Epic Restoration Obsessive quests for perfection ‘He wanted it restored to exactly how it was in 1969’ This former GKN Transmissions Jensen FF test car sat sad and rusty outside a workshop until Paul Hembery commissioned Rejen to tackle its exacting restoration. Words Russ Smith. Photography James Pardon. 4-year Jensen FF restoration Four-wheel-drive development car saved ’It was a rare chance to restore an important part of our motoring history’. The boss of Pirelli Motorsport sent his Jensen FF for a restoration so exacting it took four years to complete. We find out why.
Before embarking on what was not just a restoration but probably the most exacting renovation of a Jensen FF ever carried out, Paul Hembery didn’t even own this car. A degree of fate brought them together. We’ll let Paul explain.
‘It started of with me having a late MkIII Interceptor and intending to get some work done to make it useable. I took it to Rejen and, after talking with Jason Lawrence about the work needed, I asked about a sad, rusty-looking FF that was parked outside. The thought was forming that if I was going to spend some money, maybe it would be better spent on something a little rarer and more interesting. I had actually seen that same car for sale on eBay, but not having time to visit it, decided not to bid. Seeing it there made me want to ask a bit more, and that is where the idea started.
‘Why a Jensen, or more importantly why an FF? That goes back to my interest as a youngster in the early Seventies, when a Jensen was something special and I was starting to gain my car passion. The FF was then – and maybe more so now on reflection – everything that was right and wrong about British industry. A technical marvel – who could not be interested in the four-wheel-drive system, the Dunlop anti-lock brakes and a type of variable Armstrong damper? – but sadly blighted by the quality issues that the era was famous for and then hit hard by the fuel crisis. It was the car of the stars when in production, and the list of notable owners is incredible by any standards, then or now.
‘So a chance to restore a sad-looking, but intriguing part of our motoring history interested me. I quickly understood that this particular car had been bought by GKN as a development vehicle for its newly acquired Birfield transmissions division (which subsequently made a licensing agreement with Harry Ferguson Developments for the mass production of the Ferguson Formula FF all-wheel control system) and it had therefore surely played a small role in helping to set that business on the way to becoming the present-day world-class GKN Driveline.’
Paul struck an agreement with Rejen, but at that stage no one realised how bad the car was – or that it would take four years to complete the job. Jason Lawrence relished the challenge, though. ‘Paul was very clear on one thing,’ he says. ‘He wanted the car restored to exactly how it was in 1969 with everything correct and no substitutions. We kept to that theme, all the way to the Jensen-logo’d Voxson 8-track stereo, so he could even hear the sound of 1969.’
‘We started by stripping it to a shell and cutting of the front wings to keep them safe for later; also to give us better access to repair the inner wings,’ says Jason. ‘The body was then sent of for a first round of mediablasting to get the heavy corrosion of, along with cracking paint. We’d send it back for more blasting after the welding stage to get the metal really clean. The car had been poorly repainted in the past in an Old English White, and also fitted with a vinyl roof that wasn’t part of its original spec. Records showed the car had left the factory in California Sage with no vinyl roof, so that’s what it was going back to.
‘The blasting revealed a lot of rot in those inner wings. We had to make replacements for the complicated castle sections at the top of the inner wings by hand, along with a lot of flitch panels. The bonnet was also beyond redemption – it had both rust and previous bad repairs. You can’t just go out and buy another panel like this so we had to get a new one specially made by Jensen specialist Martin Robey.
‘The all-important side chassis tubes looked okay but there was the odd pinhole so we decided to cut out a section to get a view of what was going on inside.
Just as well we did – the tubing was still 2.5mm thick at the top but had rusted to just 0.5mm at the bottom. That left no option but to renew the tubes, which is a BIG job, only for the brave. This is where the body’s strength comes from, so we had to make up a bracing frame to support the shell before carefully cutting them out and welding new tubes in. It added a lot of time and cost to the job.
‘With confidence that we had strength back in the shell we could get on and deal with all the other rot. We made new front floorpans, with the correct round pressings beaten into the pan. There was also some complicated work to rebuild the bulkhead where the heater box drain tubes had become blocked so that water had just sat. Surprisingly, the rear panel was good, so we carefully cut that of and re-used it after dealing with all the corrosion damage behind it.
‘The same couldn’t be said for the roof. These commonly rot, especially at the back around the rear hatch hinge mounts and you can no longer find decent secondhand ones to graft on. These had been made worse by having a vinyl roof fitted, which may even have been done to cover problems that were starting.
Some of the double-skinned rear lip had rotted right through, so it was a painstaking task to let in sections of new metal while avoiding any distortion to the rest of the panel from the heat. Our body guys are good.
‘New door skins were needed, along with lower frame sections and we needed new rear quarter panels too. Panels are available from Martin Robey, but all Jensens were handmade cars so nothing drops on – every panel has to be adjusted to it the car. We spent a week on each door, building it up, trial-fitting to the car, then adjusting it and repeating the process until the it was perfect and they sounded right when you shut them – all smooth with no rattles.
‘The same kind of effort went into the rear bumper. We ordered a new one, but left it oversize and unchromed. It was offered up to the unpainted shell and we scribed round the body on to the bumper and trimmed the excess of so there was a perfect even it all round. Only then was it sent of to be plated. ‘The last ten per cent of any project is the hardest but it makes all the difference.
Like getting that belt swage line perfect, which took ages. We had the panels on and of and dressed them to get the line sharp and even all round. It’s crucial because your eyes are naturally drawn to it.’
The FF has a 6.3-litre Chrysler V8 that kicks out an easy-going 325bhp. Rejen’s engine man Brian Mulcare says, ‘American engines are pretty agricultural but that makes them straightforward to rebuild. This one was very worn, though, and needed a 0.04in overbore to take out damage to the cylinder bores. There was corrosion in the combustion chambers too, damaging some valve seats, so we took the opportunity to put in hardened seats, converting the engine to run on unleaded. Other than that it was just a new camshaft and crankshaft regrind. It was all left standard apart from using a more modern Edelbrock version of the original four-barrel carburettor, hidden under the air filter out of sight. We ran the engine on a jig for an hour before fitting it. The rocker covers were rechromed – you often see those fitted to other Jensens, but chrome covers are only correct on the FF MkI.’
The car’s hard early life as a testbed for GKN transmissions was confirmed by the gearbox, fixed by their regular expert, Duncan Watts at Crewe Transmissions. He said, ‘It was the worst I’ve ever seen for wear; it had obviously been abused. We can get everything for the Torquelite box itself, but there’s little very little available for the transfer box. We managed to get hold of a few bearings, and Jason eventually came up with a donor unit so we managed to pull it together.’
‘We’ve opted for now to use the original electric cooling fans, though we had the motors rebuilt. However, we’ve upgraded the radiator core because the cooling system was always marginal on these. ‘For wheels, we put together the best set of five we could find then sent them to MWS in London to be stripped and rechromed. If you start with good you get better results.’ Paul stepped in with the tyres, using the small advantage of being boss of Pirelli Motorsport. ‘While Pirelli didn’t supply the FF MkI in period, we did the subsequent FF MkII and Interceptor, so I had to make sure the Cinturato tyres were made available again. It’s probably the only area not as it left the factory, but I feel I can be excused that small detail.’
Jason takes up the story again. ‘Once the body was repaired, filled, blocked and primed to what appeared to be perfection we sent it to Pitt Lane in Hampshire for painting. It’s a Jaguar and Aston Martin specialist and knows how to achieve the level of finish this project demanded. That meant going beyond the traditional dustcoat of black over the primer to flat back and reveal and laws; Pitt Lane painted the whole car in gloss black because it highlights even the tiniest fault – it found three. Once they were rectified and it was all flatted back, the body was finished in original California Sage.’
Rejen’s in-house trim expert is Ashley Burgess. ‘With the brief to make this car exactly as it was when new we had to get the right materials,’ he says. ‘The interior is the part of the car you actually touch so it all had to feel right.
UK Hide Company provided five Connolly hides that were an exact match to samples from the original seats – it has a more coarse feel than the leather used for modern car seats. It was a similar story for the vinyl – we used a type we call Stag vinyl, which is as close as you can get to what Jensen used. It’s more grainy and less stretchy than modern vinyls. We took the seats apart and used each panel to make a pattern for a new piece. With these cars each seat is a bit different so you can’t really use a standard pattern. The MkI has fluted seats, which is harder to do but looks better than the later top-sewn ones.
‘We made new door cards in MDF and covered them in leather, as original. A particular detail was using the right star-shaped punch for the holes in the section covering the door speakers. There’s even leather on the seat runners, again as original, and you can’t even see that. We stripped down the armrest/door pulls so we could replace the closed-cell foam in them. All in all it added up to 200 hours of work.’
Assembly and details
Much of Jason’s time was devoted to tracking down the right parts for the car and finding ways to sort those that couldn’t be replaced. ‘The vast rear screen – the Jensen’s trademark – was scratched. It was a Sundym one, an option on MkIs, and to be correct had to have the V-shaped heated rear window element.
Over the four years of the project I managed to track down five and the one we used was the best of them. The rest of the glass was also a best-of collection, with no repro pieces used because we wanted it all to have matching and period-correct Triplex markings.
‘Things like door handles and rear light surrounds are a real problem. We had to remove the chrome from the Mazak originals and then ill in all the pits individually – it felt a bit like being a dentist – then sent them back for rechroming. It takes forever but the results speak for themselves.
‘The sill covers were another problem. They are of course unique to the longer FF and in the end we had to get a new set made to pattern in polished stainless steel. The front grille’s JFF badge was missing and those really are like hens’ teeth. It took 18 months to track down a good used one.’
After four years Paul Hembery has finally taken possession of the car he has never driven. ‘Rejen has invested a lot of time and energy in finding the correct solution to the restoration, working closely with Jensen marque historian Ulric Woodhams to ensure no detail was forgotten. The FF will now spend its time in the Cotswolds enjoying a life of motoring in the English countryside. I’m not one for shows and club events but, if time allows, a trip to Goodwood or Salon Privé will be on the cards in 2017.
‘I wish the story would end there, but the FF will gain a partner in crime over the next few years because I now have a 1966 Vignale-bodied Jensen Interceptor MkI to work on. It’s the 15th Interceptor ever made and was handbuilt in Turin – but it has alarming levels of rust, so it’s another challenge for Rejen.’
Low point ‘Discovering that the side chassis tubes, which initially looked okay, would have to be replaced. That’s a BIG job, only for the brave’
‘Finding a correct, original steering wheel after an 18-month search. It was expensive and needed recovering, but the car wouldn’t have been right without it’
The FF as Paul found it, poorly repainted in white and wearing a non-original vinyl roof.
Vital side chassis tubes had rusted from 2.5mm to 0.5mm in places.
A bracing frame held the body together while new side chassis tubes were made.
Stag vinyl replicates the original cabin material right down to how it feels.
After four years of hard work Rejen boss Jason Lawrence is delighted to see the FF reach the polishing stage.
MkII-style Pirelli Cinturatos are a tiny deviation from authenticity.
Jensen specialist Martin Robey made a replacement for the battered and rusty bonnet.
Ashley Burgess had to source exactly the right materials to return the trim to as-built condition.
Brian Mulcare tests the rebuilt 6.3-litre V8, now fed by an updated four-barrel Edelbrock.
Jason Lawrence says the final 10% is the most difficult – and important.
And here it is – the result of four years’ dedication to achieve probably the most exacting Jensen FF restoration ever carried out. The car is now back in California Sage and sans vinyl roof, just how it was when it was built 48 years ago.
MY FAVOURITE TOOL
‘I don’t know what they’re called, I just know them as finishing tools,’ says Rejen’s trimmer, Ashley Burgess. ‘I use them for pushing material into corners on consoles, door cards and dashboards. They’re hard plastic but rounded – not sharp, so they don’t damage leather or vinyl. A mate had some and I spent three months looking for something similar. I found these in a garden centre shop while waiting for my car to be cleaned. They only cost £4.99 and I use them every day.’
‘It was a chance to restore an intriguing part of our motoring history’
‘Each seat is a bit different so you can’t really use a standard pattern’