Obituary – Brian Lister

Brian Lister, who has died aged 88, took the name of his family engineering firm to worldwide fame through motor racing. A pragmatist more than an innovator, Lister designed and built very rapid sports racers that found repeated success in the 1950s, but following a number of racing deaths, notably his protégé Archie Scott Brown, Lister withdrew from racing.

Though initially intending to race and sell his own cars using Tojeiro chassis, Lister was impressed to be beaten in a 1951 sprint by an old MG driven by the colourful Scott Brown, whose talent outshone his physical handicaps. Lister asked Scott Brown to drive for him and thanks to the mix of driver skill, effective chassis and the tuning genius of Don Moore, the Tojeiro-JAP regularly beat ‘faster’ cars through 1952 and ’53. Lister’s first home-grown chassis was conventional, but the Scott Brown/Moore combination was a brilliant sales billboard from its debut win in April 1954 through its evolution with Bristol, Maserati (unsuccessfully), Jaguar and Chevrolet power. While Lister mostly designed his own bodywork, the 1955 Lister-Bristol was a very early visitor to the wind tunnel, and for 1959 Lister employed aerodynamicist Frank Costin to prolong the life of the unsophisticated chassis. However he later commented that “the Costin cars were no quicker, and the drivers didn’t like them”.

Drivers loved the Jaguar-powered cars, though, and from 1957 wins, and orders, arrived in quantity. Lister remained supremely loyal to his disadvantaged hero, arguing his corner when Brown was refused race licences on disability grounds.

With the costs of developing a new spaceframe chassis looming, Lister had already decided to cease racing even before Scott Brown’s death in 1958. The personal shock of losing his friend meant he never regretted withdrawing, though he was pleased by the marque’s later success in historic racing.

A diffident man, Lister loved jazz, playing in a band until late in life. Gordon Cruickshank