5 4 1
D e l u x e
5 4 1 R
5 4 1 S
HISTORY of the JENSEN 541 - Quick Guide
The Jensen company started before the War making large luxury tourers. After the
War they made the PW saloon, and then the early Interceptor, a bulky car
powered by the Austin 4-litre engine.
This heavily influenced the design of the 541, which had a new sporty
chassis and lightweight Glassfibre body with the same engine.
Richard Jensen and Eric Neale, the designer, came up with the beautiful
lines of the 541 (1954's 1st model) which lasted
through deluxe, R and S models until 1963 when it was replaced by the
similar CV8, which had a massive Chrysler V8 instead of the Austin engine.
For model changes, click on the link on the left.
After the war Vanden Plas were seeking work to fill their empty workshops. A deal with Rolls Royce had fallen through after RR contracted with Pressed Steel for a "Standard" MkVI / Silver Dawn bodyshell. A partnership with Alvis was seriously considered, as was a deal with Ford to build tourers, but nothing came of it.
Meanwhile, Austin had a fine 6-cylinder engine and need a body for it. When they approached vanden Plas, they accepted the job straight away but it also involved Austin taking over the company.
The new "Princess" was announced in December 1946, and made a debut at the 1947 Geneva show where the 120bhp output from the 3 1/2 litre engine gave it the name "A120". Shortly thereafter the engine was enlarged to the familiar 3995cc and it was optimistically renamed the A135, although output was actually 130bhp.
Production of the DS5 started off at 5 cars per week but soon doubled. The DS6 was a long wheelbase version, identical mechanically.
In 1956 at the London Motor Show the swoopy new DS7 was announced with the name Princess IV. The engine was radically different: a new DS7 block had plugs, distributor coil and dynamo moved to the other side. A new cylinder head had combustion chambers and porting based on the Healet 100S. The twin SU HD6 carbs were moved to the other side of the enginre. This led to an output of 150bhp @4100rpm.
Unfortunately, extra power could not make up for a premium of £700 over the previous model and also reliability problems. The model was phased out after just 200 examples.
[According to Classic Car Magazine in 1980]
At the start of the 1950’s Jensen had a sound Commercial vehicle business providing bread and butter income, and an exclusive car business making expensive Interceptor touring cars, powered by the Austin 4-litre engine.
When building these early Interceptors, Jensen had, in common with most of the British car industry, been trying to avoid the use of steel body work due to post war restrictions. The body work was mostly aluminium, but as an experiment Jensen had started making the large boot lids in a revolutionary material formed from hair-thin glass imbedded in a resinous gel – Glass Fibre (or Fibre-Glass ™ in America).
DESIGN OF THE "541" NEW CAR
Without saying it outright, it was made clear that the future of Jensen depended on the success of the “New Car”. The engine had already been settled (4-litre Austin), and it was assumed that Austin A70 parts would be used for the suspension. To achieve the sporting handling required, the chassis would have to be low. Spaces for 4 occupants and the engine were chalked out on the ground and the chassis designed around this. The signature item was the 5 inch steel tubes running along the side of the chassis, with cross tubes at xxxx and sheet steel infilling.
The body was designed by Eric Neale, in conjunction with Richard Jensen. He first created the distinctive “mouth” shape, and the rest of the body flowed back from that point. A lattice of wooden body formers provided a reference over which skilled craftsmen beat a skin of aluminium.
The finished car was to exhibited at the 1953 Motor Show but there was one trick left up Jensen’s sleeve – production cars were to be constructed from the new “wonder material” glass fibre. All door skins remained in aluminium with a steel frame, and some earlier cars had the lower wing panels behind the front wheels made from aluminium. Everything else was glassfibre, and the rear window and rear side windows were made from a material made famous during the war – Perspex.
The Show car was almost complete, but details such as location of the fuel filler had to be decided to make it a runner. Fortunately, the prototype survives to this day and it is apparent that the whole shape was subtly altered for production models (a nightmare for those restoring the prototype!).
Bodies were made in batches, and it is sometimes possible to work out the age of the car from the shape of its curves.
The first few production cars are just known as the 541. Early 541s had 4 bolt wheels, inset rear light lenses and a basic specification sometimes lacking overdrive.
As production increased, the options available increased. A package incorporating the best extras – was applied to the car which was marketed as the “541 deluxe”.
Rack and pinion steering was the latest innovation in the mid-50’s and early misgivings over its effects on handling were overcome when a test car was constructed using the rear of a wrecked 541 and the steering off the lastest A90. This was marketed as the 541 R - it has been claimed that the R stands for “Rack and Pinion”.
The body changed at the same time, with striking curves, or strakes, being added. These appeared over the rear wheel arches (matching the one at the front) and on the bonnet, leading to an air vent. At the back, the boot changed from being hinged at the bottom to external top hinges and the numberplate changed from square to rectangular, requiring a radical reshaping of the boot cover. An easy distinguishing mark is that the chrome strips on the flank were extended from the wings to all along the door. Some regretted the loss of purity of line, but actually glassfibre is at its best when incorporating bulbous shapes as it gives strength to the moulding.
Under the bonnet was a radically updated Austin engine, with just 2 carbs instead of 3, Siamesed ports, and a swap of intake and exhaust locations. The DS7 models are recognisable from the back by the reversed position of the Exhaust pipe. Supplies of this new engine from Austin were, however, limited and it quietly reverted to the original DS5 after only XX units. Of course, all road test cars had the radical new engine which is why all 541 R are considered to be faster cars than the 541!
Production of the 541 deluxe quietly continued in the background until 1959, alongside the R. The bonnet mould was eventually modified to produce the vented R bonnet. Any early 541 that has received a replacement bonnet will therefore look a bit like an R.
In 1959 work started on creating a slightly larger 541, which would be better suited to long-distance cruising. This car was to have an auto gearbox as standard - a change partly forced on Jensen by the lack of alternatives. The new 541 S was wider, taller and slower than its predecessors – the slowness did not overly concern Jensen as it continued to sell well, and they had a performance cure planned – the Chrysler V8 which would drop into a completely reworked 541 chassis and created the CV8.
A radical change to the appearance was the disappearance of the swivelling flap which could close off the radiator grille – it was replaced by am internal blind. At the rear, the screen no longer wrapped around the pillars. The wheelbase did however stay the same.
743 UMX - a fine example of a Jensen 541R