It was 1984. I was 13 and my family had just moved from Southeast Asia back to New England. Among the important tasks that had to be completed (there was a very long list on a yellow legal pad) was for my Dad to purchase a “station” car. Commuting into New York City from the Connecticut suburbs happens one of two ways: you take your life into your hands, pay a small fortune, and drive in every day or you drive to the train station and relax in the quiet serenity of the Metro-North railway. At the time, my dad opted for the latter and wanted a cheap, fun car that he didn’t mind leaving at the station. The Jensen-Healey was on the short list, and we went to look at a car remarkably similar to this nice red Mk II/JH5 example
which can be found here on Craigslist in Appleton, Wisconsin with an asking price of $4500.
Other cars on the short list at the time were the Porsche 914 and Alfa Spider. The target was something small, open, tossable, and quick enough to get out of its own way. It also needed to start every evening when he got back to the station after a long day in the big city. Prior to the Jensen, we had actually test driven a 914 – a 1.7 liter – and found it to be lethargic at best. Even in 1984 decent Alfas and Jensens were not super easy to come by, but we did keep our eyes peeled. Finally we came across a Jensen in the neighboring town of New Canaan, Connecticut, where old money goes to die.
Long story short, we crawled all over the very nice car while the owner went to grab the keys for us. I was salivating – 2 seats, roadster, rare, it rang all my bells as a 13 year-old eyeing it as his first car. We were almost sold before it ever started. Except it didn’t. The owner came back out with the keys and went to start the car. The motor turned over, over, and over, and then just started clicking. He tried jumping it – no luck. He played with a few things and tried again. Still nothing. Finally, we felt bad for him and told him to stop trying, and walked. We ended-up buying an Alfa, which worked-out quite well from my perspective, but that’s a different story. I’ll always remember my Dad commenting after that “it was probably for the best that it didn’t run. We’d have heard that Lotus motor and that would have been it, but in the long run it would have been a nightmare.” He was probably right, but I have always wondered.
The seller of this car reports that the Lotus 907 engine in this car runs well, doesn’t leak, and that the dual carburetors have been rebuilt. He indicates it is a 5-speed manual, although as a 1974 it should be a 4-speed, so I’d be curious if that’s just a mistake or there’s something more interesting behind that. Perhaps he’s one of those creative sellers who includes reverse in the “speed” count. The exterior looks clean and straight from what can be seen, and the interior has reportedly been redone. From what can be seen it looks to have been done in correct factory style and color. The seller also reports that the top is in good condition with no rips or tears – always a plus. At 92,000 miles this car should still have a lot of life left if it has been reasonably cared for over the last 37 years.
The real appeal to me for the Jensen-Healey remains the DOHC 16valve Lotus lump under the hood. Sure, I’m a fan of the low-slung semi-exotic styling, despite being a little bit 1970-licious, but it’s the heart of the beast that makes me want to give it a go. With 144hp on tap, the Jensen was good for 0-60 in about 8.5 seconds and a top speed near 120mph, it was certainly competitive with its contemporaries if not a little quicker – its bulk being the only thing holding it back from being the next Lotus Elan. As one of just 7142 MkII/JH5 models, this was not a car you would see every day at the train station 1984, much less in 2011. It’s old and British, therefore questions of reliability will always hang over you like the dark cloud of death. But then, what’s classic car ownership without a challenge?