Lister Knobbly | Showpiece of the Week

Like many great British automotive companies of the era, Lister made its name through successes in motorsport during the 1950s. The brand entered the spotlight in 1954, when Brian Lister of 64-year-old firm George Lister and Sons (Brian being one of the latter) developed a tubular ladder chassis that was inspired by the innovative designs of Cooper. The hollow yet rigid structure was provided with an equally lightweight de Dion rear axle and drum brakes, before being wrapped in a thin magnesium skin. The material is extremely difficult to work with and can only be shaped once - hence its lack of inclusion on bodywork outside the world of exotic aircraft - but as a racer himself, Brian Lister knew the weight benefits afforded by its use.

The first MG-powered car immediately grabbed attention within the British motoring world. But it was when a more powerful Bristol straight-six enabled it to win with Archie Scott Brown behind the wheel on April 3rd 1954 that the likes of Stirling Moss were drawn to Lister. The legendary driver, then already on to his 284th event, endured an immense battle during his Lister debut at Goodwood with the Maserati A6GCS of Roy Salvadori, who pipped the Brit to the line by sixth tenths – although Moss had set the fastest lap time, doubly emphasising the Lister’s abilities. It was the beginning of a long story for the brand and driver, and remains one of the reasons the permanent Lister signage remains a centre point of the Goodwood pitlane even today.

Lister’s clever chassis design was proven but Brian knew he needed a more powerful engine to up the car’s potential, so the same variant of Italian 2.0-litre straight-six that powered Roy’s Maserati was used for the Lister. Success continued, but Lister ended up on its current path when Jaguar started working with the then Cambridge brand. 

Jaguar’s retirement from international racing could have killed the project before it got going but, somewhat ironically, it was the catalyst in ensuring Lister could produce its first Jag-powered racers. With the factory Jaguar teams no longer competing, the highly respected D-Type six was now available for purchase by privateers and partners, like Lister. It was considerably more potent than any engine that had driven a Lister before it, so the original frame design had to be strengthened further, but by-and-large, the concept was unchanged. Only now it was fast enough down the straights as well as the corners.

The Lister Jaguar became the quickest car to compete in sports car racing in 1957, with Scott Brown winning eleven out of the fourteen races he drove in, beating the likes of the Aston Martin DBR1 and DBR2 along the way – an immense achievement when you consider Aston used the former car to win at Le Mans in 1959. Scott Brown’s tragic death in 1958 when driving his Lister caused heartbreak in the firm; it was his skills that had helped to ensure Lister’s name was now very much that of an international racing car builder, with privateer customers from all over the world ordering the esteemed competition car. By now, aluminium was also offered for the skin, although the works cars stuck with magnesium bodywork. The shape earned the car its Knobbly nickname thanks to those now iconic lines and, well, a legend was born.

Lister’s history from then on saw it experiment with multiple concepts and even make a return to international motorsport on a grand scale, with the Storm racing car of the 1990s that used a Jaguar V12 of 7.0-litres mounted in front of the bulkhead. But for the most part, the brand remained most commonly associated with its vintage racers, which continued to compete in classic races the world over and passed through the hands of collectors and wealthy drivers alike. When the firm was purchased by its present owners, father and son pairing Andrew and Lawrence Whittaker in 2013, after they visited it in search of car parts, the Knobbly’s rebirth was probably a distant but very appealing dream. Two years later it had announced its 60th anniversary edition continuation cars.

Only ten were made, one of which stars as our Showpiece of the Week, each to original 1958 works specification and to FIA Appendix K race regulations. This opened them up to entry into vintage motorsport, but the cars were also developed so they could be driven on the road, as the car advertised on PH has been on several occasions - although it's presently SORN'd. Power came from a 3.8-litre straight-six engine of Jaguar design that's fed by Weber carbs and produces about 340hp, giving the 900kg model a power-to-weight ratio that trumps even the Porsche 911 GT3 RS. For that reason, the eventual buyer of this 2017-made £375,000 car will have to be as handy behind the wheel as they are wealthy. Here's hoping they also keep the car active on track in motorsport, too. No doubt it's what Archie Scott Brown would have wanted for the car he played such a significant role in the development of.

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P.H. O'meter

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Comments (10) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Nerdherder 01 Jul 2019

    11 out of 10 this. What a history, what a car.

  • rallycross 01 Jul 2019

    Very interesting and what a stunning car, please do an article on Archie Scott Brown's life and race history.

  • skylarking808 01 Jul 2019

    Damn good show eh!

    More historic and fun than most "super cars"

  • ChevronB19 02 Jul 2019

    For those who aren’t familiar with him, it’s well worth looking up Archie Scott Brown - top level motorsport despite significant disabilities.

  • unsprung 02 Jul 2019

    rallycross said:
    please do an article on Archie Scott Brown's life and race history.
    ChevronB19 said:
    For those who aren’t familiar with him, it’s well worth looking up Archie Scott Brown - top level motorsport despite significant disabilities.
    curiosity piqued !!

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