Obsessions #3 – Jensen C-V8

| 21 Jun 2011

I have owned my Interceptor for nearly five years now, and have wanted one for most of my adult life, but if anything my love of the C-V8 goes back even further. Long before I knew that they could make cars out of plastic, and therefore even longer before before I could debate whether that was a good thing, or even ride a bicycle without stabilisers, I was growing up in the rural Berkshire village of Winkfield and used to see one regularly. In fact it was always parked up outside the doctor's surgery on Hatchet Lane and at the time I simply assumed it belonged to a doctor, a pillar of the community with a rakish edge, second only to airline pilot for knee-wobbling prestige round those parts. Of course, now I know that it could simply have belonged to a very ill person, their general good health and wellbeing (as well as their worldly goods) syphoned from them by Jensen ownership.

While others dismissed that slant eyed front end as ugly, I thought it was beautifully bewitching, a sort of naked DS light arrangement – though one assumes that the Ferrari 330GT was uppermost in Eric Neale's mind when he was drawing it – that spoke of brutal power and consummate manners, a lantern-jawed gentlemen who spent weekends up to his neck in mud and blood as he played rugby for his medical college's old boys team. The C-V8 would belong to the coolest, more serene of the old boys as they came back. The C-V8 owner would be a smoker.

It conjured not just images of all those black and white "Doctor" movies starring Dirk Bogarde, Leslie Phillips and James Roberston Justice (no hyphen, apparently), but all the movies and small screen shows it was in – most notably The Baron – and even those that my young brain was telling me it should have been in. While Roger Moore's alter ego slicked his way around town in an Islero in The Man Who Haunted Himself, I thought a far better counterpoint to his Rover would have been a C-V8. It wasn't just that though, a C-V8 seemed to somehow fit into all my fantasy movies with effortless grace.

For years I didn't see another C-V8 on the road, the next appearance coming on West Hill in Putney just after I had joined C&SC back in the mid 1990s. It was a tatty black number and despite the rush-hour traffic I waved the owner down – no doubt he thought I wanted to alert him to some problem with his car, the first reaction of all waved-down or beeped classic owners – and he patiently listened with a sigh in his eyes as I told him the spec of his car. "If you like it so much, you can have it," he said with the weariness of someone who had discovered the wallet-emptying powers of the West Bromwich flying machine.

Flying machine? You betcha. With big-block Chrysler power and 383 cubes of wholesome goodness sitting in a heavyweight chassis and shrouded by a lightweight body and driving through a four-speed manual or three-speed auto (to this day I don't know which suits the character of the car better), it recorded sub-7 secs 0-60mph times and topped out at just under 140mph. If you imagine the fuss when, on launch just a year earlier, the E-type posted marginally better figures, you wonder why the C-V8's light remained deeply embushelled to the degree that only around 500 were built. Then again, just imagine hitting something at 140mph in a glassfibre car with a twin-beam chassis and a truck engine up front. On second thoughts, probably better not to.

Anyway, back to the story, here was a fella offering me, a callow youth full of inexperience and misplaced optimism, a Jensen C-V8. Of course I asked the price. He wanted £2500. You heard right, £2500. And that really wasn't that far below market value at the time. But it was still way above Elliott value. I had just bought my first flat with a mortgage that, despite being £60,000, at the time, and compared to my then-salary, seemed to propel me to something akin of the Greek national debt. I had begged, borrowed and stolen to amass the £400 to buy a TR7.

The C-V8 was no-go, so I let it go, burbling off with its reluctant owner as I headed in the other direction promising myself that it wouldn't take me long to get on my feet and get the cash together. Of course, being a fully trained journalist, I hadn't taken the chap's details and, besides, by the time I had £2500 to spare, C-V8s were commanding two or three times that. Now I don't have anything to spare and the nicer ones are 10 times that.

While this brief encounter is tinged with regret, having matured some 20 years, owned some fearsome cars and driven a load more, there is a part of me that is relieved that I didn't have the wherewithal to buy a C-V8 back then: I wasn't man enough or worldly-wise enough to drive one and the chances are I wouldn't be here now to write this paen to missed opportunity.I'm ready now though.

Lead image by Brian Snelson