Project Rio becomes Project Vulcan
Author: Keith Anderson
Back in 1996-97 the Redditch-based company Creative Manufacturing Systems (owned by Robin Bowyer and Keith Rauer), were an up-and-coming tooling, design and manufacturing company that had just finished a sub-contract to deliver the body tooling for the Plymouth Prowler. This was a sportscar with aluminium outer skin panels. The success of this sub-contract prompted the company principals to consider producing a sportscar themselves, using everything they had learned on the Prowler project.
They contacted two of Jaguar’s most senior and talented stylists, Howard Guy and Gary Doy, and asked them to come up with ideas. Thus Project Rio was born, a new British sportscar which was to be powered by the GM V6 as fitted to the Vauxhall Omega. Creative’s owners preferred to keep everything ‘in-house’ and at that time the Redditch site hosted two factories, one housing design and development and the admin offices and 200 metres away a production facility which at the time was busy building sleeper cabs for Leyland Trucks. Creative Tooling was based in Oswestry and housed the presses and CNC machinery.
A ‘brand’ had to be found, and many were considered. The Healey family were contacted and indeed negotiations went far enough for initial styling renderings to be obvious ‘Big-Healey’ successors. Hugh Wainwright (previously owner of Jensen Car Co) had been contacted also, as he owned the Jensen intellectual property, but he died before negotions were completed. However, many months later negotiations were completed with Hugh’s wife Judith, and the new car was to become a Jensen!
About this time, after weekend customer-orientated forums, the decision was made that such a new car had to be very powerful, and most importantly, a V8. Thus with new styling renditions, the likelihood of it being branded a Jensen and the V8 engine, the Project was renamed Vulcan.
After a stunning debut at the 1998 British International Motorshow at Birmingham’s NEC, the new Jensen Motors Limited was in the news again.
The initial 60 or so firm orders taken at the show soon climbed to over 300 over the next few months. However, media darling or not, the expected investment was slow in materialising. Twelve months later at the 1999 Earls Court Motorshow in London the car was on display again and still stunning the pundits and public alike and more orders were taken.
Eventually funding was procured and a new production facility was set up in Speke, Liverpool, close the the Jaguar factory at Halewood. The official launch was in late summer 2001. First customer car was delivered early the following year (Dealer demonstrators were the first cars delivered).
The Jensen C-V8 Coupe
With no customer cars delivered in late 2000, the Jensen stand at the 2000 British International Motorshow at the NEC was remarkable because not only on display was a near-production level S-V8, the new C-V8 Coupe made its rapturous debut and yet again, Jensen was the media darling. What a stunningly beautiful motor car, again styled by Howard Guy and Gary Doy, who had set up their own design studio Design Q.
2002 Jensen Motors into Administration
Things appeared to be going well as we entered 2002. As Technical Services Manager I had provided the Master Build Manual, the Technical Service Bulletins and had started training the dealer technicians. Cars started being delivered to customers, although quality on these initial cars was not what it should have been! We started ramping up production (a relative figure in automotive tems, we were striving to produce four cars per week!). However, in July 2002, the plug was pulled. We had got to producing three cars per week. We were still not producing enough cars to pay the worksforce. The major investors pulled out.
The company was put into ‘Receivership’, which means that the ‘Receivers’ try to sell the company as a going concern; of course, as has happened in the past when Jensen companies went into Receivership, the receivers didn’t really put any effort into selling the company, looked after their own interests, and the company was wound up and assets sold off.
The end of ‘Project Vulcan’.