Today comes the news that a ‘new’ Jensen is about to grace the market – the Jensen GT. Designed and marketed by the Jensen Group, which owns the rights to the name, the car will be built by Jensen International Automotive, which created the Interceptor R a few years ago. The GT, we’re told, is definitely, category not a new Interceptor (we’re promised that ‘soon’). Instead it’s a low volume handbuilt car combining modern materials – there’s talk of composites – with traditional coachbuilding techniques. 80 will be built at £350,000 a pop. Anyone who has followed the story of David Brown Automobiles may feel a touch of deja vu. This all sounds very similar to the Speedback GT, another low volume, very expensive, coachbuilt/modern materials mash up based around an iconic 1960s design.
Jensen Group is being a little vague about the details. There is talk of a spaceframe chassis, composite structure and ‘lessons learned’ from Jensen International Automotive’s Interceptor R. And, apparently, some suspension componentry from the last Jensen revival, the SV-8. Production is due to begin in 2016, when we’re also promised the new Interceptor. I want to like and support the Jensen GT and Jensen Group’s plans, but I can’t ditch this nagging feeling of impending doom. That the ‘new’ car has been shown to the world as a clay mock up doesn’t help. Sure, to try and fail is better than never to try, but in the case of Jensen what we risk is yet another pothole along an already pockmarked road. The GT is being built by two separate companies, both called Jensen, which demonstrates the problem. This is a company whose DNA has been fractured into a thousand pieces. Even before Jensen collapsed in 1976 the company had had a torrid time: since the mid 60s management and ownership changes had resulted in endless false starts and a gradual drift towards calamity. Since it all disintegrated the Jensen name has been revived more times than Lazarus. First off we had Jensen Parts & Service, which bought most of the old Jensen assets and began making Interceptors again in low volume. JPS sold everything except the name to Martin Robey, the Nuneaton Jaguar parts specialist, who transferred everything, including many of the staff, to its Warwickshire site. This effectively separated the business from the name, resulting in the current situation.
The first revival began in 1998 with the SV-8, a handful of which were built in Liverpool before the business went bump in 2002. Since then the name has limped along with various companies promising much but delivering little. The closest we came to a ‘new’ Jensen was the Interceptor R; good as it is, a handful of warmed up Interceptors built in a shed in Oxfordshire hardly moves the brand on. Contrast this thorny tale with the fortunes of Jensen’s close rival, Aston Martin. Aston similarly struggled in the 70s, running through several owners to its current relatively stable and prosperous position. Unlike Jensen, the Aston name and business remained together and the company has, like Jaguar, evolved its cars rather than rewarmed them. All of which makes me wonder what relationship this Jensen, or any car made under this arrangement, possibly has with Jensen Motors. Isn’t this the equivalent of SAIC nailing MG badges to conventional saloons and persuading us they’re suffused with the DNA of Abingdon’s finest? I’m a realist: I know that launching a new car company is risky and costs a fortune. So far better to bolt on a defunct brand and benefit from its existing ‘market traction.’ I also want Jensen to be reborn, I really do. Who wouldn’t? But is a handbuilt bitza homage to a car last made 40 years ago, by a company with no real link to Jensen, really the way forward?
Jensen Group indicates that the new Interceptor will be a step forward, but from the existing designs – and the decision to use that name – we can only assume it’s evolution not revolution. And that is the problem. Regurgitating history implies a link with that history, but Jensen cannot lay claim to any of that. At least the SV-8, whatever its foibles, was a genuine move forward and one that was true to the spirit of Jensen. The GT and, I suspect, the Interceptor, aren’t. My worry is that by relying so heavily on an idea of Jensen that doesn’t have much relevance to the modern day, the new venture is betting the farm on a financial cul de sac: to stand a proper chance of moving forward Jensen needs to look forward. Jaguar made this mistake for decades, endlessly rejuvenating the XJ shape; eventually they realised that the market had drifted away. The new GT uses rear lights from a Jaguar F-Type. I can only hope that some of the creative thinking that saw Jaguar relaunch for the 21st century without fireburning its history rubs off on the new venture.
I genuinely wish Jensen Group, Jensen International Automotive and David Brown Automotive best of luck. Anyone trying something new deserves respect and support. But I hope the GT and Interceptor are springboards to something forward thinking and new: it’s what the Interceptor was all about and it’s the spirit of Jensen. I have owned an Interceptor since 2006 and you can hire it as part of Great Escape Cars’ fleet at www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.