Built for a decade from 1966, the bubble-booted Jensen Interceptor looks – and is – like nothing else on the road.
Italian styling (by Carrozzeria Touring) and American V8 muscle (by Chrysler) alchemised by a maverick British manufacturer made a heady cocktail that’s only got stronger with age.
If you’re lucky enough to spot one prowling by, drink in the spectacle. But don’t be jealous – you’re probably enjoying the experience more than the tortured soul inside. The gauntlet of maladies they’re negotiating may include (but will not be limited to): pothole-induced shockwaves, an alarming lack of seatbelts, gelatinous body control, a wheezing, apathetic carburetted engine and steering that requires a week’s written notice should you wish to change direction.
But all is not lost. For a lucky few, Oxfordshire-based Jensen International Automotive builds the modernised “Interceptor R”. The idea is simple: hold on to the Interceptor’s significant kerb appeal, but add reliability, usability, and lots (and lots) of power.
Here’s how: source an old Interceptor (that’s the cheap bit – around the £8,000 mark should do it), strip back to the shell, replace or repair tired metal, repaint, Waxoyl, install new wiring and sound deadening, bin the old leaf springs and live axle in favour of a Jag-sourced independent rear suspension, recondition the front suspension, add modern, lowered coilovers, refurb and reconfigure the steering and fit modern racing brakes. Oh, and hoist into the engine bay a big lump of box-fresh American muscle to drive the rear wheels via a new six-speed automatic gearbox.
Such thoroughness means the “standard” Interceptor R, which uses the 6.2-litre 429bhp V8 you’ll find in the last Chevrolet Corvette, costs a full £149,500. But the gloriously brown, £180,000 Interceptor R Supercharged we’re sampling generates a brutal 556bhp from a supercharged version of the same engine, and adds extras such as a new dash design, improved air-con and a windscreen wiper that actually clears the screen at over 60mph (the old jobs tend to flail limply from side to side like arms raised during a Michael Bublé encore).
The cabin overflows with luxury. The new two-tone leather dash is a world apart from the split-prone vinyl-covered original, and new switchgear includes rows of aluminium toggles. Everything in sight is either aluminium, chrome, Wilton carpet or Bridge of Weir leather – there’s even quilted hide on the ceiling and hidden away in the boot. Talk about diamonds on the soles of your shoes.
The electric seats are squashy yet supportive, and install you in an Easy Rider-type driving position. The new heated, colour-coded door mirrors give a proper view down the flanks, unlike the fiddly little chromed originals. There’s even a Bluetooth-ready Motorola stereo head that’s retro-styled to fit in. This is modernisation by stealth.
Ignite the big V8 and there’s some noise, but the car doesn’t rock on its springs in that traditional muscle car way. Pull away and the supercharger cycles through a soundtrack of futuristic warbles and under-bonnet gales. Once there’s plenty of open blacktop ahead, pin the throttle: the instant torque makes the softly-sprung Interceptor rear up like an angry brown bear before throwing you at the horizon with a machine-gun soundtrack and enough venom to upset modern supercar owners. If JIA’s (quite believable) claims are correct, this car reaches 60mph within half a second of a Ferrari 458. This is more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing – it’s the devil in a Brioni three-piece.
But it’s also usable and comfortable. There’s no bitiness to the throttle, and the gearbox marshals the engine beautifully, kicking down when you want, holding gears through corners and upshifting smoothly. Broken urban roads barely bother the chassis, and the faster you go, the more the Jensen exhibits an affable floatiness that would embarrass many modern GTs, without sacrificing stability. The steering is settled rather than incisive, but responds smartly enough and carries good weighting, while body roll is evident but far from overbearing.
Downsides? The chunky chrome around the windows still whistles, and as weight spills forward under heavy braking, the nose isn’t as tied down as you’d like. But no modernised classic fully conquers these bugbears.
So if an Interceptor does happen to pass you by, look for a little yellow R on its badge. Then be very, very jealous.
ENGINE 6.2l V8 supercharged petrol with 556bhp
PERFORMANCE Max speed 174mph (est); 0-60mph 3.8secs
ECONOMY 19mpg (est)