Brian Lister died at the end of the 60th Anniversary of Lister Cars, but his sad passing will not impede production of a new generation of Lister Knobbly’s to which he gave his blessing!
by Letitia Mace
I was extremely saddened to hear of the death of Brian Lister, on 16th December 2014, which hit home particularly hard as it had only been 2 weeks since I was at the factory in Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire, speaking to the Lister team and listening to their stories of Brian Lister.
On 2nd December 2014 JEC Chairman, Rob Jenner, was invited by the JEC Cambridgeshire Region to speak at their annual Christmas Dinner, and I went along as his guest. Prior to this, at the Historic Motoring Awards Dinner held at the Renaissance Hotel in London on 20th November 2014, Rob Jenner had been invited along to visit the Lister Car factory by Torque PR Representative, Claire Furnell, and as we were in the area, this presented the perfect opportunity.
The team from Lister Cars invited us out to lunch prior to our visit to the factory premises, so it seemed only appropriate that I should be kitted out in Jaguar Racing Green jeans and a yellow sweater, in acknowledgement of the famous Lister logo !!
Unbeknown to any of us at the time, our visit preceded the death of Brian Lister by only two weeks. Brian, frail at the time, was unable to join us for lunch, but the Lister team spoke of him with great esteem and were delighted to have received his blessing on their new project!
2014 has seen the 60th Anniversary of the founding of Lister Cars, and the establishment of a team of professionals with limitless enthusiasm for the Lister brand, made up of a combination of new blood and original members of Lister Cars coming together to create a new Lister Knobbly, very much in the vein of the newly produced Jaguar Lightweight E-types, and known as the Lister Knobbly Continuation Cars.
Having been treated to lunch, we were then escorted to the original premises, a factory in Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire, where the cars will continue to be built and serviced, just as in the past. In an effort to prevent sub-standard cars from coming on to the market using the Lister name, owners of existing non-factory built Lister’s will be given the opportunity to have their cars sanctioned by Lister, provided they meet certain criteria.
We were given a tour of the cars and the factory and finally presented with a plush hard-backed copy of the 60th Anniversary Lister brochure which gives an insight into the history of the cars and the company aspirations for the future!
A road going Lister in the process of being built- the differences between the racing version of the Lister Knobbly, and this road-legal version can be summarized in 7 pages of A4 and includes modifications or additions, such as, airbags, steering wheel boss, collapsible steering column, dashboard instrumentation, exterior lighting, front air intake, wheel fastenings, tyres and chassis crumple zones.
Still powered by the same tried and tested XK engines that drove the D-type Jaguar s of the 1950’s to success !!
From the beginning (above) to the end of manufacture (below) quality and authenticity are the watchwords !!
A newly finished Lister Knobbly continuation car at the factory in Cambridgeshire
The attention to detail can be seen in this picture of the interior of the same car pictured above
….. which is probably the only Lister Knobbly I will ever get the chance to ‘pretend’ to drive !!
Posed reverently in front of a picture of the legendary Archie Scott-Brown’s racing Lister which adorns the wall of the Lister showroom are, from left to right: ‘Curly’ Graham Hutton (Senior Engineer), Paul Hallam (Technical Director) and Joe Peachy (Engineering Apprentice).
Hanging in the Reception at Lister Cars is the poster above, which, sums up the Lister Knobbly with the words of Walter Hayes, then President of Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd who said “The Lister Jaguar is a National Treasure!” It then goes on to state that Lister made only 50 cars between 1954 and 1959 and they have won or been placed over two thousand times in events worldwide!
To quote Lister themselves:
To celebrate our 60th anniversary you can now order a brand new original specification 1958 Works Lister Jaguar ‘Knobbly’, built to meet current FIA Appendix K race regulations, direct from the Lister Factory in Cambridge for road or race use.
Now, with state of the art facilities which include CNC machining and CAD design, George Lister Engineering are even better placed to deliver a historic race winning car. Brian Lister’s original working drawings and manufacturing jigs have been re-commissioned and some of the old guard have been called up into service, including Martin Murray, Colin ‘Chippy’ Crisp, Graham ‘Curley’ Hutton, Laurence Pearce and even Brian Lister himself. Heading up the manufacturing project is Mark Hallam, Technical Director at George Lister Engineering.
The cars will be built to the specifications as in 1958, out of the box and ready to race with BHL(C) chassis insignia and FIA/HTP accreditation. There are two choices of engine: The race proven, Jaguar D Type 3.8 litre 6 cylinder engine complete with the famous wide-angle cylinder head and dry sump lubrication or the 4,640cc Chevrolet Corvette V8 race specification that was originally built for the US racing market by Costin.
All race preparation and track commissioning will be undertaken by Chris Keith-Lucas of CKL Developments. Last but not least, that fantastic streamlined ‘Knobbly’ body will be re-created using the original jigs.
A series of Lister historic race meetings are planned for 2015, including the Brian Lister Cup that will be run alongside the Stirling Moss Trophy by Motor Racing Legends.
The History of Lister (reproduced from the official Lister website)
The Lister-Jaguar was Britain’s most successful sports racing car of the 1950’s. It won at almost every circuit in Britain and was virtually unbeatable both in the UK, overseas and in the USA and continued to keep the Jaguar name in the forefront of sports car racing long after the Jaguar D Type had become obsolete.
The ‘Cars from Cambridge’ designed, and built by Brian Lister, were simply the best of their kind and dominated the field with Archie Scott Brown driving, and even when driven by Stirling Moss, who also drove a stint for Lister.
Brian Lister’s big break came when he was offered the engines and gearboxes by William Lyons (boss at Jaguar) from the retiring Jaguar D Types which had previously dominated at Le Mans, but which by 1956 were fast becoming outdated. Lyons was correct in believing that Lister would be capable of developing a race winning car, thus keeping the Jaguar name in the forefront of racing and at little cost to Jaguar and so Lister-Jaguar was born.
Brian Lister designed and built a new lightweight and aerodynamic chassis and ‘knobbly’ body to take the Jaguar drive train and the world’s best sports racing car of the 1950’s was born!
For five seasons from 1954 Lister cars were always in the headlines and consistently beat the much larger works teams such as Aston Martin and Jaguar. It caught the public’s imagination, and especially popular was the mercurial and respected Archie Scott Brown, who was fiercely competitive, fun to be with, and adored by everyone, with his film star looks, even though he was severely disabled from birth.
Unfortunately, in 1958 Archie Scott Brown died after suffering severe burns in a racing car accident at Spa. The car was criticized for having magnesium alloy bodywork which was inflammable, although an RAC examination found no faults with the car. Brian Lister persevered for a few years afterwards, but without his friend Archie things were just never quite the same.
It was left to Laurence Pearce in 1995 to take up the charge. Pearce designed a new series of Lister Storm GT race cars and spent the next decade rebuilding the racing heritage. The ‘glory days’ were back with winning drivers such as Tiff Needell.
GEORGE LISTER ENGINEERING LIMITED
George Lister Engineering may have been absent from motorsport for some years but they have certainly not been idle. The company was founded in 1890 by George Lister who started the partnership that eventually became the George Lister Engineering Limited (GLE) we know today. The company moved to its current purpose built 30,000 sq ft facility in 2008 which is conveniently situated on the outskirts of Cambridge.
GLE employ the very latest engineering techniques such as Catia and Solidworks Cad/Cam design together with computerised machine facilities utilising three and four axis CNC machining and Laser cutting.
The GLE machine shop has around 35 highly skilled engineers serving the various departments including:
Heavy and light engineering (milling and turning etc), welding (in steel, copper, brass and aluminium), fabrication (in sheet steel, stainless steel, copper, brass, aluminium and plastics), together with hand craftwork and assembly.
Ever since 1890, GLE have offered a comprehensive service for a wide range of industrial applications which today include:
Pharmaceutical, food packaging, scientific, military, medical, broadcast, semiconductors, electron beam microscope manufacturers, architectural curtain wall systems and forms of engineering metalwork and bespoke iron work. Oh… and of course race car design and manufacturing which includes engine building, blue-printing and balancing.
Modern Engineering and Craftsmanship
Today, George Lister Engineering combines the two main attributes we see in so many of the companies which have lasted the test of time. Traditional skills and craftsmanship combined with expertise with new materials and the very latest and up to date techniques. As you walk around the factory you are more likely to see a worker with a laser in his hand than a hammer.
Lister – Re-Building a Legend
The jigs and plans may be old, but the engineering skills, techniques and machinery are bang up to date. All of the experience learned in racing the cars in the 1950’s and with Lister Storm in the 1990’s and later years is being called up with the original participants. Collin (Chippy) Crisp, Chris Keith-Lucas and Laurence Pearce are all pitching in, doing more than just lending a hand.
(Picture and text reproduced by kind permission of Lister Cars)
Brian Lister, who died aged 88 on December 16th, was one of Britain’s greatest unsung racing car builders. From its inception in 1954, Lister quickly became a benchmark for the front-engined sports racing car. The Lister ‘Knobbly’, as it was known, had few competitors.
Brian Horace Lister was born on 12th July 1926. He and his brother Raymond were the two sons of Horace and Nell Lister. Horace had joined the family engineering firm (established by his own father George in 1890) after the Great War and who had himself been trained as an engineer at Brotherwood’s in Peterborough, a torpedo manufacturer.
After attending the Perse School in Cambridge, Brian Lister was apprenticed to George Lister and Sons in 1942, completing his training in 1946, when he joined the Royal Air Force for two years of National Service. He chose the RAF for the twin reasons of engineering interest and an enthusiasm for Jazz music: “The RAF had the best bands…” he put it. He became a well-known performer with the drums, having formed a band, the Downbeats, during the war. It was an enthusiasm which never left him.
Another was the motor car. He had bought his first, a very tired ex-police MG, as soon as he was able, which was swiftly replaced by a Morgan 4/4, followed by a Cooper-MG. Lister rejoined the family firm in 1948.
In post-war Britain motor sport was fashionable and Brian helped to co-found the Cambridge 50 Car Club, another member of which was an oddly diminutive Scot, W.A. ‘Archie’ Scott Brown. The two men became firm friends and shared a mechanical guru, Donald Moore, who maintained the hard-worked engines on both their cars.
John Tojeiro, in nearby Huntingdon, was a customer of Lister Engineering and Brian Lister bought the second Tojeiro ever built, which he started to enter in sprint events in 1951. He was almost beaten by Scott Brown and on Moore’s advice handed the feral car over to him for the rest of its career; his own interest was veering towards being a constructor.
He asked his father to fund the development of a car bearing the family name. Horace assented, and by the Summer of 1953 the project was underway. Brian would build the car, Don Moore would provide an MG engine and Scott Brown would drive it. The car made its debut on 3rd April 1954 at Snetterton and won!
But at the British Empire Trophy race at Oulton Park a week later there was a huge potential setback. Scott Brown was severely disabled; possessed of only one hand and foreshortened legs, he stood only five feet tall. Another competitor protested his entry on safety grounds and his racing license was summarily withdrawn until, on appeal, it was restored two months later. But Lister kept his faith in Scott Brown, engaging other drivers only as long as Archie was unable to drive the car. It was to be one of the most remarkable synergies in sport.
The Lister car evolved rapidly, powered by Bristol and, later, Maserati engines. On the strength of his Lister drives, Scott Brown was retained as a Formula 1 driver for Connaught, which frustrated Lister’s own efforts in Formula 2 somewhat. Then, in 1957, the Lister-Jaguar appeared, which drew everyone’s attention. That season, out of fourteen races entered, it won twelve, setting either fastest lap or an outright record on each occasion.
Unsurprisingly, customers appeared for the next year and the car was put into production for 1958, powered either by a Jaguar engine or, for the American market, a Chevrolet option. Lister was suddenly in the first rank of sports car builders, yet Brian achieved international success with great humility and on a budget much smaller than the major racing teams.
It was at Spa, in May 1958 that the great adventure started to falter; Scott Brown died after a fiery crash and Brian needed persuasion to keep going. He did, but only after some lengthy introspection on his part. He continued, but persistent deaths in Motor Sport made him pause for more thought. Finally, in the Summer of 1959, after the deaths of Ivor Bueb and Jean Behra (neither of them in Lister cars) he withdrew from racing completely, supporting existing customers until the effort wound down in the 1960s. His last foray into racing was the preparation of the works Sunbeam Tigers for the 1964 Le Mans race.
He remained actively involved in Lister Engineering, taking it successfully into the field of packaging machine manufacture, and continued with his interest in music, performing publicly as late as 1990. In 2014 the Lister ‘Knobbly’ was reborn under the stewardship of the Whittaker family and turnkey replicas are now built at the same Lister factory in Cambridgeshire for historic racing. Weeks before he died Brian inspected the first continuation Knobby built and was delighted that the Lister legend lives on.
An unfailingly polite, drily humorous but essentially diffident man, despite his affection for highly colourful bow ties, Brian Lister viewed his professional association with Archie Scott Brown as both the highest point of his career but, all too suddenly, also the lowest.
He married, in 1951, Josephine Prest, who survives him. They had one daughter.
For more information on Lister Cars and the new Lister Knobbly, please visit Lister Cars
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All information correct at time of publishing.