A specialist automotive business is keeping a famous Midland motoring marque alive with a modern version of one of its most famous cars.
Gama Cars, based in Cropredy near Banbury, is already wowing enthusiasts with its 21st century take on the iconic Jensen Interceptor.
The car, which was originally built in West Bromwich by Jensen Motors and considered to be decades ahead of its time when it was launched in the Sixties, is now appealing to a whole new generation of fans thanks to a shining example of old-fashioned British engineering skill and craftsmanship.
Production of the new Interceptor R might be strictly small-scale, with between six and eight cars being produced a year, but given its starting price of £138,000 and the fact each car takes between 1,500 and 2,000 man hours to build, it is hardly surprising.
The Interceptor R is based on an original donor vehicle, which is rebuilt from the ground up using the shell of the original at Gama Cars’ Cropredy Bridge Garage.
Old cars are carefully dismantled piece by piece and the body shell dipped in an acid bath before work starts on creating an all-new car.
While some elements are retained, most of the car is new, including the engine, suspension, gearbox, electrics and interior. At its heart is a 6.2-litre Chevrolet Corvette engine, replacing the 7.2-litre Chrysler engine fitted to the original which managed as little as six miles to the gallon.
A Jaguar-designed chassis is also fitted and some models even feature an old-style radio that is actually state-of-the-art technology in disguise, complete with an in built sat nav system.
Gama Motors is building the car on behalf of Jensen International Automotive (JIA) and the specialist manufacturing operation is headed by its technical director Gregg Alvarez, a car restoration expert who did his apprenticeship at Cropredy Bridge, a renowned Jensen restoration specialist, before eventually acquiring the business.
Prior to his involvement, the idea of transforming old Interceptors into cars fit for the 21st century had begun but the project has only got up to speed under the leadership of Mr Alvarez’ and Gama Motors’ managing director Matthew Watts.
The Interceptor R is thoroughly modernised, offering the performance and driving dynamics of a contemporary high quality grand tourer as well as improved performance and fuel economy.
It boasts a top speed of 160mph and a 0-60mph time of under 4.5 seconds, helped by the fact that it is around 300kg lighter than the original car on which it is based.
But the R is not to all customers’ tastes. Some purists remain uncomfortable with the idea of tampering with Jensen’s automotive heritage.
But the traditionalists are not being left out in the cold with a “complete originals” option – a fully restored Interceptor that comes as close as it is possible to get to a car that came off the West Bromwich production line in the Sixties or Seventies.
The attention to detail is painstaking and the cost is around the same as an Interceptor R.
Visiting Cropredy Bridge one gets a sense of the love and enthusiasm for the Jensen marque with all members of the highly skilled team described as “irreplaceable” by Mr Alvarez.
Despite the complete originals side of the business, which accounts for around 50 per cent of production, it is the Interceptor R that has set pulses racing in the motoring world.
Even the notoriously critical Jeremy Clarkson has given it his seal of approval, though Mr Alvarez admits there was a degree of nervousness about letting him loose on one of their cars for an episode of the Top Gear television show.
“There was a big risk,” he said. “Jeremy Clarkson has destroyed much bigger companies than ours. There was also concern they might mess around with it and break it – it is a 40-year-old car after all.
"But he genuinely liked it. The coverage hasn’t necessarily translated into orders but it has certainly increased awareness.”
Plans are already afoot to expand the business with a new two-car showroom and other new facilities.
Acknowledging the Interceptor R costs a lot more than some supercars, Mr Alvarez admits it is far from cheap, but, with the interior alone costing £11,000 and given the time and effort that goes into creating each car, he says it is inevitable.
One of the lynch pins in the process is Martin Green, from Birmingham, who has an enviable reputation for coming up with solutions to seemingly impossible challenges.
The 38-year-old engineer of design offers an interesting insight into the time and effort involved in the car’s creation, which he described as “more difficult than building a new car from scratch”.
“We were a year working on the first car, ironing out all the teething problems and simplifying certain aspects of it,” said the former structural engineer, who came to Cropredy Bridge for a few weeks to share his fabrication skills and ended up staying.
These days he is involved in everything from building an engine bay and fitting an interior to building and installing an entire air-conditioning system for a car that didn’t have one in the first place.
Despite its sleek and sporty looks and what Mr Alvarez describes as “a real rock star’s car” the original Interceptor was renowned for not being the best of driver’s cars, with a live rear axle that could make driving it positively dangerous and wiring that had a propensity to set the car on fire.
“It’s not a Ferrari – it’s a grand tourer,” he added. “But at least it’s driveable and a marked improvement over the original.”