Not so rosyRight from the start, the Jensen-Healey was beset with problems. Because the engine was laid over in the engine bay, its valve cover gaskets on the low side were constantly submerged in oil. Leaks soon formed, and the strong odor of burning oil hitting the exhaust manifold was a constant problem. The Lotus 907 engine hadn't really had much testing before finding a home in the engine bay of the Jensen-Healey and now the car's owners were acting like development engineers. Much more seriously, the engine would wear out its rubber timing belt and tensioner bearings, and when these failed the pistons would hit the valves and destroy the engine. Although rubber timing belts are commonplace now, the concept of regularly replacing the timing belt was unknown at the time. The build quality of the cars was appalling, especially in the earliest cars, and the plastic was tacky. The car was quick and would handle well, but most of the time disgruntled owners were stuck with their British sports car in the hands of their mechanics.
ChangesTo Jensen's credit, it continued to develop the car, despite its initial bad reputation. In 1974, big rubber bumpers, mandated by U.S. crash regulations, appeared and did nothing to help the Jensen-Healey's styling. A five-speed Getrag transmission, with first gear down and to the left, was standard starting in late 1974. A fastback Jensen GT Coupe appeared in 1976, but only 509 were built. There were minor trim and material changes over the car's short production life. The oil crisis of the early 1970s hit Jensen Motors hard, and between later strikes and rapid inflation, the company went into bankruptcy in 1975 and out of business in May 1976. In all, 10,453 Jensen-Healey cars were built.
What to look forRust, rust, and more rust. Even California cars suffer from rusting floors, and these are structural concerns. The timing belt and its tensioner must be changed every 18,000 miles, and if there is not hard proof of this having been done, assume it needs to be changed before driving the car. New rubber valve-cover gaskets have solved the oil leak problems, and a problem of fires caused by a broken plastic tee under the Stromberg carburetors can be fixed by changing to a metal part. In fact, many of the car's problems have been solved by an enthusiastic network of owners who keep the cars alive and maintain a good parts supply. Old cars have prettier bumpers, while newer cars have a five-speed transmission. Check out the Jensen-Healey Preservation Society at www.jensenhealey.com on hints to keep one running.
Why would you want one?Prices on Jensen-Healey models have begun to creep upward. There was a time you couldn't give one away, and drivable examples are still available in the $2,000 range. Nice cars can be had for $5,000, and show cars have started to reach more than $10,000. Engine upgrades can result in more than 200 hp, and with some suspension tuning, the cars can be serious performers. Remember that the Jensen-Healey was the D-Production SCCA National Champion in 1973 and 1974, so the potential is there. It's a roomy car, much more than an MGB or TR6, and both faster and much more civilized than either of those stalwart British roadsters at half their price. If you have a thing for the '70s and Ali McGraw and want a fun and fast old British sports car, the bargain-priced Jensen-Healey might be your car.