The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game

There is a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. While that makes for a great saying, it might be a weak defence in a court of law. Inventors have long filed patents on designs, creations and all manner of things in order to protect them from prying eyes. Not that this has always been successful. Even such an everyday device such as your phone was the subject of misdemeanours.

It has long been taught that the invention of the telephone belongs to Alexander Graham Bell. A little less well documented is that the patents office in February 1876 received a filing from both Bell and Elisha Gray.

It was subsequently later discovered that Bell had bribed the patent office to discover what Gray’s invention really looked like. Because of this deception, there are those that will contend who really invented it.

The reason for this is that nowadays, it is far easier to wait and see who comes out with something new and then a copy won’t be far behind. The iPhone was a gigantic leap forward yet now, new releases don’t so much move on communication rather deliver more gadget capability and storage.

Since then, a complete smartphone revolution has taken place around the world but no-one has really done anything new since.

Cars are now similar too. It wasn’t that long ago that Mercedes E-class delivered middle management types rain detecting wipers. Or wiper, as it was then. The trickle down and across of gadgets, whether you want them or not, permeates the automotive world.

The inventors of these things go unknown by the masses. An idea, developed, produced and then diluted into something that comes as standard.

I recently saw Audi run some content on their twitter feed regarding Quattro, their four wheel drive system. As with a lot of internet things, it was mere nanoseconds before Walter Rohl onboard footage was posted showing him expertly rallying around in an Audi. His dancing across the pedals is still a thing of beauty and wonder.

Others waded in about the history of four wheel drive cars that aren’t SUV’s and the Jensen FF honed into view.

While it wasn’t the first car with a four-wheeled drive system (that honour goes to the Spyker 60HP of 1903), there was an interesting story of imitation regarding the Jensen.

The Jensen FF was so-called for its Ferguson Formula system. The Ferguson in question is Harry Ferguson who was referred to as the father of the modern farm tractor. The name today is normally more associated in Massey Ferguson for agricultural vehicles.

What you see here though is quite a rare and special Jensen FF.

At the 1965 motor show, chassis number 119/008, Vignale assembly number 7, was ordered by Porsche. They ordered it for ‘evaluation’. As June 1967 ended, the car was ready. Walter Bemsel, one of Porsche’s leading engineers, flew over to England from Germany to collect the car and drive it back to Germany. A month later, the managing director of Jensen, Carl Duerr and his technical service manager, John Walker, flew to Stuttgart to meet with Dr. Ferry Porsche. They would also meet his chief engineer and test driver, Manfred Bantle.

Bantle spent most of 1967 and 1968 test driving the Jensen FF around the Porsche test track. What better way to understand, sorry evaluate, how it worked? This evaluation ended in late 1968 and the car was sold internally. The buyer? Porsche System Engineering in Switzerland.

PSE marketed patents, paid race drivers and dealt with other various financial transactions. Later that same year, the car returned to Britain with a new registration number of PMW 888H.

But the evaluation had taught Bantle a lot about the revolutionary characteristics of the Jensen FF system.This led to Porsche’s groundbreaking design of their Porsche Type 953 released in 1984. The FF had a front and rear bias of 60% rear and 40% front drive. The Porsche 953 was also in line with that with 63% and 37%, although drivers had the addition of manually changing this from the cockpit.

The Jensen FF wasn’t a financial success. This was put down to the location of that revolutionary system which encroached into the passenger footwell of right hand drive cars and meant that lucrative, left hand drive American market would go untouched.

It isn’t a new thing that one car company will ‘evaluate’ anothers product, but another reason why this FF is so special, is that it has never been restored.

What you see here is a little bit special. 

It hasn’t run since 1990 due to a seized engine but that story and that hard driven patina and almost untouched interior, as well as the Porsche that it led to the birth of makes this quite a cool car.

Flattery is one thing but for me, recognition of this car and its history deserves to be highlighted.

If you wish to know more about the car, it is available via Cropredy Bridge Cars Limited –