The Jensen Interceptor: A Classic AWD European Muscle Car
America isn’t the only country to develop muscle cars. Various European manufacturers have also dipped their toes into the segment, both recently and in the past. Some of the classic muscle cars, such as the Allard J2, were so-called ‘hybrids,’ combining European bodies with American engines. And one of these, the Jensen Interceptor, wasn’t just about style or power. Decades before the Audi Ur-Quattro, it helped pioneer all-wheel drive.
The Jensen Interceptor story
Before WWII, British automaker Jensen dabbled in ambulances, small sports cars, and a few grand tourers, Autoweek reports. It was the GTs, specifically the ones powered by Ford V8s, which really gave the company a boost, Drive Tribe reports—famous movie star Clark Gable bought one.
In the post-war years, Jensen focused more-heavily on its GTs, once again using American V8 muscle car powertrains, Silodrome reports. The company wanted to take on cars like the Jaguar E-Type, and the best from Ferrari. The result was the 1966 Jensen Interceptor.
The 1966 Jensen Interceptor had a lot going for it, Hagerty reports. Thanks to a low-maintenance 325-hp 6.3-liter Chrysler V8, the MK I models could go 0-60 in 7 seconds, very respectful for the day. And while a manual was an option, most were equipped with Chrysler’s 3-speed automatic.
The exterior was designed by Italian coachbuilder Touring, and the interior featured leather upholstery and wood trim. The 1969 MK II Jensen Interceptor added 4-wheel power-assist disc brakes, A/C, as well as power steering and power windows. And in 1971, the V8 grew to 7.2 liters, with the option of additional carburetors, Road & Track reports.
The FF: the first production AWD passenger car
But the biggest game-changer, not just for muscle cars, but all cars, Classic & Sports Cars explains, was the 1967 Jensen Interceptor FF. For one, it’s the first production car to offer anti-lock brakes. And it’s also the first production passenger car—aka, not an SUV or truck—to come with AWD. The ‘FF’ stands for ‘Ferguson Formula,’ famed engineer Henry Ferguson being the one who designed the system, Garage Dreams explains.
Various sources, such as Carole Nash, The Drive, and Allpar describe the Jensen Interceptor FF as having 4WD. However, that’s not actually the case. While 4WD and AWD both send power to all 4 wheels, Car and Driver explains, the former has to be switched on and off.
That’s because, unlike AWD, 4WD makes the front wheels spin at the same speeds as the back wheels. And the Jensen Interceptor FF’s system explicitly doesn’t split power evenly between the front and rear, the Jensen Museum explains. Though it does have a limited-slip differential to help with handling.
Basically, describing the Jensen Interceptor FF as the first production ‘four-wheel-drive’ car is correct in that all 4 wheels are driven. However, it’s technically an AWD car. Specifically, a greatly influential AWD classic muscle car. For example, Audi inspected an FF while it was developing its Quattro system.
The FF system also ended up underneath a 1964 Ford Mustang, Hagerty reports. And according to performance reports, it did indeed give the pony car more traction and better handling. However, because of the added expense, and the need to modify the suspension, it was ultimately abandoned. But the singular prototype still survives at the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum.
Pricing and availability
Unfortunately, as novel as the Jensen Interceptor FF’s AWD system was, it was also fairly complex and took up a lot of space. So much so, the automaker couldn’t make a left-hand-drive version. As a result, of the 7141 Interceptors sold, only 320 were FFs.
Which makes the AWD models extremely collectible. It’s possible to find well-maintained Interceptors on Bring a Trailer for about $30,000. But in 2019, a 1969 FF sold for over $92,000 at auction, Historics reports. And it’s not unusual for well-preserved FFs to command six figures, Cropredy reports.
Also, as with many other classic cars, it’s now possible to buy Jensen Interceptor restomods, Autocar reports. The Jensen Interceptor R models are available with a range of naturally-aspirated and supercharged GM V8s, including one from the previous-gen Cadillac CTS-V. The restomod build also adds upgraded A/C, heated mirrors, power seats, a new windshield, a new dashboard, and new interior trim. But all this modernity does come at a price: the cheapest 429-hp R costs about $190,000.
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