The Jensen Interceptor’s image precedes it as one of the most desirable British grand touring cars ever made. The mere mention of it invokes a vision of Tip-Top bars, mountainous moustaches and French champagne. And it’s no wonder. The Interceptor is an intoxicating cocktail of Italian design, American horsepower and British engineering. Reliability issues aside, it remains a world-class GT and a highly sought-after classic.
The Interceptor was styled by Touring of Milan - responsible for the Aston DBs 4-6 and Alfa Romeo Disco Volante among many others. With its curved rear screen and brutish front end it remains a wonderfully distinctive design. Early cars were hand-built by Vignale in Italy, although production was later brought back to Britain. The car was powered by a Chrysler V8, providing a hairy-chested soundtrack and ensuring the Jensen was up to the task of making the London to Cannes motorway run. Jensen produced another version of the Interceptor alongside the standard car. It was called the FF, the world’s first performance car to be fitted with four-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes, a staggering achievement considering it took Audi another fourteen years to respond with the Quattro. The FF was given the Ferguson Formula system previously used in the Ferguson P99 (which won at Oulton Park in 1961 with Stirling Moss), and had a longer wheelbase and bonnet scoop. Jensen also lobbed the roof off and made the Interceptor convertible, intended to boost sales in America. The FF and convertible have since become highly sought after, demanding significant premiums over standard cars.
The Interceptor loves rust, so a close inspection of the bodywork is necessary. Pay particular attention to the bottom six inches of the body, which is where the worst rot occurs. This includes the floor pans, sills, front and rear wheel arches (both inside and out), front and rear valances, door bottoms and the lower wings. The front bulkhead is also a known rotter, especially near the bottom, as well as the jacking points, seat belt mounts, the cross tube under the car, the footwells and the top chassis rails. Other areas to look out for are the rear hatch hinges and the windscreen, which is prone to leaking. The bumpers aren’t immune either, and even the filler cap can corrode badly. A top tip is to run a magnet across the car to check for filler. While the Interceptor’s body is steel, it was hand-built and lead-loading was heavily used.
The big Chrysler V8 should be relatively fault-free, needing little more than a regular oil and filter change. However if the car has been badly maintained and only used for irregular short journeys then problems can arise. One such issue is a propensity to blow the gasket between the exhaust manifolds and cylinder head. This can be cured with copper gaskets, however the manifold may need to be skimmed flat as the high engine temperatures can cause warping. Talking of high temperatures - another common problem is overheating. Although the engine is designed for long haul motorway journeys, it can quickly overheat at lower speeds. Many owners have gone to the trouble of fitting replacement electric fans, however make sure that this isn’t due to a larger issue with the unit. When you turn the engine over listen out for any rumbling and ensure the oil pressure is sitting somewhere between 25-40 psi on idle, and at least 60 psi at cruising speeds. Make sure to do a general once-over on the engine too. It's the small things that often hint at larger issues. If the engine bay looks tatty and tired, with an unclean engine and wires hanging loose then you can be pretty sure it hasn't been looked after and is only waiting for a problem to arise.
The transmission is just as bullet-proof as the engine it’s coupled with. While 24 early cars came with a manual, the vast majority of Interceptors are fitted with the Chrysler Torqueflite three-speed auto. Fluid leaks are not unknown and can run the unit dry, so check the level and colour of the liquid (it should be pink, if it’s creamy or dark coloured alarm bells should be ringing). If the gear change is clunky it points towards a worn gearbox, and inspect the differential seals for signs of leaks.
Early cars (1966-1969) were equipped with suspension from the Austin Sheerline. This means they have kingpins, which tend to wear. Replacement parts are no longer available so you’ll have to make do with what’s there. Thankfully later cars have a double-wishbone set-up, but they come with washers and bushes that wear and give the car vague, numb handling characteristics. It will take a couple of days to put right. Remember that the Interceptor is a heavy, powerful car, and the springs and dampers take the brunt of this. Make sure you can get two fingers between the top of the tyre and the wheel arch when unloaded and check if the car is sitting low.
The Jensen was a luxury GT and used more advanced electronics than many of its contemporaries. Problems are common, especially with garage queens. Check the lights are all working and of equal power, any electrical devices in the cabin and that the car turns over quickly. It might be worth fitting a high-output alternator.
Leather upholstery was used on all Interceptors. It was high quality but will naturally show its age in places unless the cabin has been restored. Look for broken stitching, split leather and sagging leather on re-trimmed cars. If the car is equipped with a walnut dashboard then make sure it isn't delaminated. The windscreen can leak and the footwell can rot, so check for signs of damp. Later cars were fitted with air-conditioning as standard, but don’t expect it to work. Many owners replace it with a more modern unit, although replacements can be pricey.
The Interceptor is the archetypal grand tourer. The engine has low-range torque in abundance and wafts along a motorway effortlessly. Don’t expect it to handle like a Ferrari, but it is surprisingly composed along a back road and is engaging enough to enjoy when the going gets twisty. If the damping is overly wallowy the suspension may be tired and need work. Keep your ears attuned to any unusual rumbles from the engine or knocks and rattles from the suspension and cabin trim, as well as smoke from the exhaust.
The first thing you need to know is that the Interceptor is difficult to value. For instance, the Interceptor’s contemporary rivals - including the Aston V8 and Jaguar E-Type - have rocketed in value due to their exotic badges, performance and collectability. The Jensen has not reached similar levels of silliness and a decent example is still attainable, despite its obvious desirability. Another reason why values are skewed is the usability versus originality debate. The Jensen has come back into fashion partly thanks to the JIA Interceptor R, a modernised version similar in principle to the Singer Porsche and Eagle E-Types. It woke owners up to the idea of upgrading engine, cooling, brakes and interiors, creating fully usable everyday cars. Obviously, the more modernising owners embark on, the lower the car’s value becomes, even if it transforms the driving experience and makes the car cheaper to run. Nevertheless, a rough picture has emerged. You can pick up a restoration project for £20,000, a working example for around £35,000, and rebuilt garage queens for £70,000. The convertible and FF versions are in a different stratosphere. Project cars begin at £35,000, a decent example is £80,000 and you’ll need around £100,000-£150,000 for a car in mint condition.
While values are strong, the Interceptor is a bargain. In this context, any issues and running costs should be something you can stomach. Thanks to the rising values - especially for convertible and FF variants - many cars have been painstakingly restored and there’s no shortage of decent examples on the market. The trick with buying an Interceptor is to concentrate on the bodywork. It’s the car’s weakest spot and can cost you a fortune to put right if rust has eaten deep enough. Being hand-built means it is often time-consuming and expensive to mend and replace panels. A bonnet alone will set you back around £1,000 due to the work involved. Don't expect to last many miles between fuel stations either. The Jensen is notoriously thirsty, even by the standards of the day, so bear this in mind if you're thinking of using it as a daily driver.
It hardly needs reiterating but the Interceptor is a deeply desirable grand tourer with all of the cache and performance you need to explore the south of France in style. Thanks to steady values it won’t break the bank, either, and as long as you look out for the rust and build issues you can have a Sixties icon for far less than its contemporary rivals.
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