When we hear of certain motor sport people passing it reminds us we are slowly losing contact with a golden era of racing. The recent death of Brian Lister is one such example. His front-engined Lister sportscars successfully challenged many other marques and provided a blueprint for others to follow, not just on a national level, but world-wide.
Brian Lister was the son of Horace Lister and grandchild of George Lister (founder of George Lister & Sons) and he apprenticed in the family engineering works. His keen interest in motor cars led him to co-found the Cambridge 50 Car Club, and it was the formation of this club that led to his meeting Archie Scott-Brown, a driver who would become synonymous with Brian and his Lister sportscars. Brian entered some local sprint events, but it soon became clear that his talent lay in areas other than driving. Donald Moore, who had looked after Brian’s car, suggested he look at the possibility of constructing cars and with father Horace agreeing, work on the first Lister car began in 1953. I interviewed Brian a couple of years ago, he said, “My philosophy, when it came to car design, was to look at what the most successful teams were doing and try to build upon it and improve it, and hope I got it right. Dean Delamont, of the RAC, agreed with me that the de Dion rear suspension was the simplest and most effective, of the day, to use. I really hadn’t got the time to look at other alternatives. I needed something that was predictable, reliable, proven and the easy option.” The first MG-engined Lister car entered competition at Snetterton in April 1954, with Archie Scott-Brown at the wheel, and won the race.
The next race was eagerly anticipated, the Oulton Park Gold Cup, but things went awry. In Brian’s words, “Archie had already practiced and achieved a very good time, but the doctors at the circuit were amazed at the extent of his disability and he was banned from racing. This was a shattering blow to Archie who really lived for motor sport.” Ultimately, his competition license was restored because of his a proven record and the way he had driven in practice at Oulton. From then on the pairing of the Lister sportscar, now with a Bristol engine, and Scott-Brown was quite formidable.
Brian recalled a particular irony at a race in 1955: “One of the first races for 1955 was the British Empire Trophy, Oulton Park. Archie was entered in the Lister-Bristol and, in a drive that I can only describe as ‘inspired,’ won the race, demonstrating that here was a master of motor racing who a year earlier had been banned in the same race at the same circuit.” In 1957, Lister changed to Jaguar engines, and the combination of the 1957 Lister car, Jaguar engine and Scott Brown at the wheel was simply awesome, winning 12 of 14 races entered and setting outright or lap records on many occasions. American customers preferred U.S. power in the shape of the Chevrolet engines.
From that small beginning Brian Lister put his small company into the forefront of world sportscar racing. “The Lister race team,” he said, “was a little like David against Goliath.”
As with many things, the Lister/Scott Brown combination came to an abrupt end. At Spa on May 18, 1958, while dicing with Masten Gregory, Archie Scott Brown crashed—dying from his injuries the following day. Devastated by the loss of his great friend, Brian gradually withdrew from racing, preferring to look after customer cars. He later changed the focus of his engineering works to non-racing projects.
Brian Lister embodied the spirit of the great British sportscar constructor, team owner and racer of the 1950s. He was an unassuming character with a great sense of humor and a true gentleman. The world of motor racing has lost an elder statesman. Vintage Racecar offer sincere condolences to his wife Josie, family and friends.