Kjell Qvale

Kjell Qvale (July 7, 1919 – November 2, 2013[1]) was a Norwegian-American business executive. Qvale was one of the key figures in the creation of the Jensen-Healey. Qvale became the first distributor for Jaguar on the Pacific West Coast. Qvale was one of the founders of the San Francisco Auto Show[2] and the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.[1] He was credited with the concept of the Corkscrew signature corner of Laguna Seca.[3]

Kjell Qvale
Born(1919-07-17)July 17, 1919
Trondheim, Norway
DiedNovember 2, 2013(2013-11-02) (aged 94)
OccupationEntrepreneur, thoroughbred race horse breeder
ChildrenJeff, Bruce

Early lifeEdit

Kjell Qvale was born in Trondhjem, Norway, and was the son of a Norwegian sea captain. He moved to the United States in 1929.[2] Qvale attended the University of Washington and was a U.S. Navy pilot during World War II.[4]

Car importing, dealing and manufacturingEdit

On a trip to New Orleans, Qvale saw an MG TC, an English sports car made by Morris Garages. He decided to import MG cars into the United States, believing that since he found the car so appealing other people would too. He established a business near San Francisco and diversified by adding other car brands including Austin, Morris, Jaguar, and Rolls Royce. The business traded under the name 'British Motor Car Distributors'. Later Qvale further diversified his business interests by importing non-British brands including Volkswagen (exclusive distributor of the first Volkswagens in the Western United States [5]), Porsche, De Tomaso, Maserati and Lamborghini. For a brief period Qvale moved into car manufacturing by acquiring a significant stake in Jensen Motors.[6][7]

Jensen and the Jensen-HealeyEdit

By 1970, Qvale's organization was selling more than 160,000[2] cars in the United States. The Austin-Healey, produced by the British Motor Corporation (BMC), was popular with American buyers. BMC's announcement that it would end production of Austin-Healeys created a problem for Qvale, who stood to lose sales. It was also unwelcome news for Austin-Healey's designer Donald Healey – who received a royalty on each Austin-Healey sold[2] – and for English car manufacturer, Jensen Motors, who built the Austin-Healeys for BMC. This prompted discussions between these three parties which ultimately led to a plan for the design and production of a vehicle to fill the gap the Austin-Healey would leave. In 1970 Kjell Qvale became the majority shareholder in Jensen Motors. The first production version of the Jensen-Healey was completed in 1972.[8]

Movie financing and Nico MinardosEdit

In 1974 Nico Minardos approached Qvale for a product placement deal to use a Jensen Interceptor in Assault on Agathon, a motion picture Minardos was producing and starring in along with Marianne Faithfull. By Qvale's own account, "Minardos must be a better salesman than I am, because he ended up convincing me to finance the entire movie."[9] The movie—a sort of knockoff James Bond thriller—was made, with prominent use of the Jensen car, and was distributed by MGM, but it failed dismally at the box office and Qvale wrote off his investment.[10] As Qvale recounted to Minardos's godson, Owen Prell, in the 2010 documentary film, Finding Nico, "I have no regrets. It was a fun experience being a Hollywood producer."[10]

Qvale Automotive GroupEdit

Kjell Qvale's son, Bruce Qvale, founded automobile manufacturer Qvale. Qvale was an independent Italian car manufacturer founded in 2000. Qvale's sole product was the Qvale Mangusta, originally the De Tomaso Biguà. In 2003, Qvale sold the rights to the Mangusta to MG Rover Group.

Horse racingEdit

Qvale spent a lifetime owning and racing thoroughbred racehorses. He was president of the Pacific Racing Association at Golden Gate Fields and also served as chairman of the board of Bay Meadows Racetrack. He headed the board of directors at Golden Gate Fields for 25 years (where his horses still run) and his breeding farm in the Napa Valley was the last home of the legendary Silky Sullivan. In the 1980s he campaigned his homebred Variety Road, only missing a campaign in the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing because of the horse's ill health. Variety Road's biggest win came in the 1987 Grade I San Fernando Stakes, when he nipped Broad Brush at the wire with Snow Chief and Ferdinand right behind them.[11]


Kjell Qvale died at the age of 94, still racing his horses. Until the day of his death he maintained an active racing stable in Napa, California. His last win came on October 20, 2013 at Santa Anita Park.[12]


  1. ^ a b Kjell Qvale passes at 94 Archived 2013-11-06 at the Wayback Machine - Racer, 4 November 2013
  2. ^ a b c d Browning, Peter; Blunsden, John (1974). The Jensen Healey Stories. Croydon, Surrey, UK: Motor Racing Publications Ltd. ISBN 0-900549-21-1.
  3. ^ Kjell Qvale - SCCA Hall of Fame Archived 2013-11-05 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Kjell Qvale, 1919-2013". Autoweek: 11. November 25, 2013.
  5. ^ I Never Look Back, My Story, Qvale's autobiography
  6. ^ "Kjell Qvale: An Automotive pioneer, Part I". carlist.com. 1947-01-01. Archived from the original on 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2011-01-06.
  7. ^ "Kjell Qvale: An Automotive pioneer, Part II". carlist.com. Archived from the original on 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2011-01-06.
  8. ^ "1972-1976 Jensen-Healey and Jensen GT - Auto How Stuff Works". Retrieved 2008-08-06.
  9. ^ "Finding Nico (2010) - IMDb".
  10. ^ a b "Watch Finding Nico Online | Vimeo on Demand". 19 January 2017.
  11. ^ Variety Road
  12. ^ Bloodhorse obituary

External linksEdit