Some of my favourite cars are hybrids, I’ve realised, but they’re not the ones you’re probably thinking of right now. I come from an era when the word ‘hybrid’ meant something totally different. And last week I finally found one.
I had my heart set on an Aston Martin DB5, but I just can’t bring myself to justify the price. It’s not that I don’t think it’s worth it, it’s just that I grew up in an era when used DB5s were just a few grand more than an #Jaguar-E-type
. The car I’m talking about is much rarer than a #Aston-Martin-DB5
. I think they made fewer than 500 of them. It’s a car that has fascinated me for some time, probably because I never actually saw one in person. Then, about a year ago at a car show in Beverly Hills, I finally did see one. It was a deep royal blue with a tan interior, just the combination I would have ordered back in 1965 when it was new. But at the time I was 15 and working at McDonald’s.
I did hear that Sean Connery, probably the biggest movie star in the world at the time, had one. Years later Sean was a guest on my talk show, I asked him about the car and he seemed pleased I knew what it was. Turns out he actually passed over a #Aston-Martin
DB5 for a second-hand #Jensen-C-V8
. True enthusiast, or just a thrifty Scotsman? Well, that made me want one even more.
Anyway, back to the Beverly Hills car show. Showing the Jensen was a German guy named Chris. I introduced myself and told him how much I liked his car. He smiled broadly and seemed thrilled that I knew what it was. Most people at the show had no idea. ‘What year Jensen-C-V8 ?’ I asked. ‘It’s a 1965 Mark III,’ he replied. To my mind the final Mark III was the most desirable version.
Even though this was exactly what I was looking for, I never ask people at car shows if something is for sale or how much it costs. I hate when people do it to me because it just seems so incredibly rude. Chris and I chatted for a few more minutes, I complimented him on the restoration and wished him good luck.
Not quite a year later, my next-door neighbour called me to tell me a friend of his had a car for sale, and was I interested? Normally when people call me with a car for sale, it’s something like an AMC Gremlin with a Levi jeans interior.
‘Do you remember meeting a German guy at the Beverly Hills car show last year?’ my neighbour asked. ‘You mean the guy with the C-V8?’ I replied. ‘Yeah, that’s him,’ he said.
The car was less than five miles from my house. I ran out the door and bought it on the spot. No, I didn’t test drive it first. No, I didn’t put it up on a ramp and look it over like you’re supposed to do. Do you know why? Try and find another one! Luckily the car turned out to be just fine; a few small things but nothing major.
The car is called a hybrid because, back in the ’60s, ‘hybrid’ meant putting American power plants into European cars. Think early Cadillac-powered Allards, or Carroll Shelby stuffing a 289 Ford into an #AC-Ace
to create the Cobra. That started a trend of sticking very powerful American engines into English cars. Jensen used a #Chrysler-383ci-V8
, sending over 330bhp through a three-speed Torqueflite automatic transmission. I like to think of my Jensen as a #Dodge-Dart-GTS
that went to Oxford.
The reason I’m partial to English hybrids is that I love English styling, design and roadholding, and I understand American engines with their torque and durability. It seems the ideal combination to me. The Jensen is everything I wish my GTS could be. Four-wheel disc brakes instead of disc/drum. Classic British wood and leather interior, instead of plastic and vinyl. Sophisticated chassis with rails acting as a vacuum reservoir, to aid braking. It even has shock absorbers you can adjust from the driver’s seat. My GTS shares its body with the six-cylinder runabout model, but the Jensen has a fabulous (to my eyes) custom body made of fibreglass. Combine all this with a 130mph top speed, and you have to wonder why it’s a tenth the price of a DB5. I think there may be a snob factor involved because of the American power.
I love this era of hybrids. I also have a Monteverdi, a Swiss car with a Chrysler 440, a four-speed manual and a two-door Frua body from Italy. It was bought new, right off the floor, at the Geneva show where it premiered in 1970. I bought it, years later, for less money than the Dodge Challenger with the same engine and transmission made at the Barrett-Jackson auction.
Not all hybrids are bargains, as the Cobra proves. Yet a #Gordon-Keeble
, a #TVR
, a #Sunbeam-Tiger
, a #Bristol-407
– if you ever see one of those for a reasonable amount of money, grab it! Because a lot of people read this magazine.
‘I LIKE TO THINK OF MY JENSEN AS A DODGE DART GTS THAT WENT TO OXFORD. IT’S THE IDEAL COMBINATION’