It’s interesting how there’s a certain feel – or character even – to cars which originate from the same country. We will first be struck by the visuals, but it’s certainly more than skin-deep as the approach to engineering has equally always varied from one country to another. Of course, it often gets even more interesting as the influences of various countries is combined and mixed with cars that were created across the borders of countries.
For a long time, hybrids like this (and no, here on ViaRETRO, the word hybrid will obviously never ever refer to some modern electric/fuel contraption) were frowned upon by the so-called purists, who would insist that a truly Italian sportscar required an Italian heart too. But looking back through automotive history, it’s clear that several seriously fabulous classic cars came to be with Italian styling and big stonking American V8’s under the bonnet.
Perhaps one of the most successful and best known is the Jensen Interceptor which was produced from 1966 to 1976. This great GT took the term hybrid to the next level by combining talents from all of three different nations – the British, Italian and American. The cars came to be in West Bromwich just outside of Birmingham and were of course full of British tradition and soul. But then there were the engines, which were powerful V8 engines of either 6.3 or even 7.2-litres borrowed from Chrysler, and not least the elegant styling which was the work of Carrozzeria Touring of Milan.
Even Vignale in Turin had a part to play. While Jensen were shopping for designs for the Interceptor which was to replace their C-V8, they had initially spoken with Italian design-houses Ghia, Touring and Vignale. While Vignale’s proposal had been turned down in favour of Touring’s, Jensen had instead approached Vignale to manufacture the Touring-designed Interceptor for them, as Vignale had much greater capacity than Touring – not to mention Vignale’s better finances than the troubled Touring. However, Vignale’s efforts were short-lived as Jensen weren’t satisfied with the quality of assembly delivered by the Italian carrozzeria, so the small British company bought all the jigs and tools and moved the complete assembly in-house.
However, just as this was happening, Vignale jumped at the opportunity to purchase a complete Jensen chassis including the 6.3-litre Chrysler V8 and a 4-speed manual transmission as the drivetrain. This was to be used for Alfredo Vignale’s own prototype Jensen. The chassis was delivered in late 1966 with a slightly shorter than the standard wheelbase, so as to suit the striking two-seater design which had been penned by Michelotti, who at the time was employed at Vignale. The bodywork which was partially aluminium and partially fibreglass was itself an amusing potpourri of Italian and American design influences. The headlights were for instance hidden behind electrically operated retractable doors which was of course all the rave at the time in the USA, but the relatively compact and sharp GT outline and slopping roofline where still typical Italian.
Wearing dark green paintwork, a black roof and Campagnolo wheels, Vignale’s one-off Jensen Nova was displayed centre-stage on the Vignale stand at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1967. Somewhat bizarrely, they chose to exhibit the car with the headlamp covers retracted thus exposing the headlamps and arguably lending the Nova a much more ‘normal’ and certainly less aggressive look than it has with the headlamps hidden.
After its first debut, the Jensen Nova went back to Vignale’s workshop for some alterations. Either Vignale wasn’t entirely happy with the original design, or perhaps he just eyed an opportunity to achieve twice the exposure from essentially the same car? Either way, the C-pillar was significantly changed, whereby the rear quarterlight grew in size. But the wrap-around rear window, which was very much in the spirit of the Interceptor upon which it was based, was sadly also lost in favour of a much more conventional rear window. To my eyes at least, the original design was both more elegant but also gave the Nova a much more unique appearance. To finish it all off, the new bodywork was painted a creamy shade of off-white while the previously tan and black interior was retrimmed in red hide to compliment the new body colour. All of this work was achieved in less than a month, and the second incarnation of Jensen Nova was displayed on Vignale’s stand at the Turin Motor Show in April 1967.
And that was effectively the last time this Nova star got to shine. Later that year, Vignale’s one-off Jensen prototype was sold to the French Jensen distributor, Societe France Motors. To this day, the Jensen Nova continues to reside in France.
Of course the question of whether the Nova could have provided Jensen with greater sales than the approximately 6,400 Interceptors manufactured will remain forever unanswered. Or perhaps the two-seater Nova could have simply complimented the 2+2 Interceptor in the Jensen line-up? How do our ViaRETRO readers feel about this one-off Anglo-Italian-American hybrid?