Not long ago I went to a National Lottery bash and met 200 or so past winners. Listening to their stories, I was fascinated by the first things they bought with their megabucks windfalls. It’s never what you think. One bloke won £26 million and bought a fridge and a cooker. Another bought a new front door. One bought a duvet. Far be it from me to question, but seriously – a duvet?
I know what I’d get: a private plane. At this precise moment I’m very sure of that, because the fat bloke in front of me keeps bashing his seat back, jamming my tray into my ribs while I’m trying to write and spilling the teeny-tiny can of cola that the orange-skinned stewardess with eye-watering perfume gave me. Yes, if I won the Lotto I’d never fly economy again.
That just shows that lottery dreams are personal. It’s what you need, what’s missing in your life, that counts. That explains the door and the duvet. Those blokes must have been muttering about them for months, and winning a fortune meant they could finally replace them. I like that.
After a while, though, you’re going to have replaced every bit of your house and if you like cars you’ll have had one each from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche… What do you spend the rest on? What you want is a deep, dark need; something that’s been missing from your life for so long you’ve almost forgotten, but getting it will make you as happy as a kid at Christmas.
I’d forgotten about the Jensen Interceptor. Back when I was a nipper this car was über-cool, mega-stylish and if you were a millionaire playboy in the decade between Sgt Pepper’s and punk rock, this is what you’d buy.
Italian-designed but built in West Bromwich with a massive 7.2-litre American V8 up front, it was more expensive than an Aston Martin, more powerful than an E-type and rarer than a Bentley. It was so legendary that Jenson Button’s dad named him after it (getting the spelling wrong). And then it disappeared.
Dozens of car firms went to the wall while I was at junior school and with its small, costly output Jensen was never going to survive, so by the time I was putting car posters on my wall it was a distant memory. In a way, it’s just as well it faded into history. The reality of cars from those days is that they always, always broke down. So I’m very glad that the one I’m driving here is not what it seems.
Resurrected less than a year ago by a group of Jensen-loving businessmen, what you get when you order an Interceptor now is the body from an original 1976 donor car stripped right down to its skeleton by a 12-man team in a shed in Banbury – restored and rust-proofed to modern standards, resprayed and then rebuilt with a brand new engine, gearbox, suspension, propshaft, exhaust, wheels and electrics.
While they’re doing this you can have a say in how everything’s set up, from the throttle response to the leather, making each one as individual as a Savile Row suit. No wonder they only make 18 a year.
A recent buyer let me borrow his, and he’s specified a £20,000 sound system in the boot: turning up The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary and burying the throttle pedal was one of the best driving experiences I’ve had all year.
This is due to many things, the engine being one – a cutting-edge General Motors 6.2-litre V8 that chucks out 429hp.
They’ve also replaced the old three-speed box with a four-speed GM auto, added limited-slip differential and given it independent suspension. The ride is 100 times better than it would have been in Harold Wilson’s day.
From the outside, though, it looks no different – unless you’re eagle-eyed enough to spot the AP racing brake callipers – and it’s the same on the inside. The seats use new leather to the old design. The gauges are identical to the Seventies ones but new. Just as well, as they never worked properly, either. You can have a sat-nav put in, but I think it would spoil the effect. All this loving care isn’t cheap, starting at £105,000 and climbing.
So what’s it like to drive an Interceptor after 35 years in limbo?
Well, the first thing you notice is the speed. It’s quicker than the brochure stated and at a deep-throated 2,000 revs I was easily overtaking BMW M3s. When you put your foot to the floor, it drops a gear and blasts ahead with a whine like my old Corvette. But I actually preferred it in town: it’s easy to handle, and I’ve never driven a car on test that turns heads like this. Even without the sound system, people were flocking around it in droves when I parked in Chelsea.
And who can blame them? I love cars like this. In fact, I once bought the shell of an old Mustang and filled it with brand new workings, similar to this, and it was massively rewarding both during and after. It’s a way of bringing something beautiful back to life. Sure, there are some tiny problems with the fit and a few rattles inside, but they’re easily forgivable.
I wish the blokes behind this resurrection all the best. It’s brilliant to see Jensen back on the road. To think that all these years, I never knew I missed it.