It had all the makings of a sure fire hit. Involvement from Donald and Geoffrey Healey, dealer network from Kjell Qvale, exotic DOHC engine from Lotus and bodywork by Jensen. Compared to the old fashioned competition of the MG B or Triumph TR6 the Jensen Healey looked to be a revelation on paper at least but sadly its execution has doomed it to a state of some what obscurity. In the beginning Kjell Qvale, a US car dealer, was looking to replace sales from the discontinued Austin Healey 3000 and approached Jensen, Donald Healey and Donald’s son Geoffrey to create a replacement. Jensen being a small firm sourced it suspension and brakes from a Vauxhall Firenza. The layout of front engine, rear wheel drive with a live rear axle and drum brakes wasn’t cutting edge but it all worked reasonably well together. What was a stand out for the day was the double over head cam Lotus 907 engine (hooked to a Sunbeam four speed gearbox initially). Various engines where considered including a BMW 2.0L four, Vauxhall 2.3L four, Ford Cologne V6 before settling on the Lotus unit. The Lotus engine offered fantastic power while being able to meet the stricter American emission regulations. The home market cars had a full 144hp with their dual side-draft Dell’Orto carburetors where as the North American cars had slightly less on dual Zenith Strombergs.
At launch the car was criticized for its mildly dull styling to some eyes but everyone loved the idea of the Lotus engine. It gave the Jensen-Healey something unique but was unfortunately a big part of it’s and Jensen’s downfall. While it gave great power output the engine leaked oil and wasn’t the most reliable unit initially. Some claimed Lotus used Jensen as a test bed for its engine (later used in the Elite and Eclat) and unfortunately for Jensen part of their arrangement with Lotus meant that Jensen was on the hook for any engine warranty claims. Another negative was the build it tent style top that paled in comparison to the Fiat Spider or even MG B tops.
Later Jensen Healey gained an upgraded interior with wood trim but also big impact bumpers. A five speed ZF transmission was also offered. As a last attempt a fixed top shooting brake style car called the Jensen GT was launched. It was much more upmarket and well equipped than the soft top Healey but only managed to sell just over five hundred examples.
Despite its issues the Jensen Healey makes a fantastic classic car. Great club support in the Jensen Healey Preservation Society and interesting history. Its engine issues are easily sorted and its power gives it a leg up on its competition while costing no more. You definitely won’t see rows of them at the local show like the usual suspects.