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Little Classics Feature: 19 September 2013

Lister cars are back in production

Lister Jaguar KnobblyLawrence Whittaker Lister JaguarTom Endean interviews Lawrence Whittaker (right), the man behind the revival of Lister Cars

It’s wrong to say Lister is back, as it was only 2006 that Lister last had a car out on the tarmac competing at LeMans. The company where it all started, George Lister Engineering, had never gone away since its birth in 1890 – it just wasn’t always involved in car manufacturing.

It is fair to say then that what we see here is not a comeback, but instead an exciting new chapter for the Lister brand.

Lawrence has grown up around cars with his father passing on his own enthusiasm for all things automotive. In fact, it is Lawrence’s father where his story with Lister started: “My father has always dabbled with classic cars. When he bought a Lister Knobbly for restoration, that’s where the whole journey began. Through the process of restoring the car my father found he was unable to get a number of the parts needed, so after a bit of research online he found George Lister Engineering and decided to make contact. After speaking to the technical director Mark Hallam, we were invited down to the factory.”

On arriving at the factory both Lawrence and his father were somewhat taken back by the sheer volume of what they found tucked away in the back of the building: “Lister had kept everything. Under the dust and cobwebs was an Aladdin’s cave. They had all the original jigs, the original blueprints and a number of original parts”

“We didn’t set out to buy a car company"

Lister JaguarLawrence admits this was a bit of a turning point, changing their whole view: “We didn’t set out to buy a car company. We were only trying to restore one car… The factory was looking for investment and I could see the importance of what there.”

As with any business, nothing is rarely smooth and having agreed a deal, Lawrence and his father were now the proud owners of everything they needed to continue the production of one of the most iconic cars in racing history… Or so they thought.

Through thorough due diligence (and a growing solicitor bill) a few other little pieces of the puzzle came to light. It turned out that Lister was more than one part. Over the last 30 years Lister had had a few elements separated out and now meant that to put anything back into production properly would mean bringing them all back together.

Lawrence Pierce, a retired Lister Storm racing driver, had bought the automotive side of Lister in the 80s and still owned all the intellectual property rights. It was Pearce who had been the brainchild behind the wild Lister cars of the 80s and 90s. Whittaker continued: “We flew out to Portugal and started negotiations. In all honesty it cost us several times more purchasing all the rights than what we had already spent on getting the original jigs, plans and everything else.”

After finding the third part of the puzzle, Lawrence brought all three together under one roof for the first time in over two decades. Now George Lister Engineering of Cambridge, Brian Lister Light Engineering and Lister Storm would bring forward the Lister Motor Company Limited.

A brief history of Lister

Lister Jaguar RacingLister StormLister will mean different things to different people. From their LMP cars holding their own against the big boys at LeMans; through to watching the successful Lister GT1 in its striking Newcastle FC livery – with its mental and ultra-rare 200mph Lister Storm road-going brother rub shoulders with the supercar elite.

Then of course there was the Lister XJS, which essentially was a Jaguar XJS that had spent the night being fed steroids and nitro-glycerine before heading down to Savile Row. This 7 litre monster could chew-up and spit out any fellow supercar that fancied testing its metal.

Lister XJSAll of these cars hold a special place in our hearts, but for me, it is the 50s and 60s where the soul of Lister’s heritage sits. “Lister has been an important part of motor racing history. In fact, Lister has won more races than Aston Martin” says Lawrence.

Lister stamped its name in British motorsport in 1954 building its own bespoke racing car using a tubular ladder chassis and tuned MG engine. The result gave a strong, but light, low-slung race car. However, the MG unit was not to stay, with it being quickly replaced by a Bristol unit and with a few other developments to give a stronger all-round car.

This new formula worked and in a supporting race for the 1954 British Grand Prix, this two-litre Lister won its class and was outclassed only by the works Aston Martins overall.

Lister Jaguar racingIn 1957 Lister would be put on the map for good as it took the heart of the legendary Jaguar D-Type and built its own sweeping and outstandingly pretty car around the engine. These cars, would become affectionately known as the Lister ‘Knobbly’ cars owing to their sweeping and curvy bodies.

Very pretty, but robust, these classic Lister cars made sure they made their mark winning 11 of their 14 British races. Between 1954 and 1959 only 50 original Lister cars were produced but they won, or were placed, over two thousand times in track events worldwide.

So the production continues...

Lister Jaguar bodytubLister Motor Company Limited has invested in a new, a state-of-the-art facility in Cambridge, which includes CNC machining, 3D scanning and Catia design, all of which will enable George Lister Engineering to develop and deliver an exciting and near identical development of the Lister 'Knobbly' Jaguar.

Many of the team involved in the original 1950’s project with Lister Cars have been called back into service, including Brian Lister himself. Heading up the manufacturing project is Mark Hallam, technical director at George Lister Engineering, with Jerry Booen of D Type Developments assisting with the project.

The cars will be built identical to those of 1958, out of the box and ready to race with BHL-C (C for Continuation) chassis insignia and up to FIA/HTP Appendix K specification.

Expert driving tuition

Not only will the happy new owners get a beautiful and authentic Lister, but Lawrence has also confirmed that new owners will have access to an envious package to aid them in getting out on the track in anger: “We have arranged a package that would give new owners a full track day with race tuition from Tiff Needell.”

We are not kidding! The racing legend and ex Lister Storm driver himself will help new owners wanting to get out on the track get the most out of their new cars.

Now you want one...

Lister JaguarLister Jaguar“We have been quite shocked by the reaction we have had so far to the announcement. It’s been absolutely incredible” said Lawrence.

“We are expecting to finish the first of the customer cars near the end of this year with the second finished around February next year.”

To coincide with the 125th year anniversary of Lister, the company has already started planning a series of Lister sponsored historic race meetings in 2015, which will also celebrate the continuation of these fabulous cars.

Understandably, the current focus is on the production of the ‘Knobbly’ cars with an aim to produce four to six cars a year, although Lawrence admits that he would still be very happy with three to four cars a year.

And what about costs? Well, you will need to contact Lister, but having had a chat about this, you can be fairly certain that although not pocket change these genuine continuation production cars are still likely to cost you less than the going market price for existing genuine Listers of a same standard.

So what if you already own a Lister?

Lawrence is obviously someone who cares about the brand, its integrity and the preservation of the cars already out there. “We can now support owners of existing Lister cars. In fact we are urging them to contact us so that we can start to build a better picture of the ownership out there.”

“For those genuine cars we are keen that the owners get in contact as we are very happy to authenticate their originality. However, we are also keen to speak to those who own good quality replicas. Not only can we provide genuine parts, we are also willing to help sanction those we feel are of authentic production standard or help bring them up to standard.”

And the future?

I couldn’t resist finding out what plans lay on the table for the future of Lister. For one, they are definitely looking to produce a rebooted version of the Lister Jaguars with modern upgrades and comforts.

As we have seen with companies like Eagle, such combinations of modern performance with classic design is a pant-wettingly good idea when done well and we can’t wait to see what Lister deliver.

What about more modern stuff? Well, Lister want to concentrate on getting all that they have in hand right first, but my god they have big plans. We can't say more at this point, but watch this space as something very exciting is coming...

Oh, and what about the Lister Jaguar restoration that started this whole journey? Well, that’s still to be finished. Something bigger seems to have come up!

For those wanting to register their interest in either the continued production of Lister Jaguars, or for those who are current owners, visit the new Lister Cars website:


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