Think of some of the greatest four-wheel drive cars of all time. You might be thinking of the Audi Quattro, the Subaru WRX, the Porsche 959 or even the Lancia Delta Integrale, but what about the Jensen FF?
Jensen combined the best technology at the time with luxury to create an absolute masterpiece of a car. The FF’s claim to fame was that it was the first production car to be fitted with an all-wheel-drive system, antilock brakes and traction control.
Jensen Motors was a British car manufacturer that produced the FF from 1966 until 1971. The company was based out of West Bromwich, England and was originally called W J Smith & Sons Limited before Richard and Alan Jensen gave the company a new name, Jensen Motors Limited, in 1934.
Introduced in 1966, the FF was heavily based on the Jensen Interceptor (1966 – 1976) and was a whole 30% more expensive than its already expensive sibling. Not only was the FF more expensive than the Interceptor, but it was also costlier than its rivals leading to poor sales, despite being named “Car of the year” by Car in 1967.
The FF in the name stands for “Ferguson Formula” and that’s more important than you might think. Harry Ferguson built and flew his own V8 powered monoplane, becoming Ireland’s first man to make powered flight. He also helped the Irish Government build tractors during World War I and convinced Henry Ford to build a tractor known as the Ford Ferguson. Despite these incredible feats and the fact that he lost a $1-million-dollar coin toss, Ferguson’s biggest claim to fame is his involvement in AWD systems.
Ferguson, along with racing drivers Tony Rolt and Freddie Dixon worked together on a number of AWD prototypes. Their intention was to create a system for racing that would also be viable in production cars. Ferguson passed away just as his P99 AWD F1 car built for the Rob Walker Racing Team was set to debut. Despite Ferguson’s passing, Sterling Moss drove the P99 to victory in a damp International Gold Cup at Oulton Park.
Jensen Motors and Ferguson had luckily worked out a verbal agreement between them before Ferguson’s death. It wasn’t until 1964 when Harry Ferguson Research Limited and Jensen put that agreement into writing, paving the way to the FF’s development.
Around the same time, Jensen was looking at replacing their C-V8 GT car. The new Jensen would be completely different compared to the C-V8, despite the Jensen brother’s wishes. This car would be crafted from Italian steel instead of fibreglass the design wouldn’t be styled in-house. The two wheel-drive variants would be named the Interceptor, while the AWD version would be called the FF.
The Jensen FF continued to use the 325hp 6.3-litre Chrysler V8 engine that was in the Interceptor, which was then mated to a 3-speed TorqueFlite A727 automatic transmission. While the FF produced an insane amount of power for the 1960’s, its two – ton curb weight limited the 0-100km/h time to 8 seconds. The car could also hit 225km/h (140mph).
Unlike the Interceptor’s front mounted engine, the big American power plant in the FF was shoved against the firewall to make room for all the AWD goodness. This had the effect of giving the Jensen FF almost 50/50 weight distribution, which when combined with the limited slip differential and the 37/63 front to rear torque split made for some exceptional handling.
The car was praised for its traction and grip at the time and Autocar described the über-GT as “the safest car in the world” after driving it up a snowy ski slope.
Autocar labelling the FF as the “safest car in the world” was a bit of a stretch in all honesty. The Dunlop Maxaret ABS system (originally developed for aeroplanes) could only pulse the brakes three times a second compared to a modern systems 20 times a second. This also adversely effected the traction control system (a function of the ABS system like most modern cars). Despite this, the Jensen FF was still miles ahead of almost everything else on the market. Another cool feature was the ability to adjust the shocks via a rocker switch inside the cabin.
A downside to the way Ferguson’s “Teramala” transmission was squeezed into Chrysler’s TorqueFlite, was that the car could only come as right-hand drive. This was because the engine was mounted off-centre and the shaft driving the front wheels intruded into the passenger area, making it impossible for the car to be converted into left-hand drive. The lack of a left-hand drive model and the mega cost of the FF meant that Jensen could only sell one out of 320 FF’s built in its largest market, the USA.
While only a small amount of Jensen FF’s were created, it is one of the most influential cars ever produced. During the development of the Quattro, Audi purchased a Jensen FF to study how the car and its AWD system. The car is so influential that all modern AWD cars today use a variation of Ferguson’s Formula transmission.
During 1968, a special experimental FF was produced with a 7-litre Hemi engine imported from Chrysler in the U.S. This engine was never fitted into production models as the suspension limited its use at extremely high speeds and the cost of importing the Hemi into Britain was prohibitive.
Jensen FFF 100
By the early 1970’s, Jensen was in real financial trouble. Jensen was in such a sorry state that only 15 Mk III FFs were produced, and they were built on leftover Mk II frames. Despite the troubles with the company and issues surrounding the FF, Jensen was still keen to build another high performance AWD car.
In 1972 Jensen unveiled the FFF 100 prototype (In reality, Britain’s GKN conglomerate was behind the FFF 100). The prototype was built off an FFF chassis and featured a 7.2-litre Hemi that would produce a face melting 600hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. GKN also ditched the rusty Italian body in favour of a lighter fiberglass one, which meant that the car weighed around 1,500kg. It was also styled by the Aston Martin V8’s designer, William Towns.
The FFF 100’s performance was savage. It could go from 0-100-0 mph in just 12.2 seconds, much faster than the Shelby Cobra, and that was in the wet! In dry conditions the car was even faster and could go to 100mph and then back to zero again in a mere 11.5 seconds, that’s fast even by today’s standards. Performance was going to be even better than that though. GKN worked on a fuel injection system for the car and planned on improving the brakes before the project was dropped.
Although the FFF 100 never made it into production, it, the Jensen FF and the Jensen Interceptor paved the way for the legendary AWD cars we have today.
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