Life Cycle The journey from care to neglect and back again for a Jensen SP. The life story of a Jensen SP This halo-model Jensen tested its first owner beyond the limit but it’s always been able to woo new ones, regardless of the condition it was in. Words Mike Taylor. Photography Neil Fraser.
Billy McKenzie-Coles buys it new for £6980 in 1971
Billy was a car fanatic who lived in Devon where he loved to indulge his passion for speed. Says his widow Rosemary, ‘My husband was always a huge car enthusiast and owned many interesting models over the years including two Aston Martins.’ Beginning with a DB2/4 and later a DB4, Billy was to move on to products from West Bromwich with the purchase of a Jensen Interceptor in the late Sixties.
‘My husband had a maxim when it came to buying cars,’ continues Rosemary. ‘He avoided the first examples of a new model because he felt it was better to let other customers find their foibles.’ However, so enamoured was Billy with his Interceptor that he flew in the face of his own advice and bought one of the first examples of the SP – a more powerful version of the standard saloon – to emerge from the Jensen factory. The increase in horsepower over the standard Interceptor (from 300bhp to 385bhp) caused Billy to request that John Richards, owner of local garage business Brendan Motors, travel up to Jensen to collect the car for him.
Billy’s reservation proved true and the Jensen SP – named after its triple twin-choke Holley ‘Six Pack’ carburettors – soon showed its true character with many breakdowns. ‘On one occasion we had gone to a show and parked the car in a field,’ Rosemary continues. ‘Come midnight when it was time to drive home it failed to start and we had to stay the night.’ The SP was a frequent visitor to Brendan Motors, where the mechanics tried to rectify its maladies. Finally, with a heavy heart Billy drove the still-under-warranty SP back to the Jensen factory for a major assessment of the problems. The Six Pack carburettors were removed and replaced by a single four-barrel Carter item. ‘Eventually, my husband grew so tired of the SP’s poor reliability that he sold it to John Richards.’
John Richards buys the SP in 1974
‘My stepfather owned a garage business in Bishops Lydeard,’ recalls Patrick Tapson, stepson of the SP’s next owner John Richards. ‘During the Seventies we had a Chrysler agency and Mr McKenzie Coles was one of our customers. He brought the SP to the workshop for servicing, so we already knew the car. When he decided to sell it and buy an Alfa Romeo, my stepfather bought it to join his Rolls-Royce.’
Through his passion for motorbikes, John had contacts with the Exeter Falcons Speedway team. He became its promoter and arranged for the team to compete at the Bristol and Eastville Stadium when it opened in 1977. Richards then bought Exeter Speedway and used the SP as his prestige car, driving it to meetings all over the country where the Exeter Speedway team was engaged. At one stage he hired the then-Speedway World Champion, New Zealander Ivan Maugher.
‘My stepfather and I agreed that the Jensen was the best car we’d ever driven,’ enthuses Patrick. ‘On one occasion we were driving back home from an event at the Bristol stadium at about 80mph when we were overtaken by a Mercedes. I was at the wheel and my stepfather said, “go for it”. Within a short distance I was doing 130mph.’
Sadly, Patrick’s stepfather passed away and Patrick took over running the business for a short while before selling it in 2001. ‘I wish we’d had the Jensen mothballed and kept it,’ he laments.
Derwin Hope pays £6000 for the SP in 1985
During his youth Derwin Hope used to help out at the Bishops Lydeard garage, often serving petrol at the weekends. Says Derwin, ‘It was always a fun place to go and meet people so I knew the Jensen long before I bought it. Later, I had three Porsche 911s in succession. By then the SP had been of the road for seven years and was stored in a leaky lean-to behind the garage with its rear protruding out, causing it to rust, the exhaust to rot and the electrics to play up. Nevertheless, I expressed an interest and bought it.’ Derwin cleaned of the body rust, had the exhaust replaced and the electrics rewired by a friend. ‘In service it proved wonderful to drive, apart from two exceptions when it overheated in London – outside a church in Twickenham and along the Embankment, where it caused a huge traffic jam.
‘One thing that did annoy me were the awful corduroy headrests, which didn’t match the leather seats,’ says Derwin. ‘By this time Jensen Motors had ceased trading, replaced by Jensen Parts and Service. I took the SP up to West Bromwich where a trimmer fashioned me replacement headrests out of hide, and they looked much better.’
With values at rock bottom and unable to console himself with the idea that selling the Jensen could result in it being broken up for spares, he had the bodywork restored by Jensen specialist Cropredy Bridge Garage. Outwardly, the car still looked presentable though it was soon clear that the inner and outer sills required replacing.
In 2002 Derwin was forced to sell it when the logistics of a new job in Bolton while still living in Winchester did not square with using the Jensen. Roger Davey buys it for £7000 in 2002 Before the Jensen SP, Roger had enjoyed an Aston Martin DB4 for 25 years. ‘I bought the SP because I had previously owned an early Interceptor in light metallic blue in the early Eighties and loved it,’ recalls Roger.
By now the SP was 30 years old and with its recent attention by Cropredy Bridge, Roger says the bodywork and paintwork were still extremely good with no signs of damage. ‘It really did take me back twenty years to when I had my first Interceptor. Whenever we were out in the SP we were always aware of other drivers staring at it or going over to peer inside when it was parked.’
Such was the attention that the SP generated that whenever his wife Caroline drove it she would regale him with stories on her return of how drivers would overtake her (she always just cruised along), peer into the car and toot their horns, or simply tailgate her and lash their lights. Relects Roger, ‘It was that kind of car. I always kept it polished and gleaming.
‘Ultimately I sold it because, with five cars and three young children, it was not being used enough. It was a car that needed to be driven and not just left in the garage. Naturally, I hoped she would go to someone who had the time to appreciate her.’
Graham Bagnall pays £6000 in 2002
‘We were running the Jen Centre at the time and Roger Davey came into our premises driving the SP,’ recalls Graham Bagnall. ‘I remember thinking what a nice looking car it was in comparison to some of the other Jensens we’d been involved with, so I bought it.’ Graham says of his short time with the SP that he took it on some long journeys, enjoying its ability to cruise effortlessly at high speed with no demands from the driver. ‘Some classics are so tiring to drive and you emerge after several hours behind the wheel with your arms aching – not so with this SP.’
Tim Clark buys it for £10,000 in 2003
The SP’s current owner, Tim Clark, is no stranger to Jensens having owned a total of 20. Says Tim, ‘My father’s first Jensen was also an SP so it has always held a special place for me. It also represents an important chapter in Jensen’s history, hence my decision to look out for one. In the event, luck played a helping hand – I happened to be speaking to Jason at ReJen sales when he told me that he knew of a nice example for sale; Royal Blue with rich red interior, the only example finished in this colour scheme. It was being offered by Graham [who by now was at Culverland Classics] and I went to view it with my wife.’
Tim walked around the Jensen and was immediately smitten. ‘The overall appearance spoke strongly that it was all very straight; it sat properly on the road and it was clear it had been well looked after. Then Graham took me for a spin and within seconds I’d made my decision to buy it, even though it still had the single Thermo Quad Carter carburettor. It brought back memories of my father’s example – he too became so fed up with the unreliability of the Six Pack system that he replaced it with a similar Thermo Quad set up.’
Tim collected the SP from Graham’s premises near Southampton. ‘I had it booked into a local car show in Tonbridge, Kent the following day and on the way the driver’s window stopped working and I thought, “Here we go, typical”. However, I soon had it fixed and since then the majority of the work I’ve done has concentrated largely on detailing; cleaning, polishing and replacing tired parts such as the rear leaf springs. It’s been a wonderful canvas to work on. The only major job has been to replace the Thermo Quad with a Six Pack carburettor set up. I always tell people that having an SP with a single Carter is like having a Jensen FF without the four-wheel-drive transmission.’
Looking under the bonnet it’s clear the considerable amount of work Tim has put into its presentation. ‘One of the points to note are the Six Pack emblems on the air cleaner, which originally came from a Dodge Challenger. Another item is the radiator header tank, which is polished brass and I consistently lost points from the Concours judges because according to the aficionados, as an original Jensen item it should be black.’ When his close friend and fellow Jensen-owning concours entrant ‘Uncle’ Dick Thomas died in 2013, Tim retired from the circuit having won the coveted Interceptor and FF Cup.
‘Today, after some 14 years my love for the car is still as strong as ever and is bound up with its looks, what it does, the noise it makes and the way it drives. I got married in it and when we visit shows the SP remains the car I still want to take home. It’s Jensen’s Aston Martin Vantage of the range – there is a huge difference between my car and a single carburettor Interceptor.’
Over time Tim has managed to amass a huge amount of paperwork on the car, which even goes back to the time when it was owned by Billy McKenzie-Coles. Tim reveals, ‘Under warranty the car was fitted with two sets of replacement carburettors, two sets of door handles, bumpers, four alloy road wheels and had a complete respray. It also includes a poignant letter of apology addressed to Mr McKenzie-Coles from Kevin Beattie, Jensen’s Engineering Director.’
Concludes Tim with a grin, ‘The SP coming into my world has been an experience beyond words, the Jensen has changed my life. I am still captivated by it and feel a real duty of care. I’ve been offered a considerable sum but I’ve never loved another car like this and I hope we never have to part. In fact, I’m sure the car would make its own way back to me.’
‘On one occasion we were overtaken by a Mercedes. My stepfather said, “go for it”. Within a short distance I was doing 130mph'
‘My father’s first Jensen was also an SP so it has always held a special place for me’
From luxury chariot to shed-in-a-shed to concours champion, this Jensen SP has lived a tempestuous life.
In use as John Richards’ prestige car in the Seventies. Derwin Hope rescued the SP from a rust-ridden fate in 1985. In 2003 the SP became the 20th Jensen Tim Clark has owned. As well as the SP, John Richards also ran a Rolls-Royce that he used for family outings At the Ettington Chase JOC International Weekend in 2003 next to a Jensen GT NYC 777L is the only Jensen SP to wear Royal Blue over red leather. The SP in 2006 at one of the many shows where. Tim Clark exhibited it Roger Davey bought the Jensen from Derwin Hope in 2002 without hesitation.
In 2005, Tim used his beloved SP as his wedding car. Current owner Tim describes a deep bond between man and machine – one that he hopes he will never have to sever. Tim reinstated the crucial Six Pack carburation system.