The Ex-Peter Whitehead, John Bekaert, Bill de Selincourt,1959 Lister-Jaguar "Knobbly" 3.8-Litre Sports-Racing Two-Seater  Chassis no. BHL 103
Jaguar's A-Listers

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 57, Winter 2018

Page 3

Brian Lister's motor cars dominated the racing scene. Richard Holt salutes a pair of Lister's idiosyncratic machines

Lister has a history of making fast cars even faster. It has been back in the news lately, as deliveries begin of its new bespoke version of Jaguar's F-Type SVR – a very quick car which is now exceptionally fast – as well as more exclusive, due to a limited production run.

Some of the most lusted-after cars of the 1980s were the Lister versions of Jaguar's XJ-S. But for the truly fabled Listers, you have to go back to an earlier chapter in the company's history. In the late 1950s, a series of Lister-bodied cars with Jaguar mechanicals took the international motor-racing circuit by storm. On the rare occasion these cars come up for auction, interest is high, and Bonhams is offering not one, but two of them.

The car designer Brian Lister began using his father's Cambridge-based wrought-iron shop, George Lister and Sons, as premises from which to launch his racing ambitions in the early 1950s. He worked first with MG, then Bristol, producing low-weight chassis in combination with aerodynamic bodywork to record some early success. But he won his first real acclaim in 1957, when Jaguar boss, William Lyons, offered him access to engines and gearboxes from the world-beating D-Type.

Lister built a light tubular steel chassis around the Jaguar powertrain and fashioned an equally lightweight aluminum body. The bodywork curved around the wheels in pronounced humps, so the car was given the nickname 'Knobbly', which stuck. The name doesn't make the car sound very beautiful, but the way those metal curves sit over the wheels gives the Knobbly a distinctive, animalistic look.

Looks count for little in racing, though. Luckily, the Knobbly wasn't just a pretty face, becoming one of the most dominant cars in motor-racing history. It recorded wins around the world at the hands of drivers such as Stirling Moss and Archie Scott Brown.

Just 50 were made, one of which is being offered in the Bond Street sale in December. It is part of a collection of classics in the sale, along with a Jaguar XJ220C and an XJR6, as well as an Aston Martin Short Chassis Volante.

The second Lister-Jaguar, offered in the Scottsdale Auction in January, is rarer still – one of just 11 examples built. Fresh from his success with the Knobbly, Lister employed the services of Frank Costin. Costin was a pioneering aerodynamicist, who had learnt a lot about airflow by designing aeroplane wings during the war, Lister put Costin to work designing new bodywork for his Jaguar-powered cars. The visual difference is remarkable – in making the body more aerodynamic, Costin also made the car noticeably less knobbly. The first customer for the Costin-bodied cars was Briggs Cunningham, who just happened to be one of the key figures in US motor-racing history. A founding member of the Sports Car Club of America, Cunningham was a wealthy heir who became a successful yachtsman and then a racing driver, before turning his hand to importing luxury cars and running an incredibly successful racing team.

Cunningham's team had already tasted success with Knobbly Lister-Jaguars. For the 1959 racing season, he bought the first two Costin-bodied cars. The second one built is in the Scottsdale Auction. It was first raced at the 1959 edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring, with Ivor Bueb and Stirling Moss sharing driving duties. The car held its own against the rival Ferraris and Aston Martins until it ran out of fuel on track. The impetuous Moss tried to bend the rules to get it refueled and the team was disqualified.

Later that year, the car was driven to victory by US driver Walt Hansgen in the Sports Car Club of America's 1959 C-Modified national championship. After it was sold by Cunningham, the car went on to have a long and successful career in vintage car racing. When it was last offered for sale in 2010, it achieved $1.1 million – at the time, a record for a Lister.

Brian Lister largely withdrew from motor racing after his success with the Costin-bodied cars. He was disillusioned by the deaths of drivers that he was close to and decided to concentrate his efforts on non-automotive engineering. But his brief contribution was a major one. Jaguar was one of the most successful manufacturers in 1950s motor racing, and Cunningham one of the most important racing teams of the era. Right in the middle was Lister.

It is not often that rare pieces of motoring history come to auction, let alone a brace of masterpieces such as these beautiful Lister-Jaguars. The modern Lister Motor Company has plans for further exciting models, but has also in recent years added to the 'continuation' trend by releasing a limited series of new, lightly tweaked versions of its 1950s racers. It is by no means the first company to leverage its past in this way, but this is definitely a sensible move. Because however good the new Listers may be, they have a hell of a lot to live up to.

Richard Holt writes about classic cars and fine watches for The Daily Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal and Motor Sport.

Sales: The Bond Street Sale
101 New Bond Street, London
Saturday 1 December at 1pm
Enquiries: Tim Schofield
+44 (0) 20 7468 5804

The Scottsdale Auction
The Westin Kierland Resort
Thursday 17 January at 11am
Enquiries: Jakob Greisen
+1 415 503 3284

  1. Tim Schofield
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 5804
    FaxFax: +44 20 7468 5802

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