Sometimes the sum of the parts just don’t add up. Despite the best ingredients and the best intentions, the product ends up being – at least viewed in period – a bit of a dud.
However, note the use of the phrase: “at least viewed in period”. Because there are indeed times when this changes once the car is viewed as a classic. Either because there are different expectations to a classic car than there is to a new car, or as is so often the case, because specialists, owners and enthusiast car clubs have spent the last 30+ years fine-tuning the development work of the car, which the factory should really have completed well before the car was even launched.
With the above in mind, it’s difficult to not think of the lovely Triumph Stag. But there is another British roadster which perhaps promised even more, yet failed even worse: The Jensen Healey.
The production of the long-lived Austin-Healey 3000 had come to an end in 1967, and the twenty-year agreement between the Austin division of BMC and Donald Healey was equally about to run out in 1972. Needless to say, Donald Healey was looking for a new business venture. It was probably only natural that he approached Jensen Motors as they had been fabricating all the bodies for the Big Healeys, so they were equally looking for new business. Together these two great British institutes dreamt up the Jensen Healey: A 2-seater open sports car which would be more modern and comfortable than the MGB and Triumph TR6, and as such slot into the market somewhere between the TR6 and the more upmarket and already iconic E-type. So far so good.
The handsome – if perhaps slightly unadventurous – design was the work of Hugo Poole; the end result looking somewhat like a larger and more modern take on a Spitfire. In an attempt to keep costs down, Healey and Jensen decided to base the vast majority of mechanical components on Vauxhall parts. The Viva/Firenza series ended up lending the new Jensen Healey both suspension, steering, and some brake components too while the 4-speed transmission initially came from the Sunbeam Rapier. But with US emission requirements, the big 2.3-litre Vauxhall engine couldn’t meet the target power output of 130hp. Various other options were considered, but finally a third British legend stepped in with the solution: Colin Chapman. His all-alloy 2.0-litre 16V twincam was both light, low, powerful enough and it meet US emissions too. With three big names like that – Healey, Jensen and Lotus – surely this project was destined for success…
Finally in 1972, the new Jensen Healey made its debut onto a market occupied by comparatively archaic British roadsters. However, there were quality issues right from the word go, which obviously lead to reliability issues too. In an attempt to address this, only a year into production, the mk2 was launched in 1973. The Lotus engines were meant to be stronger and the 4-speed Sunbeam transmission was swapped for a better 5-speed Getrag close-ratio transmission. At the same time various minor changes were made elsewhere such as a more luxurious interior with a padded dashboard with woodgrain inserts and a clock as standard. Sadly though, it was too late. By now the reputation of the new Jensen Healey had already taken a beating, and despite the mk2 cars actually being good cars, the damage had been done. By mid 1975 production of the Jensen Healey ceased and Donald Healey bailed from Jensen altogether after selling only 10,503 cars. Jensen at this point attempted launching the Jensen GT which was essentially a shooting brake version of the Jensen Healey – clearly inspired by the Reliant Scimitar. It was too little too late and with only 509 GT’s leaving Jensen Motors, they ceased production altogether and went into liquidation in mid 1976.
For years, the ill-fated project was widely frowned upon among many enthusiasts. But in recent years the model has slowly started to increase in popularity. As already mentioned, the mk2 cars were already much improved over the early mk1 cars, and various specialists and enthusiasts have also developed further improvements to address shortcomings. As such, the Jensen Healey today offers great top-down classic car motoring for very little outlay. Prices still haven’t picked up yet, so Jensen Healeys can still be found for Triumph Spitfire money. Considering you get a bigger, more comfortable and more practical car with a much more powerful twincam engine offering much better performance, I personally can’t help but feel that you get a whole lot for your hard-earned savings with the droptop Jensen.
And here’s your chance to get one for yourself. It’s a 1975 car, so from the final year of production. Judging from the pictures, it seems to present very original in bright yellow, which in my opinion is the best factory colour of them all. It retains its factory alloy wheels and even comes with both a hardtop and softtop. It’s claimed to have been with the same owner since 2012, and he’s apparently just treated it to a good service including overhauled carburettors. Despite being MOT exempt now, the owner has just put it through a fresh MOT. Yet, cosmetically it would benefit from a bit of time being spent on it – for starters, the rear bumper appears to be crooked and the seats are covered by a set of cheap and nasty seat covers. But you could buy it now, then spend the cold winter months putting these small details right, and have it all ready to enjoy come spring… Here are a few pictures borrowed from the advert:
The Jensen is up for auction next weekend on Saturday the 3rd of November with Anglia Car Auctions at Kings Lynn in the UK. They’ve set the estimate at £ 3,500 to 4,500, which to me seems like pretty good value for a fully-functioning open British sports car like this. I’m certainly tempted! As always though, make sure you have a thorough pre-purchase inspection done before bidding. You don’t want any nasty surprises from the all-steel monocoque or the expensive to repair Lotus twincam. Follow this link to the online auction catalogue: 1975 Jensen Healey
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org