RIP Brian Lister 1926-2014


Former racer and sports car manufacturer Brian Lister has died at the age of 88.

Best known for his eponymous sports-racing cars of the 1950s, Lister started out working for his family’s Cambridge-based engineering firm. A growing interest in motorsport led to him entering events at the wheel of a Morgan 4/4 in the late 1940s, but his fertile mind was already working towards building his own car.

His first creation was based around a very early Tojeiro chassis. Lister fitted an 1100cc JAP V-twin engine, plus independent transverse-leaf suspension front and rear. The lightweight car was known as The Asteroid, and proved very quick – especially in the hands of Archie Scott Brown.

Lister had met Scott Brown on the Cambridge club-racing scene, and this would be the defining relationship of his professional life. He soon realised that Scott Brown’s talents were far above his own – Lister remarked that he had “too much imagination” to be a racing driver – and the pair embarked on a hugely successful few years.

In late 1953, Lister began work on the first car to bear his name. Based around an MG TD engine that was modified by Don Moore – who became a Lister stalwart – it wasn’t particularly revolutionary but it was simple and ripe for development.

In summer ’54, Lister came up with a more powerful Bristol-engined version. Scott Brown won his class at Silverstone first time out, and further examples were offered for sale to customers for ’55.

In the search for yet more power, Lister designed a new car with a Maserati A6GS engine for 1956, but, although the engine sounded good, it was conspicuously unreliable. The solution came via Jaguar and an idea that began when Lister customer Norman Hillwood fitted a hot XK140 engine to his car. 

For 1957, Lister secured a supply of XK powerplants, and penned a stronger chassis that boasted inboard rear discs and a D-type gearbox. Scott Brown was unstoppable in the immortal Lister-Jaguar, winning 12 times in 14 outings. 

Archie’s death at Spa in May 1958 knocked Lister for six. Customer orders and contractual commitments meant that he reluctantly carried on into ’59, but the final straw came when learnt – on the same day – of the deaths of Jean Behra and Lister works driver Ivor Bueb. 

When he walked away from motor racing, he left behind one final prototype. The Frank Costin-styled Lister Coupe was eventually seen through by other people, and appeared at Le Mans in 1963.

The engineering firm continued even after the competition element had stopped. Lister was involved in the construction of Emeryson racers and Sunbeam’s Le Mans Tigers in the 1960s, and he later licensed the name to Laurence Pearce, who created a series of wild Lister-badged road cars. 

A hugely popular figure, Lister served on BARC and BRSCC committees until 1974, and was an enthusiastic supporter of his 1950s creations when they began to appear on the historic racing scene. 


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