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Jensen – Lotus Engine Nightmare
Back at the end of the 1960s, it was clear the Austin Healey contract was coming to an end. Donald Healey had already started working on a successor as early as 1968/69. The successor would later become the Jensen-Healey. But bringing this successor to market was going to be far from easy.
Jensen – Lotus Engine Nightmare | Background To Jensen-Healey Project
Due to the inevitable break up with BMC, Healey based his designs on Vauxhall components. Vauxhall had recently introduced a new ‘slant’ 2 liter 4 cylinder engine. Using this engine made a low bonnet possible, which is exactly what Healey required. His semi-secret project was named the ‘X500’.
Meanwhile over at Jensen Motors, the Norcros Group had appointed Carl Duerr (“ the turn around man”) as Managing Director of Jensen Motors in 1968.
Duerr was worried about the large over-capacity in the factory, caused not only by the fact that the Austin Healey production had ended, but the Sunbeam Tiger as well.
Later that year William Brandt took over from Norcros. They asked Duerr to stay on. There was intensive discussions between Duerr and Donald Healey, which led to Donald Healey’s pet project moving forward at Jensen Motors.
Both Duerr and Healey had agreed that the new car, which they envisaged being made in suitably large numbers, would be named ‘Jensen-Healey’.
Duerr had worked in Germany for many years, and had many valuable contacts there. He approached BMW for their 6 cylinder in line engine. A logical move since the last series of Austin Healey used a 6 cylinder engine too.
Donald Healey, however, preferred the idea of a lighter more economical sports car, and as such, was still pushing for the Vauxhall 4 cylinder.
Jensen – Lotus Engine Nightmare | Enter Kjell Qvale
In the background at Jensen Motors, the Jensen-Healey project continued. Meanwhile, over in America, and with the Austin-Healey at an end, Kjell Qvale was lamenting the loss of his most lucrative car.
Duerr, already trying to push Qvale to take more Interceptors, also mentioned the Company’s new project, to build a follow on compact sports car from the Austin-Healey.
This is exactly what Qvale wanted to hear, and after finding out more about the project – and the fact of Donald Healey’s involvement – he quickly started to buy up Jensen shares.
Within a short space of time, Qvale had bought enough shares to get himself on the Board at Jensen Motors. It was a smart move, allowing him control of both production and sales.
It was now 1970, and Duerr was forced out of his position as Managing Director. Alfred Vickers (formerly from Rolls Royce) was brought in as the new Managing Director, and both Donald Healey, and Kjell Qvale were on the Board. Healey’s son, Geoff, was also given a position in the design department at Jensen Motors.
Jensen – Lotus Engine Nightmare | Background To the Engine Debate
In this same year, Jensen received delivery of ten chassis, which were based on Healey’s ‘X500’ platform. The pre-production cars were built on these platforms in various configurations.
Outside of Healey’s preferred choice of the Vauxhall engine, Ford was also one of the candidate engine suppliers. They offered the 2 liter OHC Pinto engine and/or the German 2.6 liter V6.
Ford even proposed to supply the complete platform – including all technical components – from the yet to be introduced Ford Cortina MK III.
Nevertheless, since development based on Vauxhall parts already had progressed far, Jensen Motors decided to stick to this plan. As such, it was just the engine & transmission unit which needed to be decided upon.
Even although Donald Healey’s preference was for the Vauxhall engine, Alfred Vickers, Kjell Qvale, and Kevin Beattie were not convinced.
The Ford options had been side-lined after testing – probably due to issues making it fit within the required bonnet height. Duerr’s initial thoughts of a BMW unit were resurrected, and negotiations with the German company restarted.
There was certainly good reason for choosing BMW units as opposed to Vauxhall, as it had transpired during testing that the Vauxhall engine in Federal specification was badly underpowered.
Negotiations with BMW centred around the use of their 2.5 and 2.8 6 cylinder in-line engines and transmissions. BMW offered the complete 2.8 for 2570 German Marks and the gearbox would cost 612,70.
The trouble was, this would make the Jensen-Healey too expensive. Moreover, the ‘X500’ come Jensen-Healey platform was more suitable for a 4 cylinder engine.
This led, a short while later, to Jensen Motors asking BMW to price the 4 cylinder 2 liter unit, an engine already proven for reliability and power from its use in their BMW 2002 from 1968.
BMW offered Jensen Motors a single carburettor version aimed at the US market for 2000 German marks, and 2200 for a stronger dual carbs European version.
A top of the line motor with Kugelfischer injection was priced at 2400 Marks. Meanwhile, BMW could also offer options of matching 4 or 5 speed gearboxes.
During this period of engine debate, several prototypes were fitted with various engine & gearbox combinations, and underwent testing. One particular example related to the four cylinder engine as used in the BMW 2002.
The Development Department at Jensen Motors rented a BMW 2002, where upon Chief Development Engineer, Brian Spicer, along with his chaps , removed the engine and gearbox from the loaned BMW, fitting the unit into a Jensen Healey for testing.
Of course the BMW was returned to the rental company after a few days with the engine etc. refitted. Nobody was the wiser !
This BMW unit was very suitable for the Jensen-Healey, since it was also a ‘slant’ unit like the Vauxhall, and as such, it fitted perfectly.
Unfortunately the BMW option ended by June 21, 1971, when they wrote that they could not supply the 10,000 units per year (as per the number of Jensen-Healeys to be built each year as envisioned by Qvale).
However, it was outlined to Jensen Motors, if they were prepared to carry the cost, then BMW would be willing to increase their production capacity. All in all, this was a sensible option for Jensen Motors, and it would have made a good reliable unit for the new Jensen-Healey.
Time was now moving on, and Qvale was loosing patience, he desperately wanted to see Jensen-Healeys coming off the line, and being shipped over to the USA for him to sell.
Outside of engines from Vauxhall, Ford, and BMW, there was another option that Qvale had suddenly been made aware of – and this newly-designed engine was from Lotus.
Jensen – Lotus Engine Nightmare | The Lotus Engine
Apparently the Lotus connection came about purely coincidentally. Two Jensen technicians were discussing the engine problems while on a train, and unbelievably, a Lotus employee overheard their conversation. He mentioned to them who he was, and told them about a new engine that Lotus were preparing, that could fit exactly to what was required by Jensen Motors.
Interestingly, the new Lotus engine was developed on the cast iron Vauxhall block that Jensen had originally thought of using. To this, Lotus designed and built a cylinder head with 2 overhead camshafts, 16 valves and two carburettors.
Tests with this setup were successful and Lotus then developed an alloy block with wet cylinder liners, while still using some Vauxhall components such as the crankshaft and connecting rods.
Innovative in those days, was the use of a ‘rubber’ belt instead of the commonly used chain, to drive the camshafts. The new engine produced sufficient power and was ‘clean’.
When Jensen Motors initially contacted Colin Chapman, he was hesitant, since his new engine had not been fully developed and tested. But, on the other hand he was keen to accept the order, as it would help him to recover a great deal of his investment.
Back at Jensen Motors, Qvale was already smitten with the idea of using a Lotus-engine. Undoubtedly, it was the Lotus name, and its racing pedigree, that lured Qvale in that engine direction. A name that could help sales of the Jensen-Healey in the USA.
Having pressured everyone else around the boardroom table, a general agreement was given to move towards negotiations with Colin Chapman of Lotus – it would be Qvale that would enter into the negotiations.
If Qvale thought he was the ‘smartest kid on the block’, he was now dealing with Chapman – a man well-known for his utter ruthlessness in business. Certainly, Qvale was no match for Chapman’s artful negotiating skills, and was even taken in with Chapman’s over-ambitious supply forecasts.
The problem was, Chapman was telling Qvale exactly what he wanted to hear , and Qvale was so driven with the idea of having a Jensen-Healey with a Lotus engine, that he didn’t want to dig too deep into Chapman’s claims.
In a moment of total business recklessness, Qvale agreed that Jensen would buy the engines without any warranty – this apparently in order to keep the cost at an acceptable level, although at £300 per unit, the cost was well beyond what had been budgeted for the Jensen Healey.
Back at Jensen Motors, Qvale’s rash decision was the talk of management, with many in disbelief that Qvale would accept such terms. That said, no one particularly wanted to go head-to-head with Qvale over the decision.
To keep things in perspective, the BMW quotes were coming out just north of £300, so perhaps Qvale was deluding himself into the belief that he had struck a ‘good deal’ with Chapman.
Looking back to the original idea of a Vauxhall engine unit, these had been quoted at a mere £160, so were looking very realistically priced against the others. There was just that matter of the low power output.
Initially there had been boardroom discussions about offering a two-tier price system on the Jensen-Healey, a base level version with Vauxhall engine, and an up-market version with Lotus engine. The idea sort of made sense, but in the end it was abandoned, and the Jensen-Healey would only be made available with the Lotus engine.
With Qvale having signed the deal with the ‘devil’, it was only going to be a matter of time before the Jensen -Lotus Agreement turned into the Jensen – Lotus Nightmare. Meanwhile there was some basic work required to make the Lotus engine fit and work within the confines of the Jensen-Healey shell.
George Coleman, Senior Draughtsman at Jensen Motors, remembers the limited input that they had in regard to the Lotus engine,
“Since Development had already tried the engine in one of the prototypes, we knew it could work okay within the design of the Jensen Healey. As such there wasn’t much for the Drawing Office to do. From memory, there was just two areas that required Drawing Office time, and strangely I ended up attending to both.
The first was producing an outline drawing for the exhaust system. This was then given over to an outside company to deal with.
Secondly, there was the matter of the water pump. The Vauxhall designed Lotus water pump didn’t work in the Jensen Healey. It put the fan too close to the radiator, which caused issues with the fan catching the radiator fins. I designed a modified shallower casting for a water pump. These were manufactured for Jensen, and either fitted on the Lotus engine by Lotus, or fitted after the engines arrived at the Jensen factory.”
As the new Jensen-Healey was given its debut in 1971, and the factory was geared up for mass-production (well, mass-production Jensen style), it soon became clear there were going to be engine supply problems.
But, that would be just the start of the Jensen – Lotus nightmare.
Jensen – Lotus Engine Nightmare | The Start Of The Nightmare
Almost from the beginning of the supply of engines from Lotus to Jensen, problems were emerging. Supply was erratic, and always far less than required. And this was even before the warranty issues started, due to engine problems.
Jensen Motors management quickly realised they had a major problem on their hands. It didn’t take long before there was a steady stream of Jensen personnel making their way down to Lotus’s Hethel-based factory.
Meanwhile, after some four years of money and energy swallowing work on the new car, the Jensen-Healey was scheduled to be presented at the Earls Court Motor Show of October 1971.
But that wasn’t going to happen. Problems with subcontractor supplies prevented that, so it was March 1972 that the Jensen-Healey could be officially revealed at the Geneva Motor Show.
It would be October 1972 before the Jensen-Healey could be officially unveiled to a British public at the Earl’s Court Motor Show. The Company put quite a bash on that year, with Interceptors in the background, and two Jensen-Healeys at the front of the stand.
And, standing on a display rig in-between the two cars – a show standard example of the Lotus twin-cam engine for the public to view. As much as the Lotus engine was being lauded at the Motor Show, behind the scenes the picture was looking grim.
Philip Campion had joined Jensen Motors in 1970 as Project Engineer. He would be one of the first employees asked to help sort out the issues with Lotus. During 1972, Campion spent a great deal of time down at Lotus’ factory at Hethel.
Campion tell us more,
“My task was to be the Jensen representative at the Lotus factory, and act as a daily presence to establish what the “real” machine shop production output figures were likely to be. In the early days of engine supply there was much over promising and under delivering of engines by Lotus to Jensen’s Kelvin Way factory.
Jensen found themselves in a very difficult position, not least (I believe) through a poorly negotiated contract of supply, with little or no guarantees for quality.
Additionally, there was the losses incurred when the Jensen-Healey assembly line production stopped due to engine shortages, and a high percentage of customer warranty claims as a result of engine failures.
There were two key parts that were manufactured by Lotus themselves for their new 907 2 litre engine, namely the cylinder head and the cam housing. From memory, the slant 4-cylinder block was initially supplied by Vauxhall.
These two major components were produced in the new Lotus machine shop, it was their showcase of a semi-automated production system centred on high tech. numerical controlled (N.C.) machines specifically put in by Lotus for their new engine.
My main task was to report back to the Jensen management twice a day (midday and evening) with the number of cylinder heads and cam housings produced – actual versus plan – and the expectations from Lotus to make good on the shortfalls.
The cam housings were a difficult component to machine, due to their very tight tolerances resulting in a relatively high scrappage rate.
I attended a number of production and technical meetings at Lotus, but of course I was always the “Outsider” or “Spy in the Camp”, Lotus were selective in what internal meetings I could attend, and although I did have some input regarding production processes and tooling, I was never sure to what extent my input was valued or desired.”
Although Campion was Jensen’s man on site, he was by no means the only Jensen employee to find themselves at Hethel. In fact particularly during 1972, there was a constant stream of Jensen personnel, either flying or driving down to Hethel.
These included Chief Engineer, Kevin Beattie, Deputy Engineer, Mike Jones, along with Chief Quality Engineer, Andrew Bee.
The problem was, everyone was being confronted with the Lotus ‘Wall’ – this invisible, but present ‘wall of silence’, where the Lotus guys would pass them off with various excuses, and promises that never came good.
It wasn’t long before Richard Graves, the Sales Director at Jensen Motors, decided to take matters into his own hands. Sales Manager, Tony Marshall remembers what took place,
“Dick [Richard Graves] decided to travel down to Hethel himself, to meet with Dennis Austin, the man in charge at Lotus. Apparently the meeting was very cordial, and Austin showed Dick around the factory.
At one point they were in the main engine assembly area, which was pretty empty, to which Dick said to Austin, “well, where are all the engines you are making ready to supply us with”. Austin made some excuses, saying don’t worry, its all in hand, you will be getting your engines shortly. But it was the usual ‘fob-off’.
I believe that not long after Dick’s visit, Austin left Lotus.”
Mike Jones had re-joined Jensen Motors in 1972 as Deputy Engineer, in fact he had joined right bang in the middle of the Jensen – Lotus nightmare. Almost immediately, Beattie had instructed Jones to look into the Lotus mess.
Jones tells us how he was thrown into the deep-end of the Lotus-Jensen mess virtually the minute he resumed working at Jensen,
“There was a long laundry list of engine problems arising from the prototypes and early production cars. All of these problems were initially new to me, because I had missed all of the design and development stages of the Jensen Healey, due to my arriving in 1972.
To help me get up to speed quickly, on my return to Jensen, Kevin Beattie asked me to ‘evaluate’ one of the prototypes, and this car became my frequent commuting car between my home in Kenilworth and West Bromwich for about three months.
The laundry list was sadly different for each day trip to Lotus, but I do remember some of the recurrent ones:-
1-Excessive oil consumption
2-Slipping/jumping of camshaft timing belt
3-Fuel leakage/flooding from Dellorto carburetors with car facing downhill
4-Oil ‘pullover’ through crankcase breather during hard cornering and heavy braking
5-Insufficient oil pressure during start up – lack of ‘priming’.”
“To this day I still cannot believe that Kevin Beattie, Howard Panton and Brian Spicer all ‘signed off’ the Lotus engine for production, when it was clearly far from ready.
When I arrived at Jensen, no one wanted to talk about the Jensen Healey prototypes, so I was never able to find out any of the unwritten sordid details ( that said, Beattie had asked me to evaluate one to bring me up to speed with the problems).
But, outside of Beattie asking me to use a Jensen Healey prototype so I could understand the issues, there was certainly a lack of interest in anyone to get too involved or to take any responsibility.
I was asked to focus only on the production problems of the engine. I sensed from everyone concerned that Qvale had previously either ignored or overruled any concerns that the Engineering [Development] team had about the Lotus engine.”
It wasn’t long before Beattie had Jones either driving or flying down to Lotus’ Hethel-based factory. Jones gives us an insight on what he was expected to achieve,
“The main reasons for my day visits were,
1-To report on and to find solutions for engine problems arising from testing prototype cars and from experience of early production cars in service.
2-To establish and agree upon an engine specification that would meet the USA exhaust emission regulations. (I later travelled to the USA on two separate occasions, firstly in company with a Lotus engineer to find a supplier of catalytic converters, and secondly, with John Lindley, Jensen legislation engineer, to submit to EPA in Ann Arbor, Michigan, two Production Jensen Healey cars that had completed 4000 miles. Luckily we received emission certification without any major problems, allowing similar production cars to be sold later in the USA).”
However, Jones wasn’t alone. Campion was actually staying down at Hethel off and on. Beattie himself would either fly to Hethel on occasion, or drive. Even although it was a long and tedious journey by car, both Jones and Beattie preferred to drive.
On one occasion when Jones was flying down to Hethel he had company. Andrew Bee, the Chief Quality Engineer at Jensen Motors, was also going down for the day. Jones reminisces on the day,
“On one occasion I was on the same plane as Andrew. We travelled to Birmingham Airport and picked up a chartered flight that had been pre-booked for us. I’m guessing our MD, Vickers would have sanctioned the flight. When we arrived at Hethel, we immediately separated. I didn’t even have lunch with Andrew.
He disappeared for the whole day to talk quality problems, I presume with his opposite numbers at Lotus, and we did not meet again until it was time to leave. On that occasion, I spent most of my day with Mike Kimberley and Jack Phillips, the engineering consultant. Interestingly, both Jack Phillips and Andrew Bee were ex-Rolls Royce.”
As Jones discusses the entire Lotus-Jensen nightmare today, he quickly throws in the caveat that much of that time was a blur that he would much rather forget. However, he remembers some of detail surrounding the Lotus staff, and the engine,
“I was naturally interested in the design solutions for the engine, but the Lotus engineers had evidently been told by their management – perhaps by Chapman himself – not to tell Jensen any of the details of the design changes (intellectual property?).
Even Jack Phillips, who was in a better position to get deeply involved in the solutions, was in most cases, kept in the dark, or wasn’t willing to confide to me.
Eventually Lotus would submit statements to Jensen Purchasing, loosely describing design changes as they became available, but in most cases these changes were extremely costly.
I well remember our Managing Director, Alfred Vickers, getting very animated over the regular cost increases for the Lotus engine, but he was unable to challenge the costs. Lotus were well aware that Jensen did not have an alternative engine supplier, so they knew Jensen would just have to pay up.
The US version of the engine was a different matter, and I was kept in the loop for most of the time. Lotus engineers were much more willing to discuss the design differences for the US version from the European version of the engine.
Main features of the US version were ….lower compression ratio, (8.4:1) Zenith/Stromberg carburetors, water heated manifold, catalytic converter, 91 octane fuel. As a result, I was well briefed before I visited EPA with John Lindley (another unsung hero at Jensen) to present two pre-production cars for emission testing.”
Jensen – Lotus Engine Nightmare | Leaving The Nightmare Behind
With typical use of irony, the Press would later dub the Lotus engine , “Lotus’ engine, as developed by Jensen owners”. There was a lot of truth to this statement, and it had caused many early Jensen-Healey owners to become disgruntled with their purchase.
Issues with the engine were slowly worked through, and largely eradicated (at much cost to Jensen Motors). Certainly, by the time the revised MK.II version of the Jensen-Healey was launched in 1974, the car’s engine was a much more reliable and user-friendly affair.
But, within the automobile industry, bad news both travels fast, and lingers long. Even although the Jensen-Healey MK.II offered a much more reliable car than its predecessor, its previous ‘bad history’ would follow the car through to the end of of its production in August 1975.
The Jensen-Healey was phased out in 1975, due to the imminent production of the Jensen-Healey-based fixed top Jensen GT. The GT would use the same Lotus engine as the Jensen-Healey, but since it largely sold to a different clientele, it managed to leave the engine’s ‘bad history’ behind.
Jensen – Lotus Engine Nightmare
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Andrew Bee, Chief Quality Engineer at Jensen Motors | Phillip Campion, Project Engineer at Jensen Motors | George Coleman, Senior Draughtsman at Jensen Motors | Mike Jones, former Deputy Engineer at Jensen Motors
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