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Graham's 1974 Mk3 Interceptor.Graham contacted me a little while back about his business, which involves running, maintaining and hiring out a metallic blue Jensen, built in 1974.
The Hardest-Working Interceptor in Britain?
By Graham Eason.
"There are many good reasons why you should never lend your classic car to strangers, and many more for not doing so with a Jensen Interceptor. Apart from the security risks, West Bromwichís finest creation has never been at the vanguard of reliability and low ownership costs. And yet in the last year Iíve done this many, many times.|
Yet there is a lot of logic to offering an Interceptor as a hire car, as I decided to do 12 months ago. It is one of the few cars of the last 40 years that has left a strong and lasting impression on car illiterates as well as car cognoscenti. But whereas the E-Type has become as common and obvious as Australian wine, the Interceptor has kept an element of uniqueness and mystery. Virtually every classic car hire company in the UK has an E-Type on its fleet but only one other has an Interceptor.
So the Interceptor was an obvious choice when I decided to set up my classic car hire company, www.greatescapecars.co.uk, in 2006. Iíd spotted a niche to offer something different from the usual classics with a much higher standard of presentation and service. By coincidence, I also loved the Interceptor and felt that here was a car that had been overlooked for hire.
Classic car hire also appealed because I wanted to own and drive some great cars but knew that I didnít have the time and couldnít justify the investment on its own. From my previous experience owning classics, I knew that if I bought an Interceptor it would no doubt just sit in the garage for 40 weeks of the year Ė which wouldnít do it or me much good.
I spent about 12 months looking at cars all over Britain. I had done my research and decided that the best price band for what I needed was around £10,000 (it would be more now). Ideally I wanted a Mk3 7.2 in Brienz Blue with beige interior, but I quickly realised that it was better to compromise on specification and get a better car. And I realised that in fact they all look great. Unfortunately at this level there are a lot of over-valued cars, which meant I spent a lot of wasted time looking at cars that needed a lot of money spent on them. Eventually, by pure luck, I was introduced to the owner of a car in Haslemere who was selling it reluctantly.
LPB 63N was a low-owner 1974 Mark 3 with later Jensen Parts & Services upgrades. Finished in light blue metallic Ė nobody is quite sure what the colour is Ė with burgundy leather interior, the bodywork was excellent in all the right places. The only downside was a tired engine Ė I didnít realise at the time quite how tired. It was significantly better than any of the other cars I looked at. I bought it in January 2007 but like all the rest it needed some serious money spent on it. I knew this but I didnít realise quite how much!
During January and February I set up the company, Great Escape Classic Car Hire, and arranged photography of the car at a studio in Newton Abbot run by a friend of mine, Mike Evans. I drove the car down on a freezing January day, spent £170 on fuel, ran through five litres of oil in 400 miles and burst an elderly rear tyre. This was my introduction to Interceptor motoring.
I booked the car into Race Sport in Studley Ė recommended by Green Lane Restorations, a Jensen specialist nearby Ė and discovered the bad news. The pistons were badly worn and the car needed a complete engine rebuild. I could have got by with a partial rebuild but decided to do it properly to ensure that it would be reliable on hire. The work took three months and LPB 63N went back on the road in mid-April 2007 in the same week that the website and company were launched.
I launched the company with just the Jensen and my existing Alfa Romeo Spider for hire. I expected the cheaper Alfa to be the popular option, but I hadnít reckoned on the English weather Ė or the enduring appeal of the Jensen.
Despite a slow start, in mid-May interest in the cars suddenly took off. From May until early December, as I write this, the car has covered 7,000 miles almost entirely on hire duties, and has been used by 30 or 40 different people. It is out virtually every weekend, even in winter, and is easily the most popular car of the five that we now offer (Iíve added two V12 Jaguar convertibles, an XJS and an E-Type, and a Morris Minor Traveller).
My experience suggests that the appeal of the Interceptor is huge and wide-ranging. It runs from 25 year-olds whose father had one, 50-year-olds who always wanted one, women who just love them, 30-year-olds who want to buy one and so on. I might have imagined that my customers would be men in their 50s but the carís appeal is much, much wider than that. It is one of the great perks of my job to be able to meet these people and give them the opportunity to fulfil a longstanding dream.
The success of the car has also had other benefits. Iíve enjoyed some great days photographing the Interceptor in the Cotswolds, Iíve appeared in The Sunday Times with the car and Iíve just done a shoot for Classics Monthly. I donít get to drive it much but when I do I realise just why it is so revered Ė you canít beat a big-capacity V8 for effortless urge and that irresistible noise.
Now most classic car owners wouldnít lend their cars to strangers, let alone hiring them out on a regular basis. This is completely understandable. When I began looking for an Interceptor I knew that I was going to hire it out, so I approached the purchase and ownership prospect from a completely different perspective. Although I have always wanted an Interceptor, the car is a business primarily and a show queen second. Had I owned LPB 63N before I hired it I might feel differently about rental.
Keeping the Jensen 'on song'At this stage you are no doubt asking one of two questions. Is it reliable and how has it been treated? For a 33 year old car it has been very reliable and significantly better than I had hoped. Customers do expect problems Ė itís an old car after all Ė but so far most of the major maladies have occurred when Iíve driven it. The engine rebuild has made a major difference here. The problems have been due to ancillaries, including a failed resistor (leading to electrical failure on the way back from Goodwood), a slight fuel tank leak and a snapped bonnet lead (fortunately it left the bonnet open).
The low point came when a cooling fan failed, which as every Interceptor owner knows is like the screen failing on your laptop Ė the car becomes unusable. Unfortunately this happened when the car was out on hire to a young man who was getting married in Cardiff Ė and while I was in Scotland visiting relatives. Fortunately he was extremely resourceful and with the help of Martin Robey in Nuneaton he organised a replacement fan and a garage to fit it, all on the morning of his wedding. This is the stressful side of classic car hire.
This story didnít end there. The replacement fan was a higher performance version that kept tripping the fuse. I only realised this a few days later when I was driving the car down to London for another wedding. The subsequent overheating also highlighted a failed seal on the radiator cap. The car ran fine on the motorway Ė in 30 degree heat Ė but required a constant Ďstop, reset, startí procedure once in London traffic.
When I met the customer in Richmond I discovered that he was actually picking up the Jensen en route to his wedding and he was dressed in his morning suite. So there was no time to solve the problem and only just enough time to show him how to temporarily fix it. Fortunately he wasnít driving far, didnít know much about cars and didnít spot the pool of coolant that appeared when he brought it back the next day!
These niggles have shown the importance of establishing a good relationship with a good local specialist garage. Race Sport is experienced in big American engines and has learned a lot about the Interceptor in the last few months. If the car fails I need a quick turnaround and they always oblige.
So the car has been reliable. Has it been looked after? In general, yes. The usual rules apply Ė 99% of people are cautious, almost reverential, towards the car. 1% are less careful but certainly not abusive. The car has picked up one parking chip on the leading edge of the door but otherwise it is exactly as it was before.
The key to keeping it this way is to make clear to customers how valuable the car is to me and the cost to them of damaging it. They sign a form that highlights all defects and pay a high deposit on collection.
For a car that gets so much regular use, I have kept it virtually as standard. When the engine was rebuilt I decided to keep it standard. The only changes Iíve made are to use standard rubber instead of the much more expensive high performance tyres, and I will be upgrading the other cooling fan through Martin Robey. Race Sport also dialled back the kick down, which customers donít notice but which preserves the engine. Running activity is restricted to checking and maintain all of the levels and thorough cleaning inside, outside and underneath after every hire. The Jensen stays in a Carcoon between hires, which has a very sound investment.
The carís hire work also generates an income that I re-invest in the car. Over the winter it will receive some minor cosmetic improvements to the bodywork Ė there are a few chips here and there from previous years Ė and I will get the wheels refurbished.
After a busy year for me and a hard year for the car Iím very impressed with how the car has held up. I no longer worry at all when it is out Ė either about breakdowns or damage. The benefits are that the car is getting regular use, which can only be good for it, and Iím getting a small income that I can re-invest in improvements to the car.
The success of the Jensen and Alfa now means that Great Escape has six cars available to hire. Three of the other cars are actually owned by classic enthusiasts who, like me, just donít get enough use out of them. Their cars are cherished but theyíre happy to hire them out because classic car hire customers seem to look after them. And they also get an income to re-invest in their cars. These three cars are hired out under a specialist agreement Iíve created for classic car owners under which we split the costs and income fairly. It is flexible to suit individual requirements and enables owners to choose when they hire they cars out, to whom and for what purposes.
If youíve read this article you can get 10% off the hire of any Great Escape car. Visit www.greatescapecars.co.uk for more details then email email@example.com or call 01527 893733 for the discount code.
If youíve got a classic that just doesnít get enough use and you think it might be ideal for classic car hire, call Graham on 01527 893733 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for an informal chat."
Thanks for the write-up Graham, interesting to hear about the pro's and con's of hiring out a car like that to complete strangers!!!! Other Jensen information here at oldclassiccar includes this press photo of a '74 Interceptor convertible, a street scene (one of several on this page) featuring a CV8, and the Jensen pages within the free ads section.
More classic car owners' stories can be found in the Your Classic Cars section.
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