For many, many years I have been fascinated by big exotic grand touring cars. Now I finally got one – and what a car!
Jensen Interceptor. Taste it. Interceptor. In-ter cep-tor. It sounds international, intercontinental, exceptional and with a bit of Thor’s hammer on top – and that is in essence exactly how this car is.
Of course you can discuss what constitutes an exotic in the first place, but to me the Interceptor fits the bill. But maybe more importantly I’ve been crazy about the model for a long, long time – on the theoretical level, as it is so often. As so often is I knew the Interceptor from the classic car magazines, where over the years it has been the main proponent of articles with angles ranging from “Most bang for the Buck”, “Best budget classic” or to – as of lately – “Cars you have to buy before it’s too late”. Everything I took in with all of my senses: Along the way in my classic car career I have got more and more taste for GT cars and what a fine specimen of such an Interceptor is – in fact to the point that it is almost a caricature of a GT car!
Here we have to briefly summarize the concept of the GT: Grand Touring (French) or Gran Turismo (Italian) covers the same thing, namely a car for travelling the large open spaces that came with the appearance of highways and motorways in the Fifties and especially the Sixties. Comfort was paramount and so were performance – along with a growing sense of this prestige factor that of course shouldn’t matter in practice. But as in practice actually does mean a whole lot: Class, style, design and presence were mandatory ingredients for a proper GT – and riding on a cocktail of all those ingredients, the GT man was then ready to cross borders.
I love that category of cars because they add up to grand adventures. More so than you would do in a nice convertible, more than in a pure sports car, more than in a crude racing car. A GT car is a car that gets completely under the skin of the GT man right up to the point where it becomes a direct extension of the GT man’s self: Adventurer, gentleman, cosmopolitan, philanthropist, macho – secret agent? Or for that matter all in one. The GT car is for the big journeys through life in its entirety. Literally.
In the case of the Interceptor that journey begins long before even starting the engine. The car itself is a fantastic cosmopolite of an automobile: Its classic British boarding school attendence involves a solid handover of old virtues – such as the chassis of its predecessor Jensen CV8. To this traditionalism then comes a flamboyant element of Italian style in the exact opposite direction, namely modernism of the sharpest Milanese style from Carrozzeria Touring. And finally, the cocktail is completed with a surge of torque and power from American Chrysler’s largest engines and best gearboxes.
It really shouldn’t work. But it does, as I experienced for myself some years ago:
In the summer of 2011 I had finally gone so far as to try my old dream car, and even in a rather proper way: I rented an Interceptor from Great Escape for three days and drove up and down the beautiful Cotswolds. Once again, the stupid saying “don’t meet your heroes” proved wrong, because the Interceptor lived up to everything I hoped for. Except that it wasn’t mine. Since then, it has been part of my – hundreds of cars big – dream car garage with the clear hope that one day an Interceptor would emerge in reality as well.
Eight years later time had come. At least that’s how it seemed to me when a friend suddenly advised me that a 1973 Interceptor III had come up for sale here in Denmark at a price that seemed quite reasonable for a car that also seemed quite reasonable. I called the seller very shortly after the ad went live to hear more about the car. I liked what he was told, and then thought really hard about the matter: Was this really the right time, in the middle of a house move and more? Yes, I answered my own question – which was rethorical anyway. I was probably also excited as I was in the middle of washing my Alpine Renault A310 which is certainly another nice car.
As far as I remember my wife was not home. I mention this detail after hearing of a poor man who asked his wife when he wanted a Jaguar Mk2 and was turned down. Neither Interceptors nor Jaguar Mk2s are topics for wives, are they? So when I decided I called the seller again – but this time he didn’t answer. When I finally reached him after half an hour of calling it turned out that he had been swamped with callers wanting to hear more about the car – and that meant that there wasn’t much time available before I had to decide: But there I was washing a car in Djursland while the Interceptor was in Copenhagen, more than three hours drive away – and buying a Jensen Interceptor unseen? No thanks, I’m am not that adventurous. So I called a friend over there who was happy to go out to see the car – and I agreed with the seller that if it was as he said it was, we had a deal. My friend called back confirming the state of things – and the seller and I made a handshake over the phone. The Tuesday after I was a Jensen Interceptor owner and owed my Copenhagen friend a couple of really good bottles.
There were just a few issues, though: My new Interceptor III was imported from Sweden and was therefore not registered in Denmark. And had been stood in Sweden for several years. It had had the oil and fluid changed had been prepared before it was revived in Denmark, but both the seller and my friend had pointed out a few things still to be attended to. So I had the car transported to a local mechanic who had to make sure that it did not overheat, was able to brake and, moreover, with at least a certain probability, would be able to drive home to Jutland on its own wheels. The tires were cracked and old so immediately I splashed our on four new balloon tires for the neat sum of ten thousand Danish kroner, and a review of brakes, changing of a lot of brake pipes, manifold gaskets and other leaky cases from pipes to hoses and carburetor cost about the same again. So 3,000 Euro later we were at least going – and I remembered my own words from the article I wrote about the rented Interceptor in England: “No matter what happened to it, it wasn’t my problem”. With my new own Interceptor it was the other way around!
On the other hand the joy of expectation was sky high: After having had the great pleasure of being a curator of a number of lovely classic cars from Jaguar XJ12 to Mercedes SLC and more, the Interceptor stands for me just at quite simply another place in the automobile hierarchy. With a total production figure across all variants approximately 6,400 Interceptors have been built, so it is a significantly more rare car than both the mentioned. Add to that the simple fact that it also has a lot more edge and is just – well, a true exotic. I know even now that it is not a better car as such – but it is something else and more and in many ways in fact far beyond being a car. It is a living testimony to quite another automobile time and history, and I’ll almost state that this is more important than how it drives.
Finally a few weeks ago the day came when I picked up my Interceptor on temporary number plates. It started out rather badly – as the mechanic was delayed. Very authentic British if you want to see it from the automotive historian’s perspective. On departure it turned out that there was also no light on the car – besides one (yes, only one) fog light. Add to that the other flaws and shortcomings that I had already mentally begun to make small lists of.
But the car. MY Interceptor!
I loved exactly that Interceptor from the first time I saw it in the pictures of the ad. After all, I had learned from years of research that collectors will indeed all want an Interceptor Mk1 or an SP – the first or the fastest. But the great Jensen expert Richard Calver says the MkIII is the best. You give up the fine dashboard and the raw power of the SP, but you get the best combination of engine, equipment and matured product development – and you get it for the lowest price. The previous Interceptors with the small (!) 6.3-liter engine are faster, but when I turned the key on mine for the first time and heard my 440 cubic inches wake up to the task, I was missing nothing at all: The Chrysler’s 440 cubic inches corresponds to 7.2 liters , and it’s very much the V8 that gives an Interceptor a heart of cast iron. It is rated at 385 SAE horsepower and about 500 Newtonmeters, but it also tugs at 1800 kilos of continental cruiser. And in any case, neither an Interceptor nor its engine is as much about the numbers as about anything else, and the old Rolls-Royce answer to any performance question seems appropriate for an Interceptor as well: “Adequate”.
And then there is the question of style. My Interceptor, as one of 59 MkIIIs, has the color “Claret” and carries its matching vinyl roof with pride. Six cows reportedly were needed to clad the leather cabin and my cows were beige. The ceiling with its fine stitching is pure GT class and the dashboard gives the feeling of being an air captain with wings on the shoulders and stewardesses available for free. GKN aluminum wheels were standard on the III, and are as sharp in design as the rest of the car. The exhaust pipes have the diameter of some serious rocket launchers, and the boot can accommodate suitably large amounts of dynamite, small arms, smokings and false passports for a whole group of 00 agents.
As sais I am well aware that an Interceptor is not the perfect car. And well, MY Interceptor isn’t even in perfect condition either. But there are few cars that mix the ingredients to the same degree as a Jensen Interceptor, and even fewer that successfully get a tasty cocktail out of it. I absolutely adore this car and am really looking forward to giving ti the TLC it needs – and not least I look forward to living the GT dream with it.
This will not be until the 2020 season for a number of reasons: The Danish autumn weather has disappointed me and before we know it, winter is upon us. The amount of small and large tasks on the Interceptor is also a little too much for a rush job (unless the price doesn’t matter, and it does – I’m the GT man on a budget!). For example, the very first and arguably most important job the mechanic had with the car, namely to make sure it did not overheat, he did not get resolved: Mine, like so many other Interceptors, gets too hot when leaving the beaten highway. In addition in features numerous lamps that are illuminated even if they should not – and some that are not illuminated even if they should (the headlights, however, woke up at home on the way home so they appear to be fixed – easy!).
But as I see it at the moment, this just adds more joy – and more time to organize one of my biggest automobile adventures ever: “Operation Interceptor”. This will involve a rendezvous in secret places, enigmatic flashes with the four headlights on dark waterfronts, the company of charming but dangerous ladies, encounters with card-playing squarejawed and cat-friendly men, car chases on exotic mountain roads, full-throttle scenes through echo tunnels, and then quick getaways into horizons with blazing sun and que music. Probably with a couple of fuelling stops thrown in along the way.
So now the secret is out: My new classic car? The name is Interceptor. Jensen Interceptor.