Even at lower speeds, the steering is more decisive on turn-in, lighter and more granular in feel.
This classic Jensen 541R’s Moss ’box moves the gearlever to the centre of the transmission tunnel
Where the earlier 541’s drum brakes required a concerted pedal effort to shed speed, the Dunlop discs on this car offer significantly greater reassurance, both in effort and feel.
The performance of the De Luxe feels more sprightly than that of the earlier 541, too.
In theory, David Hillman’s 541R, a model also added to the range in 1957, should represent a sea-change.
Aesthetically it does, the most obvious clues being a redesigned rear with neater light clusters and a top- rather than bottom-hinged bootlid.
The Jensen 541R can be coaxed into gentle oversteer that’s easy to control
In addition, the 541R received longer chrome side strips, bolder rear wheelarch strakes and overriders.
Beneath the glassfibre was a switch to rack-and-pinion steering, but, curiously, a retrograde move from telescopic to lever-arm dampers, sourced from the Austin Atlantic.
The R’s drivetrain had a Moss gearbox, with its lever sprouting from dead-centre along the tunnel, and was powered by Austin’s DS7 engine, a more potent, better-breathing version of the DS5, making 150bhp.
The arrival of the Jensen 541S signalled another restyle
Despite eye-catching performance figures – The Autocar achieved a 127.5mph maximum, up 13mph on the DL The Motor tested two years earlier – production reverted to the original unit after only 53 cars, due to questionable reliability.
David has sought to redress the balance in his later car, with a DS5 engine in semi-race tune generating 180bhp.
From the off, the engine note is more vocal, a deep-throated snarl accompanied by extra induction noise.
The unit is freer-revving… but 40% more powerful? It doesn’t feel it, yet is an enthralling drive all the same, in part because the higher output excites the 541’s body-on-chassis set-up far more, and you’re left feeling that it’s perhaps a step too far – especially riding on archaic lever-arm dampers.
The Jensen’s entire front end lifts up, not just the bonnet, making the Austin ‘six’ very easy to access
The saving grace is the extra precision of the R’s steering rack and, though it’s a minor point, use of a leather- rather than wood-rimmed wheel, which feels more tactile and is easier to grip.
This car also has the strongest brakes by some margin, even if they do feel slightly over-servoed.
By the time Derek Simonds’ 541S reached the market in 1960, Jensen was already looking seriously at Chrysler’s V8 as a way of delivering higher outputs out of the box, with no impact on complexity or durability (it had fitted the unit to one of the last 541 De Luxes to analyse its performance and drivability).
This shapely Jensen 541S was the third example built