1972-1976 Jensen-Healey and Jensen GT

Though the Jensen-Healey and Jensen GT's predecessor sports car had been sent to the chopping block by its manufacturer, neither the car's namesake British designer nor its leading American dealer were content to take that lying down. It didn't take long for them to begin planning to make a successor, resulting in the 1972-1976 Jensen-Healey and Jensen GT.

1972 Jensen
In 1972, the Jensen-Healey began its four-year run.
See more pictures of Jensen-Healey cars.

Was the Jensen-Healey a success, or a failure? Do the nearly 11,000 cars produced count for anything -- or for nothing? Could the infamous first OPEC oil embargo be blamed for its death? Could, perhaps, the UK government? Or was this British sports car not good enough to survive against the new models flooding out of Japan? Some questions remain unanswered.

Although Jensen-Healeys were built for only about four years, there was a great deal of experience behind their birth. By the time the first car was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1972, Donald Healey had been famous for half a century, and Jensen itself had been building cars since 1935. But if it hadn't been for the first of many mistakes made by British Leyland planners in 1968, the Jensen-Healey might never have been born.

The day after British Leyland's boss, Donald Stokes, told Donald Healey that he was going to kill off the Austin-Healey marque, the amazing old Cornishman decided to start up again. He was already 70 years old, but so what? He didn't know how and he didn't know where, but he wanted to carry on building cars.

So, too, did Kjell Qvale, a native of Norway whose San Francisco business --British Motor Car Distributors -- had sold more Austin-Healeys than any other in the USA. Without Austin-Healeys to sell, there would be a big gap in his showrooms. It didn't take long for the two to get together and map out their future.

By 1970, Healey and Qvale had found an ideal opportunity, one that came with a strong Austin-Healey connection. Jen­sen Motors, of West Bromwich, England, which had produced all the "big Healey" body/chassis structures for BMC from 1953 to 1967, was up for sale.

Company founders Alan and Richard Jensen both retired in 1966, amid some acrimony with their successors regarding future product plans. Subsequently, Jen­sen built its own Chrys­ler V-8-powered Interceptor coupes in small numbers, but had also prospered by making the Austin-Healey shells and building Sunbeam Tigers for export to the USA.

However, by 1968, with both those contracts gone, Jensen was in big financial trouble, and an offer from the Qvale/Healey team was accepted with relief. With Qvale as the new majority stock holder, Donald Healey became chairman. Alf Vickers (later to join Cos­worth) became managing director and CEO. Vickers had already been involved in Jensen affairs as a consultant to the bankers who sold the majority stake to Qvale.

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Settling the Design for the Jensen-Healey and Jensen GT

Although it was Qvale's money which shored up production of the Jensen-Healey and Jensen GT, he left development of a new car to the Healey family, and to Kevin Beattie, a company employee since 1960 who was by now Jensen's chief engineer.

While everyone involved agreed that the new sports car should be a two-seat roadster and that it should be at least as fast as the Austin-Healey 3000 had been, it took ages to get the style settled and to decide on the running gear.

1974 Jensen
Designing the Jensen-Healey was a
large-scale collaborative effort.

Although Jensen was determined to make its own unit-body structures, using a multitude of small pressings supplied from nearby contractors, it would have to buy in all the running gear. At first, the intention was to use engines, transmissions, and suspensions from Vauxhall, General Motors' British subsidiary. That idea soon foundered, as the ohc 2.0-liter Vauxhall engine was not powerful enough, and the change quality of the gearbox was awful.

Beattie and Geoff Healey -- Donald's son and a member of the Jensen management board -- then spent a great deal of time running round Europe's motor industry, looking for an alternative before settling on the brand-new Type 907 16-valve dohc 2.0-liter (120-cid) four from Lotus.

Even in fully detoxed form (the 8.4:1 compression ratio was low enough to accept unleaded fuel), it looked good for an SAE net 140 bhp, which guaranteed a top speed of nearly 120 mph. As in Lotus models like the Esprit, which followed, it was installed in the car at a 45-degree angle. To match it, Jensen adopted the close-ratio Chrysler-UK gearbox from the Sun­beam Rapier H120, a smart Barracuda-like fastback coupe sold in the U.S. in 1969-70 as the Sunbeam Alpine.

Jensen did retain the Vauxhall front and rear suspensions. That included front wishbones with coil springs, and rear trailing links with coils. Steering was by unboosted rack and pinion; brakes consisted of power-assisted Girling discs in front and drums at the rear.

There were several attempts to settle the body style. The first shape came from Hugo Poole, and a revised version followed from William Towns (more famous for his work with Aston Martin). With an eye toward exports, the U.S. government's regulations on the size and placement of bumpers and lighting very much figured in stylists' plans.

Several different front ends and tails were built before the final, rather anodyne, style was adopted. Ultimately, a "grilleless" look was used, with a sloping engine hood and headlamp shells tapering to a compulsory energy-absorbing bumper. (Radiator cooling air was inducted from below.) The flanks were smooth. Though built on a 92-inch wheelbase that matched that of the Austin-Healey it replaced, the Jensen-Healey body was several inches longer and wider.

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1972-1976 Jensen-Healey: On Sale Too Early?

Right from the start, Qvale and Healey had aimed the Jensen-Healey at the USA, but when sales began in summer 1972, "new-car" development problems began to pile up. Lotus' engines were still underdeveloped, which ensured that there were plenty of oil leaks and heavy oil consumption. Build quality was not wonderful, either, so it was only the car's high performance and good handling that saved the day.

1974 Jensen
Early on, development problems hounded the
Jensen-Healey models.

­The exterior style, though rather plain, was well-received. Inside, there were plenty of dials, switches, and controls on the dash to keep dedicated Anglophiles busy behind the wheel. The fact that some of the early cars started rusting away within a year of manufacture was usually accepted with good humor.

Even Donald Healey's son, Brian, once wrote that "the soft-top mechanism was completely unacceptable." (Was it at this time that someone invented the bumper sticker that read "All the parts dropping off this car are of the finest British manufacture"?)

Even though it had an engine of only two-thirds the size of the last of the Austin-Healey 3000s, the Jensen-Healey was very fast. Several months after car's Geneva debut, Britain's weekly Autocar reported it capable of 0-60 mph in 7.8 seconds, a standing quarter-mile sprint in only 16.2 seconds, and a top speed of 119 mph.

The magazine praised the Lotus engine for its flexibility and pulling power, and had good things to say about the Jensen's handling and the ride comfort of the all-coil suspension. In the States, Car and Driver hailed the car's speed, comfort, ease of maintenance, and affordability in its Feb­ruary 1973 issue.

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1972-1976 Jensen-Healey: Production History

After the first year, when the Jensen-Healey's irritating problems like engine oil draining away from the pumps after overnight parking, and a tendency to jump out of second and fourth gears (caused by the use of an overly rigid gear-lever surround) were solved, a Mk 2 version was unveiled.

From August 1973, there was a new engine cylinder-block casting, rede­signed body-pressing joints, and the addition of dress-up brightwork strips on the shell. Simulated wood trim replaced plastic on the instrument panel, and though all this cost more, it seemed to be worth it.

1974 Jensen interior
Jensen-Healeys like this 1974 model featured
real wood accents in the cabin.

A little more than a year later, in November 1974, a "Mk 3" (it was never officially called that) took over, the major improvement being the fitment of a close-ratio five-speed German Getrag gearbox in place of the Chrysler-UK four-speeder. A higher final-drive ratio -- 3.45:1 instead of 3.73:1 -- was specified at the same time. This time, too, there were real wood accents in the cabin.

On the outside, stout rubber-covered bumpers able to withstand five-mph impacts (per U.S. regulations) were installed. In the meantime, though, the Arab-led oil embargo of 1973-74 had stood the motoring world on its head. In 1973 (when there were no fewer than 52 J-H outlets in the USA), Jensen's biggest trouble had been to fulfill all the orders coming in, but by 1975, these had begun to dry up. It was time for the range to be expanded.

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The Healey-Qvale Divorce

When Kjell Qvale bought Jensen in 1970 and started work on Jensen-Healeys and Jensen GTs, he had issued shares to the Healey family, assuring them that the company would eventually go public and that they would become truly wealthy. This, in fact, never happened; Donald Healey eventually quarreled with Qvale and finally relinquished the chair in 1974.

1975 Jensen
The Jensen GT was unveiled in Britain in July 1975.

As Brian Healey wrote, "The association with Qvale ended unhappily, in certain respects. It might be expected that DMH would have been extremely bitter over this let-down, but not a bit of it. He had had bigger knocks in the past, and he was, above all, a fighter. He took it all very philosophically, and determined that he was going to get another car on to the road." This, in fact, explains why the final development of the car, a high-speed sport wagon version along the same lines as the Volvo 1800ES and Lancia Beta HPE, was badged purely as a Jensen.

The Jensen GT, as it was called, was aimed at a different type of customer. Heavier and better trimmed than the roadster, the GT used most of the original basic body­shell -- including the blunt rear panel -- to which a compact "estate car" cabin with a top-hinged hatch rear window had been added. The new interior trim was more luxurious than before, with a full-width slab of tree wood for an instrument panel, along with a new and more-logical layout of dials and switches. Electric window-lifts were standard; there were tiny rear seats into which willing children could crawl; and there was more padding and plush for door trims, seats, and stowage areas. An electric sunroof and leather seat upholstery could be ordered.

The Jensen GT was unveiled in Britain in July 1975, when its retail price of £4198 compared badly with the £3,130 asked for a Jensen-Healey roadster. (The U.S. port-of-entry price of $9,975 for the GT was a far cry from the $4,795 charged for the first Jensen-Healey roadster just a few years before.)

For that very simple reason, it was an interesting idea that failed. Few drivers were willing to spend considerably more for a closed car with added weight, reduced acceleration (by almost a full second to 60 mph and half a second in the quarter-mile), and two tiny extra seats.

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The Inevitable End

By September 1975, Jensen was in trouble. Because of the big rise in gasoline prices, sales of its large Chrysler-powered Interceptors dried up, which left the Jensen-Healey and Jensen GT models trying to keep the sizable West Bromwich factory financially afloat. It couldn't be done. The receivers were called in, assembly line activity was run down, and, early in 1976, the last car was produced. In the beginning, Qvale had hoped to make 10,000 Jensen-Healeys every year; in the end, it had taken nearly four years to sell that many cars.

Left undone were replacements that were in the works for the Interceptor and GT, the latter another wagon-style car with gullwing doors tentatively known as the G-Type. Two spin-off companies were created out of the remains of Jensen Motors, Ltd., and one of them -- Jensen Parts & Service, Ltd. -- became a distributor of Subarus in Great Britain.

In the early Eighties, the car importing business was split from Jensen Parts & Service, the latter purchased by its managing director, who envisioned a revival of the Interceptor.

Only a mere trickle of of them came out before the last one was made in 1992, however. (Later rights-holders to the Jensen name attempted a rebirth of the marque after the turn of the century with a Ford Mustang-powered S-V8 two-seat convertible, but that effort ended with only about 30 finished cars.)

After Qvale walked away from his failed British investment, Donald Healey also tried to get the business restarted. Unhap­­pily, approaches to the government for backing were rejected. It was the same government, incidentally, which went on to lend 50 times as much money to John DeLorean to set up the DMC-12 facility in Northern Ireland.

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1972-1976 Jensen-Healey and Jensen GT Specifications

The Jensen-Healey and Jensen GT models took a great deal of wrangling before engineers finally settled on a design. In its short lifespan, Jensen put out almost 11,000 cars; here are the specifications for those vehicles.

Jensen-Healey/Jensen GT Calendar-Year Production

Jensen-Healey
1972
705
1973
3,846
1974
4,550
1975
1,301
1976
51
Total
10,453
Jensen GT
1975-1976
473
Total, all types 10,926*
*(Includes 7,709 deliveries to North America)

1972-76 Jensen-Healey and Jensen GT Selected Specifications

General
Wheelbase (in.) 92.0
Overall length (in.)
162.0 (rdstr), 165.8 (GT)
Overall width (in.) 63.25
Overall height (in.) 47.75* (rdstr), 48.5 (GT)
Tread, front/rear (in.) 53.25/52.5
Fuel tank (gal)
13 (rdstr), 14.4 (GT)
Construction
Layout front engine, rear-wheel drive
Type unitized body/chassis
Material steel
Engine
Type inline dohc 4-cylinder
Material alloy block and head
BoreXstroke (in./mm)
3.75/95.232.73/69.3
Displacement (cid/cc) 120.5/1,973
Horsepower @ rpm
140 @ 6,500
Torque (lb-ft) @ rpm 130 @ 5,000
Compression ratio 8.4:1
Main bearings 5
Valve lifters mechanical
Carburetors twin 2-bbl Stromberg**
Electrical system 12-volt
Driveline
Transmission (1972-1974***)
four-speed manual, flour-mounted shifter
Transmission (1975-1976***) five-speed manual, flour-mounted shifter
Driveshaft
one-piece
Final-drive ratio

(1972-1974***)
3.73:1
(1975-1976***)
3.45:1
Suspension

Front
independent coil-spring-and-wishbone with tubular hydraulic shock absorbers
Rear
live axle with trailing and semitrailing links, coil springs, tubular shock absorbers
Steering and Brakes

Steering type
rack-and-pinion
Brake type
hydraulic, power-assisted front disc, internal-expanding rear drum
Brake diameter (in.)

rear/front
10.0/9.0
Tires and Wheels
Tire size
185/70HR13
Wheel type
cast aluminum

*Top down; 48.5 with top erect. **North American models. All other markets, twin two-barrel Dellorto. ***Model years.

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