When it comes to restomods, most projects follow the pattern of picking an iconic classic from the depths of history and then turning it into a wholly different car. Well-intentioned owners install a modern engine and other contemporary components, taking the donor car to levels virtually unknown in the times it was built. But then there's the less explored joy of restomodding cars not to turn them into something that they never were, but just to polish their good foundations that, for some reason, couldn't be fully developed at the time.
The Jensen Interceptor is such a case. It was a dashing GT, irritatingly close to becoming one of the cars of the late '60s and early '70s, but kept away from fame by small details and lack of funding. With its sub 8-second 0-60-mph time, a Chrysler big-block V-8, and exotic looks of the Italian Touring Superleggera-designed body, it verged on supercar status. Truth be told, even at the time, Interceptors weren't the fastest or the most luxurious, and it was as reliable as a politician. It worked properly for the first half of a year at best.
Nevertheless, the 6408 Interceptors that left the factory in West Bromwich, England, now enjoy a strong cult following that just won't let this impressive British coupe fall into oblivion. The original Jensen Company dissolved with the end of the Interceptor's production, which coincided with the oil crisis in 1976. From then on, many different groups of British car zealots have tried to revive the name with admirable regularity—and failed with even greater regularity. The most recent attempt to bring the Interceptor its glory back comes from a company called Jensen International Automotive, a small but highly skilled garage based in Banbury, U.K., right in the middle of the Formula 1 hub. Names like Red Bull, Lotus, and Force India are all neighbors. Contrary to the sci-fi antics going on around them, the guys at the new Jensen remain faithful to their traditional craftsmanship methods of restoring and perfecting Interceptors, as they honed their skills at a company that was taking care of Jensens since they were virtually new. Jensen International Automotive does look into the future, though; a completely new '16 Jensen GT supercar is to be publicly revealed in only a few months' time. The company's main goal is to bring the infamous Interceptor to modern performance and reliability standards. People at JIA are not only restorers; the sometimes awesomely weird experience they have allows them to do much more than just replace the worn parts. The company's managing director developed a big part of the XXI-century Interceptor thanks to the knowledge he gained as an aeronautical and racing designer. Since 2008, the place has seen dozens of Interceptors submitted by collectors from all around the world to receive some JIA magic with the introduction of a new engine, electronics, and some further components.
Currently, the company offers Interceptor R models in two stages of tune, coming in a naturally aspirated or supercharged version of the publically acclaimed GM LS3 6.2 V-8. The car evolved from the Interceptor S, originally propelled by the less sophisticated LS2 engine. The new powerplant comes with an additional 160 GM-sourced parts from the transmission to all the other peripherals needed to operate. The LS3 is a perfect match for the Interceptor—after all, the British sports car was originally powered by an equally charismatic V-8 (in its final form by a 7.2L Chrysler TNT, so you can say the Interceptor R fits the downsizing trend), and the bulletproof block is a good starting point for further tuning. That's the case with the car you see here. As JIA's work is purely built to order, following the whims of the clients, all Interceptors leaving Banbury differ slightly. The car seen here was given an overhaul once and upgraded to the Interceptor S specification (as the name on the grille indicates), and then again to an uprated version of the Interceptor R, with the power going up from standard 429 bhp to 480 bhp, but not all the way to the 550 bhp supercharged flagship. Complicated as this is, it shows the level of adjustment JIA is willing to deliver, and how special its cars can be.
The company promotes itself mostly with the headline-grabbing top-of-the-line supercharged version, but with the sub 4-second 0-60 acceleration time, its power seems to dominate the driving experience. Some might say it takes away the joy of owning a true classic. The 480-bhp naturally aspirated V-8, mated with a six-speed manual, is possibly the most polished, driver-focused Interceptor you will ever find.
Very little was done with the body of this particular '71 Interceptor Mark 3, apart from a very thorough restoration that is. Each car coming to JIA is stripped, de-rusted, and refurbished part by part. The period Italian design is spiced up only with some additional chroming on the diagonal side air vents and a meatier front bumper with an additional inlet feeding more air to the engine. The only whiff of the car's performance potential is the wheels, kept in the style of the original five-spoke arrangement, only grown to a 17-inch diameter. Sharp eyes might notice the competition-derived six-piston AP Racing brakes, with ventilated discs boasting 13 and 11 inches for the front and rear, respectively. The wide Toyo Proxes R888 are clearly much meatier than stock, but surprisingly seem to meld with the rest of the exterior. Add the manual gearbox rarely present in original Interceptors and a reworked chassis and you end up with a surprisingly effective track-day killer. These little details are like a secret handshake with the Jensen geeks; enough for those in the know to get their hearts racing, but not enough for the rest to not treat the Interceptor as a perfectly harmless vintage car.
You can get modern heated side mirrors in body color, but that spoils the fun. They look more tacky '80s than classy '70s. The heated part does prove handy when you want to look back through them, however, and that's the merit of the new solutions brought to the car by JIA. It just does what a company mating classic cars with modern technology should do: make cars work. So the wipers actually keep the windshield clean and the screen is bonded in place now rather than being kept by leaky rubber seals. The wind noise is limited, too. The air-con works like in any modern car and unlike in any from the Interceptor era, the new leather is more pleasant to touch, and a toggle switch starter located on the dashboard eliminates the old Morris-sourced ignition key that dug into the driver's knee when inserted in the steering column.
The car here was given only a brief refreshment of the traditional vinyl dashboard with some leather refurbishment, aluminum inlays, new-yet-still-old-looking steering wheel, brake balance lever, and drilled pedals continuing the motorsport theme. JIA now offers clients a chance to up the game with new two-tone bucket seats and a completely revised dash with a rearranged center console. It's surely a move in a good direction. Even if it doesn't share too much with the original, it still feels like an authentic period solution, yet of incomparably higher quality.
All of this gets pricey at around $7,000 USD on its own. It's Ok not to change too much of the looks anyway; the Interceptor is just one stylish, menacing machine. The original spills over with the bravado of the '70s. The arresting looks are enough to make you put up with all of the Interceptor's drawbacks: The blend of timeless understated elegance and politically incorrect swag makes it so special and so different from the modern-day creations. It doesn't hit you instantly, but grows on you once you analyze it and understand Interceptor's historical context. A combination of Italian GT proportions with American muscle car brutality and some typically British Leyland period details is a testament to the rich past of the automotive industry.
The company's philosophy to keep the Interceptor original in spirit and improve it to the level of period-perfection has an interesting effect on handling. Possibly, it's here that the biggest change took place: Out went the leaf-spring live rear axle to make way for a double-wishbone independent suspension made up from some proven Jaguar XJ6 and XJ X300 parts, with a Jaguar XJS differential in the middle. It's JIA's own design that forced more work adjusting the chassis and rearranging the exhaust system, but it was worth it. The final effect is incomparably superior over the original, but it still maintains that feeling of an authentic classic car. The Interceptor R tackles bumps and body roll the way the original never could, but it's still pliant and relaxing just the way we'd secretly like modern cars to be. It might be a little bit too soft to my liking, but lest we forget that at such a high level of personalization, the Interceptor may be set up any way the owner desires. The chassis can be adjusted not only during the car's construction but also when it's already in use thanks to the suspension and brake balance regulation. Even in the setting used in this car, this grand tourer obeys steering inputs with focus, and the front axle doesn't surrender unless pushed hard. Its body may lead to our thinking the Interceptor is massive, but it's small and light by modern standards.
The R480 may still be 70 hp off the supercharged lunatic, but 480 hp is still more than a quarter more than any original Interceptor ever had, assuming the carbureted '60s big-blocks ever reached their claimed numbers. The new LS3 V-8 feels modern from the moment it's turned on; it's much calmer and steady, but not modern in the way that means "soulless" or "boring." The guys from JIA went for an American V-8 for the very same reasons as their predecessors half a century ago. Nothing else expands the power with such balsamic burble, while maintaining relaxed and smooth attitude even at high revs.
Even after the overhaul, I still feel that the Interceptor would prefer to think of itself as a comfortable and fast grand tourer for continental journeys with style. It's really practical with its welcoming interior and decent boot. It's surprisingly laidback on a long run, feeling more civilized than ever. It accelerates smoothly and turns calmly thanks to a relaxed steering rack, but it never feels tiresome or intimidating. If restomodding is about making a great classic more accessible and allowing more people to have fun in it, then this one is at the top.
Jensen International Automotive succeeds with the humble and yet wise attitude that all the Interceptor needs is help to become what it has always wanted to be. And it's not just me or the guys at JIA saying that, but the legendary automotive entrepreneur and once owner of the Jensen brand, Kjell Qvale, who proclaimed, the Interceptor R is just the way he "would have done it if the company hadn't gone bust." Praise rarely comes better than that.