Two Brothers with Vision – Alan & Richard Jensen
The motoring world gasped, when in 1965, the small West Bromwich car company, Jensen Motors Ltd, unveiled the four-wheel-drive CV8 Jensen FF. It was a satisfying moment in particular for Richard Jensen, who had harboured the dream of a four-wheel-drive Jensen, after meeting Tony Rolt of Harry Ferguson Research. The two Jensen brothers, Alan and Richard, had come a long way from their garden shed, and their ‘Jensen Special Number One’. The Museum looks at the life of the two Jensen brothers, and the rise of Jensen Motors.
Alan and Richard Jensen were born in Moseley, Birmingham. Alan Jensen was born in 1906 and Richard in 1909, their father was a provisions importer of Danish descent. Both brothers entered into the motoring trade, Alan as an apprentice with Serck Radiators and Richard as an apprentice with Wolseley Motors. The two brothers decided to build their own specially bodied car. Their father bought them a 1923 Austin Seven Chummy and not long afterwards, the body was removed and a sleek low sports style body fitted in its place…..’Jensen Special Number One’ was born.
‘Jensen Special Number One’ had come to the attention of Arthur Wilde, Chief Engineer of the Standard Motor Company. This led to a meeting with Alan and Richard Jensen, the outcome of which, was ‘Jensen Special Number Two’ built on a Standard Nine chassis. ‘Jensen Special Number Two’ received some publicity, through which, Alan Jensen was introduced to Avon Bodies, they asked Jensen if he would design a production model for them based on the ‘Jensen Special Number Two’. Meanwhile Richard Jensen left Wolseley Motors and joined Joseph Lucas.
During 1931 Richard Jensen was introduced to J.A.Patrick, the Chairman of Edgbaston Garages Ltd. The outcome of their meeting was Patrick offering both Alan and Richard Jensen positions within his company, where they were given carte-blanc to re-organise Edgbaston Garage. It wasn’t long before the two brothers had re-organised the entire garage, creating a coach building department and up-dating the service department.
Although it was against the personal wish of Patrick himself, the two brothers were voted onto the board of directors. Once on the board they managed to have the business renamed ‘Patrick Jensen Motors Ltd’. Joe Patrick wasn’t entirely happy with the company re-naming, but the situation was made worse when he overheard two customers talking, one had asked the other if he knew either of the Jensen brothers. The other customer replied that he did know one of them…well enough to call him Pat. Patrick could have been amused by this conversation, but he wasn’t, he was furious that a customer had taken his surname to be nothing more than the first name of one of the Jensen brothers. An extraordinary meeting was called the next morning, which became so heated that the Jensen brothers left in the afternoon.
The Jensens’ next door neighbour introduced the brothers to George Mason, whose father had an interest in a long established coach building firm, W.J.Smith & Sons. The company was not doing well and Mason asked the brothers if they would be interested to step in and re-organise the business, they agreed and assumed the positions of joint Managing Directors. Most of the business was the construction of commercial vehicle bodies. Richard Jensen set about re-organising the business side of the company, while Alan Jensen dealt with the practical side of commercial vehicle building. When the commercial side was operating smoothly, the Jensen brothers set up a small car building department in one area of the factory.
By 1934, W.J. Smith & Sons underwent a name change, becoming ‘Jensen Motors Ltd’. Under the new Jensen name, the car building department started producing small sports bodies fitted to Wolseley Hornet, Singer, Standard and Morris Eight chassis. All suitably emblazoned with the Jensen badge. Further commissions were soon coming to Jensen Motors Ltd, including the famous off set bodies for Ron Horton, based on the MG Midget and Magnette. Both cars became record breakers at Brooklands and helped put the Jensen name into the public eye.
Clark Gable was interested in having a special sports car built, a colleague had mentioned the Jensen name to him and outlined that they could make something quite special for him. Enquiries were made to Jensen Motors Ltd and it was agreed that a Ford V8 chassis would be sent over to West Bromwich for the commission. A beautiful and very elegant sports body was fitted to the chassis, which was exhibited at the 1934 Ford Motor Show stand held at the Albert Hall before being shipped out to Gable.
This was turning point for the Jensen brothers, who were suddenly inundated with enquiries for Gable car replicas. A stumbling block for the brothers was that Ford never gave permission for other manufacturers to use their components for production models. However Ford had the chance to drive the Gable car and was extremely impressed, he gave the brothers permission to use Ford chassis, engines and spares.
Approximately twenty replicas were built and sold through Bristol,Street Motors, the Birmingham based Ford dealers. It had been an ambition of the Jensen brothers to build a truly Jensen production car. The Gable car had allowed the brothers access to the Ford parts bin, which made the vision of a Jensen production car a distinct possibility.
The design for a two door sports tourer named the ‘White Lady’ began in 1934 and this led to the building of a four door version named the ‘S Type’, which was completed in 1935. The ‘S Type’ was receive much acclaim with Sir Malcolm Campbell giving much praise to the quality of workmanship and superb drive. By 1936, the two door sports tourer was also put into production.
As much praise as Jensen Motors Ltd were receiving for their motor cars, it was still the commercial vehicle side of the company that kept the order books full. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Jensen Motors’ commercial skills led to contracts for specialised military vehicles such as ambulances and fire-tenders. The brothers even came up with a solution to convert Sherman tanks for amphibious use, ready for the D-Day landings.
After the war Jensen Motors Ltd returned to passenger car production, announcing the ‘PW’ saloon in 1946. The ‘PW’ saloon prototype was shown at the Jubilee Cavalcade of the British Motor Industry in July 1946. Production of the ‘PW’ saloon would be a problem as the Jensen brothers were struggling to obtain sufficient engine units. During 1947, Austin brought out their ‘Sheerline’, the car was an exact replica of the ‘PW’ saloon. Richard Jensen was livid and went to see Leonard Lord, head of Austin Motors. After an initial row over replicating the ‘PW’ saloon, the matter was resolved with Lord agreeing to supply Jensen Motors with engine units for the ‘PW’ saloon.
A long lasting association developed between Jensen and Austin Motors, which led to Lord asking Jensen Motors if they would like to submit designs for a new Austin sports car. A design was prepared and accepted, with Jensen Motors receiving the contract for the building of the sports bodies. The completed car was named the Austin A40 Sports. The Austin contract generated much needed income for Jensen Motors and led to them designing a new car, the Interceptor Cabriolet, which was announced in 1950. As with the ‘PW’, this car was to be powered by the Austin 4 litre engine.
In 1952 Austin and Morris merged and became the British Motor Corporation. Donald Healey had developed a new sports car named the ‘Healey 100’, this striking car was a star attraction at the 1952 Motor Show. Healey suddenly found that he was completely unable to build enough cars for the growing order book. Lord offered to build the Healey car at his Longbridge factory with a price for the finished car £100 cheaper than that set by Healey. An agreement was reached and the ‘Healey 100’ quickly found itself re-named the ‘Austin-Healey 100’. It transpired that Tickford, who were going to build the bodies for Healey would be unable to cope with demand. Lord contacted Jensen Motors and asked if they would like the contract to build the bodies, the Jensen brothers were more than keen to accept the lucrative contract.
Once again the ‘Austin-Healey’ contract had allowed Jensen Motors to develop a new Jensen car. In 1953 the Jensen 541 made its debut at the Earls Court Motor Show. The new car was the first four seater production car to be made from glass fibre. The brothers had used the material before in a limited way, but on the 541 it allowed them to produce body shapes far more cheaply than if they had been manufactured using metal. Once again an Austin engine was used along with Austin components. The 541 series continued until its replacement, the CV8, in 1962. Meanwhile a new factory was commissioned at Kelvin Way, West Bromwich, allowing everything to be built under one roof, rather than the three separate factories that they had been working from.
By the late 1950’s neither of the Jensen brothers were in the best of health, this was exaggerated by over work and industrial disputes. In 1959 the brothers contacted John Sheffield who had founded the Norcros Group. They had become successful, purchasing family businesses with healthy growth prospects, but potential death duty problems. The brothers were willing to have Jensen Motors Ltd placed under the financial control of the Norcros Group, this would give the company financial freedom and also would give the two brothers a good personal deal in terms of shares. An agreement was reached and the two brothers agreed to stay on at Jensen Motors for a period of five years. Each brother alternated as Chairman on an annual basis.
With new financial security, Jensen Motors managed to win the contract to complete the Volvo P1800 Sports Coupe. Bodies came from Pressed Steel and painting and trimming was completed by Jensen Motors. The contract was cut short over quality control disputes, Jensen Motors blamed Pressed Steel for the quality of their bodies, but Volvo decided to move the entire operation back to Sweden. Jensen Motors received compensation for the loss of the contract.
Jensen Motors continued work in the background on the 541 replacement, meanwhile Harry Ferguson Research Ltd had been working on a four-wheel-drive system for a car. Various prototype cars had been assembled and tested but unfortunately no car manufacturers showed any interest. Richard Jensen had heard about the Ferguson four-wheel-drive system and had seen one of the prototypes on demonstration. Excited by the concept, he maintained contact with Rolt at Harry Ferguson Research Ltd, which led to the two companies coming to a formal agreement in 1964 for Jensen Motors to build a four-wheel-drive production car named the CV8 FF. The ‘FF’ stood for ‘Ferguson Formula’, the name given to the four-wheel-drive system by Ferguson.
The CV8 made its debut at the 1962 Earls Court Motor Show. Once again the CV8, like the 541, was largely manufactured using a glass fibre shell. Instead of the Austin engine, Jensen Motors were now fitting the American Chrysler 5.9 litre V8 engine. The Cv8 would also be the first production car to be fitted with an alternator as standard. Further sub-contract work continued in the background, including the building of the Sunbeam Tiger.
Alan Jensen retired as an executive director in 1963 following illness, but remained on the board. Neither brother was well and Norcros decided it was time to bring in a Managing Director. The first was Michael Day, he took up the position in 1963 but having no specialised knowledge about the motor industry it was found necessary to replace him. Brian Owen took over as Managing Director of Jensen Motors shortly afterwards. With the Jensen brothers still in overall command, Owen often found himself clashing with the brothers over his methods of running the company.
Richard Jensen was still keen on the four-wheel-drive project, but work on its development was slow due to the workload on the Sunbeam Tiger contract. A Jensen FF based on the CV8 wasn’t completed until 1965. As well as work on the prototype CV8 FF, a CV8 chassis had been re-bodied in aluminium as a two seater convertible, and later a hard top prototype was produced.
The Jensen brothers wanted to revive the name Interceptor for the possible CV8 replacement, meanwhile it was code-named the ‘P66’. As well as the CV8 and new CV8 FF, the Interceptor P66 was made ready for the 1965 Motor Show. The four-wheel-drive CV8 FF immediately found acclaim from the motoring press and with customers wishing to place orders. However the CV8 FF was hardly ready for production and customers were told they would have to wait.
Meanwhile an argument had developed within the Jensen board. The Jensen brothers were keen to go ahead with production of the Interceptor P66 as a CV8 replacement, while Kevin Beattie, the Deputy Chief Engineer of Jensen Motors proposed a new body styled in Italy to fit the CV8 chassis. Beattie found a compatriot in Jensen Motors Managing Director Brian Owen. Much against the wished of the Jensen brothers, Beattie and Owen won the day after receiving the backing of John Boex, the new head of the Norcros Group.
Beattie and Owen went out to Italy visiting Ghia, Touring Superleggera and Vignale, asking them if they would like to submit designs for a body to fit the CV8 chassis. Touring cam e up with the preferred design but were not able to build the initial bodies. Jensen Motors purchased the designs outright and Beattie took them to Vignale, who were more than happy to build the bodies.
By 1966, the new Italian bodied two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive cars were on their way back to West Bromwich. The two-wheel-drive version was named the Jensen Interceptor, while the four-wheel-drive version was named the Jensen FF. Both cars were shown at the 1966 Motor Show. Jensen Motors would end up with a full order book for the beautiful looking Jensen Interceptor. The four-wheel-drive Jensen FF was to receive much praise and publicity from the motoring press and likewise Jensen Motors found themselves with full order books for its initial production.
Jensen Motors Ltd had come far from its humble background. The Italian bodied Interceptor catapulted the company into the limelight with the wealthy clambering to purchase the eye catching luxury car. The FF, meanwhile, pushed the company into the vanguard of motoring technology. The world’s first production four-wheel-drive car was born. Harry Ferguson’s dream had come true and Richard Jensen’s ‘pet’ project was finished. With deteriorating health, Richard Jensen resigned from the Jensen board in 1967, Alan Jensen followed.
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