In the wheeltracks of a masterpiece. Elliot joins the Jensen owners driving from Turin to Windsor. James Elliott joins the Jensen faithful on an inspired journey to retrace the Interceptor prototype’s trip back from Italy to the UK. Photography Tony Baker/Mike Jones/John Winfield/JOC.
Massed Jensens on the roof of the old Fiat factory in Lingotto, Turin before heading to Le Touquet. By then many had already driven 800-plus miles.
Like all the best ideas, it was forged in a crucible of alcohol and latenight bonhomie. At the Jensen Owners’ Club International Meeting at Kenilworth in July 2012 talk turned to the seemingly far off 50th anniversary of the Interceptor and FF in 2016. How to celebrate them in style, to go beyond the inevitable gatherings and bigger than usual presence at all the usual shows and events. “Let’s recreate the prototype’s trip back from Turin,” piped up Shaun Winfield, who today confesses that he “may have had a few”.
He is referring to a journey etched into Jensen lore, which came at a crucial crossroads in the marque’s history, one that would lead to factionalism that rent the company asunder.
When the C-V8 was deemed to finally need replacement, the internal team led by Eric Neale came up with the P66, which was shown at Earls Court in October 1965 as well as a four-wheel-drive version of the C-V8. MD Brian Owen, however, persuaded company owner Norcross to invest in a new styling direction, commissioning an Italian carrozzeria and causing a rift that ultimately prompted the resignation of the Jensen brothers and Neale.
Jensen selected a design by Touring, but gave the gig to the more stable Vignale, which had little more than a month to build the prototype on a C-V8 chassis and mechanicals that had been secretly squirrelled out of West Bromwich.
With Vignale given a deadline of 5 June, chief engineer Kevin Beattie and Mike Jones were to fly out on 4 June, rigorously test the prototype around Turin, have Vignale sort any problems, then take a leisurely trip back to Le Touquet. A pre-booked flight on the City of Edinburgh on 10 June would fly the car to Lydd and they’d drive it back up to West Bromwich.
Except that when the Brits arrived the car wasn’t finished. They spent days twiddling their thumbs before getting a few hours of testing then finally leaving Turin on the evening of 9 June, giving themselves the task of driving through the night to get the 8am British United Air Ferry flight from France. That’s comfortably more than 700 miles, with virtually no autoroute and few of today’s proliferation of lengthy Alpine tunnels to help them. By the time they reached Beattie’s home in Kenilworth the pair had been driving pretty much non-stop for 22 hours, the longest break being their 20-minute flight.
Lubricated by alcohol, the late-night chat vowed to follow the same route as much as possible and the originally intended timetable, leaving Turin on 7 June and arriving at Le Touquet on the 10th. But then nothing.
That is until fellow club member Chris Reed approached Winfield and asked what had happened to the jaunt he was planning.
“That’s a good idea, someone should organise a Turin trip,” responded Winfield having forgotten the original conversation, his original idea. Regardless of this false start, the most important point was that this pair had found each other.
They turn out to be the perfect yin and yang of event organisation: Winfield seeing the wood, Reed analysing every grain and nuance of the wood. Winfield’s drive, determination and ambition is unlimited, Reed’s attention to detail, apart from when it comes to passports (see panel on left), is almost superhuman.
Plans soon came together. To summarise, they were going to invite owners of the most notoriously thirsty thing on the planet since the passing of Oliver Reed to drive roughly 700 miles from Turin to Le Touquet and then on to the UK. Oh, and most would be coming from the UK so would have to drive 800 miles just to get to the start point. In 40-year-old-plus cars. During a French fuel strike and mass flooding. Stupid idea, no one would go for it. People would laugh.
Except that they did go for it and they didn’t laugh, some 30 cars signing up for all or part of the adventure. Winfield: “I would be lying if I said that some people didn’t scoff at the idea. Sometimes it felt like a real battle to get it off the ground, but the concept was blessed with popular support and that was my motivation.”
Popular support doesn’t really do the reaction justice. Owners across Europe joined up. Two drove out to Turin just to be part of the weekend’s festivities, but could not take part in the long haul back. Their solutions were different: Steve Groves blasted across Europe in his Interceptor Convertible to get to a business meeting on the Tuesday. Ian Owen asked C&SC to drive his car back so he would know that it had run in the tyre tracks of Beattie and Jones while he flew to the USA for a family wedding.
The indefatigable American Polly Walton even transported from the States the Interceptor III she has owned from new. It suffered at the hands of US customs and the shipping firm, and turned up late looking very sad. Special dispensation had to be made to free it from the docks over a weekend, it was spruced up and made it with only a few niggles. A couple of other owners whose cars suffered maladies before or on the event followed in moderns or hire cars.
The convoy left the UK on 2 June and, having found out that, contrary to news reports, there were no fuel shortages in France, drove down via Reims and Lausanne – where Swiss Jensen owners hosted a dinner and joined the convoy.
The only major issue was a tyre self-combusting on the support Range Rover manned by the organisers’ sons, John Winfield and David Reed. In Turin, yet more Jensens, mainly from Germany, joined the 25-strong group for a celebration dinner in the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile. The access and the way the owners and cars were treated and welcomed in Turin was astonishing. But that was thanks to the organisers’ secret weapon. Winfield: “We were having trouble making sure it was really special in Turin, but then we enlisted Alberto.”
Alberto Fabbro was a former colleague of Reed and it turns out that while simply asking the questions opened plenty of doors, asking them in Italian kicked them all down. As a result, 11 Jensens running from C-V8 to Interceptor III S4 were made the main display in the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile for a day where they generated huge interest among visitors. They were also given access to the rooftop track at Lingotto, where all the owners without exception misbehaved. Apparently the short straight is long enough for a Six Pack to fully open. A frustrated steward waved his arms around excitedly, screaming: “Piano! Piano!” Then, on Tuesday 7 June they were invited to officially start the journey home from 179 Strada del Portone, formerly number 80 and the old Vignale factory at Grugliasco, where the front gate was opened for them for the first time in at least a decade.
From there, 15 Interceptors and two FFs set off for Le Touquet via Grenoble, Chaumont and Abbeville, over mountains and all manner of terrain, through blistering sun and biblical downpours. Some cars had small issues but there was always a ready army of helpers to fix them. Yet do not think that these were all minters used to being run over huge distances by workshop svengalis. Most were average condition examples with owners ranging from “very handy” to one who proudly did his first ever work on his car (changing the fuel pump) during the trip.
Another started it and finished it fault-free and was still blissfully unaware of the location of his dipstick. Few had previously travelled anything like this distance – 1500 miles if you did the full tour and followed the fantastically detailed routebook – in this time. One car had travelled no further than Birmingham to Winchester in its current ownership.
Several of them were still undergoing major work just days – in a couple of cases hours – before they set off.
Yet, as all but one of the Jensens arrived at Le Touquet, this convoy again inspired the rulebook to be thrown out of the window. The owners were invited to park their cars airside as the prototype had exactly 50 years earlier while waiting to board its Bristol Superfreighter.
From the official Le Touquet finish, most cars made the trip to the Eurotunnel and then sprinted from Dover to the Jensen Owners’ Club International Meeting at Windsor, where they were raucously applauded by other members. What the Jensen Owners’ Club achieved is by definition unique, but it epitomises far more than that, it reflects this welcome new spirit of more adventurous, more ambitious and less parochial classic car ownership across the board.
It is just one example, albeit a massively impressive one, of what so many clubs are now prepared to take on. Some have always been intrepid, but most rather less so. There will always be a place for the high days and holidays classics, of course, plus the ‘cars and deckchairs in a field’ sort of gathering. But the new wave that’s crept up over the past 20 years – of daily drivers and testing cars to their limits, and of fearlessly embarking on grand adventures – shows us that the classic movement, and the clubs within it, are in ruder health than ever. This hobby clearly has a very bright future… and you don’t even have to know where your dipstick is to be part of it.
Thanks to Jensen Owners’ Club: www.joc.org.uk / NEXT MONTH Jensen Interceptor MkI vs FF MkI, plus driving a super-rare manual Interceptor
Clockwise, from top left: cars were allowed airside at Le Touquet; Christmas comes early for French petrol station proprietor; enjoying the magnificent scenery; victorious Winfield cracks open the champagne; journey’s end (technically), just one car failed to make it from Turin.
Above: the Jensen ranks swelled to their greatest for the formal dinner in Turin. There wasn’t quite enough parking at the NH Lingotto hotel. Below: Nigel McMorrin’s 1967 Mk1 (LOJ 44F) wears fake numberplates to recreate a shot from 1966. Bottom: Reed’s MkII in Switzerland.
‘THEY WANTED OWNERS OF THE THIRSTIEST THING ON THE PLANET TO DRIVE 1500 MILES’
This page, clockwise from above: Polly Walton, who shipped her MkIII from the USA for tour; 11 Jensens took pride of place in Turin’s Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile; at the top of Lingotto’s famous ramp. Opposite, top to bottom: high-altitude lunch at Col du Mont Cenis; convoy!
Tobias Lenggenhager’s MkIII on the 2473m Grand St Bernard where the ‘Swiss contingent’ had a snowball fight. Left: obligatory Reims line-up.
Mike Jones remembers the ’1966 journey
When Jensen chief engineer Kevin Beattie went to pick up the first Interceptor from Vignale in 1966, he was accompanied on the marathon overnight drive back by chassis chief engineer Mike Jones. Having done his pupilage at Humber, the Leicesterman worked across the British motor industry and from 1972 to 1975 was Jensen Motors’ chief engineer. C&SC tracked him down in Michigan, United States to hear his recollections of the birth of the Interceptor and that adventure.
Beattie? I think Kevin and I were the only two people at Jensen with degrees, so we were to some extent a novelty or oddballs. Perhaps another reason for my being picked was that when Kevin first showed me a styling sketch of what was to later become the Interceptor, I was particularly enthusiastic about the body design. The Jensen brothers and particularly Eric Neale, who was responsible for the C-V8 and the earlier 541, weren’t keen on the proposal, but the Interceptor styling sketch transformed the C-V8 mechanicals into a good-looking car.
What do you recall about the build-up to the new model? Kevin had an ongoing battle with the ‘old school’ at Jensen, and his only supporters at the time were Richard Graves, ex-Rolls Royce and ex-Humber pupil, and Brian Owen, the MD. Most of the goings-on were thankfully above my head.
Was there much consternation that the job had gone to Vignale? It was a no-brainer to get the Italians to do the body design for Jensen, but Eric then basically had no job! The Jensen brothers washed their hands of the Italian adventure. As a result the brothers and Eric promptly resigned from Jensen, which then of course made Kevin’s job somewhat easier when they had gone.
How did you feel on seeing the new car? I have to admit that when I first saw the car I thought: “It will be amazing if it gets us all of the way to West Bromwich.” I was more relieved than impressed, because I’d had doubts that Vignale could actually pull it off, particularly in the short time available. We were relying totally on the Vignale men to have done a good job. In retrospect they did an excellent job. Kevin had a lot to worry about at that stage. His career was at stake. If he was happy he did not show it during the trip!
The handover wasn’t particularly formal. Because the car hadn’t been ready when we arrived, Kevin and I were in a hurry to leave, so it involved merely a bit of hand-shaking and backslapping and that was it. No ceremony.
Did you get to test the car at all? On the day we finally left we had our first outing in the prototype in the nearby mountains, mainly to check all of the electrics and basic engine cooling. We found a few minor defects, which fortunately Vignale and his men were able to correct after we had returned during the late afternoon. I was feeling awful, suffering from some sort of bug. At one stage Kevin thought it would be better if we stayed in Turin overnight, to allow me to recover, but we decided in the end to go and hope for the best. We needed to get back to West Bromwich the next day for a pre-arranged presentation of the car to Jensen directors. Luckily my guts did not get any worse during the overnight drive, but I wasn’t fit enough to share the driving until we were in England.
How was the trip? The car coped with the journey quite well. The roads were really bad in some parts of France, and Kevin wasn’t always able to avoid large pot holes, due to the mediocre Lucas headlights and high speed. Kevin did the lion’s share and we didn’t quite drive non-stop. We stopped for fuel a few times and for me to attend to my tummy bug! We of course had a welcome break in the morning at Lydd airport. The only stop in the UK was at Kevin’s home.
I don’t recall exactly how long it took us. All I remember is that we left Turin late afternoon, and arrived at Kevin’s home at about 1pm the following day. I probably reached West Bromwich about an hour later. So the car was on the move for most of 24 hours, but the passengers had been working for another eight hours in Turin!
Does it all seem a bit surreal looking back on it? Neither of us had any sleep for about 32 hours, but that trip was simply part of the job. These days, a valuable prototype would not be delivered to its ‘home’ by two tired engineers on strange roads through the night. We had no camouflage on the car when we drove through central London, so an alert photographer could have made himself some pocket money, but no one even noticed. Kevin, although he said nothing specific, was I think a little disappointed that no one had noticed his pride and joy. In Turin on the other hand, there were many bystanders who noticed the car, and even applauded as we drove by. The Italians in those days were having a love affair with cars. The Brits were evidently not so car mad!
We didn’t at the time think the car would be a hit. The directors had not seen it or driven it, so the whole thing might have been canned when we got to West Bromwich. Luckily the people who mattered were enthusiastic.
Alfredo Vignale hands over the Interceptor to Beattie. Kevin Beattie presses on in prototype after collection.
1974 CONVERTIBLE Simon & Alison Holloway
No one had as much choice of car to bring on the trip than Simon and Alison Holloway. Having previously owned several Interceptors and GTs, the petrolhead couple’s current fleet includes the Convertible, a 1976 Interceptor Coupé, a 1969 Interceptor Mk1, a 1966 C-V8 Mk3, a 1975 Jensen GT, a 1976 Jensen GT and a 1975 Jensen-Healey. Oh, and three Rolls- Royce Silver Clouds (Series 1, 2 and 3), a pair of Rolls-Royce Silver Shadows, a 1962 Jaguar Mk2 and an Aston Martin DB7 Vantage Volante.
The haulage contractor and veterinary nurse from Lincolnshire bought the ex-Roger Daltry Convertible in a “totally horrific state” in 2004. It had been off the road since the ’80s and took two years to restore, but has required little since then. Readers may have seen the Sebring Silver example in gritty crime drama Red Riding.
Simon, who bought his first Interceptor when aged 20, can trace the appeal of the marque back to his childhood: “I know it’s a cliché but as a boy I remember standing outside my parents’ house listening to the approach of an Interceptor MkI that used to live locally to me. I used to hear it coming with enough time to get outside before it had reached our house – even then it used to send a shiver down my spine!”
1970 INTERCEPTOR MkII Chris Reed
Accompanied by wife Vivienne, Reed is one of the trip’s masterminds and also owns the famous Topic magazine Interceptor MkI.
The software engineer from Twickenham bought that car to rebuild in ’1993 and it still awaits resuscitation, so five years ago he bought a MkII from Jersey so that he could enjoy one on the road. He wasn’t specifically in the market for a MkII, though: “I only bought this one because it came along at the right price. If it had been a MkI or a MkIII at the same price I’d probably have had it.
“I’ve had the front bumper rechromed for the Turin trip but apart from that, it is still wearing the paint from a 1986 respray. Oh, I also resprayed the silver part of the RoStyles just before the trip, but the black is the original 1970 paint!”
Reed does all the maintenance himself and covered about 14,000 miles in the car, touring much of western Europe. For him, however, “I don’t think anything will surpass Turin as far as epic trips are concerned.
Apart from a leaking thermostat housing, we had no problems at all, even when I had to drive back to Turin to get my passport and did over 500 miles in one day”.
1969 JENSEN FF II Derek & Sue Sarjeant
The Suffolk-based Sarjeants are celebrating 30 years of owning their ex-factory demonstrator FF this year. “We stopped for lunch near Cropredy on our way to a holiday,” explains Derek. “Sue wondered why I screeched to a halt as I drove into the village and saw Cropredy Bridge Garage.
I found the FF languishing in the yard at the back surrounded by nettles and in a sorry state as a non-runner. So we made an offer when we got back from holiday (£3200, I think). The FF held a huge appeal for its trail-blazing engineering excellence and here was one that I could afford, just.”
Mainly due to cost considerations, Derek did pretty much all the work on the car – which had been entirely painted black, even the chromework and interior – himself: “With job moves and house restoration taking priority it took 16 years before it was finished and I was never very happy with the respray, so about three years ago I decided to have it resprayed professionally by Jensen specialist Colin Holley.”
Gearbox issues sidelined the couple on the way back, but as C&SC went to press, the FF was due back on the road imminently.
1966 JENSEN C-V8 MkIII Felix Kistler
The secretary of the Jensen Car Club of Switzerland (www.jcc.ch) and Zurich-based architect got into Jensens just under a decade ago when he bought a MkIII Interceptor that later self-immolated.
As well as the C-V8 – having been bought by Lord Gardener, it became the first registered in Germany and was owned there for 40 years by Hartmut Jungnickel – he is currently restoring a prototype V8 541R.
The C-V8 has run pretty much problemfree for the past four years and is something of a novelty in Switzerland. Kistler says: “We have a quite a large number of Jensens here. I think almost 100 Interceptors were sold to Switzerland new. Quite a few recognise the Interceptor, though some think it’s an FF, but the C-V8 isn’t known, most people think that my silver one is an Aston Martin. In the past few years we’ve had a big increase in 541s.”
Although the MkI Interceptor was little more than a reclothed C-V8, Kistler does point out one massive difference: “No power steering! I use the car quite a bit in the city, and had to get used to that. The C-V8 has brought out a somewhat more aggressive driver in me.”
1973 JENSEN SP Bill Smith
Smith has been into Jensens for 25 years: “I’d been working abroad. While I was away, my partner ‘tidied up the garage’ where I was storing my Trans Am. When I came home, I had to get another car because the Trans Am had to go for scrap. She found an advert and said the Jensen looked a nice car, so I went down to Cheltenham and bought my first one, an Interceptor MkII.
Been hooked on Jensens ever since.” As well as the SP, which was co-driven by Shaun Winfield, his “habit” has included the MkII, Jensen-Healey Mk2, Jensen Ford Woodie (now in America) and a ’38 H Type.
Having bought the SP (the most powerful Jensen ever, this one unusually still using its original Six Pack) locally in Oxfordshire in ’1997 – “the garage was using it as a skip” – Smith put it back on the road and used it as his everyday car for a decade. Nowadays, it is used mainly for special events such as Turin and little has gone wrong: “Only normal SP niggles, keeping the engine in tune.”
1971 JENSEN FF III Ian Owen
Businessman Owen has been the keeper of the last FF ever produced (of 320) for just over two years, having bought it from the United States. He says: “The bodywork, engine and mechanicals had all been restored to Pebble Beach standards. Cropredy Bridge Garage then performed a sympathetic refurbishment of the interior in time for the Turin trip.”
The FF was Owen’s first Jensen, but it has led to more. He explains: “It’s way ahead of its time and is a great car to drive, just sticking to the road and keeping up easily with modern traffic. It gave me the bug and I now also have the first production Interceptor [HEA 1D] and an SP, which is just phenomenal to drive.”
Due to attending a family wedding in the USA, Owen had to exit the Turin trip before the return from Italy to the UK. It was good news for C&SC, whom he generously invited to pilot his car home, but difficult for him: “It was a huge wrench. I would have loved to have made the return trip with the others having really enjoyed the journey down. I’d love to go back and finish the route, and one day may well do.”