Jensen Commercial Vehicles
The era of Jensen commercial vehicles has been little explored, undoubtedly due to the somewhat unglamorous subject matter. Yet, it was the commercial vehicles, which allowed Jensen Motors to do what they truly loved; building fine motor cars. Dutch Jensen historian, Han Kamp, gives us an insight to the world of Jensen-made commercial vehicles.
Building commercial vehicles was of great significance to the Jensen Brothers. It provided the finances for them to fulfill their big dream: developing and constructing their own cars.
The brothers joined W.J.Smith & Sons Ltd. of West Bromwich, a well-known coachbuilder in 1931. Within a few years they modernised the Company, shortly followed by a full “buy in”.
The Company was effectively renamed Jensen Motors Ltd in 1936. That year the first real Jensen, the 3.1/2 litre was created.
Already in 1927, the brothers attracted attention from various car manufacturers, when they built and drove Jensen Special No.1. This car was based on an Austin 7 Chummy donated by their father. The ‘donation’ was an endeavour by their father to stop the boys from riding motorbikes.
A car would be less dangerous, or so he thought. 1928 saw the Jensen Special No.2 which resulted in Standard Avon employing them in 1929 to build them. Since then, things developed quickly and within less than ten years their first real Jensen became reality.
The W.J.Smith & Sons era
When Alan and Richard Jensen joined W.J.Smith & Sons of Carter’s Green in 1931, the Company (which dated back to 1899) was still using the same old techniques, materials and machines that were used to build horse-drawn carriages and coaches.
Full of energy and enthusiasm, the brothers introduced new production methods, and ensured that the build quality along with the dimensional correctness of the lorry bodies was drastically improved. At the same time the brothers returned a greater profit.
Now there was room, literally, and financially, to start building passenger cars on a small scale. A separate area in the workshop was reserved for this purpose. So finally their boyhood dreams became reality.
Hundreds of lorries and bus bodies were built and delivered during these years. They were commonly built on heavy steel chassis of various makes. However, along with wood and steel, they started using lightweight aluminium panelling, which the Company bought in from Reynolds.
Jensen built a number of Bedford trucks for Reynolds, used to transport voluminous, but light aircraft components. At the same time they they built dozens of good looking car bodies on Morris, Riley, Ford, Wolseley, MG, Delage, Allard, Triump, BSA and Chevrolet chassis.
In co-operation with Reynolds the Jensen brothers came up with an innovative idea to avoid the then mandatory 20 mph. speed limit for lorries over 2,5 tons. Lighter vehicles were allowed 30 mph. A big difference, meaning a lorry could do four transports a day instead of perhaps two or three.
Working with, and for Reynolds, a new lightweight aluminium chassis was developed in 1938. The lorry was originally propelled by a Ford V8 sidevalve engine, which was later replaced by a Perkins P6 diesel engine. The results with this lorry were positive, to such an extent that Reynolds commissioned Jensen to build two more lightweight lorries.
This time these were powered by 4 cylinder Ford petrol engines. The knowledge and experience gained from these projects, enabled Jensen Motors to develop their own JNSN Commercial Light Weight Series. Brochures and test reports in various magazines often refer to these as “oilers” probably because of the the Perkins diesel engines fitted.
The outbreak of WW II meant an unwanted temporary hold for the promising JNSN products as well as cars. Like many British manufacturers, Jensen Motors found themselves receiving government contracts to build a variety of vehicles and other material for war use.
During the years between 1939 and 1945, Jensen built hundreds of fire-trucks, ambulances, rescue vehicles and trailers, even armoured vehicles. Additionally the Company received contracts to manufacture bomb-racks, ammunition cases, rocket launchers and much more.
Jensen Commercial Vehicles – The Jensen Light Commercial
Immediately after the war, Jensen started to produce the Jensen Light Commercial (JLC) in two versions, a short and a 30 foot long version with a “cab forward” style design.
Jensen emphasised in advertising to be pioneers in “light alloy chassis and body construction”.
The radiator grille panel with the distinctive JNSN logo cut out, was invented and patented by Alan Jensen.This made the lorries easily recognisable.
A clever piece of Company branding for the time.
Additionally, the whole ‘JNSN’ front panel was removable, allowing easy fitting and removing of the engine.
It is believed that some 600 Jensen Light Commercials were built in various guises.
Although today, only a few are believed to have survived. Typically, the majority of these commercials were scrapped, after their useful life ended. Their relatively valuable alloy chassis being melted for other uses.
Jensen Commercial Vehicles – The Jensen Light Passenger Coach
There had been a long tradition of building coaches at the Carter’s Green works. So, as well as the Jensen Light Commercial, the Company also also developed a lightweight bus chassis, on which they built a small series of Light Passenger Coaches (JLP). Other coachbuilders bought these chassis and built their own bodies on them.
Not only did Alan Jensen invent the clever JNSN removable radiator grille panel, he also patented another smart design. He invented an engine sub-frame which enabled mechanics to remove the engine and gearbox, as a whole unit, in 30 minutes and refitting a replacement unit in some 2.1/2 hours.
This clever piece of engineering minimalised downtime, thus cutting costs. A similar construction was to be used in the Jen-Tug introduced in 1947.
Besides the JNSN lorry production at the Carter’s Green factory, large series of vehicles were built for Austin amongst others. Austin K8, A40 and A70 pick-ups rolled out of the factory in large quantities.
At the same time, large numbers of the Austin A40 Sports, Austin Champ and Gipsy “jeeps” were produced. Icing on the cake for Jensen was winning the contract to build the Austin Healey bodies.
These were busy, but good years for the Jensen brothers. The old Carter’s Green premises soon became too small, and in 1947, it was decided to move the commercial vehicle activities temporarily to Stoke-on-Trent, awaiting a new factory in Kingswinford to become available.
For now all commercial vehicles, the JLC, Jen-Tug and trailers, were built in Stoke on Trent. Jensen offered a great variety in trailers for the Jen-Tug and built the JLC not only as flat bed, but also as large volume Pantechnicons.
In order to accommodate the mass production of the Austin Healey, a new factory at Kelvin Way, West Bromwich, was built between 1954 and 1958. Step by step, all machinery, tooling and also the glass-fibre department were transferred from Carter’s Green to Kelvin Way.
One cannot under-estimate how the whole commercial vehicle business underpinned the building of Jensen cars. The sub-contract work was crucial, but the commercial vehicle sector had kept the Company afloat through some ‘rough’ years.
Certainly government contracts through the war years had also helped, allowing the Jensen brothers to bring out the PW saloon (PW standing for post-war) immediately after the war in 1946, followed by the 4 litre Interceptor in 1948.
The Jensen brothers had long been using some fibreglass components in their commercial vehicles. The JNSN grille panel is a classic example. But, cabin roofs were also made in fibreglass, and by 1956 the complete lorry cabin was made of fibreglass.
This allowed for a lower position of the headlights, rounded off corners and an integrated front bumper. Even the 1950s Interceptor had a fibreglass bootlid and hard top.
Having experimented with the use of fibreglass, and now being particularly proficient in its use, it was of no great surprise when the first Jensen fibreglass bodied car was announced. The Jensen 541, followed a some years later with the CV8.
By the 1950s, the restrictive speed limits laws were lifted, which led to competing manufacturers selling lorries cheaper then the relatively expensive alloy JNSN.
Demand for the compact Jen-Tug also deminished, and although Jensen still had sub-contract work for Austin and others makes, there was a need to fill the production capacity in Kingswinford quickly
Jensen Commercial Vehicles – The Jen-Tug
The Jen-Tug was a classic case of the right product at the right time. Announced in 1947, the Jen-Tug was described as a ‘horse substitute vehicle’, although by the following year, and with increased mechanisation, that marketing phrase would be dropped. The Jen-Tug was simple and versatile.
It is a common belief that Jensen Motors actually invented this particular contraption, but this is not the case. Until the start of the war, much of the local transport was carried out by horse and cart.
Several manufacturers introduced a “mechanical horse” as alternative, which was a logical step, fitting well in the industrialising society.
The 3 wheel Scammel in particular was very popular, at least 30,000 of these were sold. Karrier was another big seller. A system enabling one man to attach and detach the trailer was common practice, and not unique to the Jen-Tug. In contrary to most makes, the Jen-Tug was a 4 wheel vehicle with a very narrow rear wheelbase.
Although Jensen did not actually invent this type of transporter, they certainly developed it further, and made it easier to operate. The fact is, the original design came from Latil Industries and was designed by George Riekie. Only two of these tugs were ever built by a company named Lawrence.
When George Riekie, and his son Colin, joined the Jensen workforce in 1946, the original design was re-worked and a number of improvements incorporated.
Series production of this improved design, now named Jen-Tug, started in 1947. The Jen-Tug featured an alloy cabin, which had been drawn-up by Eric Neale, and was powered by a 1172 cc. Ford sidevalve engine, producing 30 Hp.
In 1948, an electric version of the Jen-Tug was developed in cooperation with Hindle, Smart & Co. Only a few dozen of these were ever produced
Jensen Motors, at that time, offered a choice between 14 standard trailers. In 1951 the Jen-Tug was further improved and now fitted with the Austin A40 engine offering 40 Hp. Hence increasing its payload capacity.
The Jen-Tug received a steel cabin in 1954, along with further technical improvements. In an attempt to revive demand, Jensen tried a Diesel version, but this never reached the stage of production.
A 1489 cc. powered version then followed, but competition from Scammel and Karrier proved too strong, and only a handful of Jen-Tugs were sold in 1957 and 1958.
Total production of Jen-Tugs is estimated to amount to around 700. The number of trailers supplied is believed to be around 1,400. Jensen Motors themselves, operated three Jen-Tugs on their premises well into the 1960’s.
Jensen Commercial Vehicles – The Jensen Tempo
Always looking for opportunities and/or a ‘niche’ in the market, Jensen contacted Vidal und Sohn, a West German manufacturer of contemporary vans (and a fierce VW competitor) in 1958. The aim, to obtain a license to build the Tempo in various specialist versions.
The Jensen brothers succeeded, and obtained a license for the UK and Commonwealth markets. Jensen, using their excellent contacts with Austin, developed a RHD version powered by the well-known and reliable Austin engine and transmission. Jensen built various types of Tempo, including a Tempo Camper Van, Tempo Crew Cabin Truck, Tempo Hydraulic Elevator Truck, and even a Tempo Cherry Picker.
The Tempo Hydraulic Elevator Truck was particularly innovative. It had a hydraulically lowering / raising carrying platform. This allowed loading and un-loading to take place at a variety of different levels, thus doing away with various loading docks and ramps.
The Jensen Tempo series of vehicles were expensive, and this undoubtedly led to a relatively low demand. By 1963, the building of Tempos had ceased, no doubt hastened by the move to the new Kelvin Way factory, and rationalising what the Company wished to move forward with.
The end of commercial vehicle production
Commercial vehicle production gradually came to an end, bringing closure to the Kingswinford factory. The Carter’s Green factory also closed during the early 1960s, but that was due to the move to the larger factory complex the Company had built at Kelvin Way.
Although the Company’s own JNSN, Jen-Tug, and Tempo manufacturing had ceased, Jensen was still involved in commercial vehicle building.
Thousands of station-cars were built for Austin as well as occasional one-offs or prototypes for various clients. The 1960s were hard times for Jensen Motors, especially when the Austin Healey contract ended.
Earlier still, in 1959, Jensen was obliged to seek help from investors, and was now under control of the Norcros banking group. The reason for this was that BMC threatened to move production of the Austin Healey to their own Abingdon facilities.
Jensen immediately started working on a replacement, but lacked the financial resources for such a project. With Norcros financially backing the Company, they placed their own chosen Managing Director to head the Company. Michael Day was brought in as MD in 1963.
The remaining workforce and energy at Kelvin Way was now aimed at the sub-contract work, such as the Volvo P1800 and Sunbeam Tiger, along with production the Jensen C-V8.
However, not all expertise in the field of trucks and trailers had been lost. Jensen Motors continued to design and build these. An example is the heavy car transporter trailer built for Cartransport (BRS) Ltd. This transporter could carry six big Interceptors.
In the early 1970s, Jensen was involved in the developing and construction of a versatile all-terrain truck, the Stonefield. This may have been a result of Jensen Motors’ huge experience with the Ferguson technique.
The Stonefield truck was to have a Chrysler V8, coupled to an A727 automatic transmission along with the Ferguson unit. Jensen was amongst other things responsible for the cabin design and was commissioned to build a number of prototypes, as well as a pre-production series of approximately twenty complete vehicles.
After the demise of Jensen Motors in 1976, the Stonefield project was continued by Jensen Parts and Service for some time.
Jensen Commercial Vehicles
COPYRIGHTS: Jensen Museum | Han Kamp
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