JENSEN-HEALEY REVIEW

It has good looks and strong performance but what is it like to buy?

The first thing you notice as you slide behind the wheel is the space and comfort on offer in the Healey’s cabin. For a car whose cabin is often referred to as austere, the dash is acutally well-stocked with dials and all the minor controls are within easy reach. The driving position is sound, too, with a good relationship between the major controls. 

On the move, the punchy Lotus-developed twin cam engine musters considerable performance; you’re unlikely to find yourself wanting for pace. It’s no shrinking violet, either – this car is properly loud when you put the hammer down – and the gearchange is beautifully snick-snick.

The handling – immediate and nippy – is not unlike that of an MGB. Firmer, perhaps, and the car feels bigger around you, but there’s no doubt that this is a sports car, not least when you discover just how low down in the car you really sit.

The intake rasp from the twin-carb ‘four’ adds to the character when you give the engine a few revs, something you’ll be more than happy to do given its characterful nature. 

The unassisted steering lightens up nicely once you’re rolling, the brakes are more than up to the performance, and the ride is such that it’s as able a grand tourer as it is a feisty B-road blaster. It’s rigid and rattle-free – or at least should be – so keep that in mind when assessing a prospective purchase.

And of course, the Jensen-Healey is all about the fresh-air, hood-down experience. The packaway hood is slightly more complex to take down than some (but it’s no worse than an early MGB Roadster) and while the engine likes to remind you what’s going on when you’re pressing on, flicking in the overdrive soon quietens things down. In fact, the cabin is a suprisingly quiet, buffetting-free place to be, roof-down.

Thank Donald Healey; this is a proper British sports car offering plenty of creature comforts for longer drives, but lots of character and engaging performance when you’re in the mood.


VITAL STATISTICS

1974 JENSEN-HEALEY

Engine                                    1973cc/4-cyl/DOHC

Power (bhp@rpm)                  144bhp@6500rpm

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 134lb ft@5000rpm

Top speed                                119mph

0-60mph                                  7.8sec

Consumption                            23mpg

Gearbox                                    4/5-spd manual


WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

You need to be vigilant when inspecting a Healey, as rot can strike just about anywhere within the steel monocoque. At particular risk are the sills, which rot from the inside out and replacing them requires removal of both front and rear wings, so it won’t be a cheap job. The wings themselves rot too, so check at the bottom where they meet the sill, the mounting points and around the headlamps at the front, and check the rear wings from inside the boot as rust often starts here. 

The usual problem areas such as doors, wheel arches, and bonnet/boot lid will also need careful examination – as will the floors – and pay special attention to the front chassis legs. These can be tricky to repair and the engine and gearbox may need to come out if things are particularly bad. Eradicating all traces of corrosion from a Healey will be time-consuming and expensive while some panels – such as replacement bonnets – are getting hard to find.

ENGINE

The Lotus-derived twin cam engine might be characterful, but Mark 1 models gained a reputation for trouble. Oil leaks were a particular issue (cam cover leaks are almost impossible to cure, even now) and Mark 2 models from 1973 got a stiffer block casting to alleviate the problem. Neglecting the all-alloy unit will cause the most problems so look for a detailed maintenance record, and be alert for any signs of overheating or coolant loss. Regular cambelt changes are absolutely critical too.

Twin Dellorto carburettors take care of the fuelling and throttle response should be excellent, so check for any flat spots or hesitation during the road-test. The carbs could be in need of a re-build or just need setting up properly, neither of which are especially costly. Rumbling from the bottom end of the engine signifies an imminent rebuild – and bigger bills – and you can expect 80-100,00 miles from a well-maintained engine before an overhaul is needed.

RUNNING GEAR

The four-speed manual gearbox (a Sunbeam unit, also used in the Rapier) fitted to earlier cars was considered a bit weak for the power on offer, so check for excessive noise and jumping out of gear. A stronger Getrag five-speeder was offered towards the end of 1974 (and not as part of the 1973 update, as many think). Mark 2 models could be four- or five-speed, although only around 180 right-hand cars were equipped with the latter. The Salisbury rear axle is strong, but expect a bit of noise – though it rarely leads to failure – while driveline vibrations are likely to be caused by nothing more sinister than worn propshaft joints.

BRAKES

Vauxhall Viva HC steering and suspension components are used and neither should prove troublesome if regularly fettled. General wear such as tired bushes and worn dampers are issues and watch for corroded rear lower trailing arms. Many parts are available for overhaul. The disc/drum brake set-up is reliable, but it’s worth checking for seized adjusters at the rear on little-used examples. Examine the alloy wheels for signs of damage or excessive corrosion as well – budget upwards of £70 per corner for quality refurbishment.


INTERIOR

Some interior trim parts are getting scarce, and while re-trimmers can sort tired seats or carpets, it’s worth avoiding anything too decrepit. Watch for signs of water leaks that might have allowed rust to take hold, and check the condition of the hood, as a good quality replacement is likely to be pricey.


OUR VERDICT

In a word: Cool. In two words: Sub Zero. In three words: You need one. 

The Jensen-Healey may be a rare beast, but just like the best steaks, rare is the way you want a sports car. 

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