The Interceptor

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Interceptor’? A government missile programme to protect us from despotic nuclear powers? A comically overweight American lawman in a badly handling ‘Po-leese coor’?

Well, whilst there may be some truth in the aforementioned, on this occasion you are wide of the mark. This kind of Interceptor is more Savile Row and secret agent.

The Jensen Motor Co. is probably the finest car manufacturer you’ve never heard of. Stuck for ideas as to how to progress the marque in the mid-1960s, they called upon the Italians. An unusual choice in an emergency, admittedly. However, if you weren’t off to war and instead needed a supercar designed, then Italy would have been your country of choice. Populated by design houses such as Bertone, Pininfarina, Carozzeria Touring and Vignale, it was the place to go.

Milan-based design house Carozzeria Touring were the original designers of the car.However, owing to doubts of their ability to fulfil the production requirements, the build contract and final design tweaks went to Vignale, based in Turin, which at the time was the beating heart of industrial Italy and home to the impressive Lingotto Fiat factory.

In 1966, the all new Interceptor rolled out of the Torinese factory – and what a machine it was. With lines that look futuristic even today and powered by a 6.3 litre V8 engine, the new car offered realistic cruising of 120mph-plus. Understandably the Interceptor shot to fame and the rich and famous queued up to buy it. Icons such as Frank Sinatra, Henry Cooper, Eric Morecambe, the Princess Royal, Ginger Baker, and Jackie Stewart all got involved.

Halcyon days, you may think, lost in the past in a haze of cigarette smoke and whisky. Well, you would be wrong. And somewhere in North Oxfordshire, a dedicated team of Jensen Experts are going to prove it. Cropredy Bridge Cars have been specialising in all things Jensen since the early 1970s, and their latest creation is a thing of wonder. The mastermind behind the operation is the M.D Matthew Guilliard-Watts.

“I’ve loved the Interceptor since childhood,” he says, “so to be involved in a project like this really is the realisation of a dream. We want to offer people the chance to come to us, spec their Interceptor exactly how they want it – with the addition of a few modern creature comforts if required – and get the authentic factory feel.”

‘Authentic’ is a word used with a little artistic licence, as this is no spit-and-sawdust operation that you would liken to the 1970s motor industry. There is passion here, and a professionalism that goes with it; an amalgamation of all the good bits from the past and present, much like the car.

The vehicle in question is given the name of a ‘Cropredy Interceptor’. The first cars that they have in build are MKIII. However, Matthew is keen to point out that any variation can be done.

“We take each car back the bare metal, every single component is restored or renewed where required and what you effectively end up with is a zero-miles pristine ‘new’ Interceptor. That said we’re able to do a more powerful SP version of even the famous four wheel drive ultra-rare FF”.

An appealing package then – but what’s the damage?

“The idea was to offer our clients a no-hassle build, that way the price of £248,000 includes all of the options that we offer as aftermarket upgrades to other existing cars. This means the only thing our clients have to do is spec their leather colour and paint choice. It’s important that they can sit back and enjoy the process.”

To see what all the fuss is about – first-hand – I’m handed the keys and told to try it out.

The impression is instantaneous. The quadruple headlights look at me from underneath a purposeful looking brow and the car cuts a smart stance. Central locking is the first bonus that saves both time and effort compared to fiddling around with tiny old fashioned keys. Once you open the door, the smell of the Connolly leather hits you square in the face – a superb mixture of luxury and times past, it brings out the best feelings of the good old days, when things were built properly and shop assistants called you sir. The cabin layout is still unmistakably Grant Tourer: spacious with comfortable rather than figure hugging seats, this car even has a telescopically adjustable steering column. On the centre console functional heating controls sit beneath a period looking radio which houses Bluetooth audio, and a hands-free system all hidden away – very swish. Further up and you are stared at by a magnificent row of gauges, all angled towards the driver, adding a real sense of motoring occasion.

On the first turn of the key, the car fires into life and settles at a steady idle between 700-900rpm, with that magnificent V8 burble thrumming away in your chest. Push down the button on the gear-lever and pull it back into D, and an almost imperceptible drop in revs tells you that the car is ready and eager to get going. As you list off of the brake and get onto the accelerator, the car creeps in the customary automatic fashion – and then, we’re off. In the interest of being loaned a quarter-of-a-million pounds worth of handmade excellence, I take it easy initially to get some temperature into things, and also to gauge how this machine stops and handles.

You can tell immediately that this car is box-fresh. There is no slop in the steering and not a squeak of rattle to be heard. All of the small differences add up to make something that feels very accomplished, though fundamentally retains the character of the Interceptor. The bigger 17-inch wheels means less tyre sidewall, giving a better turn in, and their secret suspension allows the original setup to be retained, but with far improved performance. As I wind through the countryside and onto the Fosseway, I find my mind wandering. This may sound odd, but it’s not until you’ve driven a few classic cars that you realise how stressful it can be. Heel and toeing to keep the engine going at traffic lights, one eye on the temperature or a wildly bouncing speedometer, but the fact that I can truly relax and let my mind drift in this car is a very underrated attribute.

The horse box I’ve been following eventually turns off and an arrow straight section of road is staring me in the face. I leave it in D (you can manually select first or second if you’re feeling particularly spirited) and bury the throttle to activate the kick down. The car drops a gear and surges forward. Not the savage acceleration of an all-out sports car, but a far more befitting GT surge. An abundant wave of torque sees the speedo climb very quickly and at the same time, all in the cabin stays serene. I can still hear the radio, and there is very little wind-noise, so a long way from the re-enactment of the reentry scene in the film Apollo 13.

Wafting along, you begin you begin to realise how far ahead of its time the Interceptor was. Granted, Cropredy Bridge have sprinkled almost 2,500 hours of their magic on this car to make it what it is, but the foundations are a solid starting point.

It was the energy crisis in the 1970s that contributed towards the eventual demise of the Jensen, but fuel economy is not what you buy this car for. Like every icon, it likes a drink,but I’d still go to the pub with Ollie Reed, even if I had to pick up the tab.

There are a few ‘modernised classics’ out there on the market, and this car is certainly not one of them. Cropredy always supply a matching numbers car for the build and fundamentally don’t change the character of the car – this takes care of financial appreciation. As I said before, the original Interceptor was a good car, these guys unpick 40 years’ worth of penny-pinching past owners and mid-nineties ‘restorations’ to bring it back to a standard far higher than when it originally rolled off of the production line.

If this car was a person, I do feel that Ollie Reed would be a good match: handsome, a prodigious thirst, a man’s man, a lady’s man, and cut short in his prime. I think that we all need a little slice of Ollie Reed in our lives in this over-censored, sanitised world. Luckily, the boys at Cropredy will even build it for you.

cropredybridge.com 

Oliver Smith

Smith is our Automotive Editor. Having worked with some of the world’s finest British sports cars he is a keen historic racer and enjoys in his own words ‘the evolution of engineering’ in modern machinery.

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