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SNAPSHOT 47: Jensen FF 1966

For reasons that are not at all obvious, overview histories on the technical development of motorcars pay little or no attention to the significance of the Jensen FF. Yet when it was first seen at the 1965 London Motor Show, only in prototype form, Bill Boddy was moved to write in Motor Sport: “and now comes the most revolutionary motor car of them all – the four-wheel-drive, Dunlop Maxaret-braked Jensen FF”. He didn’t get to road test an example until the end of 1968 when his summary of the car was: “it is difficult in a few words to convey the feeling of safety which its quite uncanny road-holding and anti-lock braking provides”. He might have added that with its 6.3-litre Chrysler V8 engine, production examples were good for over 120 mph.

If we add to Boddy’s opinion the fact that other manufacturers bought examples of the FF, with Ferry Porsche being at the head of the queue and then General Motors, Kaiser-Jeep and others following, it does rather indicate that some of those on the inside of the motor industry appreciated the model’s significance.

It was not of course the first four-wheel-drive motorcar – that accolade goes to the Spyker of 1903 – and all-terrain vehicles with power to each wheel are epitomised by the ubiquitous Jeep that emerged during World War Two. What made the FF different, and provided the model’s designation, was its use of the sophisticated ‘Ferguson Formula’ transmission with its three differentials and additional attributes, which Ferguson Research had developed over the preceding 15 or so years. The Maxaret brake system, which had originally been created for aircraft, was a forerunner of the ABS systems of today that prevent wheels locking and therefore skidding under braking.

Jensen of West Bromwich had been small-scale makers of interesting cars since the 1930s and the decision to produce the rear-wheel-drive Interceptor model and the visually near-identical FF was a brave one. And the cars were striking in appearance as well. Touring of Milan designed the bodywork with initial production being undertaken by Vignale in Turin, although in due course Jensen came to build the bodies themselves.

Output of the two models was never large, being around 15 cars per week, of which 12 were Interceptors and 3 FFs, so that in the latter’s five years of production only 320 were made. They may not have been perfect – what car is – but because of their innovatory technology they deserve to be much better known.

 


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