There is a new car wearing the yellow Lister badge, the F-TYPE-based LFT-666. We look into this unique British company’s long history in producing extreme Jaguars and ask if the LFT-666 is as extreme as its Nineties predecessor, the supercharged 7.0-litre Lister Le Mans. Words Paul Walton. Photography Stuart Collins.
LISTER LE MANS AND LISTER LFT-666 – MODIFIED POWER SURGE
We compare the most extreme Jaguar of the Eighties, the XJ-S-based 7.0-litre Lister Le Mans, with its modern counterpart, the Lister LFT- 666, and look at the history of the company plus the name’s long association with modified Jaguars
How does the 200mph LeMans compare with the new LFT-666?
Think of an extreme Jaguar and the chances are you might imagine a Lister. For two decades, this small British company produced some of the most extreme cars ever to be built on these shores and has become synonymous with the breed. The ultimate was the XJ-S-based Le Mans. With its 7.0-litre twin supercharged V12 and aggressive body modifications, it turned Jaguar’s once-subtle GT into a genuine 200mph supercar that was on a par with the Ferrari F40 in terms of performance and image.
The company had been largely dormant for over a decade, but is now back with a new car, the LFT-666, which is obviously influenced by those bonkers models of the past. Based on the F-TYPE R, its 5.0-litre V8 has been given a substantial power hike, while its new bodykit results in something harder, something more excessive than even Jaguar’s original. But is it as extreme as its Nineties predecessor? There’s only one way to find out.
Three men made the biggest impact on Lister and its cars. Although one didn’t have any direct involvement with the two examples pictured here, we still need to start with him because it’s his name on both cars. Brian Horace Lister was born on 12 July 1926, one of two sons of Horace and Nell. Horace originally trained as an engineer at Peter Brotherhood Ltd, a manufacturer of turbine engines in Peterborough, before joining the family Cambridge-based engineering firm (which his own father, George, had co-founded in 1890) after World War 1. It was almost inevitable that Brian would become an apprentice at George Lister & Sons after leaving school in 1942. He had completed his training in 1946, when National Service called and he joined the RAF. Two years later, he returned to the family firm.
Brian’s interest in cars started when he was just a child and he was given an aluminium pedal car that looked a little like a Bugatti. His first real car was a former police force MG, which was soon replaced by a Morgan 4/4 and then a Cooper-MG. He co-founded the Cambridge 50 Car Club, and became firm friends with another member, a racing driver from Scotland: WA “Archie” Scott Brown.
Scott Brown’s mother had caught German measles when she was pregnant, leaving him severely disabled with only one hand and foreshortened legs. He stood just 5ft tall. Aspiring sports car manufacturer John Tojeiro (based in nearby Huntingdon) was also a George Lister & Son customer and, in 1951, he sold Brian the second Tojeiro ever built: a JAP-engined special that Brian soon entered into sprint events. But, after been beaten by Scott Brown, Lister took the advice of Donald Moore, the mechanic they used to maintain their cars, and handed the car over to the Scot. “His car (an MG TD) should never have beaten mine,” said Brian Lister in an interview in the August 1984 issue of Motor Sport, “I went up to him and asked if he’d like to drive the Tojeiro in future, while I concentrated on preparation.” Scott Brown became very successful in it, too. So, on the strength of his results, Brian decided to become a sports car constructor. Continued Brian, “By June 1953, I’d come to the conclusion that we were promoting Tojeiro’s name rather well, but that we might do better promoting our own.” So Brian asked his father to fund the development of a new racing machine, which would bear the Lister name. Horace agreed, lending his son £1,500.
The first Lister debuted on 3 April 1954 at Snetterton. Powered by an MG engine prepared by Moore, and with Scott Brown at the wheel, it easily won its class and a sports car handicap. The following day, at the Weathersfield Spring, the car finished third in class. Lister’s car quickly evolved, first powered by a Bristol engine and then Maserati. The biggest step, though, came with another British engine.
In 1956, a London jeweller called Norman Hillwood asked for a 3.4-litre Jaguar engine to be installed into a Lister chassis. Ironically, considering the combination’s later success, Brian was initially opposed to the idea. But with support from Jaguar and British Petroleum, both looking for publicity from motor sport without direct works involvement, the project went ahead.
Powered by the 3.4 XK unit, the tubular-framed sports car (universally know as the ‘Knobbly’ due to its bulging wheelarches and low radiator cowl designed to reduce frontal area) won 12 out of the 14 races it entered that year. Because Jaguar had pulled out of racing officially and was, therefore, no longer developing the D-type, the Knobbly was the car many independent teams had been looking for. The Lister entered production in 1958 with either the XK or a Chevrolet engine aimed at the American market. It wasn’t long before the Lister had become the benchmark for all sports racing cars, and with many top drivers at the helm – including Stirling Moss – it was internationally successful. Between 1954 and 1959, Lister produced just 50 cars, yet during that time it’s said they won, or were placed, over 2,000 times in events all over the world.
Sadly, on 18 May 1958, Scott Brown was killed at Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps while duelling for the lead with the American Masten Gregory, who was driving Ecurie Ecosse’s own Lister-Jaguar. He had just turned 31. This was a terrible blow for Brian Lister; not only was he a close friend, but he was also central to Lister’s success. Although others drove for the works team, Brian always preferred Scott Brown, and had argued his case when he was refused a race licence on disability grounds.
The death of his driver had a massive impact on Brian, who was already concerned about the rising costs of motor racing. At the end of the 1959 season, after losing interest in the sport he withdrew from competition. He continued supporting existing customers until the Sixties, when Brian Lister (Light Engineering) Ltd, the company that made and sold the racing cars, was closed. His last foray into motorsport was the preparation of the works Sunbeam entries for the 1964 Le Mans race. He instead turned his attention to George Lister & Son, taking the engineering firm successfully into the field of packaging-machine manufacture.
“It was difficult to believe we were having those successes so quickly,” said Brian Lister during his final interview, just a few weeks before he passed away in 2014. “I hope we go down as a team that played the game in a sporting fashion.”
In the late Seventies, Brian considered returning to the motor industry. Although impressed by the XJ-S and its smooth V12, he reckoned there was room for an even faster version. Along with former Jaguar engineer Ron Beatty and businessmen John Lewis and lain Exeter, he formed BLE Automotive in the early Eighties; the first Lister XJ-S made its debut in 1985.
Developed by Beatty’s Forward Engineering, the car had either a 5.7 – or 6.4-litre V12, stiffer suspension upgrades and a discreet body kit. Compared to TWR’s own modifications of the same time, it was a massive change in the XJ-S’ refined character; Motor Sport was positive about the car despite it costing as much as £15,000 on top of the £23,385 for a new XJ-S HE.
Reported Motor Sport in its March 1985 issue, “Its uncanny ability to compress straights and consume traffic with apparent indifference to the gear engaged reminds one of video race-games. Just steer around the hazards and you are on your way to a record score.”
Around the same time, Laurence Pearce, son of well-known Sixties E-type racer Warren Pearce, was offering his own modifications to the Jaguar under his WP Automotive banner. Rather than compete against each other, Pearce – who understood the Lister name had more kudos than his own – persuaded Brian to let him use it for a series of highly modified Jaguars built at his Leatherhead premises by a new company, Lister Cars Ltd.
The first WPA-developed Lister was the XJ-S-based Mk 3 that arrived in 1986. With its 6.0 V12 (which later grew to 7.0 litres), plus angular, aggressive body styling and huge Compomotive Turbo alloy wheels, it had a considerably different image and performance to the car on which it was based. Pearce was always keen for Lister to be recognised as a manufacturer in its own right rather than a modifier of existing models, so all the Jaguar badging was removed, from the nose to the boot finisher, to be replaced by the famous yellow Lister logo and script.
Pearce got closer to his ambition with the next car, which many (including myself) still consider to be the ultimate XJ-S: the Le Mans; it is one of the cars in front of me now and, even in red, it is a fearsome, aggressive-looking car that has left its origins long behind. The wide, angular wheelarches – needed to cover those gorgeous 17in chrome Compomotive alloys that are as much of the car’s character as its engine mods – are unlike the sleek, voluptuous shapes for which Jaguar is famous. Unlike the Mk 3, which kept the XJ-S front, the Le Mans has a drooped nose that makes the car appear almost Italian. Yet, arguably the most radical change is at the back. The XJ-S’ infamous buttresses have been filled in and the upright window replaced by a gently sloping, elegant panel – including a larger window that added 20 percent more light With its full-width integrated spoiler (that cleverly meets the rear lights, which have been physically raised by a few inches) and fat 335/35/17 rear tyres, it looks like an Eighties super car, only one that combines the dramatic looks of the Ferrari F40 with the level of refinement you only get from handbuilt, British models, such as the Aston Martin Virage.
Under the bonnet, the original 5.3 V12 was replaced with Lister’s 7.0-litre V12, which features race-developed forged pistons by Cosworth, while the connecting rods and crank were machined in-house from a solid steel billet by WPA. Bore and stroke were stretched to an over-square 94mm x 84mm, a long way from the original 90mm x 70mm. Instead of using Jaguar’s fireball combustion chamber (which first appeared with the HE version of the V12 in the early Eighties to reduce the car’s thirst), WPA instead manufactured its own heads, using a chamber similar to Jaguar’s pre-1980 design. The ports were flowed and polished, cams were specially made, as were the followers that operate bigger valves and matching springs. All of this breathed through a uniquely cast throttle body, fuelled by Magneti Marelli digital electronic injection. And that’s not all. This particular example is fitted with twin Albrex centrifugal Superchargers, which push the power from the normally aspirated 7.0 V12’s 500bhp to a whopping 604bhp at 6,000rpm, a staggering figure at the time, and one that put Jaguar into (claimed) 200mph territory long before the production XJ220. To put the power into context, the Virage boasted just 400bhp while the F40 had 478bhp.
The steering was replaced with one that offered more feel, while the suspension was beefed up with stiffer springs and Koni dampers. To contain all that power, the beast was stopped by four-pot alloy calipers squeezing huge Group C sports car-specification 13.2in x 15in ventilated discs at the front and 12½in discs moved outboard at the rear.
The only parts of the original car to be left unaltered were the doors, windscreen glass, power steering pump and alternator. But then, it needed a lot of work to warrant its high price. A normally aspirated 7.0 coupe cost £121,000 when the Le Mans was revealed in 1989, almost pocket change compared to today’s multi-million pound supercars, such as the Bugatti Chiron, but it was big money at the time. It was almost four times the price of the original donor car, while the Lamborghini Countach QV5000S was £35k less and the Ferrari Testarossa £12k. Prices for the supercharged version like this one aren’t clear, but the car’s owner, Martin Lamb, says he’s read figures of around £155k. That comes as no surprise considering the Lister Le Mans is an even more rare beast than either the Aston Martin or the Ferrari, because just 19 coupes were built (this example is the seventh), plus a handful of £165,000 convertibles.
So, it’s powerful, scarce and expensive, then. Little wonder I’m apprehensive when I approach Martin’s stunning and recently recommissioned 1990 example.
When I climb onboard, other than the thick and richly perfumed red Connelly leather covering the fascia, new sports seats and a Lister-branded steel-spoked racing wheel, the dashboard layout looks remarkably similar to the countless other XJ-Ss I’ve driven. It’s only when I look behind me that I see the biggest marked difference. Thanks to some clever cutting of the rear bulkhead, plus a new, 26-gallon fuel tank (an increase of eight over the original), new, deeper-than-standard rear bucket seats can sit further back, resulting in more legroom. The side windows were lengthened accordingly. Although the extra legroom eats into boot space, the ability to fit four people into the XJ-S in relative comfort is a worthy pay-off and you have to wonder why Jaguar didn’t think of it.
Ok, enough looking backwards. When I twist the key in the ignition, the huge engine starts with a roar that resembles a Spitfire’s 27-litre Rolls-Royce Merlin firing. The five-speed Getrag manual transmission that Lister used to replace the original three-speed automatic slots into gear easily and, although it’s not the smoothest and clunks when it finally finds a gear, it feels strong and capable of coping with all that power. To ensure it could handle the power, it featured Lister modifications in the form of a larger mainshaft, gears that were nitrided (a heat-treating process that diffuses nitrogen into the surface of a metal to create a casehardened surface) and an oil pump.
With an empty and straight road ahead of me, I put the hammer down and am instantly taken aback by the speed and ferocity of this car’s performance. Unlike the slightly lazy 5.3 original, the supercharged 7.0 engine is strong, eager and responsive. Lister claimed the car could reach 60mph in less than four seconds, although contemporary testers couldn’t get it below the still fast 4.5 mark. It’s loud too, and as I thunder down the winding, narrow road it strikes me how far the Le Mans has left its donor car’s refined, comfortable image behind. With so much torque, I’m able to leave the ‘box in third and still accelerate quicker than most cars through the gears, and dropping it down a cog opens a tsunami of power that never seems to end.
However, the extent of the car’s transformation is never more evident than when I hit a pothole. Whereas the famously supple XJ-S would shrug off such things, the Lister thumps and crashes over the tiniest of road imperfections and is as unforgiving and hard-faced as my math’s teacher when I handed in late homework. The upshot, though, is an increase in the car’s road-holding abilities.
The XJ-S was never the sharpest of sports cars, yet the Lister now has the same directness as a Ferrari F40. Thanks to its faster steering, the fat front wheels respond instantly the moment I touch the leather-wrapped wheel, offering racing-car levels of resistance. There’s barely any body roll, either; along with the huge tyres, that allows for monumental levels of grip. Pushing harder, it’s easy to encourage the tail to slip out on the damp, greasy road surface (still not as scary as when it happens in a twitchier F40, though). And that’s where the Le Mans loses ground to the Italian. Weighing in at 1,800kg, you’re always aware of its size, its bulk and that it is front-engined; it lacks the agile, almost kart-like nature of the Ferrari. No matter what Lister did, an XJ-S will always be an XJ-S.
Yet Pearce wasn’t finished. In 1993, he achieved his goal to be a true manufacturer with the four-seat Storm coupe, which featured an all-new aluminium honeycomb chassis and composite bodywork. Although the Jaguar 6.0-litre V12 was still mounted at the front, the Lister really did take the fight to the mid-engined Italian supercars, with a 200mph top speed and 0-60mph time of 4.1 seconds. Lister even took the car racing. The Storm’s Le Mans appearances might have been poor – the best result was 19th in 1996 – but, in 2000, Lister took the GT2 crown in the FIA GT Championship.
Said Brian Lister in a 1997 interview, “The new Lister does reflect on us, and I’m proud of what Laurence Pearce is doing. To qualify at Le Mans is tremendous. And participation builds morale; our workforce is proud to be part of the success, even from as far back as the Fifties.”
In 2004, the racing team built the first Lister designed specially for racing since the Fifties – the Storm LMP, an open-topped Le Mans prototype, again powered by the Jaguar V12. Sadly, apart from winning the Vallelunga Six Hours, results were few and far between. In 2005, the LMP was converted into a hybrid but, again, finishes were rare. Despite planning to design and build a new car around a chassis by French racing car manufacturer Pescarolo, the project was cancelled because of a lack of funds. With car production ending due to the international economic downturn of the Nineties, resulting in just four roadgoing Storms being produced, the Lister name disappeared from view.
But it wasn’t gone completely. Remember George Lister & Son, the engineering firm where Brian worked?
Despite the Lister-badged road cars always being manufactured elsewhere, the original company continued, still based in Cambridge. In 2012, Andrew and Laurence Whittaker (the father-and-son team behind Warranty wise, a Lancashire-based specialist in extended car warranties) were restoring a 1958 Knobbly and needed parts. They contacted George Lister & Son, were invited to the workshop, and couldn’t believe what they saw. “We found they had all these 1958/59 parts and blueprints, which had basically been mothballed,” said Laurence in a 2013 interview. “They didn’t even know what they had and no-one had ever contacted them about it.” The pair subsequently bought the company, plus the intellectual rights for all of Lister’s cars, including the Mk 3 and Le Mans, from Laurence Pearce and created a new company, Lister Motor Company Limited. In 2015, the company announced it was to start building continuation models of the Knobbly using Brian Lister’s original drawings and manufacturing jigs, and many of the team involved with the car were called back into service.
Powered by XK engines prepared by Crosthwaite & Gardener, the cars are eligible for historic racing or can be adapted for road use, the first of these original specification ‘continuation cars’ to be fully eligible to meet IVA type approval.
Perhaps even more exciting for anyone who grew up in the Eighties and can remember the WPA era of Listers, in 2018 the company announced the F-TYPE R AWD-based Thunder (later renamed the less-exciting LI-7-666, referring to the V8’s remapped power). It was similar in principle to the Le Mans, only having more power, a restyled exterior and retrimmed interior. While the continuation Knobblys are built in Lister’s Cambridge workshop, the LFTs are prepared in Lister’s new Blackburn showroom – the amusingly named Rocket Centre. It’s on Lancashire’s tight and twisting roads that I am about lo test both cars.
The car seen here is actually the prototype. The 99 production models will feature slightly different carbon fibre splitters. However, thanks to its yellow Lister grille badge (again, the Jaguar logo is largely absent), bright green calipers and optional matt black paint, the car has an even more aggressive character than the standard R.
Inside, the interior has been retrimmed in softer leather than standard and this particular car has a diamond pattern in the seats and green stitching, although I’m told anything is possible, and, as it was for Eighties and Nineties Listers, there’s no such thing as a standard specification. The rest of the interior’s layout is left untouched, so I’m soon comfortable and reaching for the start bullon. The V8 sounds louder than standard, having a deep, throaty bark (imagine Thor clearing his throat).
As you’d expect for a car that has been remapped to 666bhp, performance is ferocious – violent even – feeling what sitting inside a nuclear weapon must be like during detonation. Yet, despite the extra 110bhp, the Lister retains the standard car’s drivability. It’s not some ridiculous jet- fuelled hot rod that can only be driven al full blast. Throttle control remains progressive and I can still trickle through a village at 30mph before nailing the pedal as I exit for a quick, sudden burst of power.
With all-wheel drive (Lister, sensibly, won’t offer a rear-wheel-drive version) grip is outstanding, so I can obviously take comers harder and faster than in the Le Mans, despite the older car’s fat, sticky tyres. In fact, there is so much grip that oversteer is non existent (although with this being a priceless prototype, I wasn’t really trying. Honest). The ride remains the same as the standard F-TYPE – mainly stiff, hard and unforgiving.
A fabulously fast car, then, and worthy of the Lister badge. And yet, and yet..
Despite having more power, more performance and more speed, the LFT-666 lacks the theatrics and huge personality of the older model. A fast F-TYPE V8 with more power isn’t something new. Jaguar itself did it with the Project 7, then there’s Viezu’s Predator, which I drove last year that feels very similar to the Lister in terms of throttle response and smoothness of power.
It might be almost 30 years old, but the Le Mans feels the more extreme of the two, remaining the ultimate XJ-S. While TWR and Jaguar offered their own fast version, the JaguarSport-developed XJR-S, even with the optional 6.0-litre V12 it remained a refined GT. The Le Mans, by comparison, is a no-limits, totally excessive and completely over-the-top piece of machinery. Quite simply, the LFT-666 might be a faster version of an already quick sports car, but the Le Mans is a supercar version of a reasonably fast GT.
No matter which one you favour, the fact that this most British of names is back doing what it does best, producing extreme versions of Jaguar’s cars (look out for the forthcoming F-PACE-based 200mph LFP), is something we should all cheer.
Thanks to: Lister Motor Company (www.lister.com), and Le Mans owner, Martin Lamb
BELOW L-R: Brian Lister driving his first car, the JAP-engined Tojeiro; Brian with Scottish driver, Archie Scott Brown, in a Knobbly; Stirling Moss was a regular and successful Lister driver