1935 Jensen White Lady

1935 Jensen White Lady

The Jensen brothers of the West Midlands became famous for their GT cars, butthe story began with the 1935 White Lady – newly restored to its former glory.

Words James Elliott

Photography Paul Harmer


Very first car from West Brom, now restored

West Bromwich 1

This is the first ever Jensen. It is not the first car bodied by Jensen, nor is it the first car to wear a Jensen badge of any sort, but the 1935 White Lady is still the first true Jensen. And it is unique – truly the link-bridge between first coachbuilding, then collaborative car-building, and then the West Bromwich company’s inception as a manufacturer in its own right (though, ironically, with production cars less distinct from those collaborative efforts than this one-off).

1935 Jensen White Lady

‘With film-star looks and blazing white paint, the White Lady does have a touch of Hollywood about it’

By the time The White Lady was created it had already been quite an adventure for the Jensen brothers, Moseleyborn Richard and Alan. As car-obsessed teens, their 1926 sporting rebody of an Austin Seven Chummy led Alan into being drafted into the New Avon Body Co, the coachbuilding wing of Standard that grew out of Avon Coachworks. The brothers then moved together to Joe Patrick’s famous Edgbaston Garage – which would later become better known as Patrick Motors – where they headed up a new coachbuilding department rebodying Wolseleys and the like. The arrangement was shortlived, however, the brothers reportedly disgruntled that they were not sufficiently credited publicly for their work and Patrick reputedly simultaneously furious at the attention the Jensen brothers were getting rather than him. People, hey?

1935 Jensen White Lady

Their next stop was Carters Green commercial bodybuilder WJ Smith, where they continued to rebody a plethora of British cars from Austin to MG as directors of their own company within a company. When owner William Smith died in 1934, the brothers, still aged just 28 and 25, raised the funds to take over the business, which they then supercharged, the Jensen name coming more to the fore with every step. They renamed WJ Smith as Jensen Motors in 1934, and Jensen Wolseley Hornets also became a thing.

‘Its history up until 1957 amounts to four photos and an invoice from when it was sold to a Canadian’

Although the company continued to body and build commercials – ‘their’ first lorry, the 4.7-litre Perkins-powered lightweight, arrived in 1939, and JNSN trucks with their distinctive grilles became a familiar sight on Britain’s roads – the bias of the company inevitably shifted towards cars.

The big break came in 1934 with ‘the Clark Gable car’, a specially commissioned Ford V8 sleekly rebodied by Jensen Motors, which garnered sufficient attention to prompt a small run of Jensen-Fords from 1934 to 1936. I use the parentheses because, although Gable ordered one through Percy Morgan (according to the US West Coast dealer) and although Gable oozed easy charm and looked every bit the owner as he posed for publicity shots with one of Morgan’s two cars, it’s doubtful whether Gable ever drove it or his ownership lasted longer than a Hollywood mayfly marriage.

1935 Jensen White Lady

Even so, the publicity generated enough interest to garner Ford’s rare collaboration, for up to 20 cars to be manufactured and to spur on the brothers to build their own car: the White Lady. Such an enigmatic name is befitting of a car of which so much yet so little is known. What is for certain is that the White Lady, although still flathead-powered, was the first built on a Jensen-designed chassis – a Rubery Owenbuilt centre cruciform with a steel platform welded to it to form the floor – and to proudly wear the Jensen badge on its distinctive new V-grille.

It was registered EA 7000 in mid-1935, and the best and most in-depth summary of its history was recently recounted in David Davies’ excellent book Jensen: The Surviving 31/2 and 41/4 litre Cars. As Davies relates, this Jensen confounded historians from its first appearance. The fact that EA 7000 was pictured at Lincoln’s London depot with Edsel Ford and the Jensen brothers early in 1936 suggests that it was still owned by the factory at that point. What is less certain is who owned it when it was photographed at Dale Cross Grange for the 1936 brochure for Jensen’s 31/2 litre cars.

1935 Jensen White Lady

Equally misleading was the fact that this Jensen was very different from those production cars it was being used to promote. For a start, the 31/2s (aka S types) were built on modified Ford chassis rather than the Jensen brothers’ own, while the White Lady also boasted Chevrolet Dubonnet independent front suspension and had a rear axle above the chassis rather than underslung.

Its early history up to 1957 is scant to say the least, amounting to just four photos and an invoice from when it was sold to Canadian John Huva by Bristol’s Cotham Hill Motors in June 1957. Thanks to the forensic research of Davies and late Jensen historian Richard Calver, we can be fairly certain that the first owner was amateur racer Ron Horton in Barnt Green. He owned Dale Cross Grange when that 31/2 brochure shot was taken, apparently knew the Jensen brothers well, and they had previously bodied at least two of his competitive MG racers.

1935 Jensen White Lady - engine

What’s more, Horton’s later house move to Shropshire coincides perfectly with when the car next cropped up for sale, at Rodney Clarke’s Continental Cars in early 1945. The Cobham garage run by the future Connaught linchpin was advertising it for £275. What evidence there is suggests that it was bought by John Goldschmidt (later Goldsmith) of Performance Cars, which famously operated out of the Windmill Garage in West London, and that he kept the White Lady until 1957.

That it was marketed in 1957 by Edward King of Cotham Hill Motors in Bristol is beyond doubt, because it was King who sold it to then-neighbour Canadian John Huva, who toured the UK in the White Lady before shipping it to North America when he returned home. The block cracked during the voyage so the engine was replaced with a 1948 Ford V8 and Huva enjoyed it for a decade before laying it up in 1968.

There it rested, its aluminium coachwork part-stripped (from eight different colours of paint!) for a light restoration, until Rob Staruch emancipated it in 2016 and later sold it on, running but in need of total restoration, to German Jensen collector Jörg Hüsken.

1935 Jensen White Lady - dashboard

The Dresden-based industrialist has a long history with British cars, and Jensens in particular: ‘While touring the UK in 1988 I swapped a Mercedes 2.0-litre diesel for an MGB at a petrol station and drove it home. We had lots of other MGs after that and I built a very fast BGT V8 myself.

‘It was when one of my MGs was being mended at an English garage that I spotted a Jensen C-V8 in the back and really liked the British appointment mixed with American V8. I got one in 2004, drove it for three years, then spent six more restoring it!’

A 1973 Interceptor and a first-gen Interceptor followed – one of two left-hookers from 88 cars and the only one with a 331 hemi – then the last 541R, a V8-engined 541, an FF and a PW. As his collection grew – he now has seven Jensens and a Jaguar Mk10 – so did Jörg’s involvement in the Jensen Owners’ Club: ‘I became the early cars’ registrar and joined the committee. It’s not much work compared with being Interceptor registrar or something – there are only 12-14 surviving pre-war cars, 20-25 or so early Interceptors and then the PWs, mine and one other in a museum. It’s easy.’

1935 Jensen White Lady - interior

But it was that role that piqued his interest in the White Lady: ‘I heard about the White Lady when it was removed from storage in Canada. Then pictures started appearing on the club forum. Two years later I received notification that it was for sale and bought it unseen over the phone 30 minutes later. The reason was simple – it’s the White Lady.’

Having got his hands on the first Jensen, Jörg immediately contacted one of Germany’s most in-demand restorers, Zinke. Such was the appeal of the car that it skipped a five-year waiting list. ‘I wasn’t sure they would take on a British car with an ash frame and aluminium panels, but when they came to inspect it the founder got very excited and it jumped the waiting list. I bought the White Lady because it was Number One, but his reaction opened my eyes to it also being a beautiful car and something very special.’

After a fleeting, unrestored appearance at the NEC, the White Lady went to Zinke, lifted her skirts and revealed her secrets. The frame was a mixture of ash and oak and the entire structure had to be replaced, while the interior also needed a total retrim and the body required similar attention.

Naturally the mechanicals were rebuilt, including the 1948- 52 spec (rather than original 1932) Flathead. All pre-war Jensens came with light alloy heads even though Ford moved to steel after only a couple of years in the US. Luckily, Canada stuck with aluminium, which is why they remain obtainable. Originally fed by a single carb, the 3622cc (221ci) unit arrived with a Holley (rather than the twin SUs of the 3½/S type), but that has now been replaced with a pair of Strombergs. Bored out to 3.8 litres and with a higher compression ratio, today the engine gives a healthy 120bhp on the test bench.

Other modifications include an electric fan and hydraulic brakes, while it is now fitted with a Columbia two-speed rear axle for touring, in essence using planetary gears to create an overdrive offering six forward speeds, as the Jensen S types had. The mechanism to change the axle ratio proved impossible to obtain so it is now operated by a discreet US-sourced vacuum pump. Other than that, everything is exactly how it went to Zinke, apart from a Smiths temperature gauge.

After six years, the car was finished literally with just enough time to drive it onto a trailer and take it to the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace in September last year. It was immediately after that event that Octane caught up with Jörg and the White Lady to give it its first proper post-restoration drive.

There is no question that it is a stunningly attractive dual-cowl four-seat tourer on which classy touches such as the curved door-tops abound, but none overshadows Alan Jensen’s confident and imposing V-shaped grille, with dynamic sharp-edged winged badge above it. The boot-mounted spare and stylish cover similarly scream opulence and high-end, while the medium tan interior is beautifully finished and comfortable. While it is easy to be seduced by the quality of the restoration, contemporary reviews confirm that Jensen interiors were of the highest quality in period, too.

Fire it up and there is a familiar flathead rumble, chugging away before picking up smartly as a response to more heavy-footed inputs. These aren’t always easy if you’ve got small feet, thanks to the roller throttle pedal, but it offers a lovely feelsome action even if you have to consciously get your foot well above the throttle and exert downward action or it will slip away from the sole of your shoe. Balancing that, clutch and brake on a hill can be a challenge.

Talking of the clutch, it feels pretty modern though the pedal is well offset to the left, but the new hydraulic brakes – it was originally cable-operated Chevy front drums and rod-operated Ford rears on commensurate hubs with 17in front wheels and 16in rears – take up extremely low.

They do take up, but don’t inspire confidence, though Jörg later reported that after 300 miles they were nicely bedded. The three-speed Ford gearbox is quite simple, first up and away, the second-third plane like a dog-leg towards you, with reverse below first. We set off in the higher range – usually engaged at 40-50mph – which offers phenomenal torque. With two ranges and six ratios, the White Lady’s potential is beyond the scope of these narrow lanes, but in the lower range the Jensen is really rather zippy.

The suspension also feels pretty modern and is very pliant on the road, handling really nicely via an independent front end, semi-elliptic leaf springs front and rear, Luvax stand-alone front shocks and Ford rear. The star turn, though, is the steering, which is light and wieldy, though the wheel is on the large side and you sometimes need to grasp it from the inside and wrench it round. Overall, for the period, it would have been an impressive driver’s car with all the performance yet none of the vastness of contemporary upmarket American V8-engined cars.

Combined with those film-star looks, blazing white paint and blinding chromework, the White Lady really does have a touch of Hollywood about it. It is difficult to imagine a better springboard to motor manufacture. We are as impressed with the car as Jörg is with Octane’s timing: ‘I am glad you have driven it now because it is concours and it won’t stay that way. I want to do the North Coast 500 and the South of France in it.’ Good man.

So, the Grand Designs moment. You know, when Kevin McCloud, well aware that the embattled home owners are already down, having been put through the wringer, forces them to confront the maths. When put in the same position Jörg Hüsken shrugs his shoulders, sighs and smiles. He knows he has already invested many times the White Lady’s monetary value in his car, but he doesn’t care: ‘Like many cars that haven’t been used for decades, a lot of its story has been lost, but it does not matter to me who has sat in it before me, simply that it was the first.’

Jörg has been pushed to the limit both mentally and financially in pursuing his dream to return the White Lady to her 1935 state. Common sense and practicality have been entirely jettisoned in favour of doing the right thing, but there is no question that what he has achieved is certainly not a folly, but a very grand design indeed. Yet the $64,000 question, as always, is: would you take on such a project again? ‘No.’ Pause. ‘Actually, there is one more Jensen that I really need to own…’

THANKS TO Coworth Park hotel, dorchestercollection.com/en/ascot/coworth-park.

From top Three-speeder almost looks like an auto, but second range offers flexibility; sharp-edged period Jensen badge on spare wheel cover; White Lady uniquely had Chevrolet Dubonnet independent front suspension

From top After being freed from storage in Canada it was up and running, but not a lot more; water temp gauge was even more wrong pre-resto; the ally bodwork wasn’t too bad, having been stripped by John Huva; all-new ash frame replaced previous pick-and-mix effort.

Clockwise, from left Jensen is a sharp performer, but would be just as happy burbling confidently down Wilshire; typically mid-30s chrome aplenty; 3½/S type brochure shot at Dale Cross Grange in Barnt Green is a likely clue to the first owner.

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