Hibernating Since the ’90s: 1974 Jensen-Healey

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British automotive manufacturing began its long, slow descent in the 1960s when the UK slipped from the world’s second-largest maker to third. Mergers brought no relief: rather than rationalizing costs across makes, merged companies continued to maintain almost every nameplate with its separate identity, eschewing the opportunity to truly consolidate. The rise of Japanese car makers brought more trouble: the UK’s market share drained away in the face of high gas prices and increasing regulations. Bryan Blaylock found this 1974 Jensen-Healey for us, and it makes a perfect springboard for an investigation of Jensen Motors as it tottered into the 1970s. Jensen had taken contract work for Austin-Healey and Sunbeam (making the Tiger) in an attempt to keep its factories humming – but it knew that neither car would endure impending US emissions and safety regulations. As both nameplates faded away, Jensen flailed.

A resurrection of sorts was devised by a headstrong cast of characters including Donald Healey and his son Geoffrey, Kjell Qvale, majority shareholder at Jensen, with a supporting role played by Colin Chapman over at Lotus. The Healeys designed a well-appointed, sporting roadster in the British tradition – then went shopping for a motor. Enter Mr Chapman, who offered his Type 907, a new all-alloy, 2.0-liter, DOHC four-cylinder. Dubbed the “Torqueless Wonder”, early 907s manifested reliability problems. Output of 140 hp wasn’t commensurate with the car’s retail price, either. (Euro-delivery examples came in closer to 150 hp thanks to better-breathing Dell’Orto carburetors.) A shift in late 1974 to a Getrag five-speed didn’t help matters. Today, these engines can be made to sing by swapping in a cross-drilled crank from a 2.2-liter engine, changing out the carbs, and porting the head. This engine is missing its manifold, carbs, and air assembly – but these parts are said to be “in truck” – which I guess is code for “still around” – so the new owner might as well embark on a performance-enhancing rebuild.

The interior is missing a few items – namely the passenger’s door panel, interior handles, the radio and indicator lights situated below it, ashtray lid… and the handbrake is rusted. The top bows are present, as are all the gauges. Properly finishing the wood-paneled dash makes all the difference to these interiors – or you can opt for a more exotic look.

The seller indicates the car has no rust. Given its location in Jewett, Texas, this report could be viable. From the factory, though, Jensen-Healeys rusted vigorously, so either a prior owner fixed this car – or our seller hasn’t inspected the underside closely. I never cared for this model’s bonnet bulge – it seems like a design shortcut – but its square-ish looks have aged well otherwise. This example still wears chrome bumpers; later in 1974, rubber bumpers were mandated. As we all know in retrospect, the Jensen-Healey did not generate the magnitude of market acceptance that could save Jensen, and the factory closed its doors in 1976. If you’re interested in acquiring one of the last specimens of the company’s production, this ’74 is available here on facebook Marketplace, with an asking price of $1750. The car has no title, so perhaps its best use is as a donor; what do you think?

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Comments

  1. HoA HoAMember

    I think it’s way too nice to be a parts car, despite what looks like MG wheels. Quite frankly, these were rare for any driving at all, much less in a winter, not to say some weren’t. I think I saw maybe one. The motor has long been the elephant in the room, and so many more dependable ones could have been used, heck, the old pushrod 6 would have been better, Rover V6, and so on. Just looking at that belt gives me the heebie-jeebies. TINK,,oh, oh, scrambled eggs( it is an interference motor) An update of reasonable proportions, could make this a fun cheap car, however, not bloody likely. Pretty clear, nice roadsters are still in demand, but anything that needs work, well, good luck with that.

    Like 11
    • OtterdogMember

      The fun of this car is the Lotus motor. With an 8000 rpm redline and responsive handling, the Jensen was a fun car to drive. Kinda ugly, but fun.

      Like 1
    • Steve

      I agree with you about the engine. I would put a Buick/Rover V8 in it. And you’re right about the wheel; they certainly look like MGB Rostyl wheels.

      Like 2
    • Little_Cars Little_Cars

      Believe it or not, I have a coworker with TWO of these as daily drivers. And the local Brit car club claims about a dozen belonging to its members (not sure of drivability). Always liked the sharply slanted headlight coves on these Jensen, but the back looks like a Asian design throwaway. Indeed, the MG wheels and color scheme makes me imagine an MGBs clumsy big brother. For the price, if rust free, might be good for a modern V6 test mule.

      Like 1
  2. DA

    No title, no dice. It isn’t his to sell.

    Like 3
    • Michelle RandAuthor

      Not necessarily. Texas law has a provision to handle abandoned cars left on an owner’s property. He may have also purchased the property using a contract stating that he owns everything on it after the deed changes hands. In Oregon we have similar provisions for taking title of non-titled vehicles. I’ve done it once myself.

      Like 3
  3. Troy

    Well if it was in my state I would consider it but I’m not familiar with the laws in Texas on how to obtain title so it would wind up being a parts car but then I would have to find one with a title or just turn it into a off road buggy

    Like 0
    • stillrunners stillrunnersMember

      Bonded titles is what’s going on in Texas and some other states. Bond is on title for a few years and drops off. It will say bonded on the title until it drops off – you can sell it with the bond and the bond is held by the person who paid for a bonded title.

      Like 0
  4. Steve RM

    You’re definitely right about that “bonnet bulge. It’s definitely a last minute
    “oops we have a problem and no money to figure it out”. It looks completely wrong. Oh well, these things are ugly anyway.

    Like 1
  5. RedRacer

    The main item with these cars(over 45+ years working on them) is RUST. Being a monocoque, the repair for rust would be extensive and obviously not cost effective. That said, the mechanical, suspension, brakes, etc are fairly easy to work on and does not have to be pricey assuming one doesn’t want to do “upgrades”.
    At this price, it would be an excellent light project, assuming no rust. I would ask the seller to take pix of the floors with the mats removes as well as both the front and rear inner fender wells, a common place for rust.

    Like 5
    • Eric_13cars Eric_13carsMember

      All points well made, RedRacer. When these first came out I was 60-40 positive. The engine was intriguing, albeit potentially plagued with issues. The body seemed an evolution of the MGB/TR6 (with the rear looking a lot like the TR6), but there was a cheapness to it…thin metal rear deck, cheap plastic interior even with the wood touches. It sort of looked like a knocked together design just to get something out there. It looked just okay when it should have done more…think 240Z or even the XJS (controversial enough after the E-type) which were contemporaries. For the price, if it had a title and no rust, this could be a decent project, but unless one does upgrades as Michelle suggests (BTW another fine write-up), I don’t see this car ever being particularly valuable. But what do I know. Yugos have value to some. Now that 63 Catalina convertible yesterday had me salivating but with 6 projects both active and to be active, I couldn’t let myself chase it.

      Like 4
    • stillrunners stillrunnersMember

      Or a thrid option is it’s rust free compared to most like the seller states. Rockers look good – can’t see dirt under the steering wheel and those under hood pictures of both sides appear to be a nice aprons. Yep if you had a interest message the owner for a underside picture or two. It’s down around the North Autin area…..not a lot of salt on the roads down there….or sea salt.

      Like 0
  6. 57wayne

    Texas cars still rust . I bought a repainted Mercedes 450SL that had rusted at all the edges and had a rotted rear floor. It was not as expected based on “dry Texas car”…lots of salt water on the coast!

    Like 1
  7. Howie

    Not on Craigslist, it is on FB marketplace. Posted 7 weeks ago.

    Like 1
    • Michelle RandAuthor

      Indeed. Sorry; thanks for the correction!

      Like 1
  8. BCB42

    Thanks for writing up my find, Michelle! As always, a great job. Your knowledge of British ‘sporties’ is awesome. If we didn’t already have a stable of 10 horses *literally* (and a mini), I’d be definitely looking at this lovely beastie.
    Btw, I compare British sports cars to owning a horse… you have to spend about one hour working on it for every 30 minutes of riding/ driving.
    Both are worth it, IMHO.

    Like 2
    • stillrunners stillrunnersMember

      Maybe a picture of the underside of it will help it sell or closer pics of the floor pans from the top side will help it sell….good luck !

      Like 0
  9. Don Gaa

    I have an intake and carbs for this if the buyer is interested. Stromberg 175’s
    630 287-0558

    Like 0
  10. Frank BarrettMember

    These cars provide a lot of bang for the buck, and you can buy a decent one for under $20,000. A friend let me drive his, and I enjoyed its handling. Can you find a British convertible for less? That said, if it’s rusty, it’s a parts car.

    Like 1
  11. Eat Rocks!!

    It was the cost of warranty repairs on the Healey that sunk Jensen. They were terrible cars. I worked for one of the first USA dealers foisting these off onto a non-suspecting public . . .

    Like 0

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