Lister-Jaguar Sports Racing Two Seater @ Bonhams Amelia Island auction

Lister-Jaguar Sports Racing Two Seater @ Bonhams Amelia Island auction

1959 Lister-Jaguar Sports Racing Two Seater - Styled by Frank Costin

Est: US$600,000 - US$800,000

Chassis no. BHL 125
Engine no. Unnumbered

3,781cc DOHC Jaguar 6-Cylinder Engine
3 Weber 45 DCO3 Carburetors
Est. 300bhp at 6,000rpm
4-Speed Manual Transmission
4-Wheel Independent Suspension
4-Wheel Disc Brakes

*Offered from the Thomas Hendricks 'Lost Jaguars' Collection
*Ex-Equipe Londres/Ron Brightman, David Beckett and Chris Drake
*Present ownership since 1976
*Last raced at Le Mans 50th Anniversary, 1973
*Campaigned with Chevrolet and Jaguar power in period


When production of British Jaguar cars at the company's famous Browns Lane, Coventry, factory was very seriously affected by a disastrous fire in February 1957, the disaster actually gave specialist sports-racing car constructor Brian Lister an 'in' to get started and produce some spectacular and further-developed sports racing machines using Jaguar's tested 6-cylinder twin-cam XK power unit. Brian Lister had clothed his initial Lister-Jaguar with an entirely distinctive body form to weave its way brilliantly through FIA 'Appendix C' screen-height regulations and to minimize frontal area despite the considerable height of the model's power unit. The new design's nose panel featured deeply scalloped valleys between the front-wheel fenders and a central hump enclosing the engine. At its rear end, this cam-box clearance hump fell away sharply to a low-level scuttle, from which the windscreen Perspex then rose to the required regulation height – being measured (most significantly) from well below overall engine height. The rear body section deck was then level with the top of the windshield with flared rear wings enclosing the wheels and a shapely headrest behind the driver.

Brian Lister had drawn this original body shape in elevation and section, before presenting his drawings to artist Cavendish Morton who produced a perspective painting, photos of which were circulated as a 'taster' to the press before the first car was built. The aluminum body panels for the production run of cars were then formed by Williams & Pritchard in Edmonton, North London. Len Pritchard had wartime aircraft industry experience of shaping lightweight magnesium-alloy panels and he suggested to Brian Lister that panels in magnesium instead of aluminum could save half the weight...despite doubling the price!

In 1957, Lister presented its first Jaguar-powered sports racer to the global racing world, which received much success in the hands of skilled driver, Archie Scott-Brown. Lister's sponsor, British Petroleum, had been seeking a team of large-displacement sports-racing cars to challenge Aston Martin and the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguars, both of whom ran under the Esso Petroleum banner. Early numbers from the little company's initial production-batch of what became known as the 'Knobbly'-bodied cars went to the legendary US-based Briggs Cunningham team to complement and eventually replace his older D-Type Jaguars, dominating the SCCA's US Road Racing Championship.

In 1959, for its second series of Lister-Jaguar sports-racing cars, the Cambridge-based company would seek a more aerodynamic, lower-drag body form. Famed de Havilland aeronautical engineer Frank Costin was enlisted for the task and began redesigning the bodywork. Costin was a great man for the job, having created sleekly aerodynamic bodywork for Lotus and Vanwall Grand Prix cars in the early 1950s, followed by the high-profile 450S Le Mans Berlinetta for Maserati. Frank Costin's younger brother Mike had been development director of Lotus and became co-founder - with Keith Duckworth - of Cosworth Engineering.


Thomas Hendricks' passion for the Jaguar marque is clear, yet his acquisition of this Lister is perhaps a little more obscure in that it simply reflected his love of those lines penned by Frank Costin for the company's 1959 model and a desire to possess and have a daily opportunity to admire them, unlike the majority of collectors who would have chosen such a car for its capabilities on the track.

Mr. Hendricks' Lister, chassis serial BHL 125, had begun its life on the British racing scene, as the fourth Costin-bodied car to be built and was sold new to a larger-than-life London nightclub owner-cum-car dealer Ron Brightman, who upgraded from his AC Aceca, known for its distinctive British Registration (License plate) 'RB25' which he transferred onto the Lister. As built, he ran the car with 5.7-liter Chevrolet V8 power unit, with the nose accordingly slightly bulged to accommodate that, and finished in bright red, with a black centerline stripe. Brightman ran the car in a series of middle-league UK events, sometimes entered in his own name and occasionally under such team titles as 'Equipe Londres' or 'Mayfair Autos Racing Equipe'. Events contested included a debut at Snetterton in March 1959, speed trials at North Weald in Essex, the British Empire Trophy Meeting at Oulton Park, the Aintree 200, Whitsun Goodwood meeting, and later at Silverstone and Brands Hatch. He is not known to have used it after this initial 1959 season.

After a couple of years, he parted with it, and it became the property of David Beckett of Dorking in Surrey, in whose capable hands the car became a very familiar feature within club races around the UK for no fewer than seven years between 1963 and 1970, including a noted incident at the notorious Dunboyne public road circuit in Ireland in 1966. While in his custody, the Chevrolet powerplant was replaced by a wet-sump straight-port Jaguar XK unit, before being refitted with a full D-Type specification unit. It later passed through the ownership of only two further racers in the UK, Bill James and last of all Chris Drake. By this time the car was finished in a more sedate, but more appropriate dark British Racing Green, and its last prominent outing occurred in 1973, at a race to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Le Mans, when it was piloted by Drake.

Mr. Hendricks' desire to secure one of these cars was satiated in 1976, when he purchased it from Chris Drake. The purchase created a trip for he and his family to the UK to inspect and complete acquisition, but also to tour the UK and visit with the variety of Jaguar contacts that he had established remotely over the years. That tour included time with Paul Skilleter and a trip to the famed Browns Lane Works in Coventry. It is an excursion still fondly remembered by his daughters and wife.

At that point the Lister left the British Isles and was brought to this country, along with the MG TC also in this stable. Its racing career was complete by that point, Hendricks was not a racer of cars and so the Lister rested in his Maryland garage alongside his other two special Jaguars. On occasion, such as for Jaguar meets, he would fire the car up and drive her, no doubt shaking his neighbors' roofs with this fire breathing racer as it went by!

Latterly, those occasions were few and far between, and the car's most prominent display was when - alongside LT3 - it was taken to Nashville, Tennessee for the anniversary of the C-Type Le Mans win in 2001.

This wonderful Lister-Jaguar's strongest quality, within this genre, is that the term of 'woodman's axe' absolutely does not apply to it. While the description is applicable to many sports-racing cars as successive owners have sought to remain competitive in the ever-evolving historic racing world, inevitable racing incidents and serial restoration commonly reduces the integrity of the original article to a mere identity.

In that context BHL 125 is something of a towering exception in that it has not been campaigned for nearly 50 years and so retains an incredible degree of originality, as well as the considerable appeal of a long-retired stallion. As such it is an incredibly rare and authentic example of the 'Costin' Lister-Jaguar, very like the other cars with which it shared its stable. Interestingly having been raced in both Chevrolet and Jaguar forms in period, this enables it to be run in either form in historic racing today.

Offered in 'as discovered' condition, it provides its next owner with broad possibilities, be it sympathetic restoration as a time-warp example of its breed, or the basis for a comprehensive refurbishment and a new chapter of racing. In any regard, it will be welcomed back into the community and offers enormous potential for its next, only fifth, owner.

Bonhams is grateful to Doug Nye, author of Power by Jaguar for his assistance in the research of this car.

Text & Image: Bonhams

2 March 2023, 10:00 EST
Fernandina Beach Golf Club

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