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Martin Robey Visit

By Richard Calver

The lure of the Jensen had me once more in England and while I was there I made a point of visiting both the "ancestral" homes of Jensen in West Bromwich (Carters Green and Kelvin Way) and the new "home of the Jensen" at Martin Robey's factory in Nuneaton, just north of Coventry. Afficionados will know of the excellent work Robey has been doing in remanufacturing body panels for Healeys and Interceptors and sourcing many other items which have long been out of stock. Today you can buy just about anything for these cars in the way of metalwork, and what you can't buy Robey is progressively remanufacturing and putting back into stock.

When I spoke to him in his office above the shop floor, with the banging of hammers and clanging of machines plainly in evidence below, he told me that virtually every week a new part comes back onto the shelves. The remanufacturing which makes this possible is an involved process which sees the original drawings pulled out, the original press tools (if they survive) retrieved and refurbished, or new tools made up if this is the only way of moving forward. The Jensen-Healey floor pan section, for example, a major restoration item which had long been unavailable until Robey started making it again, is now an off-the-shelf replacement part. In fact, Healey owners can take advantage of a special deal which Robey is running at the moment where a package comprising the floor pan section, two seat runners, inner sill and chassis rail for either side of the car is available for less than 200 Pounds. So figure on getting change out of 400 to replace all of the metalwork down below if yours is really bad. The rust-prone Healey rear wheel arch tubs are the latest addition to stock and can be had for about 85 a side. Of course, a very good range of Interceptor metal work is also available. A complete Interceptor nose section, for example, will set you back about 480 and you can buy wings, bonnets and doors and bootlids as well.

Now Andrew Edwards's long-time spare parts facility at Cropredy Bridge Garage near Banbury has become the first "Official Martin Robey Dealer". Recognizing the expertise of existing Jensen businesses throughout the world, and accepting that they have their own established clientele, Robey is in the process of appointing Official Dealers who will have contractual obligations with him to ensure a professional spares service to Jensen owners. Robey will back these dealers with the support that only the "factory" can give by supplying them with the best panels and spares which can be obtained. This will give Robey greater confidence in reintroducing formerly unavailable items. He will know that his substantial investment in the tooling will be safeguarded by dealers who are working with him, not against him, and owners can have confidence that they are buying only genuine parts for their car. Robey has had some unpleasant experiences on the Jaguar side of the business, with agents advertising what they claim to be Martin Robey products which have been found later to be of inferior quality and not of Robey manufacture. Martin is determined that this should not happen with Jensen spares and he will be in a position to make sure of this through the Official Dealers.

Parts sourcing is an ongoing business at Robeys and this is looked after capably by Bruce Collard who in 1996 celebrated 20 years in Jensen-related employment. Recently he re-sourced all of the suspension bushes for the Healey and Interceptor and these are now offered at prices which are even lower than when they were last in stock. Working with Bruce in the parts department is, of course, the ever helpful Bettina Evans who first went to work for Jensen Motors in 1973 when the place was run by Kjell Qvale. What she doesn't know about Jensen spares probably isn't worth knowing.

To assist his regular customers, and in particular members of the various Jensen car clubs around the world, Robey plans to introduce an Owners Privilege Card which will guarantee the holder a discount on the majority of items stocked. Reflecting changing times, he also intends setting up an internet web site to keep Jensen enthusiasts informed of developments. Another innovation will be the preparation on floppy disk of the full parts price list, with a menu for finding the bits you want and placing the order by fax direct from your computer. There will be a small fee for the disk, which will be updated from time to time, but this means you will always have at your fingertips a complete guide to the available body panels and other spares.

Work on the Healey body shell project is coming along steadily. Unfortunately, some parts of the forming tools for the front wings could not be located so Robeys are now in the pattern-making stage for producing replacements. Once that is ironed out, he will be a step closer to stocking shells as a regular spares item. Robey has also completed a full rebuild of a GT body shell which has given further insights into the parts which will be needed and also the commonality of parts between the Healey and GT. At the moment, they are preparing what's called a "bill of materials" for the Healey shell. This involves identifying every single component required, determining whether those components are in stock and checking whether the tools needed to make more of them are still available and in what state of repair. Then action must be taken to make sure all deficiencies are rectified. Once that's done, a complete assembly jig will be built and production of LHD and RHD shells can commence.

Aside from manufacturing panels, work on the Interceptors is coming on nicely too. Robeys are handling servicing, major and minor repairs, component and system overhauls, full engine rebuilds, insurance repairs and also major body restorations and painting. As an indicator of the worth of this work to the company, Robey's son is now working on the floor in the Jensen bodywork department. The very first full restoration which Robeys began two years ago on 136/8826 has been finished and there has been much praise for the quality of the metalwork and paint on this grey Interceptor III. Since then, other jobs have followed. On the floor at the time I visited was the skeleton of a rare LHD SP, chassis number 5556, in for the full treatment. The victim of bad front and rear damage at some point in its life, this car measured a couple of inches shorter than it should have done and as a result the bodywork at both ends had been cut off, the frame placed on the chassis jig and all the apertures, suspension mounting points and distances brought back to standard. If past practice is any guide, this will be a beautiful job when it is finished, many months from now.

Although he's careful not to overload the programme, Robey has other projects in mind. Once the Healey body shell project is ready to roll, work will start on manufacturing the Interceptor Convertible body shell as a spare part.

"It'd be difficult to put a time scale on it but I can't see any reason why, in the next year or so, we can't be well underway with that project," Robey told me. "We've got the jig, we've got the equipment, we've got the press tools, we've got the expertise and I think it's just going to be a natural follow-on to what we're doing now."

For almost 20 years, Robey has been manufacturing Jaguar E-type body shells, both in completely paneled form and as a bulkhead and tub devoid of outer panels. The experienced amateur or professional body shop can then decide the most cost-effective way of proceeding.

"They don't need a body jig, as long as they go carefully," Robey says. "They can put this part on one night, that part on the next night, screw it all together and in the end it will be a far more enjoyable way to do it."

For Jensen owners, the availability of Convertible body shells will make it feasible for derelict saloons to be rebuilt as Convertibles, or if the owners don't mind waiting a while they'll be able to plump for a saloon body in the interests of originality.

"Repairing an Interceptor, with its age and its corrosion problems, is not the most pleasing task," says Robey. "So we will certainly be working on major sub-assemblies and later offering complete new body shells for the professional shop and for enthusiasts. If they order a new body shell from us, whether it be a Convertible or a saloon, they can carry on with restoring the mechanics of the vehicle while the shell is being built. The shell can come back painted and they can start offering in their major units. There's an awful lot of people who just do not want to get involved with body shells. Up to now, they have had no choice. We aim to put that right in the very near future."

Another intriguing thought for the future is the possibility of Robey building brand new cars, just as Ian Orford started doing in the early 1980s and as Hugh Wainwright continued to do after he took over at Jensens towards the end of 1988. Robey admits that it's probably too soon to be talking about this, but if he's going to have newly manufactured body shells sitting on the floor and a warehouse full of spares sitting nearby, then why not give it a try, just to see what can be done?

"We could start tomorrow, if we wanted to," he says, "but the question is do we build a new car as it was or do we build a new car with some updated specifications in it. That is a question that is unanswered at the moment, but I'm still keen. Whether we ever go into limited production I would not like to say, but I would definitely like to build at least one. We've had quite a few people ask us what's going to happen. All these other projects, I believe, are leading in that direction."

What's clear is that Robeys are moving in the right direction. The proof is the stock of previously unavailable parts which are now back on the shelf and the good works which are still in train. If any of you foreign-type Jensen owners are in England, by all means take the time to go see them. Otherwise, look for them on the internet. Either way, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Richard Calver

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