Jensen East Nationals will inspire awe, envy, fun

Paul Clark
Black Mountain News
Jensen owners lines their cars for others to see at this previous car owners gathering.

Get ready for a British invasion – the Jensens are coming to town.

The sporty little cars will convened in Black Mountain this weekend for the Jensen East Nationals and a few days of touring (and tooling) around.

“We call it a family,” this year’s event host, Don Pritchard, said. He wasn’t talking just about the owners who gather every year somewhere on the East Coast. He was also talking about the Jensens, so few of which were produced that “they are all related,” Pritchard chuckled.

The way he described it, it’s almost as if the cars themselves want to get together at the East Nationals. The drivers, “we just make sure we get them there,” he said.

Most owners drive their Jensens to the gatherings, much the way they take them out on weekends for pampered family rides. Like devotees of other arcane fetishes, they look forward to seeing each other and reminiscing about old times. Some years, their conclave draws out a local Jensen owner or two.

This year, the Monte Vista Hotel is their headquarters. The parking lot will be filled with colorful Interceptors. There will be 541s and C-V8s, as well as a few lesser known models made by this little-known company. Car owners have secured about 40 rooms at the hotel; all told, more than 90 people have registered to attend, Pritchard said.

The long weekend, which started June 6, includes caravan trips to Little Switzerland and Chimney Rock (if one of the cars breaks down, there will be “20 butts sticking out of the engine compartment, and other advisers gathered around,” Pritchard said). There will be hospitality rooms and cash bars and a big awards banquet.

And there will be lots to learn. “Most people will know a Jensen only if they’ve seen one in a book,” Pritchard said, noting the cars are often depicted in books that sports car enthusiasts have on their coffee tables.

“They’re rare (the cars, not the enthusiasts), but they’re not sought after, so people that own them are quite loyal to them,” he said. And they’re fun to drive. He owns two, one a Jensen-Healy with a Lotus engine, built in the 1970s. It’s fast and agile, unlike the driver of a Jensen-assembled Sunbeam Tiger that the no-so-bright secret agent Maxwell Smart drives in the 1960s comedy TV series “Get Smart.”

Jensen went bankrupt in the 1970s, so the cars people in Black Mountain will see will be four to six decades old (on Saturday, the Jensens will be lined up for public view at Town Square and the neighboring chamber of commerce parking lot). All the cars will be in good shape, good enough to make the drive to the Swannanoa Valley (Pritchard is coming up from Chesney, South Carolina). Polished and lovingly restored, they’ll reflect the fanaticism of owners who bask in the attention of people asking about their cars.

The car show on Saturday is supposed to happen about 9 a.m, but there’s no hurry, Pritchard said.

“When we’re running late, we call it Jensen time,” he said.