1963 Lister Jaguar GT Prototype

Lister_Jaguar_GT_1963_1.jpg

ex-Peter Sargent / Peter Lumsden

CC:3781
Colour: Green
Trim Colour:Black

"I really regarded Le Mans as unfinished business after Archie's death and we were determined to do well there - that was one of the reasons for taking on Frank Costin to produce a really low-drag body for maximum speed along the Mulsanne Straight. We did a lot of development work tailored to that race and Costin had an all-new lightweight spaceframe chassis on the stocks but it was a long time completing" - Brian Lister (`Powered by Jaguar' by Doug Nye, p.140)

In many ways the `Spaceframe' Lister was so unlike any other car to emerge from the Cambridge firm's Works that it may as well have worn a different maker's badge. Although, notably lighter and stiffer than the various twin-tube ladder-frame chassis that had underpinned its predecessors, the new design was to quote Brian Lister "almost prohibitively expensive . . . soaking up funds like a sponge". Thus, when Ivor Bueb's death prompted him to suddenly retire from racing during August 1959, the `Spaceframe' car had yet to be finished off. Acquired by racer / garage proprietor Syd (a.k.a. Jim or Dig) Diggory of Rhostyllen, North Wales and entrusted to mechanic Ken Wilde, it first ran in anger the following year. Driven by Diggory, Colin Escott and Bruce Halford, the red painted open-cockpit sports racer achieved some notable results including victories at Oulton Park and Brands Hatch. Describing the latter, Halford recalled that "In practice there the car wouldn't rev above 4,500 or so and eventually in desperation we tore out the wires to its electronic rev-counter and hey presto, it ran sweet as a bird! It was quite a car, it felt more compact, more of a piece than the Works Costins with the twin-tube frame, very stiff and obviously it had great potential" (`Powered by Jaguar' by Doug Nye, p.152). As well as setting a new short circuit record of 57.4 seconds (his average lap time for the race was 58.55 seconds), Halford took the chequered flag some 1.8 seconds ahead of Jimmy Blumer's Cooper Monaco but an impressive 26.4 seconds in front of John Bekaert's `twin-tube' Lister-Jaguar.

Despite believing that "The Spaceframe Lister-Jaguar was the best handling big sports car ever produced", Diggory sold it to Hampshire-based property developer / racer, John Coundley in 1961. Something of a marque exponent, Coundley owned several Lister-Jaguars including a `twin-tube' car road registered as `WTM 446' that was crashed and severely damaged by Stephen Ouvaroff on the set of the MGM film, `The Green Helmet'. Coundley had a bump himself (though, a readily repairable one) aboard the `Spaceframe' car during the April 1961 Aintree `200' meeting. Advertised for sale just over twelve months later, the unique Lister was bought by Le Mans veteran, Peter Sargent. A director of the West Croydon road / race preparation specialists Jack Playford Ltd, he co-drove a modified Jaguar E-type with Peter Lumsden to fifth overall at the 1962 Le Mans 24-hours (frustratingly, the pair had been on course for third place before getting stuck in top gear). Perhaps looking for a car that exhibited greater high-speed stability and less bump-steer than the E-type, the duo asked Frank Costin to transform the `Spaceframe' Lister into a GT Prototype. Working closely with Brian Playford, Costin duly created a sleek, low-drag coupe bodyshell. Fabricated from aluminium, it featured a protuberant nose, steeply raked windscreen and `double bubble' roof the contours of which continued down to the tail. Far more than just a reshell, the project involved repositioning the suspension pick-up points to allow for the use of fifteen inch wheels and rising rate front geometry etc.
Running behind schedule the `one off' Lister-Jaguar GT Prototype made its debut at the Le Mans test week during April 1963. Unpainted and temporarily running on triple Weber carburettors, the main point of its being there was as Gregor Grant reported for Autosport "to have this very interesting car scrutineered by the ACO technical committee to avoid any possible arguments in June when it will probably be fitted with a fuel-injected engine giving well over 300bhp". As things transpired the ACO officials insisted on various bodywork modifications and while the reborn `Spaceframe' Lister clocked a best lap of 4 minutes 16.3 seconds (a decided improvement over the 4 minutes 22.9 seconds recorded by the Sargent / Lumsden E-type a year earlier), the car patently needed further development. Surviving photos of the French test session show the low-drag coupe sporting the registration number `WTM 446'. Peter Sargent is on record as saying that he purchased the logbook pertaining to this number plate (and the associated chassis number BHL126) from John Coundley. Originally, `WTM 446' had been issued to the `twin-tube' Lister-Jaguar that was heavily damaged during the filming of `The Green Helmet'. Coundley seemingly considered the `twin-tube' car to have been written off and so had no qualms about its identity being transferred to the `Spaceframe' car. Indeed, he is listed on the `Engagement' document for the '24 Heures Internationales du Mans 1963' as the `Conducteur Suppleant' or Reserve Driver.

Two days of testing at Brands Hatch on May 15th - 16th 1963 revealed that the rose-jointed suspension needed fine tuning (though, the car was judged to be "virtually neutral steering"). An advanced set-up with unequal length double-wishbones up front and a Watts linkage / leading-arm located De Dion tube to the rear, it was hoped a new anti-roll bar and front springs would perfect the handling. Lumsden's complaints that the Lister-Jaguar GT Prototype was unstable under braking worried Costin as Dennis Ortenburger's book `Flying on Four Wheels, Frank Costin and his car designs' revealed:

"He and Jack Playford spent hours going over the specifications both on paper and on the car. There wasn't a clue until one evening Playford called Francis over to the front of the car and said: `You know this is bloody funny this suspension'. He was pushing his foot down on the radiator sub-frame and the wheels were toeing in and out by 0.25-inch like a pair of swinging doors. With only four days before the race they decided to arrive early and do what they could in France. On arrival at their hotel near Sarthe, Costin and Playford began a rehash of the entire front suspension. They agreed that in design there was no bump steer but this was precisely what the car exhibited. As near as they could figure the height of the steering rack was incorrect so alloy blocks were machined to adjust it. With their fingers crossed and nearing exhaustion the two men retired to the hotel dining room. Neither of them even saw the race because at diner they ate something that literally knocked them flat on their backs . . . While Costin and Playford were dreaming very peculiar dreams the Le Mans coupe was rolled onto the grid. It looked splendid with its polished BRG bodywork and yellow tinted side and rear plexiglass windows. Alas, at flag fall Sargent knew something was drastically wrong. Lumsden recalled: `When we had the engine rebuilt by Jaguar we didn't have the opportunity to get it completely run in and due to our fears over ground clearance had changed the exhaust system to an elliptical pipe which I'm now positive didn't give anywhere near the same gas flow efficiency as the round one'. Peter Sargent pressed on nonetheless and began moving up on the leaders. The handling still wasn't exactly right but the aerodynamics were apparently showing an advantage. Lumsden took over and got to 16th place in the third hour when the clutch failed and their race was over".

With a somewhat `strangled' engine and last minute redesign issues, the `Spaceframe' Lister had lacked the qualifying pace of its GT Prototype class rivals such as the Aston Martin DP215, Maserati Tipo 151 and various Ferrari 330LMBs. Albeit the low-drag coupe's lap time of 4 minutes 13.4 seconds was on a par with the similarly underperforming / hurriedly prepared Lola MK6 GT (4 minutes 13.1 seconds). Interestingly, the accompanying copy `Carnet De Pesage' - which required no fewer than twelve verification signatures to complete - records that Costin's creation had the benefit of an aluminium cylinder block, Lucas fuel-injection and Jaguar four-speed manual gearbox for the endurance classic (signs of the fuel-injection system appear in contemporary photographs but the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust's records suggest a cast-iron block might have been used). On its return to the UK, the `Spaceframe' Lister was subjected to further development / analysis: "Peter Lumsden eventually got the Le Mans coupe sorted and won several English club races at Goodwood. He remembered one occasion at Silverstone: `In a sports car race with little open sports cars it was frightfully quicker through the really fast bits but they would run circles around me on the twisty sections'. Throughout his experience with the car Lumsden believed there were changes in attitude at high speeds. Together with Samir Klat, a PhD candidate at London University, they instrumented the body and suspension to test for pitch and ride height effects at maximum speed. To Frank's relief they found none" (`Flying on Four Wheels', pp124-125).

In addition to being aerodynamically sound, the `Spaceframe' Lister was commendably light. A contemporary weighbridge reading with a full compliment of fluids aboard - including some 30 gallons of fuel - came out at 2359lbs or 1070kg (the Ferrari 330LMB was reckoned to have a kerb weight of 1121kg). Another draw of the Lister-Jaguar GT Prototype was its chassis. While, it is difficult for any car to be underpinned by a true spaceframe (things like the occupants and engine getting in the way), Costin's multi-tubular, triangulated construction was more akin in torsional rigidity terms to a Mercedes-Benz W196 than a Maserati Birdcage. Andrew Whyte's book `Jaguar Sports Racing & Works Competition Cars from 1954' makes mention of renowned aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer attending a Lister test in February 1959 after which he reported back to Jaguar's Bill Heynes that "the new Lister spaceframe will weigh 62lbs, a saving of 70lbs" (p.218). A handwritten note on file relating to a telephone interview with Brian Playford includes the impressive titbit that the GT Prototype was "stiffer than the E-type, jack it up, take an axle stand out, doesn't move". Although, monocoque construction is the norm for most modern race car series (NASCAR being a welcome exception), the associated technology was still in its relative infancy during the 1960s with many preferring the more readily repairable / modifiable nature of a multi-tubular frame.

During 1963 Peter Lumsden had taken delivery of a Jaguar E-type `Lightweight' (road registered as '49 FXN') which he unfortunately crashed first time out at the ADAC's Nurburgring 1000km race. The subject of a factory rebuild before being remodelled as a `low drag' coupe by Samir Klat (later Dr Samir Klat) it became the Lumsden / Sargent pairing's primary race car for 1964. The Lister-Jaguar GT Prototype was not abandoned but instead made one final appearance on the International stage. Reacquired by (or on loan to) John Coundley, it participated in the 1964 ADAC Nurburgring 1000km race with Jack Fairman as the nominated co-driver. Up against some formidable opposition including Phil Hill's Ford GT40, Pierro Noblet's Iso Grifo A3C and Ludovico Scarfiotti's Ferrari 275P, the `Spaceframe' Lister was forced into retirement with rear suspension failure. Thereafter, the low-drag coupe was not left idle for long as a letter on file from former Jaguar Drivers Club chairman, David Harvey, recounts:

"I can confirm that I purchased the car from Peter Sargent in the mid-1960s - probably 1964. I first saw the car at Playfords in Croydon; it was without engine and gearbox. J.A. Pearce at Southall found a D-type engine and gearbox and my wife and I drove it at many sprints and hillclimbs. When I purchased the car I was give the usual type of registration document: a logbook which I think was green. The car was registered in my name and taxed and insured for road use during all the years I owned it. You will see the tax disc centre screen on the various photographs. We drove the car to many events and used it as transport if either my wife's or my car was off the road".

Harvey and his wife piloted the GT Prototype at numerous venues including Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Prescott and Trengwainton over the next few years (the Gurston Down hillclimb class record being one of their rewards). Amusingly, an accompanying copy photo file shows it parked in London's famous Red Lion Square. Passing through the hands of J.A. Pearce and renowned collector Neil Corner, the `Spaceframe' Lister was then acquired by Paul Michaels' firm Hexagon of Highgate who in order to comply with the contemporary JCB Historic Championship's regulations "converted the car back to roadster form by simply removing the top and adding new panels aft and to the sides of the cockpit" (`Flying on Four Wheels', p.125). Raced on Hexagon's behalf by Gerry Marshall and Nick Faure, the car's coupe lineage was plain to see especially in the way the backs of its doors angled into the rear wings (a feature not shared by the Costin-bodied `twin-tube' Listers). Marshall used the ex-Le Mans entrant to win the last ever race held at Crystal Palace in 1972 prior to the Devon-based restorer Barry Simpson buying it the following year. Further fine-tuned and raced (Gerry Marshall purloining it to clinch the 1980 Lloyds and Scottish Championship), the `Spaceframe' Lister remained in Simpson's custodianship until late 1981 when the onset of terminal cancer prompted him to sell it to John Harper and Dr Philippe Renault. Among the foremost Jaguar collectors, Renault had a private museum near Le Mans and it is there that the old warhorse spent most of the next two decades. Though, after a couple of years the decision was taken to restore the car to its GT Prototype specification using the supreme metal working skills of Maurice Gomm. Well maintained but not raced during Renault's custodianship, the low-drag coupe nevertheless made occasional outings to UK events including one time when it was displayed on the Lister stand at the Silverstone Historic Festival.

In early 2001 Don Law of Jaguar specialist Don Law Racing successfully negotiated the purchase of the `Spaceframe' Lister from John Harper / Philippe Renault for his client Staffan Svenby (F1 star Ronnie Petersen's former manager). Determined to end the car's days as a museum exhibit, Svenby and Law lost little time in submitting it for a number of prestigious events including the Le Mans Legend and Goodwood Revival. A letter on file from Goodwood's Motorsport Director Richard Sutton to Staffan Svenby dated 2nd March 2001 makes for interesting reading:

"Just a note of sincere congratulations for securing the Lister Coupe. This is a wonderful car which I was trying to get Lord March to buy but unfortunately it was out of his price range . . . ! I am thrilled to learn you have the car and it will be a terrific entry at the TT celebration race this year. As I write, I can't confirm an entry as I would not want to do that before I considered the whole grid, but I think it is highly likely that we would want to include you. You have been enormously supportive before now and the Lister Coupe is a fabulously attractive and significant car. I did look into the history of the car a bit if only to campaign to Charles that he should buy it. I believe it to be historically very significant and substantially original (at least insofar as Listers go). I honestly can't remember the specifics on what I thought was right or wrong about the car but, whatever the case, it's a hugely desirable machine".

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the above extract the Lister-Jaguar GT Prototype has participated in almost all of the last seven Goodwood Revivals; on one occasion Don and Justin Law were sought out by Frank Costin's son who presented them with copies of his father's set-up and design notes on the car. A proven competitor, Autosport's report on last year's meeting noted that "At one point during confusion over the safety car it looked like the David Leslie / Justin Law Lister Coupe could have won the RAC TT Celebration". However, it has not just been at the famous Sussex circuit that the `Spaceframe' Lister has displayed real pace - Justin Law taking a memorable pole position at the 2001 Le Mans Legend (the car's only outing to France in recent years).

The GT Prototype has attracted a fair amount of attention off the track too thanks to its part in a High Court case between Allen John Lloyd and Staffan Svenby and The Secretary of State for Transport which concluded during early 2006. Prospective purchasers are urged to read through the car's voluminous history file and to read the Approved Judgement of Mr Justice Stanley Burnton concerning the case. Essentially, Mr Lloyd owns what is said to be the chassis of the `twin-tube' Lister to which the registration number `WTM 446' was originally issued (albeit fitted with a period incorrect `Knobbly' style body) and felt that his car had a better claim to the registration number `WTM 446' and chassis number `BHL 126' than the unique Lister-Jaguar GT Prototype. After the DVLA suspended the registration number from the two cars citing the "not only complex but ultimately contradictory and inconclusive" claims of both parties, Mr Lloyd took the Ministry of Transport and Mr Svenby to court. As of today neither car has been reissued with the UK registration number `WTM 446' nor does that situation look likely to change. There is no doubt that the `Spaceframe' Lister borrowed the registration number `WTM 446' and chassis number `BHL 126' from its distant `twin-tube' cousin in 1962 (or else these numbers would not have appeared on the Le Mans `Carnet de Pesage' inspection paperwork) and Mr Justice Stanley Burnton was satisfied during the proceedings that Costin's multi-tubular creation had never been given a chassis number by Brian Lister. Correspondence on file from the DVLA suggests that the agency would be willing to issue the low drag coupe with an age-related registration number if anyone wanted to return it to road use.

In our opinion the absence of a Works issued chassis number would be a more pressing concern if the Lister-Jaguar GT Prototype was not a `one off'. One of the primary functions of a chassis number (or VIN) is to differentiate a car from others in its associated series. Thus, a chassis number is a useful tool with which to tell one Ferrari 250 GTO (or Jaguar E-type `Lightweight') from another but it is an accepted fact that Lister only ever made one `Spaceframe' chassis. Like that other ill fated British racing car, the `Blower' Bentley, the GT Prototype was something of a heroic failure in period. The car's more recent competitiveness is all the more remarkable given the comparatively conservative budget on which it has been run for the last seven years or so. The current powerplant might be a Crosthwaite & Gardiner alloy block 3.8 litre complete with Lucas `butterfly valve' fuel injection, dry-sump lubrication and a wide-angle head but it has been tuned for reliability and not outright brake horsepower. Similarly, the car could have its weight substantially trimmed if more magnesium alloy castings were introduced.

Although, it is difficult to be certain, much of the bodywork fitted to the Lister-Jaguar GT Prototype appears to be original (John Harper estimating that approximately seventy percent of the `Le Mans' panels remained in his sworn court statement). The bonnet's underside reveals assorted repairs and modifications many of which seems to accord with period photographs on file. In a letter to the DVLA outlining the GT Prototype's history Doug Nye wrote: "My researches lead me to believe that - while the registration `WTM 446' - was first applied in 1959 to an open-cockpit Costin-bodied sports-racing Lister-Jaguar owned by Bill Moss - this registration was plainly transferred for the Le Mans 24-Hour race to the entirely different design `spaceframe' Lister-Jaguar Coupe co-driven by Peter Sargent and Peter Lumsden . . . I am convinced that this Coupe car subsequently enjoys completely unbroken provenance from Le Mans 1963 to the present day . . . the `spaceframe' Lister-Jaguar has been effectively preserved in one homogenous assembly which has continued to be runnable and to be run ever since its original Coupe conversion in 1963". Since entering the current post-Svenby ownership we are assured that any and all original components removed from the car for race preparation purposes have (a) been kept by Don Law Racing and (b) will be included in the sale. The low-drag coupe's appeal to collectors and race organizers alike is its unique nature. Commissioned by Brian Lister and reconfigured by Frank Costin (two of the quieter men in British motor racing history), the Lister-Jaguar GT Prototype was the last of the Cambridge firm's cars to contest the Le Mans 24-hours race. As well as being featured in `Powered by Jaguar', `Flying on Four Wheels' and `Jaguar Sports Racing & Works Competition Cars from 1954', the `Spaceframe' Lister was the subject of a flattering article by Simon Taylor for the February 2002 issue of Classic & Sportscar magazine (a copy of which is included amid the car's history file).

At a time when more and more milestone machines are being `cloned' what price individuality?

Frank Costin 1920 - 1975

Lured away from the De Havilland Aircraft Company where he had been conducting research into high-speed flight, Frank Costin became one of motorsport's first true aerodynamicists. Having collaborated successfully with Colin Chapman on the Lotus MKVIII and Vanwall F1 Grand Prix car, Costin was in strong demand during the late 1950s. Commissioned by Maserati to create a coupe body for its 450S sports racer, he was infuriated when Zagato `misinterpreted' the design and it proved a flop at the 1957 Le Mans 24-hours.

Nor did Frank Costin and Brian Lister part on the best of terms, the open-cockpit body that Costin penned to be adapted to the existing `twin-tube' Lister chassis for the 1959 season may have been more streamlined than its `Knobbly' forebear but it was also blighted by a greater frontal area. The `Spaceframe' car too caused disharmony with Lister feeling that Costin had scant regard for the budget restraints of a small team.

Thus when Peter Sargent and Peter Lumsden approached him to reconfigure the `Spaceframe' Lister into a GT Prototype, Costin must have seen an opportunity to prove the worth of his ideas to both Lister and Maserati. Described by Simon Taylor as "a brilliantly inventive non-conformist" who lived on "nothing but cups of tea, endless fags and huge rushes of boyish excitement", Costin was always one for redesigns and last minute changes.

During the 1970s Costin worked on the March 711 F1 Grand Prix car which carried Ronnie Petersen to second place in the 1971 Driver's Championship (and sported a distinctive ovoid `Spitfire' front wing). He also helped hone `Big Bertha' and `Baby Bertha', the Dealer Team Vauxhall racers that Gerry Marshall drove to such crowd-pleasing effect. Never achieving the level of recognition he deserved but leaving behind a proud legacy, Costin died of cancer in 1995.


Image and description kindly supplied by H&H Classic Auctions
Index page [< Previous] [Next >]

Classic Cars Index