Some fun with a Lister Jaguar

Twenty years ago the Lister-Jaguar was the absolute king of British sports car racing, its successful image created by Archie Scott-Brown, who tragically lost his life in one at Spa-Francorchamps in May of 1958 and subsequently polished by drivers of the calibre of Moss, Clark, Gregory, Halford, Whitehead and Bueb. Now the wheel has turned full circle and the most competitive sports racing car in Group One Historic racing today is the Lister-Jaguar, capable even of taking on and beating most of the single seaters, just as Scott-Brown beat a Maserati 250F to win the Lady Wigram Trophy Race in New Zealand early in 1958.

The most consistently successful of all the Listers racing this year has been that of Bobby Bell, his immaculate car (how I wish that certain matt black one could be as smart!) appropriately enough in the green and yellow colours of WVE 303, the best known of Scott-Brown’s two regular mounts. Bell currently lies second overall in the Championship (this being written a few days before the next round at the Silverstone TT meeting) and leads his class by miles. Bell had generously promised me a drive in this fast Lister before the season started, but foul weather intervened. This delay was propitious, for it allowed me to suggest to Bobby that a run with the car in the Brighton National Speed Trials might be an interesting adjunct to the road drive originally planned.

No claims are made for the total originality of this car, for it has been rebodied twice, nor are any slim claims to historic fame suggested in its present form, which makes a change in this day and age. The chassis (BL 128) is authentic enough, although its background is obscure, for even Brian Lister, who has continued to run his successful engineering business in Cambridge since the last Lister was built in 1960 (the one-oft space-frame car now owned by Barrie Simpson) cannot be sure of what happened to all his cars, many of which were supplied in kit form. It is believed to have been supplied to America in 1959 with a Costin designed body, to be fitted there with a Chevrolet engine and used for record attempts by John Fitch. It was subsequently rebodied by Boeing and known as the Boeing Lister. Chris Renwick and Peter van Rossem re-imported it, complete with Boeing body and Halibrand wheels, in 1971 or ’72. Crossingham had it for a while before it found its way into Peter Sargent’s hands. This well-known Jaguar driver of old had the chassis jigged by Listers and fitted it with a new so-called “knobbly” style body built by RS Panels of Nuneaton to the authentic Lister design.

An “old nail” Jaguar engine which had come in the chassis from the States was replaced with the engine from the famous XK 120 registered “1 ALL”, previously owned by Eric Browning and driven at Crystal Palace by Jackie Stewart. By coincidence, future owner Bell had worked on that very engine, a wide-angle 3.8 D-type unit, when Browning had the car prepared by John Coombs, Bell’s first employer. The old engine from the Lister went into 1 ALL, I believe, which Sargent then owned. Fortunately the original Lister suspension had returned on the car from the States. Bell bought the car from Sargent in this unraced, rebuilt form in the summer of 1974 and has enjoyed remarkable success with it ever since.

Last season Bell won his class with the Lister almost every time out in HSCC events. This season started With a win at the JDC March Silverstone meeting and a new Lister-Jaguar record for the Club circuit of 1 min. 3.8 sec. He was third overall at Thruxton in the first round Of the Group One Historic Championship, led the Brands round for 12 laps before exhaustion after a previous race forced him to give way to the Listers of Ham and Harper (now he fits a special scat to stop the tiring rolling around) and finished third overall and first sports racing car at the St. John Horsfall round. The wet Donington round, won by Corner in the BRM, saw Bell just pip Gerry Marshall, in Simpson’s space-frame Lister, to the post for second overall after a dramatic last lap duel. Bell and the Lister annexed pole position in the Le Mans Historic Race in June (see MOTOR SPORT, July), but the bearings succumbed on the third lap. They had pulled 170 m.p.h. down the Mulsanne Straight on the 2.88:1 final drive.

Although Bell is a partner in Bell and Colvill, the Lotus, Alfa Romeo and Maserati dealers (and soon AC, for the 3000 ME is at last about to go on sale) in West Horsley and Caterham, believes that it would not be good business to have his mechanics spending time on his racing cars. Instead, the Lister, his BRM P153/02, the car which won the fastest ever Grand Prix, at 241.308 k.p.h., in the hands of Rodgriguez at Spa in 1970, and resplendent in Yardley colours, and his Maserati 250F, the semi-lightweight, chass number 2523, are cared for by two former BRM mechanics, Rob Fowler and Rick Flail, in Bourne.

Like all Listers (except for the last, spaceframe car), from the first MG-engined car in 1954, the Bell car hat a chassis consisting of two large diameter tubes braced by three cross members of the same diameter. The aluminium body is supported on a simple, steel tube framework and the suspension bolts on to fabricated uprights. Although it looks substantial, the chassis is a little bit flexible, so the Lister was never as stiff as the heavier, monocoque D-type. A de Dion rear axle is located by four trailing arms, and the coil spring/damper units are steeply angled. At the front there art equal length wishbones and coil spring/damper units. The brakes are 12″ discs all round, inboard at the rear, adjacent to the limited slip Salisbury differential. Although this car has bigger than standard, lightweight alloy calipers with air ducted to the rear ones by elephantine trunking, Bell confesses that the brakes remain the car’s Achilles heel, as they always were. A massive, 38 gallon aluminium fuel tank sits above the differential under the bulbous tail and a large oil tank for the dry sump system lies in the nearside rear corner.

Bell reckons that the wide-angle D-type engine as rebuilt by Fowler and Hall after Le Mans must be giving close to 300 b.h.p., which means it’s a pretty good example of the breed. There is nothing special about the engine, which uses standard wide-angle 0-type camshafts and Weber carburettors. It drives through a multiplate D-type clutch, but not a D-type gearbox. Bell disliked the ratios in the D-type box which he bought with the car and rashly changed it for a close-ratio XK 150 gearbox and cash, a move he now regrets, for, not only does it lack the D type’s first-gear syncromesh, it also has a much inferior gearchange.

Like nearly all the Lister-Jaguars currently racing, this car wears 15″ x 6″ wheels; all except one Lister originally wore 6″ diameter wheels, but because that odd one had 5″ wheels current regulations have made them acceptable. The 6″ rims are the maximum allowed. Bell’s knock-on alloy wheels are of the type fitted to the later lightweight E-types, though his actually came off a Le Mans AC. Wheels are a big problem in historic racing, especially on Listers and D-types, because most of the old alloy castings are showing signs of fatigue and new replacements are unavailable. I would have thought that it might have paid Dunlop to manufacture them again: surely the demand would be almost as great as in the 1950s? This Lister is about to change to new alloy centre/steel rim wheels perforce.

Our original idea had been for me to drive the Lister to Brighton, but the marginal legality, even on trade plates, gave us second thoughts and I confined my road impressions to the West Horsley area. In the Lister’s hey-day we would have had no such qualms. In his excellent book “Jaguar Sports Cars” (Foulis), Paul Skilleter quotes Lister road impressions from John Bolster, who spent a weekend with Scott-Brown’s car in late 1957 and Jim Clark, who drove the Border Reivers car, HCH 736, from Luton to Scotland at speeds up to 150 m.p.h. Those were the days!

The “knobbly” bodied Lister is a formidable looking car at the best of times. The reason for the terminology will be obvious from the photographs. This was the second Lister-Jaguar/Chevrolet body style, brought about partially by the 1958 FIA regulations concerning windscreen depth. The top of the scuttle lies below the top of the engine and the ensuing massive power bulge dominates the driver’s line of vision. Frank Costin designed a much smoother body for the 1959 season, the type with which B1. 128 is believed to have been clothed originally. In my eyes the brutal “Knobbly” is the classic Lister shape. To look at it is one thing, to aim this heavy looking sports racing car down the road is another. On this sunny September morning the Lister fouled a plug when started on the button from cold, but thereafter ran cleanly. Bobby drove first, whilst I suffered the build up of heat from the twin exhausts under the passenger seat. Behind the wheel at last I was in for a surprise, for the Lister is not the heavyweight it looks (Lister used to quote the dry weight as 15 1/2-16 cwt. Bell says his is nearer 18 cwt.). The steering is light even slow manoeuvring isn’t difficult and beautifully accurate. Skilleter states the racks to have been Morris Minor type. Bell has fitted a small, thick rimmed, leather steering wheel to improve the gearing and feel. Larger, leather bound Derrington wheels were original equipment. Unfortunately, the new wheel obscures most of the tachometer’s critical section. The occupants are enveloped by aluminium, the huge tail section towering above shoulder height, the high doors and sills to either side, the big, polished transmission tunnel in the centre. The blast of air from the shallow, fullwidth, perspex screen forced us to wear goggles. In all my years of Jaguar enthusiasm I had never driven behind a D-type engine. It was worth waiting for. Its tractability and flexibility is legendary: after all, the works D-types were driven to Le Mans. Too hasty a throttle opening at low revs naturally inspired some coughing. but the engine was happy to pull down to 1,5oo revs or so. the acceleration was simply shattering:, there are faster specialised cars driven on the road, as the Brighton times were to show but I doubt whether any give the same sensation of that deep, barely silenced, magical roar from the legendary, Le Mans winning straight six. Of course, with such performance potential couldn’t release it all, but knew that Brighton awaited. …

Nor can I pretend that I exploited the handling on this exhilarating adventure in the Surrry countryside, but how I enjoyed what I felt of it! Surprisingly, the suspension coped extremely well with variable road surfaces so that the ride was quite tolerable and the balanced handling practically unaffected by bumps. Roll was effectively non-existent, the steering quick and sensitive. Such power needed treating with respect with the on-and-off acceleration dictated by road conditions and several times I felt the tail give a “just be careful” warning as the torque fed through. Bell loves the circuit handling, which has enough safe initial understeer to allow it to be driven on the throttle thereafter, as anybodY watching that wet-weather dice between he and Marshall would appreciate. Yet he confesses the handling needs respect in the wet.

Clark’s views on Lister handling, via Skilleter, are worth quoting: “The Lister taught me a great deal about racing and I had fun with that car … a beast of a thing … really vicious … the handling … was fabulous … really taught me quite a bit about racing, particularly about controlling a car by the throttle”.

All too soon we were back at Bell and Colvill, an ear to ear grin on my face. It had been an experience to treasure: I doubt whether I shall ever again have the opportunity to drive such a competitive racing car on the road.

So to Brighton and the unique atmosphere of that terraced, Victorian promenade, where the fantastic variety of machinery seems to broaden year by year. Car entries spanned Foulke-Halbard’s gleaming 1904 70-hp Mercedes to David Purley’s Formula One Lec, the local driver, making a welcome return to the scene. Bell ana Colvill had no less than five cars entered: Bell in the Yardley-BRM, myself in the Lister, Mike Hallowes in a standard Esprit, Stuart Mathieson of Mathwall Engineering in a turbocharged Esprit S2 and Martln Colvill in his AC Cobra.

Each time I have raced Graig Hinton’s Jaguar 2.4 in Classic Saloon events I have made a complete hash of grabbing second gear of the line; I was terrified of doing the same with the forward angled lever of the rather nasty XK box. But the lister went off the line beautifully on the one practice run, the limited slip and de Dion spreading the traction evenly, though 4,000 rev’s, gave a shade too much spin. Alas, a plug had sooted. it took me all my time to pass Shoosmith’s Bentley in the other lane and the time was a poor 25.3 sec. A set of new NGKs replaced the Champion N 3’s for the first timed run. Trying to squint round the wheel rim to observe the revs, co-ordinate the clutch and throttle movements off the line and snatch second gear was. a much harder task than it must have looked to spectators. Again too much wheelspin and a slow change into third but we crossed the line at 142 m.p.h. in a time of 24.1 sec. Much better!

Lister Aficionados Chris Drake and Bert Young advised less revs off the line for the final run (a 3.54.1 final drive ratio was fitted, by the way), setting the revs on a surging chronometric rev counter is not easv, but I led the clutch in at roughly 3,2200 r.p.m., the wet weather Dunlop 1.-section racers 6.00 are fitted to the front, 6.50 on the rear bit more quickly and the Lister surged up the straight kilometre, the needle hitting the 6,000 r.p.m. maximum through the gears. How much more quickly that ribbon of tarmac unwound than it did in the Dolomite Sprint last year! The Lister twitched a shade over the rough tarmac towards the end of the Madeira Drive and we crossed the line at 143 m.p.h., the time of 23.7 seconds being the fastest ever recorded by a Lister at Brighton. Unfortunately, Bob Marsland’s, Chevron and Brian Anghss’s GT4o gave me no chance of a class win, but how edifying that Brian Lister’s 21-year old concept can accelerate from 0-143 m.p.h. in 23.7 seconds and still be tractable on the road. – C.R.