First drive: Jensen Interceptor R Supercharged

Jensen Interceptor R Supercharged

Depending on your er...years of experience behind the wheel, the car pictured above will either be an automotive oddity from the days where everyone drove around wearing string-backed driving gloves, or you'll get a pang of nostalgia and recognise it as one of the most covetable GT cars of the 1970s. Either way, you'd be wrong – this may look like a normal Jensen Interceptor, but in actual fact it's one of a growing number of reimagined classics – ground-up restorations that aim to give drivers the full classic car hit, but with modern mechanicals serving up a more enjoyable driving experience. AOL Cars donned some aviators and headed to Jensen International Automotive (JIA) in Banbury to find out more.

What is it?

Starting with a cherry-picked donor (MKII or MKIII) example, JIA strips the Interceptor down to the shell and painstakingly rebuilds it to a customer's individual specification. Almost every aspect of the car is improved upon, from revising the car's front end for better cooling, to replacing the original model's leaf-sprung live rear axle with a fully independent suspension set-up. The sheer amount of man-hours that goes into each build is exceptional, with nearly every aspect of the car reworked.

The makeover continues inside, with the cabin upholstered in high-end leather¬, and fitted with creature comforts such as air conditioning and electric seats. There's even the option to have modern-day kit like Bluetooth phone connectivity and digital radio fitted in a retro-styled stereo, so the old-school ambience isn't ruined with unsightly digital displays. The result? An immaculate Interceptor that stops, goes and steers (as well as starts first time), and exudes a sense of quality that its original maker could never have dreamed of.

What's under the bonnet?

The Interceptor is available with a 6.2-litre General Motors V8 – most commonly seen decimating tyres in the Chevrolet Corvette – in both naturally-aspirated and supercharged guises. Of the engines available to JIA, this all-American motor was chosen simply for its versatility. It's reliable, widely accessible and can be tuned to produce almost obscene levels of power. For the supercharged model tested here, it was rated at 556bhp – about what you'd expect from the current crop of continent-crushing super GTs. Mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox (also GM) and punting its power to the rear wheels via a limited-slip differential, it's capable of getting the heavyweight Interceptor from 0-62mph in a scarcely believable 3.8 seconds and on to a top speed on the exciting side of 170mph.

It's similar in ethos to the original Interceptor's Chrysler V8, too, being a pushrod, two-valves-per-cylinder design, so it serves up a genuine, old-school thunderous V8 soundtrack to go with the surfeit of grunt that lies just centimetres into the throttle travel.

What's the spec like?

"Nothing is too difficult," according to JIA, and it'll strive to accommodate a customer's requests, no matter what they may be. However, buyers of cars like this tend to want to keep the feel of the original model, and are happy to spec their choice of paint and trim colours, choose a high-end sound system and leave it at that. Nevertheless, from proper working air conditioning, electric seats and Bluetooth, all the necessities for a civilised drive are present and correct. The one thing JIA cannot do, however, is fit modern safety kit such as ABS because of legal complexities.

Any rivals?

If you're in the market for a near-£200,000 restored Jensen Interceptor, it's unlikely you'll be considering anything else. However, there are a number of specialist companies out there that'll sell you a modernised classic, whether you have a penchant for the Porsche 964 or lust after a Jaguar E-Type, though expect to part with similar money for the pleasure.

More modern rivals, particularly at this price point, include sumptuous super GT cars such as the Bentley Continental GT and new Mercedes S-Class Coupe. While undoubtedly both of these models are ultimately quicker, safer, more commodious and better equipped, to choose one over the Jensen for these attributes is to miss the point somewhat.

Jensen Interceptor R Supercharged

Jensen Interceptor R Supercharged

What's it like to drive?

If you're used to the light controls and monastery-like tranquillity of modern GT cars, the Interceptor will come as quite a shock. Everything about this car feels reassuringly weighty, from the shut of the doors to the steering and pedals – reminding you that this is a car to be driven, and not simply to waft about in. Prod the starter button and the beast under the bonnet wakes up with a roar from the tailpipes that settles down into a menacing throb. It's testament to the quality of the work that JIA does, though, that there isn't a hint of squeaking and rattling from inside the cabin – even in this model, which features a completely bespoke, reworked dashboard.

On the move, it's the noise in the cabin that first catches the attention. Chromed window surrounds and a shape penned with form over function aren't great at keeping wind roar at bay. It's just another facet of the car's old-school character, though, and can easily be drowned out opening up the taps a little bit.

And when you do, the Interceptor transforms from the relaxed, softly-sprung cruiser to a hard-charging muscle car. The way it gathers speed simply has to be experienced to be believed, and it certainly gives credibility to those claimed performance figures. On the country lanes near JIA's Banbury base, it's clear that that the Interceptor is no razor-sharp sports car, but its abilities and driver engagement belie its credentials as a relaxed long-distance machine. It's a blend of attributes that so often modern-day cars get wrong, and for a small outfit (JIA has just five staff in its workshop) tucked away on an anonymous industrial estate, it's an outstanding achievement.

The AOL Cars verdict

Ultimately, whether you're drawn to the Interceptor is likely to depend on whether it gives you those pangs of nostalgia when you see it. That's a great shame, though, as it's a lovely thing – to drive, to sit in, to be seen in – that it deserves a greater audience. While objectively it will never offer the dynamics and outright refinement of the best of today's GT cars, the Interceptor R is a beautifully executed modernised classic with a feel-good factor the like of which is hard to find in any new car available today. And, it'll make you look like an automotive connoisseur, rather than a new-money Premiership footballer.

The knowledge

Model: Jensen Interceptor R Supercharged
Price: £180,000
Engine: 6.2-litre V8, petrol, supercharged
Power: 556bhp, 746Nm
Max speed: 175mph (est)
0-62mph: 3.8 seconds
Emissions: N/A