Jensen CV8 | From Drawing Board To Reality
By 1960, Jensen Motors were looking at a future replacement to the 541S. The replacement car would require a much more powerful engine to take over from the ageing Austin engine, and the new engine would require changes to the chassis. With plans a foot for a new centre tubed chassis, it seemed fitting to call the new project the 541 C.T. The Museum looks at the 541 C.T., or C-V8 as it would later be named.
With Jensen 541 production in full-swing, work was going on in the background for a different version of the 541 with greater performance. By 1960 development work on the 541S had been completed, with the new model taking advantage of an automatic transmission as standard.
But, as background work to the 541S was at an end, work was starting on a new 541 with a completely different chassis. The idea was to create a new 541 model with a centre tube chassis, and to have vastly increased power.
The ideas that came together for this new 541 model, seemingly happened on a rather ad-hoc basis. Author Peter Browning (The Jensen-Healey Stories) gives us the following account of how things started to come together for a new version of the 541,
“In the days of the Austin-powered Interceptor, Richard Jensen had styled a revised rear end for this car, and a dusty glass-fibre model which had been laying around in the experimental shop ever since, was duly resurrected. Eric Neale [Chief Engineer at Jensen Motors] had also been playing around with some fresh styling exercises on the front end of the 541, while Kevin Beattie [Deputy Chief Engineer] had been looking at some basic changes to the 541 chassis.”
Up to this time, the 541 models had used the Austin DS5 engine, which could put out approximately 130bhp. Although this engine had served Jensen well, it was starting to look like an aged and meek unit, when pitched against some of Jensen’s adversaries. Jaguar for example was by this time using their 3.8 litre engine, which could put out much more power than the humble Austin engine.
Jensen Motors looked at the range of big American V8 engines, and settled on the Chrysler 5.9 c.i. Golden-Commando V8 engine, which pushed out 305bhp. With a new engine agreed by all those concerned, work on the new car continued in a more orthodox manner.
During 1960, drawings were produced for a centre-tube chassis, entitled as a 541 C.T. Frame. With completed drawings, two frames were allocated job numbers, and were built up by the development department during 1960.
It seems reasonable to believe these were JM/EXP/103 & JM/EXP/104, which would follow on from the three 541S prototypes, JM/EXP/100, JM/EXP/101, and JM/EXP/102. Sometime later, another two experimental 541 C.T. cars (C-V8) were built up. These were JM/EXP/105 and JM/EXP/106.
The reasoning behind the centre tubes, was this type of chassis would be both lighter and less expensive to build, in comparison with the peripheral tube arrangement, current on the existing 541 cars.
Although both issues were key factors in the new design, neither had that much merit over the peripheral tube chassis. Due to the fact that new major sill sections would have to be manufactured into the chassis, along with outriggers, the new chassis was actually slightly heavier. Likewise, the additional work making and fitting sills and outriggers, meant there wasn’t much saving between the two chassis types either.
However, Beattie’s concept for a centre-tube chassis did have one major bonus over the peripheral tube chassis. A centre-tube chassis would be much more adaptable. The centre-tube design allowing for cross-members to be moved around, and extensions to wheelbase lengths, without the expense of jigs and tools.
Around the same time drawings were being worked for the centre-tube chassis, Peter Swain, Drawing Office Manager, undertook a drawing showing the placement of the chassis number on the front cross-frame.
The drawing, completed on the 26th October 1960, gave the set of schedules for the new 541 C.T. cars. A 104 schedule was given for automatic RH drive cars. 105 schedule for manual RH drive cars. 106 schedule for automatic LH drive cars, and 107 for manual LH drive cars.
As work developed on the centre-tube chassis vehicle, some factory documents called the vehicle a 541 C.T., and others a 541 C-V8. In both instances, it shows that at this early stage of design and development work, Jensen Motors were seeing the new car as an evolution of the 541 series, undoubtedly to follow on from the 541S.
The general construction style remained similar to the current 541. The chassis, bulkhead, floors, along with boot floor were fabricated in steel. The tail assembly and roof were glass-fibre, as was the large lift-up bonnet. Again, as with the current 541 model, the doors were finished in aluminium.
During 1961, the first 541 C.T. prototype was completed (experimental chassis JM/EXP/103). The car was used by Kevin Beattie for evaluation purposes. About the same time, the second prototype car was also finished (experimental chassis JM/EXP/104). It is believed this car was initially built up in left-hand-drive form, and was later re-numbered as 106/2108.
It would be 1962 before this centre-tube, V8 car was seen as an all new model – the Jensen C-V8. In fact The Motor ran a feature about the C-V8 in their 10th October 1962 issue. The title was, New Jensen V8 – 6-litre Chrysler-engined G.T. saloon added to 541 “S” series range.
If The Motor’s title for the feature was based on information from the factory, then it can be safely assumed that running up to the launch of the Jensen C-V8, the Company still hadn’t decided if this was a continuation of the 541 or a new model in its own right.
With the chassis drawings completed, Eric Neale, Chief Engineer at Jensen Motors, was working on the new body drawings, along with drawings for the layout of the interior. In as much as the 541S was a great improvement over its predecessors, so the new C-V8 would be over the 541S.
Browning states in The Jensen-Healey Stories, “The car was most lavishly appointed inside, a thoughtful feature being the continuation of the 541-type open-ended seat-squab panels which enabled owners to slide in extra padding to suit their personal needs.”
A move to a wood-rimmed three spoke steering wheel, was another innovation. Rather than accept an off-the-shelf wheel, Jensen Motors designed their own, modern wheel for the C-V8, which was then produced by Bleumels.
This wood-rimmed wheel was a far cry from the ancient looking steering wheel carried on previous 541 cars. The initial batch from Bleumels were 18″ overall diameter, but it seems there was a fault with these, and they cracked easily.
In addition, it was quickly found the 18″ wheel was cumbersome, so subsequent batches were reduced down to 17″. The 24th July 1963 edition of The Motor also pointed out, “…a short driver, however, might have difficulty seeing over the very large (18″) wheel…”
The dashboard was made using wood veneer style Formica. Although the invention of Formica (and another version named Laminex) went back to before the war, it was only from the later 1950s that it was seen as an exciting new product for household interiors and offices.
Typically, Jensen Motors would have seen Formica as an advancement in car interior fashion at the time. That said, this material soon looked stale, and by the end of C-V8 production, the dashboard had reverted to fine traditional burr walnut.
As 1961 moved into 1962, the count down was on to have two of the new C-V8 models ready for the forthcoming 1962 Motor Show. The show, which ran from 17th October through to 27th October, would be the debut for Jensen’s new and powerful C-V8.
The Jensen stand would have two Jensen C-V8s (chassis numbers, 104/2001, and 104/2002, along with one Jensen 541 S. The experimental C-V8 (chassis JM/EXP/106) was probably kept outside the Motor Show for the press to test.
Typical of Jensen Motors running up to the wire, the brochure for the new C-V8, was printed just in time for the Motor Show. It was a smart fold out style brochure with C-V8 chassis number 104/2002 on the front cover. Further images of 104/2002 would be found inside. The price for the C-V8 (including purchase tax) was set at £3,860.12.9 (the price of an average house in 1962 was £2,670).
On the week leading up to the Motor Show, both The Motor, and Autocar magazines, brought out their verdict on Jensen’s new V8 car. The two magazines were given one of the prototypes to test (JM/EXP/106), and were full of praise for this close-to 140mph car. They complimented the near perfect balance of the car, and its well equipped interior. By 1962 standards, the C-V8 was one of the fastest cars on the road.
There had been some conjecture, on which cars were on the Jensen Stand at the 1962 Motor Show. But now we have some proof that it was the two initial production models which were on the stand, 104/2001 (red car) and 104/2002 (white car). Both cars had just been finished, and had been tested in the middle of October.
The conjecture started with the Jensen Owners’ Club register, which states that 104/2001 (red) and JM/EXP/106 (at this time white) were the Motor Show stand cars. But this could quite possibly been written in error many years ago.
Certainly, there isn’t any back-up information provided, to show how the writer came to that decision. However, it is quite possible that Jensen Motors had a car outside for the press to test. This being the case, it was probably JM/EXP/106, which had been used for testing by both The Motor and Autocar on the lead up to the Motor Show.
Luckily we have some proof as to which of the two white cars was actually on the Jensen stand at the 1962 Motor Show. The experimental car, JM/EXP/106, had (and still had in 2010) an almost straight leading edge to the bonnet, the distinctive ‘parrots beak’ that contributes to the C-V8’s characterful ‘face’, forming an integral part of the front clip.
This feature was changed on production cars so that the ‘beak’ was moulded with the bonnet. The white car tested by The Motor and Autocar can be seen to have the prototype bonnet and must be JM/EXP/106. The white car on display at the motor show, has the later bonnet and so must be 104/2002.
After the Motor Show
104/2001 was delivered to Charles Follett at the end of November 1962, where the car was used as a demonstrator, before being sold on to a customer. 104/2002 was delivered to Newbury Motors around the same time, for use as a demonstrator, and then sold on to a customer.
JM/EXP/106, originally a white car was colour changed to red at some-point between October 1962, and March 1963, at which time the car was tested once again by Autocar.
The unique bonnet design of JM/EXP/106 clearly showing that despite the colour change, this was the same car that had been tested previously. JM/EXP/106 was retained as a factory use vehicle until being sold off on 19th March 1964.
JM/EXP/103. This car was technically scrapped by the factory in 1965. In fact the body was removed, and the chassis modified to become the prototype C-V8 FF (with the replacement experimental number JM/EXP 110).
JM/EXP/104. This car is believed to have built up in left-hand-drive form. It was probably later re-numbered as 106/2108. If that is the case, then this car completed in Regal red with mushroom trim, was sold to a customer in the USA. Today (2018), the car is known to survive, and is currently in, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA.
JM/EXP/105. This experimental chassis number is believed to have been given over for the first C-V8 manual transmission car. An engine bearing this number was placed into the first manual C-V8 (chassis number 105/2147). No record relating to an actual chassis bearing the JM/EXP/105 number has been found, and it may be that one was never actually built. C-V8 chassis number 105/2147 survives today (2018) in Ireland.
JM/EXP/106. This car is known to survive up to recent times. Sold at auction in 2010, it was exported to Hungary.
104/2001. This car is also known to survive until recent times, and was last known to have been at the McPherson College, Kansas, USA in 2012.
104/2002. The fate of 104/2002 is not known, the last record of the car was in 1971.
Jensen CV8 | From Drawing Board To Reality
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Richard Calver | Han Kamp | John Staddon, CV8 Registrar, Jensen Owners’ Club
COPYRIGHTS: The Jensen Museum | John Staddon |Han Kamp
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