Jaguar Clubs of North America

The Costin Lister Jaguar in Detail
By Michael Frank

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Click here to open bonnetClick here to see suspensionClick here to see the cockpitClick here to see the boot

Want to see what's inside? Click on the photo to remove a body panel (four different views).

This story begins with Briggs Cunningham. In 1955, after the American millionaire's fifth attempt to win Le Mans with cars built by his own company, it was time for a change. The IRS was threatening to shut down his eponymous car company, since it had never turned a profit. Although his cars had placed as high as third at Le Mans, it was time for an expensive redesign. Negotiating with Sir William Lyons, a deal was struck which gave Cunningham the Jaguar distributorship for New York, New England, New Jersey, and half of Pennsylvania. In return, he shut down his car company and agreed to race Jaguars. He settled down to selling Jaguars from his Fifth Avenue showroom, and took delivery of a brace of D-Types for his racing team.

In 1956, disaster struck Jaguar. A raging fire destroyed the factory, bringing race car production to an abrupt halt. For Cunningham, it meant that there would be no timely successor to the D-Type, which was already beginning to show it's age. Enter Brian Lister. Lister was the proprietor of George Lister & Sons, a British engineering company known for an eclectic product line which included wrought iron fences. Early in the fifties, Lister had turned his interest in racing into a way of promoting his business. He developed a series of small, light race cars. These proved successful. In the wake of the Jaguar fire, British Petroleum scouted for a specialist builder who could build a Jaguar powered racer. Impressed by Lister's success, they offered him sponsorship and access to a supply of D-Type engines.

Lister was an talented engineer, and set to work building a special chassis to carry the new Jaguar motors. It was  built around a lightweight steel space frame, and clothed in aluminum (in some cases, magnesium) bodywork. By 1957, his efforts had produced a car known as the Knobbly Lister, for it's unusual flowing bodywork. The combination of the D-Type motor with an extremely lightweight body and responsive suspension made for a potent package. A total of seventeen Knobbly Listers were built, with most of them delivered to the United States...the first two to Cunningham, to supplement and eventually replace his aging D-Types. In 1958, Walt Hansgen won the national championship for Cunningham with a Lister Jaguar. Another seven went to a partnership of Jim Hall and Carrol Shelby, who equipped them with hot Chevrolet motors.

By 1959, some changes were in order, and they came in the form of a revised body. The goal of the rework was to improve on the already good aerodynamics of the Knobbly. The new car was designed by Frank Costin, an accomplished aeronautical engineer. It was not altogether successful. Costin's idea was that aerodynamics could best be improved with a smooth, clean shape. In reskinning the Knobbly, he smoothed the lines considerably, but in the process increased the critical frontal area. This meant that the new car was actually less aerodynamic than the old one, and indeed, top speed suffered. Brian Lister later said, "I really regret doing the Costin body. If I had my time over again I would clean up the Knobbly, and build lower and smaller." Despite that, the Costin Lister was a very successful racer. A total of eleven were built, just two were equipped with Jaguar motors.

In Early 1959, Briggs Cunningham took delivery of the car you see pictured, chassis BHL 123. The car was prepped by Alfred Momo, and together with one of Cunningham's two Knobbly Listers, ran at Sebring that March. The Costin car was piloted by Sterling Moss and Ivor Bueb (who had won Le Mans for Jaguar in 1955 and 1957), while the Cunningham team's Walt Hansgen and Lake Underwood drove one of the Knobbly's. Bueb was an official works driver by then, and had been very successful piloting Listers in Britain. Early in the race, the Costin bodied car, with Bueb at the wheel, fell behind the Knobbly. But after the driver change, Sterling Moss was able to move the big Costin to fourth place, behind the leading Ferrari's. After Gendebein's Ferrari dropped out, Moss was lying in third place, gaining on the leaders, when he pulled in for a scheduled pit stop. The crew began filling the tank. Moss grew impatient that the lead was eluding him, and made a rare mistake. He pulled out of the pits before the car was fully refueled, pausing only for the marshals to seal the tank. In due time, he ran out of fuel. Hansgen tried to nudge the car into the pits by pushing it with his Knobbly, but the bodywork was too delicate. Moss hitched a ride back to the pits to get a can of gas, on a race marshal's motorcycle. The motorcycle ride was deemed illegal interference, and the car was disqualified. Said Brian Lister: "If I had been put in charge by Briggs instead of feeling I was merely there as a visitor and leaving it all to his men and Moss, I feel we would never have thrown the race away like that....Sebring 1959 is one of my great regrets."

Despite the unfortunate showing at Sebring, the car was subsequently raced with great success by the Cunningham team. In a dozen races that year, Walt Hansgen scored four victories, three second place finishes, and one fourth place to win his fourth national championship. Lister exited racing that summer, after losing champion drivers Archie Scott Brown and Ivor Bueb in racing accidents. They did not build another racer until the 1990's. By 1960, the Listers were becoming uncompetitive. Cunningham began to phase them out as the new E-Types arrived.

The car's fate was sealed one day in 1961. Bob Grossman was driving the Costin at Bridgehampton. Dicing with Hansgen, he missed a shift. Back in the pits, the tachometer's telltale was pegged at 6700. A stickler for rules, Cunningham took Grossman to task for possibly ruining the motor. A deal was struck on the spot, and Grossman purchased the car for resale at his Nyack, NY dealership. A dozen owners later, the car now belongs to Syd Silverman, chairman of Vintage Motorsport, who races it regularly.

Acknowledgment- This automobile is presented through the courtesy of The Vintage Motorsport Educational Foundation (405) 525-3313, which is dedicated to the preservation, restoration, display, and use of vintage and historic sports and sports racing cars.

About the author -Michael Frank is Vice President and Webmaster of the Jaguar Touring Club. His red 2+2 E-Type is a familiar sight at JCNA events in the Northeast. Currently, he is building a reproduction of the 1963 Cunningham Lightweight E-Type.

Copyright © 2002 Michael Frank, New York, all rights reserved.