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Jensen Interceptor surprises car geeks in Fast & Furious 6

Fans of oddball cars rarely get much gratification from mainstream Hollywood films. A TVR Tuscan Speed Six in 2001's fairly forgettable Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, John Travolta actioner Swordfish is about all that comes to mind recently. For the most part, the Fast & Furious series has followed the formula of serving up familiar cars from the US and Japan. Until now that is. The sixth installment, which set records at the box office this past Memorial Day weekend, features a few notable eccentricities, including a 1978 Ford Mark I Escort, an LS7-powered Lister and everybody's favorite tough chick, Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), driving a Jensen Interceptor of all things.

The few sites out there that cater to the fishbowl-backed, Mopar-powered British coupe probably can't handle the traffic they got this past weekend, so to save their servers, we'll give you a bit of information on the Interceptor. In full disclosure, I'm an owner of a '73 Interceptor that several of my colleagues infamously drove from Arizona to St. Louis in a trouble-plagued delivery run/magazine story.

Rob Sass is the Publisher of Hagerty Classic Cars magazine. He is a regular contributor to the automotive section of the New York Times and is the author of "Ran When Parked, Advice and Adventures from the Affordable Underbelly of Car Collecting."

Jensen was a low-volume West Midlands-based British manufacturer that prospered doing assembly work for other manufacturers ranging from Sunbeam to Volvo and Austin-Healey. Their own cars were a bit of a sideline and ranged from the somewhat pretty 541 to the mutant-faced CV-8. The evaporation of Jensen's assembly business forced them to get serious about their own product. They needed to make something pretty that they could export.

Unlike many low-volume British cars, Interceptors aren't built like crap.

To that end, Jensen employed the Italian firm of Carrozzeria Touring to design the big GT Interceptor and the first cars were built by the Italian coachbuilder Vignale who, in a case of car karma, employed an even more casual approach to rustproofing than Jensen did in putting together essentially biodegradable Volvo P1800 and Sunbeam Tiger models. Most of the Vignale-built cars have simply dissolved. Power for them was provided by a Chrysler 383 V8 or later by a 440. Almost all cars were equipped with a Chrysler automatic transmission. The rare FF variant of the Interceptor even pioneered all-wheel drive a decade before the Audi Ur Quattro, and it had anti-lock brakes.

Stock Interceptors are decent to drive. Unlike many low-volume British cars, Interceptors aren't built like crap. Mine is tight and pieces don't fall off of it very often. Something like eight cows were murdered and skinned so that everything you touch has a luxurious, good-smelling feel to it. Hell, even the door-mounted ashtrays are leather-covered. Interceptor IIIs like mine (built from 1972-76) sport Girling four-wheel ventilated disc brakes and power steering similar to what was found in a Jaguar XJ6 of the day. Steering is reasonably quick with decent road feel. By modern standards, the brakes are just adequate to haul down the Jensen's two-ton mass. Fuel economy is largely theoretical – around 8 mpg.

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It's like a Mopar muscle car, only with decent brakes, good steering and a handmade leather, wood and wool carpet interior

Still, the 280 or so horsepower and the 350 pound-feet of torque make for some entertainment and the big Chrysler lump of an engine makes a great sound after the whiny Mopar starter motor shuts up. For a big car, it handles well enough until the curves get bumpy and the live rear axle and leaf springs introduce themselves. In all, it's like a Mopar muscle car, only with decent brakes, good steering and a handmade leather, wood and wool carpet interior that wasn't slapped in by someone with a bad hangover on a Monday.

Styling is a matter of taste. There's little controversy to the handsome front three-quarter view, but some people find the huge fishbowl-like glass rear window off-putting. Having grown up with Porsche 944s, it's never bugged me. Some people think it looks like a AMC Pacer. Whatever. Jeremy Clarkson likes the Interceptor. That's good enough for me.

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