Elana Scherr: Is This Jensen Interceptor Haunted?

jensen interceptor
Elana Scherr: Ghostbusting, Collector-Car StyleTom Yeager

From the March/April 2024 issue of Car and Driver.

Sarah Winchester was convinced her house was haunted. Or rather, she was convinced she herself was haunted by the restless souls of people killed by Winchester rifles. She spent much of her firearms fortune paying carpenters to build new rooms, secret passageways, and staircases to nowhere in hopes of distracting the ghosts in her home in San Jose, California. At one point, before the great 1906 earthquake, her house stood seven stories high, with hundreds of rooms and thousands of windows. Postquake, Sarah was more conservative, but she continued the teardowns and rebuilds until her death in 1922. The Winchester Mystery House still stands, and for $42, architecture buffs and ghost hunters can tour it and marvel at its eccentricities. I think Sarah would have related to my latest automotive project, as it, too, appears to be haunted and unending.

I've always liked hybrids. Not the gas-engine-and-electric-motor type, although that is the best approach to electrification for those of us who can't remember to plug in a cellphone, let alone an automobile. To anyone reading this in search of EV shopping advice: I like a good plug-in hybrid—say, the Ferrari 296GTB. But I'm really into what car mags back in the '60s called hybrids: European cars with Detroit engines. Beauties with American guts, the Grace Kellys of automobiles. Iso Grifos, Bizzarrinis, Panteras, Monteverdis, exotic designs draped over Midwestern muscle. One of my favorites is the Jensen Interceptor, an English grand tourer with a body by Carrozzeria Touring and a Chrysler V-8 under the long hood. It's Clint Eastwood dressed as James Bond in a Milanese suit.

the inside of a car
Elana Scherr - Car and Driver

When a friend mentioned he might be selling his red 1972 Interceptor Mk III, I sent him the money the next day. It was a great buy, with a beautifully redone cabin (the Jensen famously required a half-dozen cows to cover its interior), solid bodywork (Jensen's handcrafted body panels are notorious for fitting only the car they came on, making replacing bad metal a nightmare), and, best of all, a Richmond six-speed manual gearbox in place of the usual Chrysler 727 three-speed automatic. The car arrived on a transporter, and the driver declared his approval as he idled it off the truck. "Is good car," he grunted. "Is having very good sound." He wasn't wrong. It sounds like "The Star-Spangled Banner" sung by an all-bass choir, a tune at odds with its "Let's have a port in the library" looks. It came to me in great shape, but like Winchester, I worry about unhappy spirits who might linger in dark corners.

I hate to give in to the cliché about Lucas electrics, but those familiar with Interceptors didn't fill me with confidence. "Oh, good luck," said English racing driver Derek Bell. "We [the English] couldn't get those to work when they were new." A mechanic friend, when told we were rewiring the car with new harnesses, said, "Don't matter. Can't get the demon out once the place is possessed."

a person lying on the ground next to a dog
Elana Scherr - Car and Driver

I ain't 'fraid no ghost, so I shouldered my proton pack and dove in. Well, my husband, Tom, did. There's only room for one under the dash. (Good excuse, right?) Tom dug into the Jensen's electrical terrors with the zeal of a man saving souls, but this car is shaking his faith. Months have gone by with the Interceptor spilling wires like a gutted fish on a butcher's board. We have three different wiring diagrams that don't match one another or the car, and two are blurry.

What no one ever tells you about hand-built cars is that each builder did it their own way, and nobody took notes, or if they did, they aren't applicable to your car. Many of the switches and connectors are Jensen- or Lucas-specific, so there's been a steady stream of tiny packages crossing the ocean to our garage. Sometimes they even contain the right parts. It's not so much two steps forward and one back as it is one forward followed by a triple backflip and a small electrical fire. The headlights all work now, but to balance the power in the universe, the horns no longer do. The power windows go up, but operating the driver's window now makes an interior light go on. Oh, and the engine stopped charging the battery, which I suppose makes all the other electrical gremlins moot.

a red car parked on a driveway
Elana Scherr - Car and Driver

I'm confident we'll evict the ghosts eventually, but in the meantime, it feels like we're doomed to spend the next half-century building staircases to nowhere and opening doors to three-story drop-offs. I'm considering selling tours.

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