. The four-wheel-drive version would simply be called the ‘Jensen FF’.
With the contract between Jensen Motors and Vignale signed, the company started to make the formers which they used to turn a sheet of steel into a panel. Gordon Holt, the Body Engineer at Jensen Motors, had spent a couple of weeks at Vignale when their contract with Jensen Motors had come to an end. He stated to the author that he saw a large quantity of various panel formers, both for the Interceptor, and the front of the FF, which were made in a type of concrete with a resin finish.
The construction of the hand-made panels was nothing short of artwork, something that Vignale’s panel beaters were renowned for. They could take a sheet of steel, roll it, lay it over the former, and literally hammer it into a perfect panel ready for welding. Certain panels, such as the FF bonnet, as an example, was made up of no less than four separate steel sections, which were so perfectly welded and dressed, that to the untrained eye, was formed from just one piece of steel.
In February 1966, a two-wheel-drive CV8 car (chassis number 104/2142) was sent out to Italy.
The CV8’s glass-fibre bodywork was stripped off soon after the car’s arrival at Vignale’s factory, and by the end of May 1966 the all new steel body was completed, and left in bare-metal ready for approval.
Beattie flew out to Turin to view and approve the bear metal rolling shell.
A month later, in June, Beattie, along with his Assistant Engineer, Mike Jones, were back out to Turin to undertake a four-day road test of the first working prototype around the mountains of Italy and southern France, and afterwards, to drive the car back to West Bromwich.
That had been the plan. However, when the two men arrived in Turin, the prototype Interceptor was not ready, so they spent three days working at the Vignale factory, both in the offices and in the prototype build area.
They even worked into the evenings with Colin Davis, who lived in Italy, and was essentially the main liaison between Jensen and Vignale.
It was largely left to Davis to deal with any financial issues, but also helping with some engineering issues. Davis spoke fluent Italian, so he was a great help throughout the Interceptor prototype and early production stages.
Mike Jones thinks it strange that none of the books written about the Interceptor, mention Davis. Jones finds this surprising as Davis was such a key player in the Interceptor story. Davis had a racing background in his youth, to some extent following the footsteps of his famous father, racing driver Sammy Davis.
When the car was finally ready for the road, it was the morning of the last (fourth) day of Beattie and Jones planned stay in Italy. The two men had a short outing with the car in the nearby mountains, mainly to give them some idea if the car would get them to West Bromwich.
With so little time left, they were not in a position to undertake formal testing, except for some crude measurements of engine temperatures. The real testing would have to be carried out in the UK later.
Beattie and Jones returned to the Vignale factory early afternoon to get a few minor ‘adjustments’ made, then said their goodbyes, finally leaving late afternoon. To complicate matters, Jones had a developed a nasty tummy bug during the day, but as the car had to be in West Bromwich two days later for a viewing by the Jensen Directors, the two men decided to drive and hope for the best.
Jones was in no fit state to drive in Europe or even in some of the UK, so Beattie did all of the driving to the Le Touquet Airport, and later from Lydd to his home in Kenilworth.
Even at the point when the two men left Turin, it was obvious that Beattie was visibly tired, and with much on his mind.
Jones, meanwhile, was throwing up at regular intervals during the afternoon.
That coupled with concentrated map reading for most of the way, and throughout the night relying on not-so-good Lucas headlights took its toll.
In the back of the mind of both men was the fact they were in a valuable prototype.To write off the car due to an accident would have delayed the project many months.
By the time the two men had reached Kenilworth in the UK, Jones was fit enough to drive the car onwards to West Bromwich, arriving late afternoon.
The following morning, the car was at Jensen Motors as planned, for the Directors to view the car. Owen, in particular, liked the new body treatment. However, the Jensen brothers, along with Eric Neale, made it clear they were not impressed. It was too late for the Jensen brothers and Neale to put a stop to the project, and approval to put the car into production was agreed.
With production of the newly-bodied Jensen agreed, the car was scrutinised and evaluated, the outcome leading to various minor changes, particularly to the interior, which were passed to Vignale for incorporation on all following cars.
Obvious changes were a new three spoke wood-rimmed steering wheel, more modern and sleek looking than the CV8 wheel which was fitted to the car, and also a change from the CV8 steel road wheels to the chromed Rostyle wheels.
Meanwhile, the CV8 FF was also being made ready for shipping out to Turin. Jensen Motors’ Experimental Engineer (later Chief Engineer), Brian Spicer, remembers it was necessary to take the glass fibre body off the FF to make some minor modifications to the chassis.
Apparently this was necessary to accept the new Italian designed coachwork. The motorised FF chassis (JM/EXP/113 now re-numbered 119/001 for series production) was sent out to Vignale, sometime around May 1966, along with a second two-wheel-drive chassis (115/2495).
A second FF chassis (JM/EXP/114) was also completed at the factory and sent out to Italy, probably shortly after the first FF. Once at Vignale the cars were fitted with the new Italian coachwork designed by Touring. The cars were then trimmed and made ready for completion.
By August 1966, the Jensen FF (119/001) was almost finished. It was agreed to air freight the FF from Turin to London Airport (later to become Heathrow Airport), along with the second Interceptor (115/2495). Once at the Jensen factory both cars were thoroughly checked over and prepared for the forthcoming Earls Court Motor Show.
Although time was now against Jensen Motors, the plan was to have the second Interceptor (115/2495) on the motor show stand, along with the second Jensen FF (119/002). Meanwhile, the first Interceptor, and FF were to be available for the journalists to test-drive.
Ken Beauchamp, an Inspector at Jensen Motors remembers the arrival of the first ‘Italian’ FF at the Jensen factory, “the ‘secret’ car was quickly moved to the development section, away from the work force.” Once ensconced within the development section, Spicer set about checking the FF for further road testing.
The second Jensen FF (JM/EXP/114 and re-numbered 119/002 for series production) was completed by September 1966, Spicer and a colleague were given the job of bringing this FF back to West Bromwich. The two men drove out to Italy in a CV8 with a trailer fitted to the back.
Once at the Vignale factory the beautiful charcoal grey painted FF was manoeuvred onto the trailer, and sufficiently tied down. Afterwards the car was covered up. It would be a long journey back to West Bromwich; as well as keeping the car clean, the cover would keep it away from prying eyes.
With typical Italian farewells completed, Spicer and colleague set off from Turin, bound for West Bromwich. Apparently the CV8, with its precious compatriot tied to the trailer was driven at breakneck speed back to England. Just the Swiss customs slowed the journey down.
Arriving at the Swiss border control, the curious Swiss custom officials wanted to view the contents of the trailer. Spicer refused on the grounds this was a secret car and no one was allowed to view it until the car was unveiled at the Motor Show.
The officials were unimpressed with Spicer’s argument and insisted they view the car; Spicer refused to back down and the two ‘Jensen’ men found themselves sleeping in the CV8 overnight.
By the next morning Spicer realised he was going to have to concede. A slightly more friendly approach was made to the officials, where Spicer asked if an agreement could be reached. He would allow the cover to be removed for the shortest time required for the officials to check the contents…..and no cameras would be allowed.
The officials agreed, and the cover was removed for a few moments and quickly placed back over the FF. Spicer continued the journey and the two men were soon back in England bound for West Bromwich.
By the end of September, Jensen Motors; with a great deal of help from Vignale; had achieved the near impossible. The company had two Interceptors and two FFs ready for the launch at the October Motor Show.
As the new cars were publicly launched at the motor show, Vignale remained busy. A steady stream of two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive motorised chassis continued to be sent out to Italy to be built up for the first lucky customers.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Ken Beauchamp, former Jensen Motors Inspector | Gordon Holt, former Jensen Motors Body Engineer / Purchasing Manager | Mike Jones, former Jensen Motors Chief Engineer | David Millard, former Jensen Motors Service Manager | Brian Spicer, former Jensen Motors Chief Engineer | Chris Read & Shaun Winfield, Co-organisers of the Jensen Owners’ Club Turin 2016 Trip.
COPYRIGHTS: All images and text copyright of The Jensen Museum | Mike Jones
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