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What Is This Ultimate Sports Car?



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Interestingly enough, it would even be faster than a 1969 Corvette 427-435 Convertible (as driven by R&T). High Performance is Small, Light, Nimble and Fast.

So Why Did I Build It?

     A little over 44 years ago (1979?) I sold my 1968 Burnt Orange 327 Corvette convertible (It was too big, too heavy, too common, too slow and not really what I wanted, which I discovered after I had driven it for awhile). R&T was not very impressed with the 1968 Vette either. R&T 1968 Corvette Convertible 327-350hp Road Test. Not Mine Biut A Lot Like It. I started looking around for something else that was smaller, lighter, faster and more fun to drive. I thought about a Lotus Elan. About as far away from a 3200lbs (dry weight) Corvette as you can get at 1600lbs vs 3200lbs, but both with fiberglass bodies, independent rear suspension, and four wheel disc brakes.
Elan-Cooper Derived from R&T
     1972 Lotus Elan great handling, braking and fun to drive but the Lotus Elan and the Lotus 26R are both very small cars and not fast enough and not enough power. Or maybe buy this car and cut the top off, which was possible but an expensive option back in the late 1970's. 240/Cooper From R&T
     Not a convertible, the IMSA 240Z was a flat out racing car and yet the acceleration performance is inferior to a Jensen-Cooper because of more weight and less torque. Possibly a higher top speed, but not according to the specifications. So...no to the Z Car or any other hardtop-to-ragtop option.
     I really loved the oh-so-British cockpit of the Jensen-Healey, its small size, it was already a ragtop, plus the potential power of the small, lightweight 4 cylinder 16 valve DOHC Lotus engine. It just felt perfect to me right from the start. I also thought the steel body was a bit higher quality than the Datsun.
     Now that the Lotus Elan, Z Car or IMSA 240Z were excluded from consideration, what next? Back in 1983 there wasn't much to choose from, either older or newer cars, what with the government regulations on emissions and crash protection. There was even talk in 1975 that convertibles would be outlawed because of their lack of roll over safety. I think I must have looked at everything before deciding on a Jensen-Healey. The Jensen-Healey had so much potential that I just couldn't resist. Corvette Data Sheet  Road & Track
     My old 1968 Corvette Convertibe, big and heavy and actually not that fast. Note that it is not as fast as the SCCA Jensen-Healey or a 1964 Shelby 289 Cobra. It is also the size of a Ferrari Daytona - of course not the same speed or quality but both are big heavy cars. After having one big heavy car I had no desire for another, even if it was faster. I wanted something more fun. I was looking for something small, simple, nimble, fast and lightweight. Something like a 1972 Lotus Elan or perhaps a Lotus 26R but bigger and faster but not as big as a Corvette or a Jaguar XK-E.
Elan Data Sheet  Road & Track
     But any car I bought would have to fit my 6'1”, 190lb frame. So the Lotus Elan with it's 84” wheelbase was out of the question. It is a tiny little car. Besides, if you look at the numbers, a stock Elan is not even as fast as a stock Jensen-Healey and there was not as much room for improvement as the J-H with its 16 valve head (all of the improvements are outside of the SCCA rules, of course). The Lotus 26R was faster but not any bigger, plus not a good street car for summer driving with my wife. Unacceptable.

   So now, what could I buy? Something bigger and faster (or that could be made potentially faster) than a Lotus, MG, Alfa, Fiat, Opal, Sunbeam, Datsun or Triumph but smaller than a Corvette or a Jaguar and less expensive but just as fast (track fast) as a 60's Ferrari, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Maserati, et al. And I wanted a car that could be modified as much as I wanted to suit me without destroying the value. A fascinating problem.

   Every car I could think of was too big, too small, too slow, too clumsy, too old, too new or too valuable. The J-H was the only car that met most of my criteria and I wasn't willing to comprise. Would you? So in 1982 I went to the Seattle Public Library and looked through all the old issues of Road & Track from the late 50's to 1982. I found an April 1973 R&T Road Test of a 1973 Jensen-Healey. It had the new Lotus 907 DOHC all aluminum slant 4 (which allowed for a low bonnet line) with a 16 valve cylinder head but the car didn't have the performance I wanted. But then I read an article in the September 1974 R&T about an SCCA Jensen-Healey that was much closer in performance to what I was looking for, although it would probably not run on the street. Too much of a dedicated racing car for me. And ugly too. I wanted a better looking and faster car and to be able to drive my car everyday and everywhere the sun was shining. But this was nothing that some (actually, a lot of) high performance modifications beyond the SCCA rules couldn't fix. As far as I could see a 1973 Jensen-Healey was about 75% of what I wanted and the other 25% was possible to modify into a really great little convertible sports car. I was definitely interested.

   By the way, any kind of modification that added weight to the car beyond a roll bar and bigger wheels and tires was out of the question. This ruled out any big engine swaps, etc. I really wanted a 2000lb 250 hp car, not a 3000lb 375 hp car or worse a 4000lb 500 hp car. Or as close as I could get. There is more to (my) life than raw horsepower. Small, light, simple, nimble, good looking and fast was the name of the game. I wanted a road racing auto-crossing car, not a drag racer. Autocross and track days were hopefully in the future.

Corvette Cooper R and T
Too big & too clumsy, 1968 Corvette Convertible vrsus Jensen-Cooper

Corvette Cooper R and T
Too small & not a true convertible, 1972 Dino 246 versus Jensen-Cooper

Jag Cooper R and T
Too big & too valuable to modify, 1961 Jaguar XK-E versus Jensen-Cooper

Nart versus Cooper
Too big and way way too expensive-but beautiful, 1967 NART Spider versus Jensen-Cooper

Huffaker Cooper R and T
SCCA Huffaker D Production Jensen-Healey versus my Jensen Cooper

     Obviously the Huffaker was not a good street car and not quite fast enough. It was also ugly but with great handling and lots and lots of potential speed. The Lotus 907 engine was originally conceived as both a street engine and a 2000cc Formula 2 racing engine.

     Just below are two Jensen-Healey road tests from back in the day by Road & Track and below that from Car & Driver (note the faster acceleration times than R&T and better braking). I have a feeling that the C&D test drivers were more aggressive launching the car off the line.
Stock Jensen Data Sheet  Road & Track
Stock Jensen Data Sheet 2  Raod & Track
      By modern standards very small wheels and tires but room to upgrade to 15" & 16" performance tires. I was getting closer and closer to finding my ideal sports car, but it was obvious that anything I bought was going to need a lot of customizing if I was going to get what I wanted.

      Racing Huffaker D-Production Jensen-Healey had greatly improved performance [click here for complete 1974 road test]. The speed for the lateral acceleration was an error (should be 40.8 mph) but the 1.112g's is correct. Faster than the stock '68 Vette and almost as fast as a '64 Cobra with better handling because it is smaller & lighter. Note the gearing problems. The Getrag 5 speed gearbox and bigger tires avoids this.
Huffaker Data Sheet  Road & Track
      The SCCA Jensen-Healey was almost what I wanted, and was 15 secs faster 0-100 mph, but not quite. Also note that the 13" tires limited the top speed to 134 mph (at 8400 rpm !!!) In the September 1974 Road & Track road test at Riverside Raceway the authors were very impressed with the performance of the car. So was I.

   The SCCA Jensen-Healey was 24 seconds faster per lap than the stock Jensen-Healey - which shows it's potential. An interesting side note from present day 2023 is that apparently I am not the only sports car fan who thinks smaller and lighter is better. Recent Hagerty Insurance (where I insure my car) values are showing that the smaller Ferrari Dino 246 GT is going up and passing the much larger Ferrari Daytona in price. Would I prefer a Dino to a Daytona [see full Daytona road test here]? More fun to drive? I would think so, but anyway I can't fit in a Dino (I tried), it was too slow and it is not a real convertible, even if it does have a removable targa top.


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