with Mike Williams
With the new facility, I hope to keep you all up to date with all the latest new and info on the early Jensens. Most of the important stuff and photos will be published in the magazine, but this area of the website will be useful for late-breaking news and even answering questions posted on the forum. In the mean time, here’s a summary of the “Early Cars”:
The Coachbuilding years.
Richard and Alan Jensen joined a well-established firm of Coachbuilders “W.J.Smith & Sons” in 1931, at Carters Green, Birmingham. Work here was commercial body building, probably mainly for local business needs. The Jensen brothers, however, had be-bodied their own Austin 7 as a sporty touring car, and designed equally sporty bodywork for other manufacturers, so it was natural that they steered Smiths in that direction, making some very attracive bodies on a large range of chassis. In time we hope to discuss some of these products here.
3 1/2 litre. The first true “Jensen” car.
Ford’s V8 range of cars introduced in 1932 were radical, and very popular. It was the first mass-produced V8 engine on the market, and gave excellent performance for its day. By 1936 Jensen had produced some sporty bodies on the Ford chassis, so knew it well when they decided to use it as a basis for the first car to be sold under their own name, the “Jensen 3 1/2 litre”. The Ford V8 chassis had a revised front suspension and steering and the body was completely new from front to back.
It was not just the body rear of the screen that was new. When Edsel Ford met Richard and Alan Jensen at the Lincoln UK offices in 1936 he was so impressed that he signed an agreement to supply Jensen with parts. In total 50 of these cars were built and the body styles available were: Tourer (what the Americans would call a “Dual Cowl”, a close-coupled 4 seater with access to the rear via a hinged deck and door on one side only. Access to the front was via 2 doors of course, which were cut away and it had separate bolt-on sidescreens) Saloon. (4-door 4/5 seater) Drophead (2-door, 4 seater with folding hood and wind-up windows) Since the chassis numbers of these cars all started with an “S”, the model has become known as the “S type”.
4 1/4 litre. Moving up-market.
By the Spring of 1938, Jensen had completed the first of their up-market 4 1/4 litre cars. Although still with a Ford chassis, it was now heavily modified with full-length strengthening plates, a large front extension with Jensen’s own independent suspension using twin transverse springs, and the excellent Nash straight eight “twin spark” OHV engine and gearbox. The back axle from the smaller car was retained, being Ford-based with Columbia 2-speed epicyclic gears. Just thirteen had been built when the War stopped production in late 1939. Again veried body styles were available including the Tourer, Saloon and Dropheads already used on the 3 1/2 litre model. This model is often now referred to as the “H” type, after its chassis prefix.
In addition, one car was turned out in mid 1939 on a totally new chassis (designated “HC”) of shorter wheelbase and with 2-door 4-seater saloon body. The rear end was a radical new design with coil springs, and the Columbia/Ford axle was replaced by a Nash overdrive behind the gearbox, and with that the last Ford components were gone. After being campaigned by Alan Hess in the Welsh Rally of that year, it became the personal transport of Alan Jensen. Just the one car was built.
Finally, one car was turned out in late 1938 with a Lincoln 4 1/2 litre V12 engine and gearbox, as a special order for an American customer. The car had a Jensen-standard Drophead body and carries the chassis prefix “HL”.
Post War – a new start.
The H type had established Jensen Motors Ltd as bona fide manufacturers of fine motor cars, and after the War their new model was intended to build on that reputation. Many manufacturers introduced smaller models to appeal to the cash-strapped public, but Jensen designed a totally new, large 4-door saloon on a chassis derived from HC1. They also commissioned the famous engine manufacturers Henry Meadows to produce a brand now overhead valve straight eight of 3.9 litres. Unfortunately the engine suffered from serious vibration problems which severely delayed the launch of the new car, and eventually the Meadows engine was abandoned. Jensen fitted left-over Nash engines to the first few (perhaps six) cars, before securing a contract with Austin for their 4 litre unit from the new Sheerline. Just 18 of these cars were made, known as the “4 litre” but now referred to by their chassis prefix “PW”, meaning Post War.
A Return to Sports Cars – the First Interceptor.
The relationship with Austin started with the PW was to prove invaluable to Jensen, and enabled them to adapt an Austin chassis and the same 4-litre engine in a new car known as the Interceptor, which was introduced in 1949 as an addition to the range. Low-slung, it was fast for its day and had few competitors, since other manufacturers were still concentrating on either small practical and affordable family cars, or large saloons which were not at all sporty. The few sports cars that were around did not have the 4/5 seats of the Jensen. 88 Interceptors were built, saloons and “cabriolets”, as the drophead style had now been called. The body panels were mainly aluminium, as had been all previous Jensen cars, but towards the end of production Jensen experimented with glass-fibre for certain panels (notably boot lids), and that legacy was developed with the replacement model – the Jensen 541.
This quick resume of pre-541 cars bearing the Jensen name is but the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Jensen were making at that time. Contract bodywork continued up to and throughout the War for specialist vehicles. Commercial vehicles continued to be their bread-and-butter after the War, with such brilliant designs as the JNSN and the Jen-Tug. As commercial vehicle work reduced in the late 1950s, so sub-contract assembly work increased to take its place, notably the Austin Healey series of cars, Volvo P1800s, and Sunbeam Tigers. For a comprehensive description of all this specialist work, we recommend the book “Jensen – All the Models” by Richard Calver, available from the JOC Shop.