A phenomenal amount of interest in classic cars a few years
ago, caused much to be published and prices to escalate beyond
This was at a time
when an Aston Martin Zagato, racing car (that never won a
race), sold for over a million and a half pounds. An 'E' type
Jaguar commanded as much as £90,000 for what was a mass
produced car (and so many were made in the 12 years of
production). It is not so surprising that many enthusiasts
were unable to afford an interesting classic. Since those
heady days the situation has changed dramatically, the
recession, resulted in more sensible prices for most classic
However, even when
prices were rather ridiculous, there was a remarkable,
distinctive, car of the early '60s that was overlooked,
available at a very reasonable cost, and still is undervalued.
Hand built, with
very few maintenance problems, and best of all no body rust to
worry about! It is one, of very few classic cars, that can
actually be used as a daily form of transport - I had been
driving one for well over 25 years and now my son took
it over for even a few more years.
I am referring to
Jensen cars of the early '60s, designed by Eric Neale, and
made at the time when Richard and Alan Jensen owned the
company. Particularly, the Jensen CV8 (this is the model
before the Interceptor) with the huge 6 litre V8 engine and
The CV8 was the
fastest four-seater car of all in 1965, and I drove my special
one off version, commissioned by Hardy Amies, every day until
I emigrated from the UK a few years ago. The other favourite
is the classic British thoroughbred the 541. Especially, the
last model made prior to the CV8, with the 4 litre straight
six Austin Princes engine, particularly the manual drive
version of the Jensen 541S.
Classic Car Show
For so many years these Jensen cars have not been expensive by
comparison with any other classics of the period. Very strange
really when one considers that, at most of the important
classic car shows in the past, Jensen won all the best awards.
Up against all the
well known prestigious makes, the Jensen Owners Club, together
with Dave Horton's famous CV8, have won; 'Car of the show', or
'Best of the master class' and 'Best club stand' and so on.
There can hardly be a worthwhile classic car award that has
not been won by a Jensen!
These awards are not really so surprising as the Jensen
brothers based at West Bromwich made extremely fine hand built
cars. They were also pioneers; the first to provide disc
brakes all round; first with four wheel drive (on a CV8); one
of the first to use the wind tunnel for body design.
They were also
well known and respected for their advanced ideas on safety.
The 541S was the first car with seat belts, as standard, they
also provided very soft padded areas above and below the
dashboard. Door handles, and window winders, were all in
recessed panels out of harms way.
They won the
silver medal for coach work at Earls Court, and with the 541R,
in 1957 according to tests by 'The Autocar' they had produced
the fastest four seater car of the day.
Over the years
their glass fibre and polyester resin coach work has stood up
to the test of time remarkably well.
Service and maintenance of these cars proves a lot easier,
than with many other classics, and this statement applies to
some of the more modern cars. There is a very enthusiastic
owners club that provides valuable technical information.
spare parts are also not too difficult to find through the
Jensen Owners Club. The chassis is built like a tank and the
glass fibre body cuts out all those rust problems.
The well proven straight six 4 litre engine is in a class of
it's own, set with triple SU large carburettors and linked to
the Jaguar Moss 4 speed synchromesh gearbox, with overdrive,
add to this, servo assisted Dunlop disc brakes all round. -
Provides one hell of a lot of motor car!
The CV8 is an even
more powerful car still, but not a British thoroughbred as it
has a Chrysler V8 engine. There are certainly not many cars
from the early '60s that can still be used as a daily car some
35 years later.
I have not yet mentioned the luxurious interiors, but both of
these models provide lavish leather arm chair comfort for
four, but also with plenty of head room and leg space even in
the back. A lockable glove compartment, a useful container
under the central arm rest, a deep pocket either side of the
rear seats for rolled up newspapers, as well as large pleated
pockets, in the back of the front seats. The 541S front
passenger seat folds completely up to allow far easier access
into the rear than most other two door cars - even modern
Both the 541S and
the CV8, unlike many more modern fast cars, sensibly provide a
very large boot space for luggage. I do feel that a lot of the
modern fast car designs, fail to provide the head room and leg
space for taller drivers, and completely fail to provide
useful luggage space. As a family man these are some of the
reasons why I favour the CV8.
amount of standard equipment, at a time when so many items
were charged as optional extras, such as:- a Motorola radio
(lights up with the name Jensen); the heater; a fog and a spot
light; a fire extinguisher; a first aid kit; a cigar lighter;
a clock; rear window heater and all the instruments one could
wish for. Plus a very generous tool kit in a fitted tray,
under the 541S dashboard, consisting of (apart from
screwdrivers and spanners) pliers, an adjustable spanner, even
a tyre pressure gauge, spare bulbs, tyre valve and cap.
Out of all the
Jensen cars of this period, the 541S has been the least sought
after, and the most difficult to sell. There is a reason for
this, although it is an impressive car and beautiful, it has a
reputation for lacking acceleration as a sports car. It has a
good top speed and is capable of travelling at over 100 mph
all day long.
But all the original road test reports were based on the
automatic version (this automatic gearbox although developed
by Rolls Royce lost an awful lot of performance) - it is such
a pity that the manual version was never tested!
Between 1960 and
1962 Jensen built 127, in total of 541S cars, out of these
only 22 were manual drive. The manual is a gem of a car!
most luxurious car of all the 541 range, and what is not
generally known, these manual drive cars with the
Lacock-de-Normanville overdrive are very fast cars indeed.
They would have earned a much better reputation from a road
test than the one they have from the automatic version.
The 541S has certain unusual design features, adjustable front
seat arm rests fitted to each door, the Bevelift jack, kept in
the boot, was designed for use through the floor of the car in
front of each front seat. So it was possible to lift front and
rear wheels together whilst protected from the rain.
When the boot lid
is open the driver can still see, without any restriction, out
of the rear window. Very sensibly the spare wheel valve is
accessible, through a fitting in the rear of the boot floor,
thus allowing the air pressure to be checked easily without
having to remove the wheel.
The look of these cars when viewed from the side could be said
to be reminiscent of early Jaguar cars, head on possibly Aston
Martin, and from the rear one thinks of Porsche. However
Jensen developed with the 541S quite an original and
distinctive aero dynamic design without any sacrifice to space
I still consider
it to be one of the most attractive four seater cars of that
era that still attracts admiration today. Readers will by now
realise that I rather like these cars, that is certainly true,
and we owned 5 out of the 22 made. It will not be easy to buy
a good manual 541S as only 15 more at most exist.
identified by the chassis number prefix of 102 (there were two
prototypes made with the chassis number JM EXP 100 and JM EXP
The hunt would be
worthwhile, if one could be found, as such a car would cost
less than an ordinary 'E' type Jaguar in reasonable condition.
My bet is that
this situation will change.
The author owned a collection
of Jensen 541S classic cars, winning a number awards with his
cars, an enthusiastic member of The Jensen Owners
Club for many years. To view the photographs that relate to
this article please use the following link: - http://www.jncohen.net/Jensen/article.htm
He has also been a very keen
collector for many years in helping to create ‘The Cohen
and he also
provides a 'how to' article on photographic special
effects please see