Born out of desperation and existing in chaos, it is surprising that the Jensen-Healey and Jensen GT came into being at all. That today, thirty years later, they can be inexpensive and thoroughly enjoyable cars to own and drive is nothing short of amazing. And yet they are. If the original Lotus engine is in good shape, the body sound, and the suspension has benefited from a few judicious tweaks, the Jensen-Healey roadster is reliable and comfortable for long-distance cruising and a killer on the autocross course. Even better, all of this capability can be bought for less than the price of a decent MGB.
The history behind these cars reads like an imaginative Harvard Business School case study written by Aaron Spelling. Jensen Motors was losing money on its quality-challenged, Chrysler-powered Jensen Interceptors when the plug was pulled on its coachwork production for the Austin-Healey 3000 and Sunbeam Tiger. Donald Healey, losing his royalty income from the Austin-Healey, and major California car dealer Kjell Qvale (pronounced "Shell Ku-volley"), losing his most lucrative British cars, decided a new car would solve everyone's problems. Healey Motor Works would design a sports car that Jensen could produce, bailed out by money from Kvale, who would also distribute the car in America.
What ensued, instead, were rounds of "Who's in charge?" Problems including selection of a new and unproven Lotus engine, undramatic body design, build-quality problems, and work stoppages, combined with an overvalued British pound and high inflation that pushed prices up to twice the cost of an MGB, conspired to kill the Jensen-Healey. After Healey bailed out, Kvale tried a GT-bodied version, but this attempt fizzled with only 509 GTs produced and he allowed the company to die in 1976.
The car that resulted from this mess is a reasonably attractive roadster. Yes, the front end suffered from US government-mandated safety designs, leaving the car with a "rubber bone through its nose," as some critics have put it. Nevertheless, the side lines are pleasing and the interior is comfortable, though relatively uninspired, even with the later woodgrain decals.
Under the bonnet, however, the Lotus 907 engine, with its twin overhead cams and exposed cam belt, looks impressive. Unfortunately, most mechanics didn't understand it, owners routinely overfilled the oil and forgot to make the needed timing belt change every 18,000 miles, and its gaskets didn't hold up. Most engines went to an early grave, though those that were appreciated and cared for are terrific. The early four-speed gearbox was later replaced by a five-speed Getrag box and the combination makes for a long-legged tourer. It's even more satisfying if you substitute Spax shocks, a thicker anti-sway bar fitted with polyurethane bushings, and radial tires at least 185mm wide.
Since most Jensen-Healeys have been enjoyed more than admired, today they're usually a little worn around the edges. The later cars were better engineered. While high-quality substitutions and upgrades are not a bad thing on these cars, if the engine has been swapped or has any major problems, or if the body has had any signs of significant rust in rockers or floors, look for a better car. And remember going in-these cars are a bargain because nobody wants to pay very much for an orphan. So when you decide to sell, you may have to search hard for another adoptive parent.

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