It started, inevitably, in the pub. Someone asked, ‘How fast does your car go?’ Which naturally led, when told ‘150-ish, to ‘How fast could it go?’
It’s a leap of faith to go from entering a few club sprints in a 250,000-mile daily driver Jensen C-V8 to aiming for 200mph on the Bonneville salt flats during Speed Week. But that’s exactly what Ian Northeast, and some dedicated helpers, did.
‘A close friend, not much older than me, rather suddenly woke up dead one morning,’ says the motorcycle engineer and educational ambassador for Project Bloodhound, ‘that decided me. It made me realise that life is for making things happen. I’d been thinking about a speed attempt and I mentioned it to Shaun Winfield, the incoming president of the Jensen Owners’ Club, who offered some sponsorship.’ there was a huge amount to do. The Chrysler V8, originally a 383, is stroked to 496ci (8.2 litres) and runs ‘super-trick heads’ with multi-point electronic fuel injection. ‘It was the best thing I did. I had a five-speed Getrag from an XJ6 which has an 0.75:1 top and should handle 600bhp, so I thought it would be OK as long as we were gentle. I originally wanted to run 7500rpm with a turbocharger but my engine builder John Sleath said 7000 was more realistic, so I had to get a different axle, a Ford 9in. With 17in rear wheels it’s geared for a theoretical maximum of 212mph in top.’
It ran 120mph on the sticky sand at Pendine in May 2018, then it was a rush to get it stripped and rebuilt before shipping to the US in July. ‘I trailered it the 1800 miles from Houston. We’d had to leave the turbo off so were looking at 6500rpm maximum, that scuppered thoughts of 200mph, but I took it with me just in case.’ After getting through the tough tech inspection, Ian had to build up to speed on the two-mile ‘rookie course’. Plagued by a reluctance to rev over 4000rpm, the car still managed a 126mph average straight out of the box. The next morning it wouldn’t start: the battery had been shaken apart internally. With that sorted and the engine brain reprogrammed he did 148mph on his, ahem, ‘tuning run’, went straight back to the start line for another three- hour queue to go again and… no clutch.
In the haste to fix it, ‘someone’ cut through a battery cable which spiked the ECU. That meant it forgot its last settings: nobody had copied the ideal tune, so it was back to its old ways. ‘With all the adrenaline flowing from hurrying up and waiting, it was getting harder and harder to get back in the car. For the last run they put us on the five-mile course, with instructions to pull off at the 3-mile marker. I decided that if it ran well I’d do the whole five miles. I mean, what were they going to do?’
The gearbox exploded on the line. ‘We’d given it a go. I’d practically bankrupted myself, but I have to go back as I know it’ll run faster. We’re planning for 2020. And I have built what is officially the world’s fastest Jensen.’
You can donate., and find a full list of sponsors, at worldsfastestjensen.co.uk