When I decided to hire out my Mk3 Interceptor out for weekends many people thought I was mad. Because, after all, there are many good reasons for never hiring your classic car out to strangers, and many more for not doing so with a Jensen Interceptor. Apart from the security risks, Kevin Beatty’s finest creation has never been at the vanguard of reliability and low ownership costs.
Yet there is a lot of logic to offering an Interceptor as a hire car, as I decided to do 12 months ago. It is one of the few cars of the last 40 years that has left a strong and lasting impression on car illiterates as well as car cognoscenti. But whereas the E-Type has become as common and obvious as Australian wine, the Interceptor has kept an element of uniqueness and mystery. Virtually every classic car hire company in the UK has an E-Type on its fleet but only one other has an Interceptor.
So the Interceptor was an obvious choice when I decided to set up a classic car hire company in 2006. I’d spotted a niche to offer something different from the usual E-Types and MGs with a much higher standard of presentation and service. By coincidence, I also loved the Interceptor and felt that here was a car that had been overlooked for hire.
Classic car hire also appealed because I wanted to own and drive some great cars but knew that I didn’t have the time and couldn’t justify the investment on its own. From my previous experience owning classics, I knew that if I bought an Interceptor it would no doubt just sit in the garage for 40 weeks of the year – which wouldn’t do it or me much good.
Finding the Right Car I spent about 12 months looking at cars all over Britain. I had done my research and decided that the best price band for what I needed was around £10,000 (it would be more now). Ideally I wanted a Mk3 7.2 in Brienz Blue with beige interior, but I quickly realised that it was better to compromise on specification and get a better car. And I realised that in fact they all look great. Unfortunately at this level there are a lot of over-valued cars, which meant I spent a lot of wasted time looking at cars that needed a lot of money spent on them. Eventually, by pure luck, I was introduced to the owner of a car in Haslemere who was selling it reluctantly.
LPB 63N was a low-owner 1974 Mark 3 with later Jensen Parts & Services upgrades. Finished in light blue metallic – nobody is quite sure what the colour is – with burgundy leather interior, the bodywork was excellent in all the right places. The only downside was a tired engine – I didn’t realise at the time quite how tired. It was significantly better than any of the other cars I looked at. I bought it in January 2007 but like all the rest it needed some serious money spent on it. I knew this but I didn’t realise quite how much!
During January and February I set up the company, Great Escape Classic Car Hire (http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk/), and arranged photography of the car at a studio in Newton Abbot run by a friend of mine, Mike Evans. I drove the car down on a freezing January day, spent £170 on fuel, ran through five litres of oil in 400 miles and burst an elderly rear tyre. This was my introduction to Interceptor motoring.
I booked the car into Race Sport in Studley – recommended by Green Lane Restorations, a Jensen specialist nearby – and discovered the bad news. The pistons were badly worn and the car needed a complete engine rebuild. I could have got by with a partial rebuild but decided to do it properly to ensure that it would be reliable on hire. The work took three months and LPB 63N went back on the road in mid-April 2007 in the same week that the website and company were launched.
Launching The Company
I launched the company with just the Jensen and my existing Alfa Romeo Spider for hire. I expected the cheaper Alfa to be the popular option, but I hadn’t reckoned on the English weather – or the enduring appeal of the Jensen.
Despite a slow start, in mid-May interest in the cars suddenly took off. From May until early December, as I write this, the car has covered 7,000 miles almost entirely on hire duties, and has been used by 30 or 40 different people. It is out virtually every weekend, even in winter, and is easily the most popular car of the five that we now offer (I’ve added two V12 Jaguar convertibles, an XJS and an E-Type, and a Morris Minor Traveller).
My experience suggests that the appeal of the Interceptor is huge and wide-ranging. It runs from 25 year-olds whose father had one, 50-year-olds who always wanted one, women who just love them, 30-year-olds who want to buy one and so on. I might have imagined that my customers would be men in their 50s but the car’s appeal is much, much wider than that. It is one of the great perks of my job to be able to meet these people and give them the opportunity to fulfil a longstanding dream.
The success of the car has also had other benefits. I’ve enjoyed some great days photographing the Interceptor in the Cotswolds, I’ve appeared in The Sunday Times with the car and I’ve just done a shoot for Classics Monthly. I don’t get to drive it much but when I do I realise just why it is so revered – you can’t beat a big-capacity V8 for effortless urge and that irresistible noise.
Now most classic car owners wouldn’t lend their cars to strangers, let alone hiring them out on a regular basis. This is completely understandable. When I began looking for an Interceptor I knew that I was going to hire it out, so I approached the purchase and ownership prospect from a completely different perspective. Although I have always wanted an Interceptor, the car is a business primarily and a show queen second. Had I owned LPB 63N before I hired it I might feel differently about rental.
A Reliable Classic Car
At this stage you are no doubt asking one of two questions. Is it reliable and how has it been treated? For a 33 year old car it has been very reliable and significantly better than I had hoped. Customers do expect problems – it’s an old car after all – but so far most of the major maladies have occurred when I’ve driven it. The engine rebuild has made a major difference here. The problems have been due to ancillaries, including a failed resistor (leading to electrical failure on the way back from Goodwood), a slight fuel tank leak and a snapped bonnet lead (fortunately it left the bonnet open).
The low point came when a cooling fan failed, which as every Interceptor owner knows is like the screen failing on your laptop – the car becomes unusable. Unfortunately this happened when the car was out on hire to a young man who was getting married in Cardiff – and while I was in Scotland visiting relatives. Fortunately he was extremely resourceful and with the help of Martin Robey in Nuneaton he organised a replacement fan and a garage to fit it, all on the morning of his wedding. This is the stressful side of classic car hire.
These niggles have shown the importance of establishing a good relationship with a good local specialist garage. Race Sport is experienced in big American engines and has learned a lot about the Interceptor in the last few months. If the car fails I need a quick turnaround and they always oblige.
For a car that gets so much regular use, I have kept it virtually as standard. When the engine was rebuilt I decided to keep it standard. The only changes I’ve made are to use standard rubber instead of the much more expensive high performance tyres, and I will be upgrading the other cooling fan through Martin Robey. Race Sport also dialled back the kick down, which customers don’t notice but which preserves the engine. Running activity is restricted to checking and maintain all of the levels and thorough cleaning inside, outside and underneath after every hire. The Jensen stays in a Carcoon between hires, which has a very sound investment.
The car’s hire work also generates an income that I reinvest in the car. Over the winter it will receive some minor cosmetic improvements to the bodywork – there are a few chips here and there from previous years – and I will get the wheels refurbished.
After a busy year for me and a hard year for the car I’m very impressed with how the car has held up. I no longer worry at all when it is out – either about breakdowns or damage. The benefits are that the car is getting regular use, which can only be good for it, and I’m getting a small income that I can reinvest in improvements to the car.
Then there were 5
The success of the Jensen and Alfa now means that Great Escape has five cars available to hire. We now have a brace of Jaguar V12 Convertibles – E-Type and XJS – and a gorgeous 1957 Morris Minor Traveller. For more details visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk/ or call me on 01527 893733.