The strange birth of a British icon

For classic car fans the Jensen Interceptor is surely one of the great iconic designs of the last 40 years. But who designed it? The story of the Jensen Interceptor’s birth is a typically British one. Whereas modern cars are conceived over years by committees, focus groups and that most modern of concepts, the ‘thought shower’ (probably), the Interceptor took three months from idea to a physical prototype. Credit for this must go to Jensen’s talented Chief Engineer at the time, Kevin Beattie. Drafted in from the Rootes Group in the mid 60s, Beattie was something of a maverick in the staid world at Kelvin Way in West Bromwich. He had been angling for some change in direction with Jensen cars for some time, but remained a lone voice until a change of ownership in the mid-60s. At that time all Jensen cars were designed in the peculiarly unique style of Chief Designer Eric Neale, the man who brought us the ‘Chinese Eye’ CV-8. Neale had been briefed in 65 to design a new sports car, the P66, to plug the gap left by Jensen losing the contract to build the Austin Healey. Jensen’s new owners could see that the P66, while not as challenging to look at as the CV-8, was still no world beater. This presented a problem. What to show the world at the 66 Geneva show? Jensen badly needed sales due to the AH going and Geneva was its shop window. Up stepped Beattie. He had long argued that Jensen should go to an Italian carrozzeria for its designs, as was popular at the time. He also argued that Jensen needed a low volume, very profitable model, not a low cost, high volume model. This was a major change of strategy mere months before the show. But Jensen’s board bought it. In the time available the only option for Beattie was to dress up the CV-8 chassis in better clothing. He touted the idea around different carrozeria and settled on Touring. Vignale also produced ideas that were rejected. Touring quickly produced the iconic Interceptor silhouette. As Touring lacked capacity to build a prototype at such short notice, Beattie went to Vignale who built the first car. The Interceptor went from paper to metal to Board approval to show in three months virtually unchanged. Such was the rush – and internal politics – that it was shown alongside a 4wd CV-8 at Geneva, a model subsequently quickly dropped and replaced with the Jensen FF based on the Interceptor. For various reasons the first 30 or so Interceptors were built by Vignale. This involved a complicated process of shipping chassis out to Italy and complete cars coming back. Costs and poor quality by Vignale led to production reverting to West Bromwich by which time the unassuming Beattie had effected a sort of bloodless overthrow of the old guard (the founding Jensen brothers hated him for it). The rest of course is history. As anyone who has driven or owned a Jensen will know, the car’s rushed gestation is obvious in the detail – poor engine ventilation and cooling, recalcitrant electrics, sauna effect for occupants etc etc. But nobody can deny the thing looks absolutely brilliant. So who actually penned that iconic shape? Remarkably, nobody knows. The design drawings are unsigned and nobody has come forward to claim it. Back in the 60s the Interceptor was just another bespoke design for a small manufacturer with grand ambitions. Little is known of Beattie. He died prematurely in the 70s, his gargantuan work rate no doubt a factor. His role in the Jensen story has been assumed by other far more gregarious characters. But for me, he remains the father of the Interceptor, whether he penned the shape or not. Great Escape Classic Car Hire has two of these great cars for hire in Yorkshire and Worcestershire. Mention this article and we’ll give you 10% off. 01527 893733             

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