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Power, prestige and passion

The Italian-styled, British-engineered and American V8-powered Jensen Interceptor remains a head-turner today, but the originals were beset with quality problems that made them a challenge to own.

Model: Jensen Interceptor Mk III

Engine: 440-cubic-inch (7.2-litre), high-deck big-block Chrysler V8 (250kW/596Nm)

Claim to fame: This stunning 1970s English grand tourer featured a hand-built body designed by Carrozzeria Touring of Italy and a thundering V8 heart from the good old US of A.

In 1966, when the Jensen Interceptor debuted in England, it looked every bit a machine for the jet age, with its striking fastback coupe body designed by Carrozzeria Touring of Italy, handmade leather-trimmed interior and rumbling Chrysler V8 powerplant.

It was the latest in a long line of Jensen cars made in the English coach-building tradition at the Jensen Motors factory in West Bromwich, England. Like its predecessors, the Interceptor was hand-built using traditional coach-building techniques, with specialist metal workers welding, filing and fitting components by hand. The beautifully crafted interiors were put together by expert motor trimmers using walnut inserts and high-quality Connolly leather hide specifically chosen for each vehicle.

But it was the 6.3-litre (383ci) Chrysler V8 driving the rear wheels through a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic and a limited slip rear differential that gave the Interceptor its stunning acceleration and 133mph top speed, enabling it to compete with the likes of Aston Martin and Jaguar, as well as Italian-styled and American-powered rivals such as the AC Cobra.

Included in the Series I line-up was the FF or Ferguson Formula variant, which featured a revolutionary all-wheel drive system that predated similar systems later introduced by Subaru and Audi.

Despite being hand-built in a complicated, time-consuming and costly manner, Interceptors were plagued with problems including electrical gremlins, fit and finish defects, and overheating engines. By the time Interceptor II debuted at the 1969 Earls Court Motor Show many of these problems had been sorted and it is generally regarded as a much better car, boasting improvements to the suspension, brakes, gearing and tyres. This model also introduced air-conditioning as an option, a crash-pad dashboard and new rocker-style switchgear, although the reliability gremlins were never entirely put to bed.

After a three-year model run, during which some 1128 Interceptors were built, the Series II was superseded by 1971’s Interceptor III, the model that many regard as the greatest of all. The Interceptor III began life with the same 6.3-litre (383ci) V8 and three-speed TorqueFlite automatic as its predecessors but soon moved to the more potent 7.2-litre (440ci) low-compression Chrysler V8, including a performance variant, the Jensen SP, with high-compression engine and six-pack carburettor system.

With its larger-capacity V8 engine, GKN alloy wheels and myriad other changes the Series III cemented the Interceptor’s international reputation via left-hand-drive exports to the USA, and to Australia, Japan and Hong Kong. Built in coupe and convertible body styles between 1974 and 1976, an estimated 4255 vehicles make this the most common of the three Interceptor series. It was also the last, as economic changes wrought by the oil shocks of the 1970s forced the closure of Jensen Motors in 1976.

Later efforts to revive the brand by new owners included an updated model based on the Series III known as the Series IV, which was manufactured in low double-digit volumes between 1986 and 1993, followed by another ill-fated attempt with the Ford V8-powered S-V8 in the early 2000s.

For more Jensen history, read Richard Calver’s 2015 book, A History of Jensen.