Tuesday, December 8, 2009

1974 Jensen Healey - Great Names Create A Good Car

This is another really good idea that just didn't quite work out. Looking back, the Jensen Healey had no real chance.

Four very important names in the auto industry got together to create this car. Donald Healey, the man behind the legendary Austin Healey, Kjell Qvale, a man who was involved in bringing many popular sport car to the US in the 1950s and 1960s, Jensen Motors, who were building the Jensen Interceptor under their own name and fabricating bodies for other manufacturers and Lotus, the legendary sports car company.

When BMC announced that it was discontinuing the Austin Healey, it caused problems for three of the above mentioned... Qvale, who stood to lose sales, Healey,who received a royalty on each Austin Healey sold and Jensen, the company that built the Austin-Healeys for BMC.

Qvale, Healey and Jensen got together. Qvale became the largest shareholder in Jensen Motors and Healey became its chairman. The idea was to create a car to replace the Austin Healey in the marketplace. Lotus became involved by supplying their then brand new 2.0 liter engine (known as the Lotus 907).

With the the names Healey, Qvale, Jensen and Lotus involved, the expectations were that this was going to be a pretty spectacular car. It wasn't. It was a good 1970s British roadster, maybe even a very good one, but it wasn't as classy as the Austin Healey, as luxurious as a Jensen Interceptor, or as quick and nimble as a Lotus.

Having said all that, this is still a desirable car. The car can reach 60 MPH in 8 seconds and has a top speed of around 120 MPH. The suspension and brakes were a combination of parts from Vauxhall and Morris, but it worked as well or better than the suspensions found in other 1970s British sports car.

The car had more than its share of problems when it was introduced. Typical British electrical problems occurred, but bigger problems involved the engine. The Jensen Healey was the first car to use the Lotus engine, so, in a way, it was sort of the test mule. One of the common comments of the day was "Design by Lotus, development by customers". That's pretty close to the truth. Over the years, Lotus and Jensen Healey owners figured out ways to keep the engine healthy. With regular maintenance it's now a reliable engine.

One of the issues with this engine was it's advanced design. It was one of the first engines to use a rubber timing belt. Although rubber timing belts are commonplace now, the concept of regularly replacing the timing belt was unknown at the time. Without replacement, the timing belt and tensioners would wear out and the valves would meet the pistons with predictably disastrous results. (Modern timing belts need to be changed every 50K to 100K miles. It's recommended that you do the job every 18K on this car. - We've come a long way in 35 years!)

The Jensen Healey is a car that screams 1970s. The design could have come from no other decade. I may take some heat for this, but I sort of see it as the missing link between the old MGB style and the modern wedge style TR7.

Rust was a huge problem for the Jensen Healey, but this car is an AZ / CA car with a good body. The seller swapped the Stromberg carbs for a pair of Dellorto 40mm carbs, which is what came on the European versions of the car.

This appears to be a well taken care of JH. It would be a nice alternative to some of the more common 70s British roadsters.

As I write this, the car has been bid up to $2400.00 and appears to have hit the reserve.

Located in Long Beach, CA, find the eBay listing here.

1 comment:

Chris Keen said...

$2700 on craigslist, so it'll probably close around this price...