1955 Lister-Jaguar ‘Flat Iron’ Sports-Racing Car
"The flat-iron Lister-Jaguar - as 'HCH 736' became known - is perhaps the most famous of the non-works/non-Cunningham team cars. As 'the other Lister-Jaguar' run concurrently with the works' famous first prototype that was driven by Archie Scott-Brown through 1958, it was the Dick Walsh-run car which Bruce Halford and Brian Naylor drove at Le Mans, and then in 1959 became the Scottish Border Reivers' team's entry most notably for the youthful Jim Clark, and in which the World's greatest racing driver first developed so much of his supreme skill. Partly because it has been unused for so very many years it has re-emerged as an extremely important, truly historic sports-racing car, and its Clark connection gives it almost iconic status." (Doug Nye, author of ‘Powered by Jaguar’)
Far and away the most successful of the many Jaguar-engined, specialist-built sports-racing cars of the late 1950s were those built by Lister, comfortably outweighing the results of similarly-powered machines from other notable and prominent independent constructors such as Cooper, HWM and Tojeiro; indeed, it is for its Coventry-engined machines that Lister became and remains best known.
The Cambridge blacksmith concern of George Lister & Sons had graduated into motor sport after Brian Lister, grandson of George, in 1952 began racing the in-house built Asteroid Tojeiro-JAP, using a John Tojeiro chassis, which proved quick, especially when driven by Archie Scott-Brown; it was the car’s successes which convinced Brian that Lister should build its own cars and thereby promote its engineering abilities. With Lister steel tube frame chassis, designed by Brian, wishbone/ coil spring front suspension, coil-sprung, radius arm-located, de Dion rear axle, disc brakes and all enveloping open alloy body, the highly competitive 1,500cc Lister-MG followed in 1953, and then an equally competitive 2,000cc Lister-Bristol and a (though somewhat unreliable) Lister-Maserati, in 1954 and 1956 respectively. Their engine sizes, however, effectively limited them to class rather than overall victories in unlimited capacity sports car events; with the arrival in 1957 of the first Jaguar-powered machine with the legendary Scott-Brown at the wheel, Lister had a car capable of outright race glory - 11 wins that season for the diminutive Scot from 14 starts, plus two victories in New Zealand – and many more examples ensued, both works-entered cars and chassis supplied to private customers.
Of these Lister-Jaguars one of the most famous, chassis ‘BHL 5’, started life as one of eight Bristol-powered machines, with sleek alloy bodies by either Brian Lister or aerodynamicist Thom Lucas, which, in the hands of Birmingham garage owner Austin Nurse, enjoyed more racing success than any other Lister-Bristol. Originally supplied in 1955, and given the registration ‘HCH 736’ in June that year, to another garage proprietor, John Green, it had also been raced by David Hampshire, Peter Scott-Russell and Roy Salvadori. At the sports car event supporting the 1956 British Grand Prix, however, Nurse crashed and ‘BHL 5’ was severely damaged. The remains and the car’s chassis identity were then acquired by Tom Kyffin of Equipe Devone, together with Dick Walsh, united with a new Lister chassis frame, re-engined and resurrected in what would in 1957 become the first of the illustrious run of Lister-Jaguars campaigned by privateers.
Fitted with a unique, Thom Lucas-designed, alloy body formed by famed Byfleet, Surrey-based fabricator Maurice Gomm – the style of which, not dissimilar to the works Lister, ‘MVE 303’, led it to being known as the ‘Flat Iron’ Lister – and Coventry-supplied works 3,442cc, twin-overhead camshaft, six cylinder Jaguar XK engine, ‘HCH 736’, the very first private Lister-Jaguar to be given Lister works support, was given its race debut by Kyffin in the Goodwood Trophy at the eponymous Sussex circuit on September 28th the same year; though unclassified, this was followed soon after by a third place at Snetterton. Entered by Walsh with Lister support, driving duties in ‘BHL 5’ passed to Bruce Halford for 1958, beginning with the British Empire Trophy race on April 12th at Oulton Park where he finished third in the first heat; for the second the car was handed over to Scott-Brown, following steering rack failure on his works Lister who, behind the Aston Martin DBR2s of Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks, also finished in third position.
Halford’s next outing was in Goodwood's Sussex Trophy on April 7th when ‘HCH 736’ failed to be classified, followed by a brace of non-finishes in the Aintree 200 Miles on April 19th and the sportscar race at The Daily Express International Trophy meeting at Silverstone a fortnight later, the first due to a damaged radiator after a spin and the second to a broken suspension wishbone; the Lister would also fail to finish at the Spa-Francorchamps Grand Prix for Sportscars on May 18th when Walsh co-drove with Halford. Victories in smaller meetings at Mallory Park and Goodwood followed prior to the Le Mans 24 Hours (where the car, incidentally, was entered by Halford) over June 21st/22nd 1958.
Fitted with remodelled headlight covers and radiator intake and a factory-supplied (from an initially fragile run) short-stroke 2,997cc engine, in line with the 3,000cc limit introduced for 1958 World Sportscar Championship races (as were five privateer Jaguar D Types and one Lister ‘Knobbly’), the Lister-Jaguar, shared with Brian Naylor, was running well and up into sixth place into the night before suffering a catalogue of failures: first a broken camshaft took an hour and a half to repair, the car rejoining in eighth place, then the gearbox stuck in gear on Sunday morning, stranding Naylor close to Mulsanne Corner until shouted instructions from the team’s mechanics, together with the miraculous appearance of the tools necessary to re-jam it into top gear, enabled the Lister to return to the pits, and finally, while completing the last four hours, complete loss of rear braking; nevertheless, these long delays did not prevent ‘HCH 736’ from soldiering across the finish line in 15th place. Not only would it be the only Jaguar three litre-engined machine ever to finish the Le Mans 24 Hours, ‘BHL 5’ would also be the only Lister-Jaguar to ever record a finish at the French classic.
Refitted with its 3,442cc engine the car bounced back with a second place for Halford at Crystal Palace on July 5th, before the duo took sixth in the sports car race at Silverstone’s British Grand Prix two weeks later. Third places followed at Snetterton on July 27th, Brands Hatch on August 4th and Oulton Park on September 20th, before another second place, this time at Snetterton, on October 12th. Over the closed season Halford was taken on as Lister’s works driver, replacing Archie Scott-Brown who had tragically lost his life at Spa-Francorchamps in May, and ‘HCH 736’ was bought by the Scottish Border Reivers team, to be driven in 1959 by the superfast and up and coming Jim Clark, who the previous year had raced the Chirnside, Berwickshire-based team’s Jaguar D Type.
To make the future double F1 World Champion more comfortable the Lister-Jaguar’s cockpit was extended by judicious panel-bashing and removal of the headrest, after which on his debut in ‘HCH 736’ at Mallory Park on March 30th 1959 he won all three races entered. “The Lister taught me a great deal about racing, and I had fun with that car”, Clark recalled a few years later. “It was a beast of a thing, mind you, really vicious, but it was more fun than any except the Aston Martins I drove later. When we got back to Berwick we started to modify the Lister for I honestly don’t know how Bruce managed to drive it. It was so cramped in the cockpit. We managed to carve a bit out of the bulkhead behind the seats to push the driver’s seat further back. My first race with the car was Mallory Park where I had a field day, winning three races in the Lister.”
Still fitted with a Jaguar-supplied engine, but now of 3,781cc, the car’s second British Empire Trophy meeting came on April 11th, Clark finishing in eighth place; sixth position followed in the Aintree 200 Miles race a week later before another victory for Clark and ‘HCH 736’ at Charterhall on April 25th. Non-finishes in May 18th’s Whitsun Trophy at Goodwood and Zandvoort on July 7th were then split by a win at Rufforth on May 30th, before Clark went on to take the Lister to fourth place in Aintree’s British GP-supporting sportscar race on July 18th, second place at Mallory Park on August 2nd, fourth/first in class on August 29th at Brands Hatch, and victories on September 13th at Mallory Park and October 4th (when in the handicap race he also finished 13th) at Charterhall, the latter after a non-finish at the same circuit on September 27th.
“I learnt a lot from those first races”, Clark also remembered of ‘HCH 736’, “for I found it was a very lively car. You could drive it round the corner on the throttle whereas the D-Type was all stop or all go. The Lister was very much more progressive. It taught me quite a bit about brakes, in that I couldn’t rely on them. I had to nurse them back and make them work, without overheating them. I remember at Aintree once going to have the tyres checked before the race. I got up there and put my foot on the brakes and the pedal went straight to the boards. I pumped it and the pressure came back and that’s how we set off for the race! That was a great day for me......I finished second to Graham Hill in a 2½-litre Lotus, managing to beat all the works Listers.”
“The handling of the car was fabulous. For example at Gerard’s Bend at Mallory you could set the car up going in to the bend hard, and get round the corner without touching the steering again. If you wanted to come out tight you just put your boot in it, the tail came round and it was a matter of driving it round on the throttle the whole way. That really taught me quite a bit about racing, particularly about controlling a car by the throttle.”
For much of the remainder of the 1959 season Jimmy Blumer took over ‘HCH 736’, running at northern England circuits, until Border Reivers sold the Lister to Gordon Lee. Between December 26th that year and October 1st 1961 Lee achieved a fifth, a fourth and a third place, plus a third/class win, and one victory, at Brands Hatch national and international meetings, as well as taking third position at Crystal Palace on May 21st. In time for the 1962 season, Lee sold the Lister-Jaguar, which he had run, incidentally, with both full width windscreen and driver-only aero-screen, to gentleman racer the Hon. Richard Wrottesley. From him ‘HCH 736’ passed to Julian Soddy in the mid-Sixties before being reunited with Lee who had it fitted with a new, similar style body, the car then passing to Swindon-based Robert Cooper of Cooper Metals for driver Richard Bond; from there it went to Antony Bamford for one race when the engine blew up, after which it returned to Cooper. Subsequently ‘HCH 736’ passed through the hands of intermediaries Alain de Cadanet and Giuseppe Medici in Italy, and then to Monza-based car dealer and early 1970s Formula 3 driver Adelmo Fossati. It was just two days after Fossati had taken the Lister-Jaguar to race victory at Monza on April 13th that his infamous kidnap for a huge ransom took place, during which he lost his life.
Not long after ‘HCH 736’ was acquired by its late Italian owner, who would found the Coppa d’Italia for historic cars in 1987, making a very fine addition to his remarkable collection of historically important sports-racing and GT Ferraris, all of which were exercised on track on a regular basis. Indeed, when the author saw this unique and famous Lister-Jaguar for the first time, when the owner enthusiastically showed me the inner sanctum of this collection in 1988, he was clearly particularly proud to own what had become one of his favourite cars, and one which he usually liked to race in preference to his Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa. Sadly, he died in 1990, since when ‘HCH 736’ has enjoyed limited outings in European historic race events, including the Le Mans Classic, driven by his eldest son.
Offered now for sale for the first time in over 30 years, and in generally good condition, this unique Lister-Jaguar is an exciting find. Fitted in the 1970s with a full-race, 3,781cc engine by Forward Engineering, running on triple Weber DCOE carburettors – so preserving the previously fitted similar capacity unit, complete with correct wide-angle D Type cylinder head and triple DCO Webers, which comes with the car– and alloy competition wheels, ‘HCH 736’ has Italian FIA and HTP race papers. Should the fortunate new owner wish to obtain British documentation, however, he or she may wish to remove the additional bracing to the chassis which was fitted in more recent years when being raced in European events.
With its long and highly distinguished career, which is documented in numerous books, this one-off Lister-Jaguar – the very car in which the great Jim Clark honed his remarkable skills – is arguably the most coveted and desirable of all the Jaguar-engined sportscars produced by the illustrious Cambridge marque. As such ‘HCH 736’ is immensely eligible for, and offers huge potential in, the most prestigious of European historic race meetings, for which its entry must surely be guaranteed. It could probably find its way around Goodwood on its own...