The History Behind Jensen Motors

Background

Like a long lost favorite memory, Jensen Motors is one of those car brands that car enthusiasts and ordinary people miss. This British car manufacturer was known and patronized for producing high-performance sports cars, luxury vehicles, and even customized car bodies for other famous car brands like Austin, Chrysler, and Ford. The history of Jensen is definitely full of twists and turns as it experienced both growth, struggles, and its ultimate closure.Although the company has already ceased its operations since 2011, they are still remembered for their brilliant cars including the famous Jensen Interceptor, Jensen Healey, and Jensen GT.

Let us take a look back at the history of Jenson Motors and their legacy in the motor racing and the automotive industry.

The Foundation of Jensen Motors

 

Before Jensen Motors was officially established, the company had some humble beginnings as it first started with W.J Smith and Sons Limited which was a coachbuilding firm managed by Richard and Alan Jensen, two brothers who shared the same passion for cars at a very young age. Even the father showed support for their passion after buying them a 1923 Austin Seven chassis where the two brothers built a small body on it. [1] After the death of the owner William Smith, the Jensen brothers completely took over the business and renamed it to Jensen Motors in 1936. Before they built their own car models, they customized bodies of standard cars produced by other automakers including Morris, Singer, Standard, and Wolseley. [2] The turning point for the Jensen brothers started in the same year when they were commissioned by American film actor, Clark Gable, to design and build a car for him based on a Ford V-8 chassis. 

In that same year, the brothers were able to design their first production car named the “White Lady” with the chassis number S1/3799. This model had a box section chassis which was powered by a Ford 3.6 liter V8 engine that produced 118 horsepower and a top speed of 90 mph.[1] This then evolved into what became known as the Jensen S-Type which was mass produced in 1935 until 1941. The body was all-aluminum and  built on a steel chassis and was available in three body styles including a 2-door convertible, a 3-door tourer, and a 4-door sedan.[2]  The company eventually diversified their outputs and built commercial vehicles under the JNSN marque where they made a series of lightweight trucks for the Reynolds Tube Company.[2]

Jensen’s Commercial Vehicles, War, and Post-War Contributions

During World War II, the manufacturing of production cars was put on pause and Jensen shifted its focus on contributing their expertise to the war efforts. Thus, between 1939 and 1945, the company diversified their outputs and produced hundreds of fire trucks, ambulances, rescue vehicles, trailers, and even armored vehicles. Due to the high demand, Jensen was also requested to manufacture bomb racks, ammunition cases, rocket launchers, among many others. [3]

Some of the popular vehicles that the company produced during this time were the following:

  1. Jen-Tug – Dubbed as  a “mechanical horse”, the Jen-Tug was a 4-wheel, simple and versatile transporter of heavy goods that had a trailer attached to it. Although launched in 1947, this model is not solely attributed to the company, however they were able to develop it further to make it more functional. The Jen-Tug had an alloy cabin and was powered by a 1172 cc Ford side valve engine. [3]
  2. JNSN Lorry – Launched in the late 1930s, the Jensen Lorry was a commercial truck that could seat around two passengers and have room for huge goods or cargo. In cooperation with Reynolds, a new lightweight aluminum chassis was developed and the lorry which was originally powered by a Ford V8 sidevalve engine was replaced by a Perkins P6 diesel engine. Since it was made lighter, it was allowed to travel for 30 mph which meant that it could do at least four transports a day instead of just two or three. This gained positive feedback and Jensen was requested to make more lorries. [3]
  3.  JNSN Tempo – In partnership with Vidal and Sohn, a German manufacturer of contemporary vans, Jensen released the JNSN tempo in the late 1950s. This vehicle was available in various specialist versions including a camper van, a crew cabin truck, tempo hydraulic elevator truck, and even a tempo cherry picker. [3]

The Iconic Jensen Interceptor

 

Perhaps one of the most luxurious models that earned Jensen Motors the title of being one of Britain’s most prestigious car manufacturers is the Jensen Interceptor. First appearing in 1950, the Interceptor was a grand touring car with parts based on the Austin models wherein the straight-six engine and transmission came from the Austin Sheerline, while the chassis came from the Austin A70.[4] In its first version, it was a two-door convertible with its bodywork being a  mixture of aluminum steel on a wooden frame. Later on, saloon and sedanca versions were released.[4] Famous for its Chrysler V8 engines, the Interceptor was able to secure a top speed of  145 mph, making it the second fastest production car during its time, followed by the Mercedes Benz 300SL. The most popular version of the Interceptor would be the fastback with its large, curving wrap-around rear window which was hinged for better access to the car’s storage area which easily made this model an early form of a liftback car. In terms of external features, what makes the car unique is its ‘Flying B’ bonnet mascot, and long front end. It also featured elegant chrome bumpers and grille designs which set it apart from other luxury cars that time. [1]

Other Jensen Road Cars

Following the Jensen Interceptor, the company also produced the following road cars:

 

  1. Jensen 541– Unveiled at the London Motor Show in 1953, the Jensen 541 was a two-door four-seat coupe powered by an Austin 4 liter  straight-six engine with an optional Laycock de Normanville overdrive. The model’s body was made out of the revolutionary fiberglass, making it lighter than the Interceptor. During its time, it was also considered as a “performance beast” because of its generated 133 horsepower engine that propelled it to a speed of 109 mph. Years later, improved versions of the 541 were released including the Jensen 541R (1957) and the Jensen 541S (1960). [1]

 

  1. Jensen C-V8 –  Launched in 1962, the C-V8 became the replacement of the Jensen 541 with its distinct features being the four chrome ring slanted headlights and a bulging bonnet line. Like the 541, this luxury grand tourer and two-door coupe was mainly made of fiberglass while the two doors are skinned with aluminum. Just like its predecessors, it took pride in its speed with the Chrysler V8 engine and was considered as one of the fastest four-seater production cars in its time with a top speed of 130 mph. [1]

 

  1. Jensen FF – First appeared at the 1964 Earls Court Motorshow, the Jensen FF (Ferguson Formula) became the first non all-terrain production car to include an all-wheel-drive (AWD) technology as well as a Dunlop Maxaret  anti-lock braking system. Powered by a C-V8 engine with a 3-speed automatic transmission, its top speed was 131 mph. [1] In terms of external features, it is somewhat identical to the Jensen Interceptor, but it is four inches longer in the bonnet or all ahead of the windscreen. [1]

Change of ownership, Closure, and Short-lived Revival

 

After the Jensen Interceptor was launched in the late 1950s, the Norcros Group, an industrial holding company, acquired Jensen Motors and eventually created tension between them and the Jensen brothers, thus leading to their departure from the company. In the 1970s, Kjell Qvale, a Norwegian-American car distributor, became one of the major shareholders of the group in which he appointed Donald Healey as the company’s new chairman. Under Healey’s leadership, the company was able to launch a new model, the Jensen Healey, in 1972. [2] This luxurious grand tourer was even considered to be the all-time best-selling model of Jensen Motors. This two-seater convertible was powered by a 2 liter Lotus 907 dual overhead cam, and a 16-valve all-alloy engine which helped the car get a top speed of at least 119 mph with an impressive acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.8 seconds. [1]

However, tough times followed yet again when the company was faced with a financial crisis in 1975, forcing them to reduce over 700 workers which comprised about two thirds of their total workforce. By 1976, trading was eventually halted by Jensen and it was dissolved into two companies namely: Jensen Special Products (JSP) and Jensen parts & Service Limited (JP&S). These were later acquired by Britcar Holdings and then sold to Ian Orford, who with determination and willingness, revived the Interceptor as the Mk IV. [2]

 

Although Jensen was revived in 2001, the said glorious revival was short-lived. In fact, only one model was ever produced at the time until the end of 2002,  which was the Jensen S-V8. Eight years later in 2010, Jensen International Automotive (JIA), which was not affiliated with Jensen Motors, bought old Jensen Interceptors from them for restoration and selling. Sadly, by 2011, Jensen Motors was officially dissolved or defunct. [2]

Though Jensen Motors faced various challenges since it was founded, its legacy in engineering excellence as well as the marvelous cars that they have produced remains as an important aspect of automobile history. 

References

[1] Balogun, O. (2021, December 18). Here’s what everyone forgot about Jensen Motors and its vehicles     . HotCars. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://www.hotcars.com/heres-what-everyone-forgot-about-jensen-motors-and-its-vehicles/#pw 

[2] Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, May 22). Jensen Motors. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jensen_Motors 

[3] Woodhams, U. (2022, February 16). Jensen commercial vehicles. The Jensen Museum. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://www.jensenmuseum.org/jensen-commercial-vehicles/ 

[4] Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, March 2). Jensen Interceptor (1950). Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jensen_Interceptor_(1950)