Numerous privateer racing drivers got it in their mind to build their own car in the 1950s, with varying degrees of luck on the track. Brian Lister had the money and the engineering know-how, so his first racing car, built in the mid-1950s with the able assistance of Don Moore and Archie Scott-Brown, was an incredible success, collecting a 1st or 2nd place finish wherever it roamed. Its success with MG and Bristol power was such that Lister soon had the financial backing of Shell/BP and a deal with Jaguar to supply engines for a car that would be capable of winning the World Sports Car Championship. The result, the Lister-Jaguar, was also a world beater, and it was eventually developed into the now-legendary “Knobbly,” nicknamed for its curvaceous but rather bumpy bodywork. Nothing performed like a Knobbly Lister…and nothing quite looked like one, either.
Eventually, as often happened in the 1960s, a U.S.-built engine was dropped into a British-built sports car. The result was the Lister-Chevrolet, which boasted hairy performance. More than competitive, it was, in fact, “the car to beat.” The Listers swept the SCCA Championships in 1958 and 1959. Unfortunately, with the success of the Lister-Chevrolet, the “ultimate” Lister came at the end of the company’s life, as production wound down in 1959 after fewer than 50 cars had been produced, only 16 of which were Chevrolet-powered.
Virtually forgotten for many years, the car’s fame has recently caught a second wind, as a new generation of owners has come to appreciate the performance that once delighted friends and terrified enemies. Delightfully, the short supply of Listers when new, and the relatively few that have survived the hard life of track cars, has added to their increasing desirability. They are wonderful vintage racing machines, and they remain capable of holding their own against anything else Europe has to offer.
The Lister-Chevrolet offered here is BHL127, supplied new in 1959 as a Frank Costin-bodied car with a Chevrolet engine, and it was reportedly owned in its early years by Chuck Howard and Tracy Bird and raced at tracks like Road America and Elkhart Lake. Definitive records on Listers are in short supply for various reasons, with no factory documentation available for any car, but this car’s identity as BHL127 is fortunately supported by the lettering stamped into the chassis in Brian Lister’s unique, instantly identifiable font.
The car was definitively owned later by Jim Mullen, and documentation from the 1970s indicates that it was approved by the Vintage Sports Car Club of America. Not long afterward, it journeyed to England and was owned by Barry Simpson and David Clark, and later Walter Becker, of Switzerland. At some point, the car was rebodied with its present Knobbly-style bodywork, believed to date back to Simpson’s ownership and to have hailed from his shop.
Any lack of contemporary racing history was obliterated when the car, rebuilt by Mark Lewis Design Engineering, won the BRDC Championship outright, when it left such worthy competition as Cobras and E-Types in its dust at the British Grand Prix support race, and when it won the Sussex Trophy race at Goodwood twice. In the past 10 years, this car has achieved 34 top three finishes at some of the most prestigious races in the world, setting all-time lap records for a ’50s sports car at Oulton Park, Goodwood, and Spa. This car has seen serious racing and is a multiple winner with the BRDC, the Stirling Moss Trophy, the VSCC, and the HGPCA, never failing to leave without a place among the winners.
The engine of the car is presently built to produce about 435 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, as tuned for its most recent racing season. The lightweight Knobbly bodywork makes this a very, very fast automobile indeed. The car is accompanied by a dynamometer sheet that confirms the horsepower reading, as well as the proper FIA paperwork, a large binder of historical and technical information, and an extensive spares package, which includes, among many other things, a spare engine, a gearbox, two wheels, and an exhaust system.
Simply put, this Lister-Chevrolet made a lot of people in considerably more famous, considerably less quick racing cars very angry as it tore through the European racing circuit, and it has been called one of the fastest 1950s racing cars in existence. It is now positioned to possibly do the very same in historic racing in the States, from which its roaring engine came, and where it would both be eligible for many of the most prestigious events and fully capable of winning them.
Its body may be “knobbly,” but no one will ever joke about its power and effectiveness on the track!
436 bhp, 283 cu. in. Chevrolet V-8 engine, Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed manual transmission, parallel wishbone front suspension with coil springs, de Dion rear suspension, and four-wheel Girling disc brakes. Wheelbase: 90-3/4 in.
Part of the RM Auctions event in Arizona in January, 2013
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Patrick Ernzen