Words by Raj Hunjan
The Jensen Interceptor is an understated and uber-cool GT car that still draws attention and admiration to this day. Back in the 70’s the Interceptor cost the same as two semi detached houses, a high price, even higher than a new Aston Martin!
Penned in the 60’s by Italian designer Carrozzeria Touring, the Interceptor was produced from 1966 to 1976. In the mid 70’s Jensen ran into trouble amid rising fuel prices and a global recession, the circa 11 mpg fuel consumption of the Chrysler V8, together with the high purchase price meant that new car sales dried up pretty much overnight.
Attempts to revive the marque unfortunately floundered; a series 4 in the late 80’s failed to sell in meaningful numbers. High prices and lower power than the previous Mk III translated into less than 40 being built. More recently there was promise of an all new Jensen Interceptor, but all has gone quiet on this front too.
The Mk I to Mk III cars were quite a combination, arresting Italian design, British construction and lots of American horsepower. The Jensen Interceptor has long been regarded as one of the most stylish cars ever made. Build numbers approached 5,000 cars in total with all but a few early cars fitted with automatic transmission. Like most cars of the era, Jensens are prone to rust, however there are plenty of original Jensen’s still in existence. It’s estimated that in the UK there are around 1,000, with a third of those registered as off the road. However, these cars are 40 years old now, which means that to use them as they were originally intended, as a long distance cruiser, is possibly asking too much.
One company, Jensen International Automotive is taking Interceptors (Mk II and Mk III cars in particular) and overhauling them with carefully chosen upgrades to maintain their GT credentials in the modern world. Mechanical work includes substituting the engine, drivetrain, electrics, braking and suspension with modern class-leading equipment. Whilst this might seem a tad drastic, JIA and its customers argue that the changes are totally in keeping with the original concept of the car and make it a GT car without the classic car compromise.
Gone is the thirsty Chrysler V8 and 3 speed torqueflite slushbox, replaced with a GM sourced LS3 unit mated to it’s perfectly matched 6 speed automatic transmission. This brings modern reliability and economy whilst eradicating the notorious overheating issues of the original unit. The updated Interceptor R – as it is rebadged, will sprint to 60mph in around 4.5 seconds and still return around 24 mpg on a run. Basic setup for the 6.2 litre engine is 430bhp. But a supercharged version (suitably tamed with adjustable traction control) with up to 650bhp is available for the power hungry.
Putting these kind of figures onto the road via a live axle wasn’t acceptable to David and the team at JIA so they developed a single wishbone independent rear suspension setup which utilises Jaguar sourced parts. The greater power necessitates much better brakes, AP Racing items are fitted but are too big for the original 15 inch alloy wheels. JIA designed a larger diameter version of original wheels, their 17 inch rims are shod in modern performance tyres and still look just-so under the arches.
In terms of styling changes, subtle enhancements have been made to the car and in the flesh, they make the car look better than ever. A slightly deeper front valance, new chrome mesh vents (rather than the cheese grater style originals) and deletion of the bumper overriders clean up the look of the car. None of these features look out of place or jump out at you, a sure sign that it all just works.
Build time for a car is around 8 months from sourcing the donor (which JIA will do) to taking delivery after road testing. Prices start at around £150,000 but there is a host of customisation options along the way to tailor your perfect Interceptor. Electric seats are even possible (an option that wasn’t available on the original), along with discreet satnav and stereo installs. A new in-house designed dashboard is also on offer, making it possible to bring effective climate control into the car. Likewise the company have been working on a bonded windscreen that significantly reduces wind noise when on the move, there is also a single wiper conversion to improve high speed wet driving visibility. In short the overhaul is all encompassing and leaves you with the closest you can get to a new classic car.
Now, what’s it like to drive? Stability, reassurance and solidity spring to mind on my first drive on a damp January morning. It is not as big as you expect on the road, modern cars have been getting bigger, so this 40 year old GT car is actually quite small by modern standards, a sense that is enhanced by JIAs clever front suspension geometry tweaks. There is effortless power and poise, the noise is addictive when planting your right foot. You can just get in and drive it, even on a damp morning. Around town, stop start traffic is a doddle and even enjoyable as you are occupied by seeing everyone glance and admire the Interceptor. The Interceptor is a pussy cat that roars like a lion on command.
What is crystal clear, even on a short test drive is that the solid engineering and execution shines through. The natural balance and cohesion of the transformation means that nothing untoward sticks out or appears out of place, power is perfectly balanced with braking and handling. The cabin is a truly beautiful place to be, Smiths dials, supple leather and welcoming seats make this the ideal place to be for countless hours on the road.
The Interceptor R takes all the best bits that you would remember if you saw one at a young age, the sound of a big V8, the looks, the GT styling and brings it all up to date, bringing that dream to life. There is no need for rose tinted glasses with the Interceptor R.
There is a growing appreciation for Jensen Interceptors and as cars are still being broken for parts, the supply of both donors and original runners is diminishing. Prices for an original specification restored Jensen Interceptor are around £30,000, some say these are significantly undervalued currently and there is solid evidence that values are rising. This level of investment will leave you with a fair weather car perfect for occasional events in the UK. But there is an alternative, the Interceptor R is a realistic everyday GT car that will quite happily blast you to Le Mans and back safe in the knowledge that your AA card won’t see the light of day!
A further twist in the tale is that JIA can perform their mechanical upgrade wizardry to an existing good Interceptor, a well chosen car with the right upgrades can achieve the driving satisfaction of the R whilst still taking advantage of the Interceptor’s current relatively low intrinsic value, a sure fire winner for the canny purchaser who wishes to enjoy their investment to the maximum!