Stickshift Cars Not For The Faint Of Heart: 1975 Jensen-Healey vs 1976 BMW 2002

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Welcome back! So yesterday both of the cars we looked at were automatics. I promised you manuals today, and I’m going to deliver. Neither of the cars in question run, but they are both sticks, and they both are really cool cars.

But first let’s declare the winner of our Japanese box competition:

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The 1984 Honda Accord it is. As some pointed out, this wasn’t really a fair comparison; the Accord was Honda’s nicest car of the day, and the 1989 Sentra was Nissan’s value leader. But the two cars just looked and felt so similar that I thought they made a nice comparison. And personally, I could have gone either way on those. I’d happily drive either.

Today, you can’t drive any of the cars we’re looking at, but ultimately, you’re going to want to. I’ve only had the pleasure of driving a Jensen-Healey at low speeds around town, but even that was wonderful. And a good 2002 is something every small manual car lover should experience at some point; in a lot of ways, it’s all been downhill for BMW since then.

Both of these cars fall into the category of “if you wanted one, you should have bought one twenty-five years ago.” The classifieds, still mostly paper, were a different place then, and these were both just weird old foreign cars nobody was all that interested in. You could have gotten a decent example of either one for a couple grand. But yesterday’s weird old foreign cars are today’s Bring-A-Trailer fodder, with prices to match. Unless, of course, you want one for which you actually have to bring a trailer, like these.

So let’s check them out, and see which one is worthier of your time, effort, and money.

1975 Jensen-Healey – $1,800

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter twin-cam inline 4, 5 speed manual, RWD

Location: Sacramento, CA

Odometer reading: unknown

Runs/drives? Nope

If you don’t travel in British car circles, you can be forgiven for not knowing this car… but you should. It was a joint venture between Donald Healey (of Austin Healey fame) and Jensen Motors (known for their glorious Chrysler V8-powered Interceptor), and is powered by an all-aluminum Lotus 907 engine with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. So what, you say? Every car has that now, right? No other car had that in 1972 when the Jensen-Healey was introduced.

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The renowned powerplant is connected to a five-speed manual that isn’t an overdrive; fifth gear is a 1:1 ratio, like fourth usually is in a 4 speed. This made for nice close ratios to keep the Lotus engine humming in its high, narrow power band. As a U.S. model, the engine is fed by a pair of Zenith-Stromberg carbs in place of the racier Dellortos that the rest of the world got.

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This particular Jensen-Healey needs some help. The ad lists it as “90% complete,” and most of what’s missing seems to be in the interior. And while restoration parts for most British sports cars aren’t hard to find, this is a bit of a special case, and you might have to get creative. I bet Miata or Fiero seats would fit nicely.

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We don’t get a whole lot of information to work from with this ad, so we have to rely on the photos. The body looks OK except for a decent dent in one front fender, and some surface rust on the horizontal surfaces. The floors might have some issues as well.

Mechanically, your guess is as good as mine. But the Lotus 907 engine has a good following, so parts and advice are not hard to come by. Hopefully it at least turns over by hand.

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I do have a sneaking suspicion that this car might be older than a 1975 model, however, because of the bumpers. Jensen-Healeys suffered the same 5 mph bumper indignities as other European cars of the era, and these look too svelte to be the newer bumpers. The dashboard also looks like the earlier, more austere version. I know: incorrect information about an obscure car in a Craigslist ad? I’m as shocked as you are.

1976 BMW 2002 – $2,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter inline 4, 4 speed manual, RWD

Location: San Mateo, CA

Odometer reading: says 100,000, which probably means unknown

Runs/drives? Probably not for decades

Now this car you had better know. This is arguably the granddaddy of all small sports sedans, setting the blueprint for BMW’s “3 series” cars for decades afterwards. Introduced in 1966 as the 1600-2, and drawing from BMW’s larger Neue Klasse sedans, the ’02 cars were, to put it simply, magnificent.

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This 1976 model 2002 was the end of the line, from the final year of production. In 1977, it would be replaced by the E21-chassis 320i, still a great car to drive, but missing that certain undefinable something that the 2002 had — and has by the bucketload — even with gigantic Federally-mandated bumpers and a mere single-carb engine.

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I shudder to think how many generations of spiders have lived under that hood over the years.

This ad is also light on details, saying only that it’s a “good candidate for restoration” and has “some rust.” It looks like the rust is most prevalent around the sunroof and windshield header, which is a weird spot. Depending on how bad it is, you might be able to delete the sunroof and fill it in, or – here’s an interesting notion – go Webasto with it.

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Inside, it’s a mess. There’s more dust in this car than in a Steinbeck novel. It looks like it might clean up OK, but you’ve got your work cut out for you. At least this one is all there, it looks like.

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The seller says this car is a 5 speed manual, but the shift pattern shown on the dash says differently – I only count four. So there are potential errors in both of these listings.

Obviously, neither of these cars is going to be easy to get back on the road, and even harder to turn into something that a driver could really be proud of. But not doing something because it’s too hard is how people end up driving RAV4s and the like. It’s fine for them, I suppose, but we Autopians are cut from a different cloth. We see these two cars and realize the once and potentially future greatness in them. Both are worthy of our attention, but which one would you rather have?

Quiz Maker

What Would The Editor Choose?

If it’s me, the 2002 is the ticket, and that’s mostly because it appears to be more complete. Starting with a complete car is a big deal, even if you have to replace damn near every part, because you know what the part has to look like, where it’s supposed to be, and how it’s supposed to be fastened. That Jensen Healey will likely require you to do some googling to figure out what that interior was supposed to look like, assuming you care at all. If you don’t care, and just want to slap some buckets in there, then there’s definitely an appeal to that drop-top British roadster. It’s different, and I like different. -DT

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58 Responses

  1. This is a fun exercise as my girlfriend and I happen to own both, a 1973 BMW 2002tii and a 1974 Jensen-Healey MKII. Obviously the 2002 (especially the tii) has skyrocketed in value during the last 6-7 years, while the Jensen-Healey is still a relative bargain, but we buy cars to drive them, not as investments, so that will be the only mention of value.

    The 2002 is a well-known entity, and a fantastic car overall, a great canvas for whatever type of classic car you want to build, though I will mention this one is a 1976, and is the only year of 2002 that still requires a smog test in California, which is likely the main reason for the low price (sorry, I mentioned price again!). Those outside of CA can do what they like from a mild or hot M10 engine, M20 swap, S14, Honda K-swap, et al 🙂

    The Jensen-Healey requires one to be a bit more adventurous due to less cars and parts being available, though the aforementioned Delta Motorsports and JHPS have a great selection of parts, as does JAE for Lotus-specific parts. The early Lotus 907 engine does not enjoy a great reputation, and a lot of that is deserved, though many of the notorious problems have been rectified. That said, the early castings are not great quality (I rebuilt the engine of ours, using parts from no less than FOUR different 907 engines), and the valve adjustment procedure and sealing the camshaft housings properly is a bit of a pain; Lotus impoved this later for their own cars). Rover V8 engine swap is a great upgrade from what I have seen, and doesn’t weigh much more. I would not install anything more powerful than that without major chassis modifications, as the bodyshell has all the torsional rigidity of a wet noodle, which is par for the course in a 1970s British roadster.

    But, we took our Jensen-Healey on a banzai cross-country trip in 2019 for a Lemons Rally, 8,000 miles in 15 days, from California to Maine and back, via Toronto, all without a convertible top! Ours has Dellorto 45mm carbs (stock Euro had 40mm), higher compression pistons, and the close-ratio Gertrag 235/5 trans, super fun to drive, but screamed at 4000-4500 for most of the trip! Was only matched by the wind noise.

    The only issues were a few rear brake adjustments needed, and a preventive timing belt change because it started singing and I didn’t trust it (15 minutes in a hotel parking lot, thanks to the later Lotus water neck 🙂

    The 2002tii is also great, has been on many vintage car rallies, including the Targa Baja California in Mexico, mine has fender flares, 15×7 wheels, E21 limited slip diff, suspension dialed in, etc, fantastic and reliable car. It is the car I would keep out of these two cars, though my girlfriend might pick her Jensen-Healey instead. It is a thoroughly more modern car than its contemporary British roadsters (16V engine, rack-and-pinion steering, much better ride and handling than a TR6, and much faster), and the electrical system is not very complicated (furthermore, one can replace a lot of the Lucas crap with modern components).

    But, out of the two cars shown here, I pick the Jensen-Healey. Cool color, doesn’t need smog testing in CA, and a compelling way to spend $1,800! Oh yeah, our J-H has Miata seats, and they work great!

  2. The Jensen is a great candidate for one of those cars you buy all pumped up to restore, then kind of just stare at it for a few years wondering where to start and what the hell to do.
    It would be cathartic enough just to buy that BMW and clean it. Somebody please upload a video of the cleaning if you do it! So, I’m voting BMW.

    Also, word to the wise – When I bought my Spitfire it came with an extra set of seats from a Miata. Miata seats are BIG. You can put them in a Spitfire, but the headrests will almost touch the roof and the seating position will change the experience too much.

    1. “Also, word to the wise – When I bought my Spitfire it came with an extra set of seats from a Miata. Miata seats are BIG.”

      I figured that was the case, thanks for the confirmation. Still, Triumph/MG parts are readily available I would think could be made to work in the Jenson. Absolute worst case would be to add some Sparco racing buckets until you could find something more appropriate.

  3. A quick look at FleaBay suggests that the BMW will, by the time it’s in any condition fit for use, set a new owner back just about as much as buying a decent example. if not more. Pretty sure that applies to the J-H as well, assuming there are any such that are functional and in, say, 20-foot cosmetic condition.

    Had a neighbor who had a J-H that was far cleaner than my Austin-Healey. But looks aren’t everything. He was at it every weekend, trying to coax some reliability out of the engine and electrics. Conversely, the A-H would fire right up and go wherever I wanted, and be fun into the bargain.

    I really, really like 2002s, especially the small-bumper Roundies, which this isn’t. But taking care of the rot, and paying the price for essential spares, just isn’t something I’d take on these days.

    Maybe a second look at yesterday’s Sentra or Accord…. Duller than day-old bathwater, for sure, but they would probably function without too much blood, sweat, tears, and money. That counts for a lot in this price range.

  4. The 2002 looks like honest “I’ll get to that one eventually” storage dust. That’s way better than “left outside” dirt or the partially disassembled status of the Jensen.

    The best someone else’s project to buy is the one they didn’t start.

  5. I like the Jensen-Healey and the Jensen-only stuff too. In addition to the technological development the engine represents, it just looks cool.

    But I feel like the BMW will be easier to bring around, I know the 4 cylinder in it is solid, and if I ever want to get out of it, I’d have a broader audience to sell to.

  6. I would base this on something you can’t get from the ads: How close are these cars to running? You can at least drive it around with the Shitbox look if you can get it running. The lack of seats in the Austin Healey are a wash to me because you can probably find and bolt in a couple of seats in the time it will take to clean the BMW’s seats enough to make them worthy of cradling your butt cheeks.

    Go with the 2002. It looks more structurally intact, and that makes it more likely to be around long enough for you to enjoy the fruit of your labor.

  7. I voted for the Jensen. Cleaned up those look like an upscale MG. Parts may be an issue but if you willing to go non original, then you can have a nice cruiser.

    If it is ever stolen, just follow the trail of oil. 🙂

      1. Don’t believe there’s any Triumph DNA in there, but the suspension is from a Vauxhall Viva and the gearbox is from Getrag. That fuel filler flip style cap looks to be the same as those fitted to late Europa Specials.

    1. As someone who drives a RAV-4 (and that smarts, Mark!), I’ll take the Jensen Healey. Never met a BMW I was remotely attracted to, and if I’m shitbox-shoppin’ for a project that doesn’t run yet, it better have the capacity to appeal to me when it does. Even though I expect I’d never be done fixing and tuning and fiddling with the J-H, and the 2002 I’d maybe have to deep-clean and fix once, it’s still no contest for me.

    2. My better half has a RAV4 as a daily. While my Korean-German Chevy invents new and innovative ways of tormenting me, the RAV4 just keeps ticking. And we don’t baby it. It regularly pretends it’s a real truck by towing and soft-roading, sometimes both at once. It’s surprisingly capable, if determined to be unobtrusive to a fault.

  8. Those shitting on the J-H have never driven one with spirit. It handled like it was on rails, was decently fast when tuned right, and simple to work on. I dallied a 73 for 3 years, even had snow tires and a ski rack on the hardtop for weekend trips in winter. An absolute delight to flog down interesting roads – when it was running. Unfortunately Prince Lucas blessed each one on the assembly line, maybe multiple times. And other princes must have been involved with various systems because the car was always presenting new mysteries to solve. I’d take one again, but only as a long term project, so the J-H gets my vote.

  9. That is an early 70s Mk1 4 speed Jensen Healey. The front fenders below the headlamp cowl give it away as the horizontal seam moved lower nearer the front scoop on the Mk2 cars. A 5 speed would likely have rubber bumpers too.
    I’d shop around for a later one from ’73 or ’74 as the bottom end on the Lotus 907 had sone issues on the early JHs.

  10. There’s just too much compromise in the Jensen-Healey:
    It’s not really a Jensen and it’s not really a Healey.
    It’s not really american and it’s not really english.
    You do get of bit of Lotus enginering, but no Lotus lightness or stunning looks.

    So no thanks, I’ll take the BMW and run it without the park bench bumpers.

  11. Jenson bits are easy to get from http://www.deltamotorsports.com/
    I found one for my sister to buy when she went away to college on the theory that she would never be asked to drive all her friends anywhere or get drafted to help anyone move between apartments. Came that close to getting a Lotus Seven but that one got away. Anyway, it was a supremely practical car in a passive aggressive way.
    Super fun to drive and absolutely predictable handling. The rear always steps out when you hit a bump because of the solid rear axle, but always exactly the same way.
    The earlier cars with the chrome on top of the bumpers are a little less refined and usually have 4 speed transmissions,

    They are real bargains, so this won’t be worth restoring to original but slapping a pair of racing seats in there and selling the original engine and transmission and swapping in something that takes advantage of the generously sized engine room would be fun.

    If you are expecting to get your money back eventually the BMW is what you want but what intelligent person expects to get their money back? And it’s not like it’s a round taillight car.

    Jenson all the way

  12. Road & Track did a multi car comparison sports cars vs. sports sedans in be mid seventies. They paired a BMW 2002tii vs. a Jensen Healey.

    If it lets me paste it in link here:. https://www.curbsideclassic.com/vintage-reviews/road-fiat-x1-9-vs-vw-dasher-jensen-healey-vs-bmw-2002tii/

    So this would have to be one of the best matched Shitbox Showdowns ever, true rivals back in the day. Both of these cars appear to be full on Shitbox condition though, needing everything to be remotely useable. The BMW is the more expensive car in good shape these days I think, but neither will be worth anything near what you will need to put into them to be drive able. Slightly edge to the BMW for looking just a little closer to alive than dead.

    1. I, um, knew about that article, and that’s why I did this! Yeah, that’s the ticket.

      Seriously, great find! And I miss the photos with the big bicycle-wheel speedometer attached to the rear bumper. Somebody should start a series where they review modern cars using 1970s-80s technology and graphics.

  13. I have had one of each- the engine will likely be toast on the Jensen and the shock towers and trunk rusted on on the 02 I can’t make up my mind as they are each interesting but I would go for the Jensen for the open air experience while waiting for the tow truck

  14. Wow, thanks for making me feel good about the $1,500 2007 Miata I bought last fall! I have the transmission out for the second time fixing the new leaking rear main seal I replaced “while I was in there” replacing the toasted clutch. Good times!

  15. The 2002 is the left-brain logical choice. Seems to be complete, German engineering before it got all over-complicated, the status of the BMW roundel.

    But there is something about imagining yourself tootling around the countryside in a British roadster. It may be a siren’s song leading one to the eminent doom of the Prince of Darkness electricals and constantly bleeding oil, but that damn song is irresistible.

  16. Jensen Healey all the way. I got pulled over doing 112mph south of Vegas in mine, as well as other spots at a lower speed. Cop was cool and a car guy so no ticket. There is the JHPS, Jensen Healey Preservation Society which does a monthly magazine on repairs and meet ups Greg is the editor and will gladly help you with any issues. Delta Motorsports has just about anything including the interior, if missing they or Greg can help. That hardtop is a real hard to find item almost worth the purchase.

  17. “The seller says this car is a 5 speed manual, but the shift pattern shown on the dash says differntly – I only count four.”
    The seller counted and saw 5 speeds: R, 1, 2, 3, 4

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