Reviving a great British racing car company: We talk to Lister Cars owner Lawrence Whittaker about his ambitious plans for the future
Established in 1954, Lister is one of the oldest names in British-built cars. Luxury Lifestyle Magazine met with Lister Cars owner Lawrence Whittaker, who bought the company in 2013, to find out more.
Can you please illuminate our readers about the luminary history of Lister and its legendary founder Brian Lister (1926-2014)? How did it all begin and what were your personal reasons for becoming involved with this famous racing car company?
Brian Lister was a racing driver in the 50s and created his own racing car, inspired by the likes of Cooper, using MG engines and gearboxes. The first Lister racer made its debut at the British Empire Trophy race held at Oulton Park, England, in 1954, with MG racer Archie Scott Brown at the wheel. Archie was a natural talent and the new Lister was far better than many expected it to be. Later that year Archie and his, now Bristol powered, Lister won the two-litre class at the ’54 British Grand Prix and placed fifth overall, beaten only by the factory Aston Martin works cars. That’s an incredible feat for what was essentially a first attempt.
In 1957 Brian redesigned his car around a Jaguar D-Type engine and developed an amazingly aerodynamic body crafted from aluminium. The stunning new car was raced in ‘57 and ‘58 and became known as the Lister-Jaguar Knobbly…called as such because the wife of one of the Lister employees claimed the car looked ‘knobbly’ when seeing the aerodynamic lines for the first time. The name Knobbly stuck and Brian Lister found his place as one of the greats, despite not having the workforce or finances of the larger car brands he raced against.
Lister ended factory racing in 1959, but while their official racing was over, the factory continued to make cars for their customers for years to come. The racing was a huge part of Lister, with even the likes of Sir Stirling Moss heralding the Knobbly as the one of the best cars he had ever driven, but while many love the racing cars there is also huge passion for the raw supercars that have also proudly worn a Lister badge. Cars like the Le Mans, a supercharged V12 Jaguar XJS capable of over 200mph, or the Storm which came fitted with a road-going version of the Jaguar XJR9 V12 and was, for many years, the fastest 4-seater you could buy. Whether on road or track, a Lister was fast.
My family has a passion for cars, and it was long an ambition of my father to own an original Lister Knobbly. When a suitable car was offered for sale in 2011 a deal was struck, but the Knobbly he purchased was far from complete, in fact it transpired that he now owned barely more than a Knobbly body and a few boxes of parts.
On the hunt for the items needed to complete the car, a call was made to Brian Lister Engineering in Cambridgeshire to enquire if they could assist with some hard to find Knobbly mechanicals. As result of that call we received an invite to visit the factory to view a number of spare parts which resided in an old wooden container, untouched since Lister cars stopped being manufactured in Cambridge many years previously.
Not only did that container yield some much needed parts, it also contained some incredible Lister history, including technical drawings, blueprints, photos and styling bucks…in fact, all that was needed to create Lister Knobbly and Costin models. It was then that we realised Lister could be reborn.
Following that chance visit to Cambridge, and the arduous collection of meetings, exploration due diligence and negotiations that followed. In 2013 we finally acquired the five limited companies that now sit correctly under the group company, The Lister Motor Company Limited. It was then that the Whittaker era of Lister began.
The Jaguar F-Type is such a gorgeous sports car – one of my own personal favourites – and I must say it looks like you’ve truly made it justice through the Lister LFT-666. What were your ultimate goals with this sinister-looking beauty, in view of enhancements to its looks, performance, driving dynamics and exclusivity … feel free to elaborate at length?
Lister has a long-established history with Jaguar, ever since the D-Type engine was fitted to the racers back in the 50s. That legacy lived on with the Le Mans and Storm road cars and while Lister has never been officially approved or sanctioned by Jaguar, there is a deep-rooted bond we wanted to continue.
When we first became custodians of Lister, we concentrated our efforts on the Knobbly, after all we had all the tooling and drawings available to be able to do so, but we also wanted to create new cars that were worthy of the Lister name. The new cars would attract a new type of customer and would appeal to a generation who had the Le Mans as a poster car, or who had a Storm in the garage of their video games. That said, any car that carries a Lister badge has to appeal to all fans of the marque…and we knew we had to make a proper Lister that was worthy of the name.
If we were to continue using Jaguars, there was only one choice and that was the F-Type. At the time, despite having driven or owned many of the latest sports and supercars, I had not spent any time behind the wheel of an F-Type so I went out and bought an F-Type R with the sole intention of driving it as often as I could to get a feel for its character and what could be improved. What I soon learned was that it was a really good car, and I enjoyed driving it, but there was definitely room for Lister to make improvements.
As a car enthusiast, whether a multi-car owner or simply an avid reader of car magazines, you know what you like and what makes other cars great. I’ve been fortunate enough to have owned and driven hundreds, if not thousands, of cars during my life and with that experience comes the ability to evaluate a car with a level head but, as the owner of a car company, I can also use that knowledge to perfect and improve upon a car to make it even better.
A Lister has always been known for speed, power and handling and that means any car wearing a Lister badge has to excel in these areas. Not only that, the Knobbly used intelligent aerodynamics and even cars like the Le Mans had added aggression and purpose with unique Lister styling, so the cars have to be visually arresting as well as dynamically sensational.
Finally, something close to my own heart, is the interior. As a driver you spend a lot of time in the cabin and, even if a car is focussed on driving, you still want a level of comfort and a reminder that you are driving something special. So, not only does a Lister need to look good on the outside, it needs to feel special on the inside as well.
You’ll remember that I bought an F-Type R, and it was that very car which was used at the prototype for the LFT (Lister F-Type) 666 (666bhp). The car went through a number of suspension set-ups, engine tunes and wheel sizes. It was tested to well over 200mph on numerous occasions and was driven on thousands of test miles before we had the perfect car.
As a result of that testing, the LFT-666 was born, and the first of 99 cars (worldwide) was created. Each LFT has bespoke carbon fibre body styling to add aggression and to create improved aerodynamics. The suspension, brakes, exhaust and engine also receive comprehensive upgrades and improvements. Finally, the interior is completely hand-trimmed in the finest Scottish leather, including the roof, dash and doors as well as Lister badging and trim throughout.
The end result is a car that is completely bespoke to client requirements (visually), develops 666bhp, has a top speed of 208 mph, is luxurious and, thanks to my other business Warrantywise, can be purchased with a 7-year warranty. What other 208mph supercar offers that?
The LFT-666 is every inch a Lister, and a car we are extremely proud of. Customer deliveries are now well underway, with cars going to all corners of the globe. Next to be launched is the LFT-C, a version of the LFT-666 which is based on the F-Type R Convertible.
You’ve had numerous other exclusive limited-edition models in addition to the LFT-666, including the Lister Knobbly Stirling Moss Editions, the Lister Costin, the LFT-C and the LFP SUV. Please tell us more about your current plans of featuring both classic and modern car models in your company portfolio.
Lister cars has always produced cars in Cambridge, and it was important to continue that as it’s an integral part of our history and heritage. Not only that but we have skilled engineers at our Cambridgeshire factory who know these cars inside out, some even built the Knobbly in-period. You can’t buy that knowledge, you can’t just place an ad in the paper for someone with that experience and that needs protecting. Cambridge is the home of classic Lister cars and, as such, they continue to make the Knobbly continuation cars for both road and race.
We also make the Lister Costin recreation in Cambridge. The Costin was created in 1959 by aerodynamicist Frank Costin who produced a new body (though based on the Knobbly) around a Corvette engine. The Costin is more svelte than the Knobbly, but still retains a familiar Lister body shape. Today, a customer can choose to have their Lister in road or race trim, with upgrades and updates that make the car more useable and driveable but still retaining eligibility for a number of classic racing series.
The LFT-C, as mentioned, is an open top version of the LFT-666, only even more exclusive with just 10 cars being created worldwide, and the LFP is based on the F-Pace SVR and promises to be one of the fastest SUVs available when launched.
We have some future plans, but you’ll appreciate that I can’t tell you much about that! A few months ago, we shared a photo of a new Knobbly concept via our social media, which then went global. That concept will be built and shows the forward-thinking Lister has, while still remaining very aware of our roots and heritage.
A mix of classic and modern, both in the same vehicle and as separate entities, will always be our ethos. Lister has a history, it has loyal owners and passionate fans and enthusiasts. We aren’t a start-up, despite being a relatively new company (in current form), and so we have to be sympathetic and respectful of our past and ensure that any new car is not only worthy of carrying the badge but also has Lister DNA engrained in it.
Lister is inextricably linked with its competition history, including many legendary races, present and past ones, such as Le Mans and Nurburgring, just to name a few. Please elaborate on your ongoing agenda to remain fresh and valid in this classic racing arena with your equally classical models?
As we just discussed, that heritage is hugely important to us. Brian Lister wasn’t wealthy, he didn’t have huge resource available, and yet he made some of the finest, most celebrated racing cars in history. Archie Scott Brown was victorious against huge odds, and Stirling Moss won races and called his Lister ‘the finest car I have ever driven’. Racing was Lister…there were no road cars until much later down the line, it was all about lap times and race wins.
That heritage means we can’t skimp on how a new Lister car handles, steers and stops. Our current road cars may not be built for competition, but it is vital they perform on track should an owner choose to do so. That racing pedigree means owners expect (rightly) our cars to perform and ensures we are committed to perfection when it comes to the chassis of any Lister.
Our continuation cars are all correctly homologated for racing and can be built that way even if you want your Lister continuation to be road legal. The owner of a continuation car demands eligibility, and that means hundreds more hours of development to meet the strict rules and regulations various racing series demand. But, as said before, we are a racing brand and to release a continuation car that couldn’t race simply isn’t an option.
Lister may not have a factory racing team at present, our last foray was with the Storm hybrid in the Le Mans Series, but we are committed to owners of original Lister racing cars and those who own, and have ordered, continuations. As an example of this, Lister now sponsors the Stirling Moss Trophy as part of the Motor Racing Legends series, in which a number of Knobbly racers compete, and we attend each round where we display brand new Lister road cars.
What can you tell us about your fruitful collaboration with such illustrious concours events as Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and Goodwood, in terms of making your exclusive cars known to the worldwide automotive world?
Lister as a company actually doesn’t attend too many concours events and shows, but Lister owners around the world enjoy showing and racing their cars regularly and, as such, our cars are often seen at the very best events.
Due to our motorsport heritage, those who visit the Goodwood Festival of Speed can often see our cars running up the famous hillclimb, from the Knobbly to the celebrated V12 Storm endurance racer. It would be great to see the mighty LFT-666 make an appearance in the Supercar run, maybe that will happen one day soon.
When we launched the Knobbly Stirling Moss Edition, we took the car to the lawns of the word famous Pebble Beach Concours, what better place to relaunch a legendary racing car? The clientele is perfect, and the party atmosphere really lends itself to the launch of a new classic continuation. It was the perfect fit for a car of that calibre.
As our cars become older, more collectable and more valuable there is no doubt that more Lister cars will be seen at the most prestigious race meets, the finest concours and sold in the world’s most desirable auctions.
Please enlighten us about the quintessential Lister customer – what type of personalities constitute your main clientele and what kind of exclusive customer experience can they look forward to when visiting your HQ?
No two Lister clients are the same, but they do all have a shared passion for Lister cars. It may be that a customer has known the brand for many years, or that they are a newcomer, but almost all will know the history and will have a passion for what Lister stands for.
Some will be die-hard classic racers who want a Knobbly but cannot find an original car for sale, others will be drivers who already own a number of high-end cars and want something to add to the collection that is different to the rest. If you own a Ferrari, the chances are that you will see another soon enough, or that a friend has one, or that you’ll park alongside a similar car when away at a country hotel for a weekend. With a Lister you have exclusivity as well as 208mph performance. It is the supercar for those that know…for those that understand the badge, and with only 99 cars worldwide (in the case of the LFT-666) you have rarity.
We offer two types of client experience at Lister. The handmade, old-charm at the Lister factory in Cambridge, where the continuation cars are built, and the sleek, modern Lister Headquarters in Lancashire. At both locations a client meets with the senior team, has a look at all the bespoke options available to them and gets as much time as they need to specify their ideal car.
Each experience is different, and we adapt to client needs. Some want to take in all the history and romance of the Lister name, others want to drive a car, some want to meet with me, and others will buy from a home visit. We do whatever it takes to make the buying experience a pleasure…
What can we expect next from Lister – in regard to both classical models and your bespoke, exclusive limited-edition models of the existing Jaguar model range?
Watch this space, that’s all we can say. The Lister story will continue.