It became world-famous in the racing world in the 20th century, it reinvigorated the continuation car market and has made a new name for itself with its highly tuned versions of current Jaguar models in the 21st – the Lister Motor Company is a true icon in the automotive world, and owner Lawrence Whittaker gave Car Dealer Live viewers an absorbing insight into its ups and downs.
Originally owned by Brian Lister and then Laurence Pearce, the company’s current incarnation, with Whittaker at the helm after he took it over with his father Andrew in 2013, is about to launch its take on the Jaguar F-Pace SVR – the 666bhp Lister Stealth.
This SUV has been billed as being the world’s fastest, able to reach 200mph, but what made the company want to take modern products and give them the Lister touch, wondered host James Batchelor.
‘Laurence Pearce had a lot of success doing the Jaguar XJS conversions and it just kind of made sense to me,’ said Whittaker. ‘No one was really tuning the F-Type to any great standard and I thought there was a real golden opportunity here to reignite this Lister Jaguar tuning range. I thought we’d start with the F-Type and if it goes well we’ll do the other cars.’
Whittaker’s approach with the Jaguars has been to go through the cars in every detail, improving what he didn’t like about them. It’s paid off, too. The first one, based on the F-Type, saw three years of development. There wasn’t a budget for a big launch so they simply sent out a press release – and sold 14 cars on the day at £155,000 each, which was a £65,000 increase on the Jaguar.
The Stealth has a full carbon-fibre body kit, new suspension, new exhaust, new wheels and new interior.
‘Basically, if it’s available to fiddle with, we’ve fiddled with it,’ said Whittaker.
‘It’s better than the F-Type Jaguar that we did and it’s better than pretty much any other car I’ve ever driven. It’s such a great everyday SUV.
‘I know a lot of people at the moment buy the Range Rover SVRs but the great thing about the Lister Stealth is that it’s slightly smaller, so it’s just nippier, it handles fantastically, it drives really great. It’s just a really, really great everyday useable car.’
He added: ‘They’re only costing £110,000, so when you consider that that’s 666bhp and a completely bespoke car and you look at that next to a new Range Rover SVR which is £150,000 or a Lamborghini which is £200,000, it’s looking like pretty good value.’
How did Lawrence and his father, who had retired, end up becoming the new faces of the Lister brand, asked Batchelor.
It was bought in 2013 by their warranties company Warrantywise, but Whittaker said: ‘It was a complete and utter accident, to be honest. My dad wanted to restore some old cars in his retirement and one of the cars he bought was a Knobbly but all in pieces.
‘And through restoring that car it led us on a journey to seek out some of the old Lister guys, because we needed some blueprints for different parts and we needed different parts making, and it was just purely that journey, seeking out George Lister Engineering, which was Brian Lister’s grandfather’s company, which Brian ended up owning.’
After finding parts, jigs and blueprints, etc, effectively gathering dust, an idea was sparked and the pair’s passion for the brand led them to Laurence Pearce who owned it by then.
‘It was just purely a coincidental accident. We didn’t seek to try and buy a car company, it was just because we both love cars and we both have a good understanding of cars, and once we realised this was a car company that had really been dormant since 2006 [since the last Storm was made] we thought well, this is a really great opportunity to put it back together.’
Chatting with Batchelor about continuation cars, Whittaker said: ‘As far as we know, we were the first to announce in modern times that we would make a continuation car, and an original Knobbly at that time was sort of two million dollars when we bought Lister in 2013, so they were far, far out of reach of most people who could go racing, and there were just a handful of cars left that you could consider true original cars.
‘It seemed obvious to us to make a Knobbly continuation car.’
Such was their passion and drive for authenticity, they brought former Lister factory people who were now in their 80s and 90s out of retirement to train their apprentices.
Unfortunately, though, amid all the enthusiasm, somebody got the financial calculations wrong…
‘Over the Knobbly continuation run of cars, which was 10 race cars, 10 road cars, 10 Stirling Moss cars and 10 costings, what we’ve realised is we undercharged massively!’ said Whittaker.
‘We went out at £250,000 for the first cars and quickly after we finished the first 10 we realised that we’d lost about a million pounds on those 10 cars, so we upped the price to £300,000 and we lost about £800,000 on those cars, so we upped it again. We’re still losing money – we’ve never made a penny on any of the Knobblys,’ said Whittaker ruefully.
Having seen that the appetite generally for continuation cars is waning, Lister is coming to the end of its production build of continuation cars, with just a few left to deliver. ‘But it’s been a really good journey and a good way to get the brand alive again and doing what we do best,’ said Whittaker.
Its cars, which take some 18 months from order to delivery, are completely handmade in Britain, with only British parts used.
‘For us, that was very important as well to make sure it was a British product handmade, and when you see a finished car racing, it really warms your heart that we’ve made this thing. I’m really, really proud of the cars that we’ve made over the last seven years.’
Watch the interview in full and see what else Lawrence Whittaker had to say – including the effect the death of racing driver Archie Scott Brown in a Lister Knobbly in 1958 had on Brian Lister – by clicking on the main image.
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