Advertisement
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Advertisement feature
WELCOME TO HYUNDAI’S HAPPINESS MACHINE
View the latest news
Advertisement
The car us Brits never knew we’d made: the Interceptor is the Great British muscle car

Good stuff

V8’s distant thunder, styling, practicality, the way it makes you feel

Bad stuff

Original was poorly made, JIA restorations cost a mint

Overview

What is it?

A car to rumble about in. That’s what the Interceptor does so well. It’s not a sports car, it’s a muscle car. Just one styled in Italy and built in the West Midlands. But its heart is American. Always has been.

The Interceptor arrived back in 1966, powered by a 6.3-litre Chrysler V8. It survived for a decade and three versions, until the collapse of the whole firm in the wake of the oil crisis. But in that time it heralded new technologies: the 1967 7.2-litre FF introduced four-wheel drive and ABS brakes to road cars.

Advertisement - Page continues below

What was it actually for?

It was designed as a grand tourer, a rival to the Jaguar E-Types and Aston DBSs of the day, boasting a four-seat cabin and huge boot wrapped in Carrozzeria Touring bodywork. It’s a handsome, distinctive shape, rounded off with that astonishing piece of rear glass.

It took to the GT role splendidly, but the Jensen badge never had the cachet or racing back story of Aston Martin, Jaguar and Bentley, and so values have never soared. Good. It means collectors haven’t come knocking and the Interceptor retains its under the radar mystique. Yes, the image is 70s chestwig and Soho casino, the Interceptor a car for cads, bounders and rakes, but driven today it’s hugely beguiling. Well, depending on which one you drive.

Why’s that?

Although the Interceptor had premiered high tech solutions, that wasn’t reflected everywhere. There was no monocoque construction and it had a live rear axle on leaf springs that was old tech when the Interceptor was new.

The one you see here is different. The work of Jensen International Automotive (JIA), an indirect phoenix from the ashes of the original, this isn’t a restomod as such, more an improved classic. In place of the period Chrysler V8, JIA fit a variety of Chevy LS units. Here in this flagship Interceptor R version it’s an LSA: a supercharged 6.2-litre V8 good for 556bhp and 551lb ft.

Advertisement - Page continues below

The gearbox is a six-speed auto, the brakes are from AP Racing, the front end geometry has been redone, there are adjustable dampers and it has a Jaguar-sourced independent rear end.

What’s it like to drive?

Semi-period. This is not a car that’s been burnished to a sheen. The automatic gearbox lurches the shifts, but is far sharper than the three-speed fitted originally. The chassis doesn’t feel hugely stiff, it’s still ponderous around corners, there’s a bit of shake from the trim and it generally behaves in a way that would make those who haven’t driven an old car before believe this was a 50-year old car.

Here's an alternative viewpoint: it’s one of the most engaging and charismatic ways of just rumbling and woofling around that’s ever been devised. You never feel the need to rush or push the Interceptor. The V8 is effortlessly muscular and there’s something deeply pleasing in the act of getting about the place in it. Mostly for the noise it makes, this muscular but lazy, almost soporific V8 heartbeat. It’s not rowdy or ostentatious, it’s just there, laid back but bossing it.

And when you do open the taps?

The Interceptor was never this fast in period. The supercharged JIA car hauls like a bloody train, nose up and charging at the horizon. The advantage is that unlike an original it actually tracks straight and true and remains stable and planted. JIA claims 174mph all out and 0-60mph in 3.8 seconds. We can well believe it. Although we couldn’t bring ourselves to treat it like that. Better to let the mid range do all the work. If you do insist on clogging it, you’ll be very glad JIA has equipped its Interceptor with ABS and traction control. Turn it off and this will demolish rear tyres like a wrecking ball swinging at a rabbit hutch. 

How’s the cabin?

A palace of brown magnificence. It’s airy inside, the leather creaks, the colour scheme is period-perfect, the seats are deep and welcoming. It’s very comfortable on long trips.

There are a few quirks that time has left behind: the ignition is in the centre console rather than the steering column, and if you press the footrest you will discover it clicks. It’s the switch that activates the main beam. There’s surprising room for four inside and the boot is utterly enormous. We must assume four-up trips to the golf course with a bag each were de rigueur back then.

What will one set you back?

An original can be anywhere from a £10k basket case to a £90k minter, but most hover around the £30-£45,000 mark with the scarcer convertibles fetching upwards of £10k more. But not stupid money. As we said, this is not a car that’s ever captured the zeitgeist. Just be aware of the investment required to restore and maintain one.

The JIA car, a product of thousands of hours of skilled labour, comes with the restoration sorted and complete mechanical peace of mind. But it’s silly money: £390k, which means it’ll only ever be a car that appeals to wealthy, died in the wool Jensen enthusiasts. More detail on that in the Buying section.

What's the verdict?

Part of the charm is that not many people know what it is or recognise the badge, so it doesn’t come across as aloof or elitist

Very few cars are as satisfying to get in and drive as the Jensen Interceptor. Provided you’ve got one that’s reliable and won’t let you down, which is easier said than done. And none is as satisfying to tell people you own, because no car has ever been given a better name.

Part of the charm is that not many people know what it is or recognise the badge, so it doesn’t come across as aloof or elitist. The throbbing V8 gives it a warm, friendly, laid back personality (just don’t ask about fuel economy) and the comfortable, surprisingly spacious cabin follows suit. The work JIA does to modernise and update the Interceptor, although hugely expensive, is sensitive and doesn’t go too far. The car still looks, feels, acts and behaves as an Interceptor should. It just does so reliably and accurately.

Find another car review

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

subscribe