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Alan and Richard Jensen were coachbuilders in Birmingham and along with many others built their first body on an Austin 7 chassis in 1928. They worked for a number of local firms until they joined W J Smith & Son in West Bromwich. The Jensen brothers engineered improvements to the company's production of commercial bodies and in due course they were making bodies on a number of popular car chassis. The company was renamed Jensen Motors in 1934.
The majority of the bodies were built on Ford chassis. The "Mistral" on the Ford 8 was a catalogue model from 1933 and some Ford V-8 Model 40s were bodied for the Tourist Trophy
Race in 1934. A Jensen Special Ford V-8 was shown at the Royal Albert Hall in London in October 1934 when Ford staged their own rival show to that staged by the SMMT at Olympia.
About 30 of these sports tourer bodies were fitted to Ford 40, 48 and 68 chassis and were available into 1937.
The first car that could be truly described as a Jensen was the 3½-Litre based on a lengthened Ford chassis with lowered suspension (designed by E T Gregorie at Ford). The major mechanical components were supplied by M B K Motors, a company owned by Moore-Brabazon and Khan. Announced in October 1936 there were saloon and tourer and drophead body options and about 50 were delivered, one as late as 1941. The very "British" styled bodies were heavy and although a small number of cars were fitted with the smaller Ford 60hp engine of 2,227cc they were underpowered.
For 1938 Jensen offered the 4½-Litre which featured the Nash Twin Ignition straight-8 overhead valve engine in the suitably modified Ford chassis. Under 20 of these powerful cars were built with body styles similar to the earlier models, a few being sold with the V-12 Lincoln Zephyr engine. These pre-war cars are now known as "S" types.
Jensen continued to be commercial body builders for their main business and the cars were more of an interesting sideline than a serious enterprise.
After the Second World War Jensen announced a large 6-seat saloon intended for the straight-8 Meadows engine. Unfortunately this 3,860cc Meadows engine suffered from incurable torsional vibration and so the first few cars were fitted with the Nash engines left over from before the war. When these ran out the 4-litre straight-6 engine from the Austin Sheerline was fitted. This PW (for post war) model was made in very limited numbers as a saloon or with the Interceptor coupe body.
The relationship with Austin resulted in the supply of A70 chassis for a new range of Interceptor sports tourers and saloons with aluminium bodies. These were expensive hand built cars and at a price of £2,257 less than 90 were sold as a Jaguar, if one could be found, was much less money. At the same time Jensen built the bodies for the Austin A40 Sports model, a scaled down version of the rather bulbous Interceptor.
By 1953 the company had been experimenting with fibreglass moulding and Richard Jensen was attracted to the idea of using this new material for a small volume Grand Touring car.
A new steel chassis was developed with large diameter side tubes onto which was bonded an attractive new body, styled and developed by Eric Neale. One of the more unusual features of the body was the aperture to the radiator which was fitted with flap, hinged along it's central axis which could be opened and closed to control the flow of cooling air to the core.
The Jensen 541 was launched at the London Motor Show in October 1954 with the 3,993cc Austin 6-cylinder engine and conventional independent wishbone front suspension and a live rear axle. This car was well received and combined luxury with a top speed of 115 mph.
It was called the 541 because it was the first car made in 1954. A Deluxe model, the 541R was added, with the new Dunlop disc brakes all round, twin exhaust and Laycock de Normanville overdrive, and in 1960 the 541S was fitted with the Hydramatic automatic gearbox from General Motors as standard and the manual gearbox became optional. The 541S also underwent minor restyling which included the removal of the flap to the radiator aperture.
By 1962 the market for GT cars demanded more performance and so the ageing Austin engine was replaced by the much larger 5,910cc V-8 from Chrysler. This engine developed a quoted 330bhp and required the strengthening of the chassis. In order to keep the overall weight down the door panels were made from aluminium. The body was completely restyled with a rather aggressive looking twin headlamp design, which was not universally liked. This was later revised for the C-V8 Mk III of 1965. The Mk II of 1963 and subsequent models used the larger 6,276cc Chrysler V-8 engine.
Some years earlier Harry Ferguson, the tractor manufacturer, had started development work on a 4-wheel drive system for cars. This had been demonstrated in a number of applications, notably in a Formula 1 racing car in 1961. Harry Ferguson Research had entered into an arrangement with Jensen to develop and market a car with this system and by 1965 the Jensen FF was built into a modified version of the C-V8 with a longer chassis and Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock braking system originally developed for use on aircraft.
Jensen had continued as coachbuilders throughout the 1960s with a contract from Austin to build the Austin-Healey sports car bodies, so when this came to an end their financial backers, the Norcros Group, decided that an Italian designed GT car would fill the gap. They commissioned Vignale to design a lighter steel bodied car with the same engine and running gear as the C-V8. The Jensen brothers, Alan and Richard, were unhappy with the direction the company was going and resigned in 1966. The Vignale styled Jensen was put into production as the Interceptor in 1967 and was made in stages up to the Mk III in 1976. The 4-wheel drive FF version was also made in three marks with the final version being made in December 1971.
When the contract between Austin and Donald Healey came to an end a new deal was put together whereby Kjell Qvale, the Jensen distributor for California, became a majority shareholder and Donald Healey the chairman. The plan was to build a new car for the American market to be called the Jensen-Healey which would sell at about $5,000. The new car owed more to the Healey influence than Jensen and was a unitary body/chassis unit with suspension borrowed from the Vauxhall Firenza and a Lotus 4-cylinder twin overhead camshaft engine of 1,973cc. The first cars were available in 1972, but there were teething troubles and so a modified version was brought out in August 1973 as the Mk II. Then 1975 model was fitted with the Getrag 5-speed gearbox and had impact resisting bumpers to satisfy the US Federal requirements. A sort of coupe estate version was offered in 1975 but only about 500 were made before production of all Jensen-Healeys stopped in August 1975, by which date about 10,000 had been made.
Jensen Motors Ltd was put into the hands of the receiver and was closed in May 1976. The receiver sold the company in two parts, Jensen Special Products Ltd. and Jensen Parts & Service Ltd. to continue servicing Jensen cars and prove a parts service to owners. This company was acquired in 1983 by Ian Orford, who had joined the company 15 years earlier, and the name was changed to Jensen Cars Ltd. The Interceptor was put back into production with a 5,910cc Chrysler engine and sold as the Series 4, but only 11 cars were built before Orford sold out to Unicorn Holdings of Stockport in 1988. Under the chairmanship of Hugh Wainwright a Series 5 model was planned but never made. A few more Series 4 cars were built until 1992.
The Jensen name was revived in 1998 by Creative Design Ltd. when a new S-V8 model with styling by Howard Guy and Gary Doy. It was a 2-seat roadster with aluminium body panels and a 4.6-litre Ford V-8 four camshaft engine with 4 valves per cylinder and a 5-speed Borg Warner manual gearbox. The chassis was a new design and incorporated independent suspension all round with wishbones and coil springs. Production started in 1999 and the S-V8 was priced in the UK at £39,650.