Jensen Interceptor III 1974-76 (Series 4 and Series 5)

Between 1974 and 1976, the Jensen Interceptor III reached the apogee of its development. Two new body styles — the Convertible and Coupé — were introduced and progressively updated versions of the Chrysler 440ci motor were fitted throughout the range. The interiors were revised, one last time, and a new range of paint colours was introduced before the Jensen factory closed its doors in May 1976. By the end of 1976, a grand total of 6407 Interceptors had been built of which 4255 were Interceptor IIIs. The IIIs made from 1974 to 1976 were classified by the factory as the Series 4 and Series 5 and, in this review, we concentrate on these final variants. For reviews of the other main variants on the Interceptor III — the SP, Convertible and Coupé — refer to the model guides.

The Interceptor III Series 4 was launched at Earls Court in October 1973 just as war broke out in the Middle East and the first of the oil shocks of the 1970s began. For the next 18 months, the motoring industry worldwide was hit hard. Fuel queues formed where previously there were none; economy-consciousness became a watchword; inflation plagued all aspects of manufacturing, and uniform costing went out the window. For Jensens, reliant in large part on sales of the expensive, gas-guzzling Interceptors, the changed conditions wrought havoc with the financial bottom line.

Speaking of bottom lines, what's going on here? This is VIN 1958 indulging in a little mall mauling. If only Jensens had mounted something like this at Earls Court, maybe they wouldn't have gone bust. Still, the sales assistant would have to be game to try it with the Ferret – some of its paint is like sandpaper. Thanks T.J, you're an inspiration to us all. "Take me home, to South Alabama ..."

For Jensens, on a simple level, the oil question should have been academic because anyone who could afford a big Jensen should have been able to afford the price of petrol. The cars were mostly company-owned anyway. But those companies, like Jensens, were not immune from the inflationary cycle and Jensens — being relatively small producers — were perhaps more susceptible than many. Prices rose rapidly after 1973 with the all-up cost of a UK Interceptor rising from £6981 in August 1973 to £10,764 by February 1976. Parts and servicing costs went up in parallel, sometimes too fast for the Spares Department to track the changes. Faced with passing on these costs, Jensens began meeting buyer resistance just as other makers did. Perhaps for the buyers of Jensens and the like, always concerned with image, there was also an element of being seen to be politic in those energy-conscious years.

This had consequences for the company’s state of health. 1973 saw Jensens’ pre-tax profits tumble from the previous years’ record high of £200,682 to a meagre £10,000 and in 1974 Jensens went heavily into the red, to the extent of losing £120,000. The labour force was cut by half, slashed from 1400 to 700 through retirements and retrenchments. Liquidity was hurt because substantial investment was bound up in the Healey project where the plan had been to produce 10,000 units a year (as against that many sold throughout the entire four years of the car’s life). Warranty costs on the Lotus engine were harming sales and eating into the company’s reserves to say nothing of the customers who were beginning to steer clear of Jensen in droves. The firm was caught with rising costs and falling sales at the very time it had expected to be showing a profit on its investment.

Paradoxically, the dealer network continued to grow. K. R. Zayani visited the Jensen factory in December 1973 and soon afterwards the Gulf dealership of A. A. Zayani and Sons, located in Bahrain, began distributing Jensen cars to the oil-rich Arabs. It was ironic that Zayani should have begun dealing in Interceptors at the very time the oil embargo was doing the Jensen company the greatest harm. If so, the irony must have been lost on his customers.

At Jensens, union militancy was exacerbated by the introduction of a three-day working week and the perception that the rich American who owned the firm could be milked for all he was worth. The Jensen management tried to balance the company’s operations by cutting costs, reducing the work force and making savings wherever possible. Marketing Director Dick Graves asked the engineers to look at ways of extracting greater fuel efficiency from the V8 engine, a request which seems to have led to an LPG conversion option, details of which do not appear to have survived. In the continuing drive for cost-cutting, individual car road tests grew shorter. Whereas the first Interceptor IIIs had been road tested individually for about 150 miles or more, those built in 1973 were receiving 150 miles at most, and many received less than 100 miles before being passed off to Sales.

For 1974, Interceptor saloons continued much as before. The first “Series 4” car was built on a production 1973 J-series chassis and displayed at the 1973 Earls Court Show. It featured a louvred bonnet, an experimental steering wheel (not adopted in production), a revised aerial installation, a new centre console, sealed rear quarter lights, sheepskin inserts to the seats and the usual vinyl roof. Later, this LHD demo was sold to Jensen Motors Inc., the United States arm of the business. Eventually, the full wood dashboard, first tried on the Convertible in 1974, found its way onto LHD cars as a standard inclusion early in 1975, the first example being sent to the West German auto show that year. A little later, the wooden dash was productionized on the RHDs. Qvale was convinced that Interceptors needed this glamorous treatment to compete at the top end of the market and as a result skiploads of plastic dashes were dumped by the factory to make way for stocks of the new dash.

And this is what the wood dash looks like. Pretty neat, huh? Alright, so it's a Convertible but you get the idea. In fact, if you spotted that this isn't actually a saloon, I guess you're learning something. VIN 1952, by the way. Thanks Anon.

Watching all of this from retirement in 1974, Richard Jensen wrote to his old associate Dick Graves to say it looked as if things were getting worse. “You must be having a hell of a time,” he wrote, “but it cannot last for ever.” In this, he was quite prophetic. 1975 turned out to be a watershed in Jensen history. It opened with mass redundancies as the firm tried to cut its operating costs, saw frantic work carried out simultaneously on several new models while the company tried to trade its way out of the red, and gave rise to several very public clashes between the union management and Qvale himself. September saw the appointment of a Receiver and the death a few days later of the ailing Kevin Beattie. In October, Jensens attended their last Motor Show at Earls Court. The unhappy Christmas was but a brief lull before the new year dawned, the mass redundancies resumed for the last time and Jensens prepared to wind down their operation and close up for good.

Summing up his findings after the Motor Show in November 1975, the Receiver said that Jensens had failed for three reasons. One, they had been required by law to undertake extensive engineering on some of their products; two, sales in the United States, vital to the company’s success, had been lower than expected; and three, high inflation in the UK had eroded the company’s profitability. Qvale later claimed that it was union trouble — “the British disease” — which crippled Jensens, but the truth was more complex than that.

Car sales had certainly been dropping in the United States. From a record 11.4 million sales in 1973, new car deliveries were down to 10 million by 1976. Throughout the industry, car yards were full of unsold new automobiles and Jensens were not immune from that unhappy scene. Something like 1000 new cars jammed Qvale’s outlets in the States by late 1975.

Rather than simply winding up the firm’s affairs, the Receiver decided to recoup as much capital as he could by allowing Jensens to continue trading under strict supervision, to claw back some of the potential sales and use up surplus spares. In fact, Jensen Motors Ltd remained in receivership until 1990 with the Receiver lodging returns of income and disbursements every year. Principally, this was to enable him to pursue some bad debts in Australia where payment for two Interceptors delivered to the main distributor remained outstanding after Taylorspeed declared themselves insolvent in 1975. Payment for these cars was not received until 1990, after which the affairs of Jensen Motors were finally wound up.

As Richard Jensen had predicted, things had not remained depressed forever and by 1975 the market for luxury automobiles had turned around remarkably. Dick Graves was quite unable to keep up with demand for Jensen cars by this stage, both Interceptors and GTs, but he was hamstrung in that the company was wracked by union troubles and finding it extremely difficult to secure the cooperation of suppliers. After September, the Receiver had to approve individual builds on a cost/profit basis and in fact continued to do so even after Jensen Motors ceased trading in May 1976. He allowed a subsidiary firm, Jensen Parts & Service, to continue making the high-value Interceptors until the supply of engines and main assemblies was exhausted later that year. By 1975, however, Qvale had lost all interest in the game. His men had made careful preparations for receivership well in advance and there was little to be done now except to allow the process to run its logical course.

The production of Series 4 and Series 5 Interceptors through the calendar years looked like so:

CALENDAR YEAR CAR PRODUCTION
1973 21
1974 1080
1975 507
1976 170
Much later 1
TOTAL 1779

The car built later was based on a glassless roof Coupé bodyshell sold after the factory ceased to trade. Carrying VIN CP1998, it is now on the road in England.

By 1974, the Jensen assembly line personnel had had ample time to sort out the bugs in the complicated process of building Interceptors. The build process, costed for budgetary purposes on the basis of about 500 man hours of labour, was one of the most demanding in the industry and the post-construction quality checks were among the most rigorous anywhere. Given this, it comes as something of a surprise to find that many of the problems experienced on the earlier cars were still there at the end of Interceptor production in 1975–76. These included electrical problems, fit and finish, paintwork defects and engine overheating. Normally such problems would have been sorted out without too much trouble but receivership signaled a tougher line on warranty claims. Now, the factory began quite happily to reject the more dubious complaints out of hand.

Even so, and being keen to attract as much business as possible, the Jensen management tried to broaden its clientele base in the service and repair shops. David Millard, who added the Marketing Directorship to his Service Manager’s responsibilities on Dick Graves’ departure in 1975, wrote to the Jensen Owners Club in an attempt to interest its members in bringing their cars back to the factory for work. Given that most of them owned the 541 and C-V8 models, Millard was going back on Qvale’s instruction of a few years earlier to the effect that the company would focus only on the current models. It was, unfortunately, a case of too-little too-late. His letter was published in the May 1976 issue of the JOC magazine just as the Jensen factory was closing its doors.

Late model Interceptor IIIs look a little different to their forbears and part of that look is attributable to the paint schemes. A vast range of paint colours was employed on these cars, its size explained partly by the fact that it encompassed the last of the Interceptor specific paints of 1973–4 as well as the first of the new Jensen generic paints of 1975–6. Conservative schemes in white, grey, brown and blue were mostly the norm. The full breakdown looked like so:

COLOUR NUMBER COLOUR NUMBER COLOUR NUMBER
White 241 Oakland Green 37 Moss Green 11
Silver Grey 196 Oatmeal 35 Alpine Grey 9
Copper Brown 194 Nevis Blue 33 Claret 8
Havana 162 Saturn Gold 31 California Sage 7
Brienz Blue 160 Sebring Silver 28 Magenta 6
Royal Blue 130 Mustard 28 Reef Blue 5
Cerise 127 Aruba Red 28 Regal Red 5
Yellow 77 Saba Blue 27 Metallic Fawn 3
Black 69 Cheviot Brown 25 Aztec Gold 3
Tangerine 37 Pine Green 17 Unspecified 7

In addition, quite a number of specialty orders were met:

Two each of Unspecified Blue, Colorado Yellow, Metallic Tangerine, Metallic Brown, Metallic Violet, Pacific Blue and Velvet Green 14
One each of Aquarius Blue, Black Pearl, Brasilia, Brewster Green, Buttercup, Crystal Blue, Dark Olive, Faune Mais, Frisco Blue, Grey, Laguna Beige, Silver Mink, Metallic Turquoise, Metallic Red, Olive Gold, Oxford Blue, Peacock Blue, Phantom Mist and unspecified Red 19
TOTAL

ALL PAINT COLOURS

1779

The Connolly leathers used on the Series 4s were largely standard issue, the following numbers of each being produced:

LEATHER NUMBER LEATHER NUMBER LEATHER NUMBER
Tan 505 Magnolia 100 Beige/Brown 1
Black 393 Mocha 59 Tan/Brown 1
Beige 392 Biscuit 1 Unspecified 5
Blue 196 Green 1    
Red 124 Grey 1 TOTAL 1779

As with most types of car, and no less so with Interceptors, it is the later models which seem to be the more desirable variants, mainly because of the impression that younger cars will be in better condition. Given the age of Interceptors, however, this argument hardly stands up. A careful appraisal of condition, as opposed to model year, should be the determining factor when considering the purchase of any Jensen. The later cars are certainly well supported in the spares department and the last of them do sport that lovely wooden dashboard, perhaps the most distinguishing feature in a long line of highly distinguished cars.

Interceptors of this vintage are generally referred to as the Interceptor III Series 4, so named for their Chrysler 4-series engines (1974 model year). In fact, the term is applied generically even where this engine is not fitted so a certain amount of confusion can pertain. For example, some of the last of the J-series cars actually have 4C engines fitted, presumably because the supply of 3C engines was running out before the production line was geared up to build the 1974 model cars. Although the bulk of the Series 4 cars have 4C engines, the first nine cars made for Japan were given the older 3C units while the last examples have Series 5 engines (for the 1975 Chrysler model year). On Interceptors, there are also some oddball variants described variously as 4T/75, 4T4C and 4T5C engines. These are surplus 1974 engines modified by the factory to pass the 1975 Federal emissions specification. Exactly what was done to them is now hard to say but, whatever you have under the bonnet of a (non-Japanese) Series 4 car, a 1974 or 75 Chrysler workshop manual will cover it.

In terms of their Jensen coding, the engine types fitted to the Series 4s and 5s are as follows:

ENGINE NUMBER ENGINE NUMBER ENGINE NUMBER
4C 1251 5T5C 31 T440 1
5C 149 3C 9 Unspecified 184
5T 114 4T4C 1    
4T / 75 38 4T5C 1 TOTAL 1779

And this is what the lump looks like. Buried somewhere in there is a 5-series Chrysler 440.

This is the Federal engine installation, late model. Three fan set-up, header tank for the radiator, small fuse box to make room for the big 100 amp alternator, Chrysler a/c compressor controlled by English Ranco switches – and not a lot of space for anything else. You can see why they get hot. Apparently, you can cook a fish supper for two in about 12 miles. Whew! Good thing we have louvres. VIN 1952. Thanks Anon.

Like their predecessors, Series 4s and 5s were sent out all over the world. The full market breakdown was as follows:

DESTINATION SOLD DESTINATION SOLD DESTINATION SOLD DESTINATION SOLD
United States 843 Belgium 15 Saudi Arabia 5 Qatar 1
Mainland UK 598 New Zealand 13 Persian Gulf 5 Norway 1
Canada 77 Sweden 10 Spain 4 Monaco 1
Australia 63 Ireland & NI 9 Bahrain 3 Kuwait 1
Netherlands 31 Unspec export 8 South Africa 2 Canary Is. 1
Switzerland 22 Portugal 6 Lebanon 2 Channel Is. 1
Japan 21 West Germany 6 Guam 2 Bahamas 1
Hong Kong 17 Iran 6 Greece 2 TOTAL 1779

The four-digit VIN prefix first used on the Jensen-Healey in 1972 was extended to the Interceptor range from 1974 and the breakdown of that code gives the market area, body style and drive configuration of the car. The codes used on the late Interceptors are:

VIN CODE BODY DRIVE MARKET BUILT
2210, 2211 Saloons LHD NADA 527
2220, 2221, 2222, 2223, 2224 Saloons LHD Europe and Middle East 80
2230 Saloon LHD USA 1
2240, 2241, 2242, 2243, 2244 Saloons RHD Home and Far East 596
2249 Coupé RHD Home 1
2310, 2311 Convertibles LHD NADA 409
2320, 2321, 2323 Convertibles LHD Europe 5
2340, 2341, 2342, 2344 Convertibles RHD Home and Far East 91
2710, 2711 Coupés LHD NADA 20
2740, 2741 Coupés RHD Home and Australia 26
001 Convertible RHD Prototype 1
PP Convertible LHD Prototype 1
PP Convertibles RHD Prototypes 2
PT Saloon LHD Prototype 1
Unspecified Unspecified Unspec Mostly NADA 18
TOTAL       1779

The late Interceptor saloons, like their predecessors, were often purchased as company cars for senior Directors and CEOs. Among the “celebrity” owners may be counted Joe Barbera, Chad Everett and Ray Dolby, all California residents. Cars of this vintage may be seen in some of the period (and later) British TV serials including Harry Enfield, Hazell, Gary Rhodes, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and The Saint (3rd series). In the latter, which shows off the Interceptor to great effect, the car is actually made up to resemble one of the 1980s production 360ci Interceptor S4s (not to be confused with the 440ci Interceptor III Series 4). Aside from these cameo roles, I’m not aware of any of the late saloons appearing in movies. If anyone knows any different, I’d welcome a tip to the films.

Of the 4255 Interceptor IIIs of all kinds built between 1971 and 1976, I have fates for only about 800 in the past five years — not much of a survival rate and undoubtedly on the low side. As always, I’m interested to hear from anyone who owns a Jensen car and I’m happy to help with queries about the histories of Jensens of all kinds. Contact me at tfmuch@bigpond.com.

Before you call, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of the chassis databook — it’s available from outlets in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. If you read up on the stats in there, you’ll have a better idea of what the history is all about and I won’t have to rehearse the bleedin’ obvious one more time. To find out about this weighty tome, go here — to contact one of the suppliers go here.



© 2000–2008 Richard Calver

 

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