When the original Jensen Motors went into receivership more than 20 years ago, many mourned the loss of a great British sports car maker. Few imagined the name would ever be successfully revived.
Yet a new Jensen prototype, which could be in production within a year, was one of the stars of last month’s Motor Show. It was part of a mini-revival in specialist British car makers, which included new models from vintage names like Lea-Francis and AC, alongside the consistently successful TVR.
Over 40 years the original Jensen marque built up an enviable reputation as a producer of outstanding sports and grand touring cars. But, beset by labour problems and a slump in demand for the thirsty V8-powered Interceptor following the early 1970s fuel price crisis, the firm went into receivership in 1976.
The men behind the Jensen revival are Keith Rauer and Robin Bowyer, joint managing directors of automotive consultant the Creative Group. Rauer and Bowyer have long pedigrees in automotive engineering, notably with Leyland Daf and LDV.
They set up the Creative Group in Redditch, West Midlands, in 1992. ‘We take on full turnkey projects, from styling and engineering, CAD through to tooling and production installation. Our skill is to find solutions with lower investment costs. We’ve proved many times, on niche vehicles in particular, that we can reduce costs and lead times dramatically, as long as we’re involved in the design.’
Projects have included body development for the Plymouth Prowler, the new London Taxi, and truck cabs for companies such as Western Star in Canada and Nissan. Its own tooling and press shop, Creative Tooling in Oswestry, provides valuable manufacturing expertise. It undertakes CNC milling, electro-discharge machining, and has two 1,500-tonne press bays. It makes sleeper cabs for Leyland.
The idea for the sports car came as Rauer and Bowyer were flying back from the US after a business trip. ‘We thought, why don’t we do a car for ourselves as a development programme to bring the guys on?’ This would give the company’s 50 staff the chance to learn every element of the design and production process, and hone the company’s expertise.
‘When we were light on work, we put guys on the job as a fill-in project,’ says Bowyer. This is similar to the way Lotus developed the Elise, drafting in engineers from its consultancy business, using expertise at relatively little cost, says Bowyer. ‘The difference between us and Lotus is that Lotus is more design engineering-biased, whereas we’re more manufacturing-biased.’
Bristol University’s Peter Nott advised on suspension design, and two ex-Jaguar designers, Howard Guy and Gary Doy, handled the styling through Design Q, a separate company within the Creative Group.
Rauer and Bowyer wanted to produce a modern car that embodied traditional British sports car virtues. When the Jensen name came on the market about a year ago, they were attracted by its pedigree and acquired it. But Bowyer says: ‘We didn’t just want to bring an old model back. We wanted it to be forward-looking.’
Though styling of the new roadster, the S-V8, includes Jensen elements such as slanting headlights reminiscent of the 1960s C-V8; it is intended to look modern yet timeless. Like its predecessors, it will have a US-made V8 engine in this case a quad cam 4.6 litre Ford unit used in the Mustang Cobra.
The car is based on a galvanised steel chassis, designed for precise handling. Body panels are of deep drawn aluminium. ‘It uses the latest technology we’re using self-pierced rivets and bonding, with very little welding, similar to the Prowler. It’s a full production car not a kit and not plastic.’
The company has used its skills to cut tooling costs. ‘With our in-house skills, to put the car into production is a fairly easy step,’ says Bowyer, though the company is looking for additional investment. ‘We can go it alone, but it will take longer.’
It hopes to get the first vehicle on the road this time next year. Starting price is envisaged as £39,500. Production target is 600 in a full year.
But is the market for £40,000 specialist cars becoming overcrowded? Bowyer says: ‘The way the industry’s going, there’ll be a move to smaller commuter cars. That’ll be fine for a workday environment but, for the leisure market, people will want choice and excitement. We’re providing that choice.’
The Creative Group wants to avoid the mistake of the original company: ‘The old Jensen company made bodies for many other sports cars for the Sunbeam Tiger, for Austin Healey, and for the Volvo P1800. As the car side started to grow, they moved more and more to rely on car production.’ When the energy crisis came along ‘they had nothing to fall back on’. By contrast, ‘we want to keep that side of the business and we want to expand it,’ says Bowyer.