[Note: The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage will be back to its normal Tuesday schedule next week. — ed.] When I took over the Jalopnik Fantasy Garage from Farago, my initial thought was... 1978 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Oscar India. Shoot me. However, my second thought was the Jensen FF. Many of us are old enough to remember the shockwaves shot through the automotive world when Porsche's 959 bowed in 1986. It was like an alien had arrived and brought along all of the home planet's best technology. The FF was just as incredible in terms of technological innovation, only it added serious luxury to the mix and showed up earlier. Two-decades earlier. Powered by a Mopar big block, the Jensen FF was the first production car to offer all-wheel drive, antilock brakes and traction control. More over, the beautiful body was designed by Touring Superleggera and built by Vignale, while the entire car was assembled by hand in Britain. American power, Italian hot looks and British everything else coupled with stupefying technical innovation. I know I don't need to go on, but I will.
Introduced to the world in 1966, the FF is related to the Jensen Interceptor (produced 1966-1976). So close most people can't tell them apart. The FF cost 30 percent more than its already expensive sibling, which is one of the reasons the FF was a never a sales success, despite the press making sweet love to it (Car named it "Car of the Year" in 1967).
To make room for the extra mechanicals the FF is about half a foot longer than the Interceptor. The easiest way to distinguish the two British GTs is the diagonal vent on the front wing (the Interceptor has but one, the FF two). Note also differences like indicator lights, the front end, bumpers and what not, but just look for the double vents.
FF stands for "Ferguson Formula." Clearly not an exciting moniker, but a very important one. At age 24 Harry Ferguson (b. 1884) built and flew his own V8-powered monoplane, becoming the first man in Ireland to make a powered flight. During World War I he became involved with tractors on behalf of the Irish Government and in the 1930s convinced Henry Ford senior to build a tractor known as the Ford Ferguson. He also lost $1 million on a coin flip. Most important, though, he saw the promise of AWD for both track and street.
Harry began collaborating with racing drivers Freddie Dixon and Tony Rolt on a series of AWD prototypes. They wanted to produce both a racecar and hoped a manufacturer would become interested in a production vehicle. Then in 1960, just as his AWD F1 car (the P99) was set to debut, Ferguson dropped dead. In 1961 Sterling Moss piloted Ferguson's P99 to a win at the Oulton Park Gold Cup Race. Luckily, before Ferguson passed, he had worked out a verbal agreement with Jensen concerning his AWD formula. In 1964 Jensen Automobiles and Harry Ferguson Research finally inked a deal. The FF was going to see the light of day.
Around that time, Jensen was preparing a successor to the aesthetically challenged but nonetheless potent CV8. Luckily for pistonheads the world round, the Jensen brothers lost an internal battle to other management within the company. Unlike previous Jensens, the new car wouldn't be styled in-house, and wouldn't be made from fiberglass. No, the new cars were to have bodies crafted from Italian steel. The two-wheel drive vehicles would revive the famous appellation Interceptor, while the AWD Jensens would simply be called FF.
Because of the FF's two-ton curb weight, straight line performance wasn't staggering — 325 horsepower caused 60 mph to show up in 8 seconds, which wasn't bad for its day. Top speed was north of 140 mph. The handling, however, was staggering. Unlike in the front-heavy Interceptor, the big American heart was shoved back against the firewall to make room for all the AWD bits. This had the effect of giving the FF near 50/50 weight distribution. Via a viscous-coupling limited slip differential, torque was routed 37/63 front to rear. Journalists of the time raved about the traction and grip the FF produced, especially in the rain and snow. After driving it up a snowy Swiss ski slope Autocar described the über-GT as "the safest car in the world."
That was a bit of a stretch, considering that the mechanical Dunlop Maxaret ABS system (developed for airplanes) only pulsed the brakes three times a second compared to 20 times per second in modern systems. As a result, the traction control (which, like on many modern cars, was a function of ABS) wasn't so hot either. Still, at a time when most cars had four-wheel drums, the FF was quite a feat. Just as nifty, the four-way adjustable shocks could be controlled via a rocker switch inside the cabin. And what a glorious cabin! Rich, cosseting leather was everywhere wood wasn't, and, well, just have a look at the back seat.
The world's first AWD road car did have one major design flaw. It only came as a right-hand driver. Due to the messy nature of mashing Ferguson's "Teramala" transmission into Chrysler's TorqueFlite, the engine was mounted off-center and the shaft driving the front wheels intruded into the passenger area. Thus, it was impossible to build the FF in left-hand drive. Tragically, America was Jensen's biggest market. Couple that with the as-much-as-a-house price (more than one house in some cases) and demand wasn't exactly heavy. Out of the 320 FFs built, only one was sold in the States.
Despite the small production run, the FF is a hugely influential machine. Years later Audi bought an FF to study while researching AWD for their upcoming Quattro. All modern AWD cars use a variation of Ferguson's Formula transmission. Not surprisingly, the FF attracted a host of famous owners including an MI6 agent, an RAF pilot on which the character of the Forger in "The Great Escape" was based and a bunch of rock drummers. Good ones, too. Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience had one (and supposedly Jimi drove it just before he died), the great John Bonham had two and Ginger Baker of Cream had three, putting the FF into Citroen SM territory in terms of hot-shit owners. Nearly. Point is, If you had the means you too could have what was at the time, the car.
But there was almost another...
GKN FFF 100 Jensen Rendering
By the time the Mk III Interceptor and FF rolled around in 1971, Jensen had seen the proverbial writing on the depressing wall of financial reality. In fact, so banged up was Jensen that only 15 Mk III FFs were produced, and they were built on leftover Mk II frames. Still, despite the current car's troubles (can't be sold in America, worse than British reliability, huge price), Jensen knew the value of AWD in a high-performance car. In 1972 the company revealed the prototype FFF 100 (In truth, British motoring conglomerate GKN was behind the project). Built off an FF chassis, the FFF 100 featured a British-tuned, 7.2-liter (426 cc) Hemi producing 600 horsepower and banging out 560 lb-ft of torque. Instead of a rust-ready steel body of Italian descent, the FFF 100 was made from fiberglass and the whole car weighed just 3,388 pounds. That's more than 100 pounds lighter and 120 hp more powerful than a 997 Turbo. And it was styled by William Towns, the man who penned the Aston Martin V8.
GKN FFF 100 Jensen Prototype In Action
As you may well imagine, the performance was utterly devastating. 0-100-0 mph took just 12.2 seconds, well faster than Shelby's world-beating Cobra. And that was in the wet! On a dry surface, the FFF 100 could hit 100 mph and stop again in 11.5 seconds, which is mad today and ragingly psychotic for a car built before Nixon resigned. Before the project was abandoned, GKN was working on fuel injection for the engine as well as sharpening up the brakes.
While it never got a chance at life and legendary lore like the 959, the FFF 100 and really the FF paved the way for the fast, streetable AWD hoonage we very much enjoy on a daily basis. For that alone, the mighty Jensen belongs in our Fantasy Garage. And if you don't think so, you had better have a damn good reason.
[The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage appears every Tuesday, unless our best friend's wife goes into labor – it's a boy!. Readers vote the cars in or out. The idea is that we'll have 50 cars in our Fantasy Farage, the world's greatest mechanic and endless wads of cash. Would you like to nominate a car for the Fantasy Garage? Write firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Fantasy."]
The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage, So Far:
RUF RT12 | Maserati Quattroporte Executive GT | 1978 Aston Martin V8 Vantage | Honda 1300 Coupe 9 | 1931 Daimler Double Six 50 Corsica Drophead Coupe | Ferrari 288 GTO | Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 | 1970 Buick GSX 455 | First Generation BMW M Coupe | Bugatti Veyron 16.4 | Ford GT | Citroen SM | Porsche 928