History of the 1954 - 1959 Jensen 541
The 541 looked completely different to previous Jensens – an exceptionally sleek coupe with a GRP body. Power was from an Austin-sourced 4-Litre I-6 OHV engine and the independent front coil springs and live rear axle with semi-elliptic springs, sourced from the Austin A70 Hereford.
Jensen showcased an aluminium-bodied 541 at the 1953 London Motor Show, but when production commenced, the body was made from fibreglass. Its lightweight construction – even the rear screen and rear side windows were made from Perspex – and a Cd of only 0.39 combined with the Austin DS5 engine gave a top speed of 115mph, and the price was £2.146 13s 4d when the first deliveries finally reached customers in 1955. Extras included a heater, overdrive, windscreen washers, a tachometer and wire wheels.
October 1956 saw the debut of the 541 De Luxe, which cost £2,572 7s and was equipped with virtually all list extras plus disc brakes fore and aft - a first on a British car. A year later Jensen introduced the 541R which had a top hinged boot lid and rack-and-pinion steering in place of the earlier cam-and-roller system and a Moss gearbox. The first 53 541Rs were powered by the Austin DS7 engine, but the later versions reverted to the DS5 unit. The price was now £2,706 19s 2d, and the top speed increased to 127mph.
The autumn of 1960 saw the debut of the 541S which lost the earlier cars' distinctive radiator shutter and was four inches wider than the 541R with the roofline raised by 1 ½ inches. A limited-slip differential and front seat belts (another first) were now standard, along with a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, a Motorola radio, and automatic transmission; a few cars were fitted with the Moss gearbox. The extra weight meant that the top speed fell to 108mph, and the price was £3,096 10s 10d. The CV8 superseded the 541S in 1963.
Jensen only ever built the 541 as a coupe, but E D Abbott of Farnham offered an exceptionally attractive drophead version.
An Austin DS5, 3,993cc engine with triple SU carburettors, powered the Jensen 541 while the DS7 engine of the early 541Rs had twin SU HD6s and a much-improved cylinder head. Early models had an Austin 4-speed transmission and later examples a Moss box with synchromesh on the top three gears. Laycock de Normanville overdrive was a commonly specified option, and most examples of the 541S had 4-speed Hydramatic transmission.
The Jensen 541 was designed to provide relaxed high speed and comfort for two (the back seat is not well suited to tall occupants). The earlier models were more overtly sporting than the 541S and some connoisseurs think that the 541R is the finest of the breed, but each member of the range has an individual appeal.
One very common problem in Jensen 541s is corrosion of the steel chassis - pay particular attention to the cylindrical side members – and the crazing of the fibreglass panels. Some parts, such as the steering rack for the 541S or replacement for cracked cylinder heads, can be particularly hard to source.
Jensen stated quite bluntly that the 541 was ‘the sort of car that company directors buy’ but its appeal extends to anyone who appreciates a true grand tourer. And many think it one of the most handsome cars of the 1950s.
The 541 competed against the AC Greyhound; the Aston Martin DB2/4, DB Mk III and DB4; the Bristol 403, 404 and 406; and the Jaguar XK140 and XK150 coupes.