Lister storm brewing?

One of Britain’s most famous old racing names has a new owner – and they’re on a crusade to eliminate bygone deceits

In August, a quite surprising e-mail was sent to assorted luminaries involved with Lister sports-racing cars. It came from Andrew Whittaker of Warranty Wise Insurance Services, a well-established road car provider, based in Clayton-Le-Moors, Lancashire.

His email read: “I can formally announce that the Lister Motor Company Limited is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Warranty Wise Insurance Services (Warrantywise).

“I have recently purchased from George Lister Engineering Limited of I Cambridge the original jigs, plans and drawings and all assets and intellectual property rights associated with the design and manufacture of the Lister cars of the 1950s and 1960s and in particular the Lister ‘Knobbly’ cars.

“Similarly, I have also purchased from Laurence Pearce all assets and intellectual property, trademarks, trade names and logos in relation to Lister, Lister Jaguar and Lister Storm.

“The Lister Motor Company Limited now owns full title, all assets, intellectual property and all commercial rights surrounding the design and manufacture of all past, present and future Lister and Lister Storm cars and their component parts and comprises the following group of companies: Lister Cars Limited, Brian Lister (Light Engineering) Limited, Lister Jaguar Limited, Lister Storm Racing Limited, Lister Storm LMP Limited, Lister Heritage Limited.

“I have invested a significant sum to bring into being the Lister Motor Company and now intend to invest significantly more in the Lister brand to manufacture once again Lister race cars and component parts at George Lister Engineering works in Cambridge. 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 may be lending a hand. Heading up the manufacturing project is Mark Hallam, Technical Director at George Lister Engineering.

“For those Lister car owners with genuine BHL chassis number cars, George Lister Engineering will be able to supply genuine and accurate specification Lister spare parts, manufactured from the original Brian Lister plans and drawings.

“I am aware (and more than a little alarmed) that a number of non-factory, so-called ‘tool room copies’ of Lister cars exist in the market place. It is more than likely that such cars infringe our intellectual property rights. However, for those previously built cars we are to provide a ‘sanction service’. Such cars will in future be able to visit the factory and undergo an evaluation and appraisal procedure, the culmination of which may lead to the car being given a BHL sanction chassis number and Lister log book. The alternative is that these so-called ‘tool room copies’ will have to desist from being described as a ‘Lister’ and may have to alter their specification and/or appearance.

“Even more concerning is that at this moment in time there may be some persons attempting to build such copies of Lister cars. This is totally unacceptable and we will defend our rights and pursue any infringements of the Lister trade mark and intellectual property. That said, however, I am keen to develop commercial links with specialists who are interested in becoming involved in the development of Lister cars and with this in mind such persons will be invited to contact me directly and put forward any proposals they may have.

“Please do not hesitate to contact me directly or to pass this information or my details onto others… My son Lawrence Whittaker is Managing Director of the new Lister Motor Company…” etc.

As you can imagine, this bolt from the blue – composed to grab the Lister racing (and faking) establishment’s full attention – has done just that. He also called me to discuss the matter, I guess because of my Powered by Jaguar book. Andrew explained how he had bought a Lister project, believing it to be based upon “half an original chassis frame”. It proved to be based upon no such thing, and he resolved to get deeper into what constituted “a real” historic Lister… and what did not.

Lister cars in the 1950s were relatively simple. When ‘Mr Brian’ lost his great friend and superb works driver Archie Scott Brown at Spa in May 1958, the heart had been ripped out of their programme. When replacement 1959 works driver Ivor Bueb was then killed in an F2 Cooper at Clermont-Ferrand, and Peter Blond had rolled one of the works Costin cars into a ball at Brands Hatch, Brian retired from racing.

One item dumped at that time was his works chassis record, and as historic racing took off into the later 1970s and early ’80s so the racers – and dealers – hunted down Lister cars, bodies, bits… and UK registration logbooks.

Some of the cars were lost or missing. Some batches of one car’s spares provided the bases for several lookalike cars. Clones were also built to match alogbook. Some long-vacated registrations were reclaimed. A British chassis specialist once told me he has built as many as 17 ‘replacement’ Lister frames. These mostly replaced originals welded-up in the period Abbey Road factory and which had since suffered the rigours of racing. But some frames made chassisless spares mobile – raceable… and saleable. You get the picture?

But now Whittaker’s new venture has appeared in Listerland like the Fifth Cavalry. In conversation he expresses an engaging zeal to see “the real Lister people” at their modern-day Cambridge works at last make some money from their esteemed car designs.

He told me he perceived six levels of acceptable vehicle. The cream would comprise genuine Listers with their original ‘BHL’ prefix chassis numbers and unimpeachable provenances. Inferior to this hallowed handful would be ‘BHL’-stamped cars with incomplete provenance, then ‘BHL’-stamped Lister Centenary ‘Knobblies’ from the 1990 factory batch. He rated his own ‘BHL’ chassis continuation cars superior to any questionable Lister-lookalikes, and offers factory assessment to fit any copy cars judged inadequate with ‘tool-room copy’ replacement chassis made to the original drawings.

These would become “officially sanctioned” copy cars, but I cannot quite see that replacing a fake chassis with what at best might be regarded as a facsimile – to 1958 spec – will set customers salivating.

Whittaker’s venture is certainly bold, and I sense well intentioned, but suddenly to appear upon the scene with such self-assumed authority is a glowing cigar butt to a powder keg. Some of the realities of historic racing seemed to surprise him. Not least the notion that a Lister chassis and running
gear built to the 1958 factory drawings might prove uncompetitive today.

And as for unravelling the more colourful car provenances – some almost certainly in face of litigious owners feeling threatened by this self-appointed new police force – we might sit back and watch the fun.

The one thing of which I am quite confident is that Warranty Wise experience might not fully have prepared him for a rocky racing road ahead. Existing ‘copy cars’ could be registered with Whittaker as such, but trying to market new fakes under the ‘Lister’ name will plainly breach his new company’s rights. Watch this space.

Doug Nye