“That’s us,” I mutter with gleeful, smirking and barely contained expectation, betraying an attempt at nonchalance, as a deep, rumbling bass burble disrupts the otherwise quiet mid-morning Barnet residential street, like Barry White gargling through an amplifier. Pulling back the curtain with my eyes darting between window and security monitor, the long, low-slung, slinky and sultry, maroon-painted source of excitement edges into sight outside my Anglo-Italian friend’s North London flat. Promising modern V8 muscle and refinement with untainted classic style and elegance, the re-engineered, refurbished and hand-built Jensen Interceptor R elicits an anticipation last reserved for the Jaguar F-Type or Ferrari 458 Spider.
A niche car even in its 1970s heyday, the Interceptor was the epitome of cool elegance, indulgent luxury and unpretentious sophistication, with its eclectic roster of famous owners including no less than Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, Tony Curtis, Dusty Springfield, Farrah Fawcett, Mick Fleetwood, Princess Anne and even Cliff Richard and Darth Vader – or at least David Prowse, the man under the black helmet and cape. With effortless charm and an air of edginess and recognition for those in the know, the Interceptor is enduringly desirable, and has now been resurrected and modernised by Oxfordshire-based Jensen International Automotive (JIA).
A gracefully gorgeous grand tourer with uncomplicated but aesthetically pleasing lines, the Jensen Interceptor has its own Anglo-Italian roots, and was penned by Milanese design house Carrozzeria Touring, with early bodies being built by Vignale coachbuilders in Turin, before production moved to the now-defunct Jensen Motors headquarters in West Bromwich, UK. Stylistically, the Interceptor’s moody demeanour and dynamic tension is more reminiscent of Italian contemporaries such as the Iso Grifo than British sports cars and luxury coupes of its milieu. And, like many niche Italian and British exotics, the Interceptor is powered by good old, uncomplicatedly effective, American V8 firepower.
Recapturing a bygone charm and character for clients well able to buy the latest Aston or Rolls, the Interceptor R improves a much-loved formula rather than unceremoniously dragging it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Formed by Jensen-enthusiast businessmen and engineers in 2010, JIA is led by Tony Banham, with substantial backing from Charles Dunstone, of Carphone Warehouse fame. With modern-day handling, performance, refinement and reliability, the Interceptor R makes a convincing case for itself as a viable daily driver.
Though undoubtedly to benefit from the gloriously bastardised Interceptor hot rod driven by Michelle Rodriguez in this year’s movie Fast and Furious 6, the Interceptor R is, however, a much classier affair. With a £150,000 (Dh852,760) price tag and a 26-to-30-week build time, JIA sources or uses client-provided 1971-76 Mk3 or 1969-71 Mk2 donor cars. Stripped down to its shell and thoroughly inspected, the shell is then restored, repaired, seam sealed, primed and painted to the client’s preference. Mechanically, a modern General Motors LS3 6.2L V8 replaces the original 6.3L and 7.2L Chrysler engines, while the live rear axle is swapped for independent rear suspension.
Virtually unchanged in appearance, eagle-eyed observers will, however, notice the lower front air dam, small round indicator lights replacing the original rectangles, black grille slats, larger air intakes and wire mesh intake and side vent covers. Also included are re-chromed details, wider exhaust tips and new steel bumper, sill covers and kick plates. Larger, bespoke, 17-inch replica alloy wheels are also faithful, and accommodate contemporary brake discs and performance six-pot AP front callipers, along with wider, lower-profile 235/55VR17 tyres.
With an indulgently long bonnet, slinky and alluring low waistline, huge upright glasshouse and rounded and airy rear hatchback, the Jensen Interceptor not only has the perfect name for such a dramatic yet unpretentious GT, but exudes a predatory edginess and sense of almost aristocratic class. Narrow and low, with thin pillars, the Interceptor offers terrific visibility and enables one to place it more easily on the road than a modern GT, despite its long bonnet. Front headroom is generous and rear seats accommodate medium-sized adults, while the R’s luscious, double-stitched, reupholstered leather seats are most comfortable for long journeys.
Hunkered down and sitting close to the fixed steering wheel and slightly pressed against the door, the far side electric “period” mirror doesn’t offer ideal visibility, while the seat belt – anchored behind the rear seats – is tight around portly drivers. The Interceptor R can be fitted with front B-pillar-anchored seat belts and rear belts on request, but this should be standard. Interceptors originally came with different indicator stalks, and the demo car’s are slim, long and delicate. In addition to lush reupholstery, the Interceptor R gets an aircraft-like line of new gauges, set in its leather-lined, refurbished and upright dashboard.
Full of classic charm and detail, the Interceptor R’s cabin features large, user-friendly buttons, rotary dials, chrome-tipped dials, a brushed aluminium console panel and leather-bound, three-spoke period steering wheel. Less conspicuous upgrades include new electricals, refurbished window and door seals and recessed original-style quad halogen lamps. Dramatic, luxurious and exotic, the Interceptor R radiates presence and a sense of occasion. On British roads, it draws admiring looks, courtesy of other motorists and a “stop and chat”, in diametric opposite to the unwarrantedly hostile comments, gestures and behaviour that a similarly pricey, modern, luxury GT might attract.
Replacing the lazy and heavy cast-iron Chrysler V8, the Interceptor R’s GM-sourced V8 – of Corvette, and Camaro SS fame – is a compact overhead valve design, with lightweight all-aluminium construction. An evolution of the classic American V8, the LS3 keeps the Interceptor’s character and is mounted farther rearward behind the front axle for a balanced within-wheelbase, front-mid configuration and weighting. Robust and good bang for the buck, the dependable and easily serviceable LS3 makes the Interceptor R easy to live with. It also gets six-speed auto or manual options.
Coughing to life with a press of the new centre-console starter button, and with less soundproofing than a sanitised modern GT, one better enjoys the deep, fruity burbles and insistent, thumping, bass-heavy growls and bellows as the revs rise all the way to its full 435hp at 5,900rpm. Weighing a modest (by contemporary standards) 1,600kg, and with 574Nm under-bonnet, the new Interceptor’s fat rear tyres dig into the tarmac as it rockets off the line to 100kmph in about 4.5 seconds. Effortlessly muscular, the engine’s deep reservoir of torque is fully available by 4,600rpm, a generous helping of which is always present.
Rich and abundant, the Interceptor R’s torque and progressively muscular power build-up ensures flexibility on any occasion, with overtaking manoeuvres brutally dispatched on kick-down along narrow country lanes. Devastatingly quick at full chat, it relies on seemingly boundless torque for brisk on-the-move, real-world acceleration. Pulling away with freight-train confidence from 2,000rpm, the LS3 V8 isn’t bothered by strong winds or 1960s aerodynamics as it stretches its legs on the motorway.
The most significant trick up the Interceptor R’s sleeve is, however, its more modern, Jaguar XJ-S-sourced lower wishbone and twin-damper independent suspension in lieu of the archaic original live rear axle set-up. Able to compress and expand on one side without affecting the other, the independent suspension delivers better refinement, smoothness and handling than ever. Driven on a variety of town, country and highway roads, it rides elegantly and comfortably without being detached, distant or mushy. Instead, the refurbished Interceptor is supple and fluid over imperfections and roughness.
With a more tangible and natural feel and fluency than heavier modern GTs that rely on electronic management to take the edge off huge alloy wheels, ultra-low profile tyres and firm suspension rates, the re-engineered Interceptor is involving yet relaxing, and well reconciles a GT’s luxury, long-distance and sporting aspects. The brakes are highly effective, but the original servo assistance requires firmer pedal depressions.
With new suspension, springs, bushes and tightened-up and firmer steering, the new Interceptor feels responsive and well-connected for a 1970s luxury GT, while the steering has a meaty feel and decent feedback, with a longer than modern, though not exaggerated, ratio. Turn-in is sharper than one expects, while through corners it leans more than a modern car, but feels balanced, controlled and reassuring. With a natural and progressive feel for its high lateral-grip limits, this JIA Interceptor settles well through switchbacks and sudden weight transfers, with a confident highway ride that’s both stable and refined.
JIA also offers an Interceptor R Supercharger version with more than 600hp and 800Nm of twist on tap, good for a 0-100kph dash of 4.1 seconds and a 270kph top speed. Convertible versions are available, too, but build time increases as donor cars are less common. There might also be a re-engineered Jensen FF on the cards – the car that beat Audi and Subaru by a decade to become the world’s first four-wheel-drive production car.
The Interceptor, much like the AC Cobra, simply refuses to die, kept alive by enthusiasts who can’t imagine a world without them in it. Unlike the AC, however, the world is not overflowing with replica Jensens, and to see one on the road, to hear and feel the bellowing of its politically incorrect engine, to know that its reliability and rust-prone construction have been sorted, is truly wonderful. What JIA has done with this undisputed icon of 1960s/70s British glamour and sophistication is remarkable and, should your pockets be deep enough, if you desire a capable, individual GT car that marks you out as someone with class and impeccable taste, you need look no further.