Bob Hamilton's Jensen Healy

The story of my Jensen-Healey restoration project started more than 20 years ago. My experiences with Jensen-Healeys goes back even further than that. I bought my first Jensen-Healey, a 1973 model, in the late 70's and owned that car until I finished my project car.

So!  What is a Jensen-Healey?

 

The question I get most from people when I go somewhere in my car is, "Hey!  What kind of car is that?"

My usual response is, "Its a Jensen-Healey."

Then I usually hear, "You mean an Austin-Healey?"

Then I say, "No, It's a Jensen-Healey."

Then they say, "I've never heard of a Jensen-Healey."

 

In 1970, British Leyland quit producing the Austin-Healey. Kjell Qvale (a San Francisco based distributor who'd probably sold more Austin-Healeys than any other single U.S. Outlet) had a need for a car to fill the gap left by the demise of the Austin-Healey marque.  Qvale put together a consortium to produce a new, medium-price, medium-size volume sports car to fill the vacated Austin-Healey niche. The consortium included the Jensen car company whose chairman of the board was Donald Healey, the designer of the original Austin-Healey. The Jensen-Healey was born.

The newly designed sports car went into production in 1972. By years end, 705 were produced. During 1973, another 3,846 Jensen-Healeys were produced. In 1974, 4,550 Jensen-Healeys rolled out of the factory. In mid-1975, a sport-wagon derivative of the Jensen-Healey went into production. It was named the Jensen GT and was a hardtop-hatchback with 2X2 seating. Only 1,301 cars were produced during 1975. Due to the Jensen-Healeys high costs and low returns, the Jensen car company was deeply in the red by 1976. Only 51 cars were produced in 1976 and both the Jensen-Healey and the Jensen GT were gone by the end of the year. In all, the total number of cars produced was 10,453 about 500 of which were Jensen GTs.

The story of my Jensen-Healey restoration project started more than 20 years ago. My experiences with Jensen-Healeys goes back even further than that. I bought my first Jensen-Healey, a 1973 model, in the late 70's and owned that car until I finished my project car. So! What is a Jensen-Healey? The question I get most from people when I go somewhere in my car is, "Hey! What kind of car is that?" My usual response is, "Its a Jensen-Healey." Then I usually hear, "You mean an Austin-Healey?" Then I say, "No, It's a Jensen-Healey." Then they say, "I've never heard of a Jensen-Healey." In 1970, British Leyland quit producing the Austin-Healey. Kjell Qvale (a San Francisco based distributor who'd probably sold more Austin-Healeys than any other single U.S. Outlet) had a need for a car to fill the gap left by the demise of the Austin-Healey marque. Qvale put together a consortium to produce a new, medium-price, medium-size volume sports car to fill the vacated Austin-Healey niche. The consortium included the Jensen car company whose chairman of the board was Donald Healey, the designer of the original Austin-Healey. The Jensen-Healey was born. The newly designed sports car went into production in 1972. By years end, 705 were produced. During 1973, another 3,846 Jensen-Healeys were produced. In 1974, 4,550 Jensen-Healeys rolled out of the factory. In mid-1975, a sport-wagon derivative of the Jensen-Healey went into production. It was named the Jensen GT and was a hardtop-hatchback with 2X2 seating. Only 1,301 cars were produced during 1975. Due to the Jensen-Healeys high costs and low returns, the Jensen car company was deeply in the red by 1976. Only 51 cars were produced in 1976 and both the Jensen-Healey and the Jensen GT were gone by the end of the year. In all, the total number of cars produced was 10,453 about 500 of which were Jensen GTs.

All Jensen-Healeys and Jensen GTs used the same basic Lotus engine. The Lotus engine bolt-on equipment varied slightly depending on SMOG requirements where the car was to be sold. Early Jensen-Healeys had four speed manual transmissions. Five speed manual transmissions were standard from about mid-1974 on. Engine specifications were:

- Type Lotus 907 dual overhead cam, 16 valve, aluminum slant 4 banger (Tilted 45 degrees to the left side of the car).

- Displacement 1.973 liters (120.3 cubic inches).

- Horsepower 140 bhp at 6500 rpm.

- Torque 130 lbs-ft at 5000 rpm.

Project Genesis

In the middle 80's, a friend of mine was having some financial problems. One of his problems was his 1974 Jensen-Healey had suffered an engine fire and he could not afford to have the car repaired. To help him out, I offered to buy his car for what he owed on it. My plan then was to repair the fire damage and sell the car to recover what I paid for it, plus a few bucks maybe. After I had the car hauled to my garage, I began assessing what time and materials that would be needed to repair the fire damage. The damage in the engine compartment wasn't too bad. The hood, both carburetors, the distributor, all rubber tubing and the engine wiring harness were destroyed, but replaceable. I removed the seats from the car to inspect under the dash board to determine what would be needed to build and splice in a new engine wire harness. The first indication that my repair plan was in trouble was when I crawled into the passenger compartment and my hand went through the floor board. I pulled all the padding and carpeting out of the car. The car's floor boards kind of resembled rust colored screens. The scope and purpose of this project changed dramatically at this point. I decided to store the car for awhile until I decided whether to junk the car out or do something else with it.

Driving my 1973 Jensen-Healey was a real joy for the first couple of years I owned it. It handled nice, it had a cool racing engine, it was fun to drive. Then the novelty started to wear off. Driving the car in traffic required keeping one hand on the gear selector because the cool racing engine had a very narrow power range and required a lot of shifting Also, the car liked to mark where it was parked by leaving little puddles of oil. And finally, renewing my registration was becoming an annual challenge. The tuning specifications and SMOG equipment for the the Lotus engine changed slightly from year-to-year. The Bureau of Auto Repair published manuals that were distributed to the SMOG check stations and were the holy grail for required SMOG equipment. The manual showed one set of requirements for all Jensen-Healeys. Unfortunately, the requirements were for 1974 models and later. So, whenever I had to have the car SMOG tested, I would show up with the owner's manual and a Jensen-Healey Shop Manual. The shop manual listed changes as they were applied by car serial numbers, rather than model year. I used the shop manual to verify that my car had the proper SMOG equipment for a 1973 Jensen-Healey and the Bureau of Auto Repair was wrong. I'll leave this up to your imagination as to how that usually went.

Lastly,the Lotus engine never really ran well on unleaded fuel when tuned to factory specifications. In order to pass the SMOG tests, I needed to retard ignition timing and lean the carburetors as far as I could. Tuned this way, the engine always passed the SMOG test, but ran terrible otherwise. As soon as I got the car home, I would need to re-adjust the ignition timing and carburetors to make the engine "happy". Now that I used to the car and it's querks, I would occasionally fanaticize about what my 1973 Jensen-Healey would be like with a different engine. An engine:

- With a little more horsepower.

- Designed to run on alcohol laced unleaded gasoline.

That did not require continuous tinkering and fine tuning.

- That did not leak oil. Several months had gone by since I acquired the 1974 Jensen-Healey. I was still wondering what to do with the burned-up, rusted-out, undrivable heap. I had come to the realization that making the car suitable for sale would be a financial lost cause. While going through buyer's remorse withdrawl, I had an epiphany. Why not build my "Super Jensen-Healey" using whats left of the 1974 Jensen-Healey and sell the 1973 Jensen-Healey. Problem solved, what could possibly go wrong. Project "Super Jensen-Healey" When I started this project, was still earning a living and did not have much spare time to mess around with cars. Whenever I had little time available, I would remove parts from the car. The more parts I removed, the more problems I found. Finally, every thing that could be removed was. The following photo is the front view of the upside down Jensen-Healey unit-body. Under the paint and Bondo, I found every body panel, except the doors and trunk lid, had been damaged at some time . Except for the brakes, every system had to be modified to accomodate the replacement engine and transmission. Beyond this point, talking about the reconstruction process is both long and tedious. But I would happy to address any aspect of the project if you or any one else is curious about it.

Several months had gone by since I acquired the 1974 Jensen-Healey.  I was still  wondering what to do with the burned-up, rusted-out, undrivable heap.  I had come to the realization that making the car suitable for sale would be a financial lost cause.  While going through buyer's remorse withdrawl, I had an epiphany.  Why not build my "Super Jensen-Healey" using whats left of the 1974 Jensen-Healey and sell the 1973 Jensen-Healey.  Problem solved, what could possibly go wrong.

Project "Super Jensen-Healey"

When I started this project, was still earning a living and did not have much spare time to mess around with cars.  Whenever I had little time available, I would remove parts from the car.  The more parts I removed, the more problems I found.  Finally, every thing that could be removed was.  The following photo is the front view of the upside down Jensen-Healey uni-body.

 

Under the paint and Bondo, I found every body panel, except the doors and trunk lid, had been damaged at some time .   Except for the brakes, every system had to be modified to accomodate the replacement engine and transmission.   Beyond this point, talking about the reconstruction process is both long and tedious.  But I would happy to address any aspect of the project if you or any one else is curious about it.

The engine I installed in the car is a General Motors 3800.  This engine is a 90 degree 3.8 liter V6 that was used in Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac full-size, front wheel drive cars.   This engine has sequential fuel injection and develops 165 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque.  The engine's cooling system had to be modified for installation in a rear wheel drive configuration.  The engine is mated to a Chevrolet TH700R4 automatic transmission with torqe converter lock-up capabilities.  This engine requires no maintenance other than changing the oil every 10,000 miles and the spark plugs every 100,000 miles.   And, this engine does not leak oil.

Since I've been driving the car,  I 've had a few unexpected minor problems pop-up.   I noticed the latest problem in the middle of last year.  This problem  was a significant electical system voltage drop that occurred under certain conditions.  Specifically, the car's battery voltage would drop below 11 volts when driven in stop-and-go traffic on hot summer days.  Low voltage is not a good thing for computer controlled engines.  If the voltage gets too low the engine will quit.

 

I had a hunch the alternator's internal voltage regulator was being affected by extreme engine compartment heat.  As you can see in the above photo, the alternator sits on top of the engine just in front of the intake manifold.  And, because of the long slanting hood, which barely clears the alternator, the radiator and attached electric fan sit pretty low in the chassis relative to the engine.  Any air flow from the radiator/fan hits the front of the engine at the water pump level and lower. The alternator is situated in a poorly ventilated, hot area.   

 

To test my hunch, I installed a temporary cooling duct to direct air to the alternator.  The cooling duct had a positive effect when the car was moving.  A permanent solution would be to put an air scoop in the hood that would force cool air in when the car was moving and let hot air out when it wasn't.  I hated to do that because I wanted to retain the stock hood appearance.  Also, installing an air scoop would really mess up the paint job.

 

Earlier this year,  I decided to bite-the-bullet and modify the hood.  First, I fabricated a scoop.  I then marked out on the hood where the scoop was to be attached.  Then it was time for the moment of truth.  With sabersaw in hand, I cut a big hole in the middle of the hood.

As you can see from the above photos, there was very little clearance between the engine and the hood.  And, attaching the air scoop to the hood really messed up the paint job.

 

This last fix seems to have worked.  The alternator is now behaving the way it should.  Perhaps It's my imagination, but it seems like the car performs a little better with the air scoop.  If true, it could be an unintended consequence from cooling the intake manifold with outside air .