The Iron Age

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This ex-Jim Clark Lister is still going strong after a long and busy life – and Motor Sport was offered a chance to put it through its paces at Goodwood
Writer: Paul Parker, Photographer: Stuart Collins

Welcome to an age where design and detail were sometimes lacking, sometimes just what was needed, and what passed for aerodynamics were just smooth curves. Few realised then that more air was flowing under a car than over it.

The Lister featured here is an example of how to produce a competitive sports racing car in period, especially if you had a potent proprietary motor and transmission available off the proverbial shelf. Jaguar’s XK engine (in D-type mode) and gearbox were obvious choices.

HCH 736 was built during the latter half of 1957 and was bodily similar to the works Lister Jaguar. These two machines were the only examples of their kind, forerunners of the 1958 ‘Knobbly’ creation, similar but different. They had shorter parallel cockpit chassis tubes (approximately 12 inches rather than the 23/24 inches of the ‘Knobbly’), which joined together at the point where the rear suspension radius arms were located.

The car was shorter, narrower and smaller than its successor, being just under 13 feet long with a front track of 4ft 2½in and the rear 4ft 4in with a 7ft 5in wheelbase. Due to its more complicated chassis structure, however, it was actually heavier than the ‘Knobbly’. Brian Lister later regretted building the even bigger Costin version, stating that he wished he had cleaned up the ‘Knobbly’ and built a lower and smaller car like the 1957 original.

This machine inherited a chassis number from John Green’s Lister Bristol, BHL 5, which Austen Nurse apparently wrecked at Silverstone in 1956. It is de facto BHL 5 (2) that was completed in 1957 and bought by Dick Walsh, who entered the car under Tom Kyfinn’s Équipe Devone banner.

Kyffin raced it at Snetterton on September 1 1957, finishing third behind Archie Scott Brown’s works car and Peter Whitehead’s Aston Martin DB3S, and later that month at Goodwood. Tom Kyfinn recalled,

“I didn’t know Dick very well. He asked to join us on race days and I checked with Jake, our head mechanic. He said Dick had oily fingers the way gardeners had green fingers. He was made welcome.

“He was older than the rest of us and, although very pleasant, didn’t stick around after the race very much. I knew nothing of his life except that he had lost his sense of smell after a car accident. I was amazed when he offered to buy a Lister-Jag. I had no idea he had money and was very flattered that he wanted me to drive it. It was the only time I’ve had a fitting for a car.

“I didn’t have many races in it as I started to get a bit worried about the number of friends that got maimed or killed. I had one nasty crash at Silverstone in the Cooper-Bristol, had one more race after that and then had a meeting with Dick. He was happy to let Bruce [Halford] take over my drive. The car had no special name, possibly HCH 736, the registration number.

“When I started racing I noticed that teams with a French or Italian name could command a far higher starting fee, so I came up with Équipe Devone. We ran two F2 Cooper-Bristols, a sports Cooper-Bristol and an Aston Martin DB3S [ex-Peter Collins]. Other vehicles sometimes joined. I had a garage in Torquay, where they were maintained, and our mechanics earned a lot tuning local cars.”

For 1958 the front half of the bodywork was redesigned by Thom Lucas and built by Maurice ‘Mo’ Gomm, after which it was known as the ‘Flat Iron’. Sometime Maserati 250F racer Halford had his first outing in the Sussex Trophy at Goodwood, where he retired. The British Empire Trophy at Oulton Park came next and here Bruce finished fourth in heat one, but Scott Brown took over the car after his works Lister suffered steering arm failure and finished third in the final.

At a wet Aintree Halford spun at Tatts and split the radiator, causing him to retire. The BRSCC meeting at Mallory Park was more rewarding, Halford finishing second behind Scott Brown despite the Lister’s overheating and fading inboard rear brakes, typical of all Listers in period and in later life.

At the tragic Spa race where Scott Brown was fatally burned, Halford suffered gearbox trouble and retired. In 1958 a 3-litre limit was introduced for championship endurance racing and this was to prove terminal for Jaguar success at Le Mans and elsewhere. Five D-types, two of them from 1956/57 victor Ecurie Ecosse, and two Lister Jaguars were entered, one the Équipe Nationale Belge ‘Knobbly’ and HCH 736 for Bruce Halford and ex-merchant seaman Brian Naylor.

All the D-types retired, the two Ecosse cars with a recurrence of practice piston failures and the two privateer entries in accidents, fatally so for ‘Mary’, aka Jean-Marie Brussin, who crashed XKD 513 and was struck by Bruce Kessler’s Ferrari TR. The Duncan Hamilton/Ivor Bueb D-type was in second place after 20 hours, but Hamilton dropped out after hitting a stationary car during a cloudburst.

The ENB Lister had started with a failing motor and struggled around for four hours before retiring, but the ‘Flat Iron’ was running well in seventh place before a camshaft broke during the early hours of Sunday. Despite a 90-minute delay for a replacement, the Lister returned to the race in eighth place, an indication of just how spread out the field had become.

Later on, HCH’s gearbox jammed and stranded Naylor out on the circuit just beyond Mulsanne. Eventually the mechanics arrived and proffered advice, physical outside assistance being strictly verboten, and Naylor miraculously found some tools nearby and was able to engage top gear, somehow managing to get the Lister rolling and then back to the pits.

Not content with this, HCH’s rear brakes then failed but the reluctant car made it to the end in 15th place, the only 3-litre Jaguar-powered car ever to complete a 24-hour race. Following this Halford finished an aggregate second at Crystal Palace on July 5 behind Bueb’s works ‘Knobbly’. He was sixth in the British GP sports car support race at Silverstone, the race predictably won by Stirling Moss in a works Lister.

At the end of July, HCH 736 and Halford followed the works Listers of Walt Hansgen and Ross Jensen home at Snetterton and, eight days later, was third again behind the works Listers at Brands Hatch, with Bueb winning ahead of Jensen.

Bruce Halford’s final race in Walsh’s unique Lister Jaguar was at the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting on September 20 1958 and he finished a meritorious third behind Roy Salvadori’s works Lotus 15 and Bueb’s Lister.

Subsequently it was sold on to Jock McBain’s Border Reivers team for Jim Clark to race in 1959. The driver’s hump was removed and the rear cockpit bulkhead moved back to give Clark more space. This also included venting the tail section, which spoilt the car’s aesthetics.

The future world champion soon got to grips with HCH and proceeded to challenge the faster works and Ecurie Ecosse Listers (and their Tojeiro) in British events.

His first outing at Mallory Park on March 30 1959 produced three outright wins against lesser competition, and then on April 11 Clark placed eighth in the British Empire Trophy at Oulton Park, the car now using a works 3.8-litre motor. After this he finished sixth at the Aintree 200 event followed by a win at Charterhall on April 25. In Goodwood’s Whitsun Trophy, Clark led Flockhart’s Ecosse Tojeiro but ignominiously retired when the car ran out of petrol.

During the rest of 1959 Clark won at Rufforth (May), retired at Zandvoort (July), finished fourth in the British GP support race at Aintree (beating the works Listers), took second at Mallory Park (August), fourth at Brands Hatch (late August), then added two more wins at Mallory Park in September and October. Thereafter Jimmy Blumer drove the car and, at the end of the year, McBain sold it to Gordon Lee.

Lee campaigned HCH successfully until 1962, when he sold it to the Hon Richard Wrottesley who raced it well but hard. It then passed to Julian Soddy before Lee eventually reacquired the now battered Lister. Having rebodied it, he raced HCH 736 into the 1970s. Later still Robert Cooper bought it (and Richard Bond drove it) before it went briefly to Anthony Bamford, back to Cooper, then to Italy where it was raced by Adelmo Fossati. Sadly Fossati was kidnapped and subsequently murdered after which the car was owned for decades by the late Federico Dubini.

Ultimately Kidston SA offered it for sale for the family, and Chris Keith-Lucas of CKL Developments researched the Lister’s period engine and gearbox. “When the car came to CKL from Italy,” he says, “it had a 1970s Forward Engineering-prepared wet-sump E-type engine and gearbox, but rather wonderfully it also came with a lovely old dry-sump wide-angle 3.8 unit covered with proper original bits including an original Borg & Beck multi-plate clutch and a set of Weber 45DCO3s. It was quite evident to me there must have been an original D-type gearbox bolted to it and I sent a request that they look again to see if one could be found. I was thrilled to receive a grainy mobile phone photo of the world’s scruffiest D-type box. ‘We found this, is that what you are looking for?’

“It turned out to be perfect inside and had not been used for 40 or 50 years. Once Steve had acquired the car, I popped over to the store in Italy to see if there were any other remnants. The only item that could be found was a beautiful chronometric tachometer, clearly from the car, and worth every penny of an EasyJet ticket!”

When former Lister mechanic Colin Crisp came to view the car (he’d attended HCH at Le Mans in 1958), he was astounded to find the still-damaged chassis tube where he had hammered flat the brake pipes to prevent fluid escaping.

And so to a dry, sunny day at Goodwood, to drive this earlier evocation of the Lister Jaguar.

It has a small, somewhat cramped cockpit, with a kneepad to protect against the proximity of the exposed gearbox and starter motor. The Jaeger rev counter is upside down in familiar racing fashion, to swiftly indicate maximum revs. Under the bonnet the engine is canted over to the left while at the rear the vertical sliding gate de Dion rear suspension is typical of all factory-built Jaguar-powered Listers.

Having contorted myself into the driving seat, being long of leg, I found it was quite comfortable, although the large diameter wood-rimmed steering wheel was rubbing against my thighs. As happens after a few minutes, though, one seems to change shape accordingly and it was no longer a problem.

The view out is dominated by the relatively high nose, but the thing that really grabs your attention is the sheer power of the CKL-built 3.8-litre wide-angle engine with Crosthwaite & Gardiner components, the most potent I have experienced. Its relatively light weight renders the acceleration exceptional – the scenery appears to be fired at you rather than the other way around.

It is more responsive to the throttle in terms of handling and attitude than its successor, the renowned ‘Knobbly’. Exiting the chicane it is all too easy to hang the tail out and there are plenty of opposite-lock opportunities around Madgwick, Lavant and Woodcote if you are the owner, such is the obliging handling.

At seven or eight tenths it is relatively easy to drive and there is no hint of the heavy front end that most Jaguar XK-powered cars suffer to a lesser or greater degree.

By the end of the day myself, Keith-Lucas and owner Steve Boultbee Brooks had big grins on our faces. There is nothing to compare with these fabulous relics from an earlier era, where the throttle is the ultimate means of control – in the dry, at least.

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