The 1958 Lister-Jaguar — known as the “Knobbly” for its bumpy bodywork — was a fine sports racer, competitive enough to deliver an SCCA National Championship for Team Cunningham driver Walt Hansgen. Aeronautical engineer Frank Costin believed he could make a good car even better, and the result was the less-knobbly 1959 Lister Jaguar. Chassis BHL123, a Costin-bodied 1959 Lister-Jaguar raced by Stirling Moss and Ivor Bueb at Sebring in 1959 and driven to a second championship in as many years by Hansgen, is set to cross the auction stage in Arizona next January, part of Bonhams’ annual Scottsdale sale.
Costin learned the principles of airflow and aerodynamics working with the De Havilland Aircraft Company Limited and later teamed with Colin Chapman on the 1954 Lotus Mk VIII and the 1956 Vanwall VW2 Grand Prix car. His accomplishments impressed Brian Lister, who asked for his help in making the 1958 Lister Jaguar more competitive, particularly at high-speed tracks like France’s Circuit de la Sarthe, home of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
As B.S. Levy wrote in Road Racing Specials, Lister and Costin soon began to bump heads. Lister favored a car with a small frontal area, kept as low to the ground as possible. Costin shrugged this off as all wrong, choosing instead to pen what he considered the ideal aerodynamic profile, optimized for the sporting regulations of the day. It would be up to the drivers to decide who was right, and Stirling Moss wasted no time in voicing his opinion.
After turning laps behind the wheel of BHL123 at Sebring in 1959, Moss remarked, “For Christ’s sake, go back to the original car. It was much better. This one is too damn big, and you can’t see the bloody corners!”
Despite his preference for the earlier Lister-Jaguar, Moss proved fast enough in the Costin-Bodied Lister. After qualifying second at Sebring – where he shared driving duties with two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Ivor Bueb – Moss was running in third when he was called into the pits for a scheduled stop. In a hurry to return to the track, Moss left before refueling was complete, and subsequently ran out of gas on the circuit. He returned to the pits to grab a can of fuel, but did so on the back of a motorcycle, in violation of rules prohibiting outside assistance. In its first outing, BHL123 was disqualified for Moss’ actions.
Before the car’s second outing in the white-with-blue-stripe Cunningham livery, it was upgraded from the original 3.0-liter Jaguar inline six (mandated for international competition) to a 3.8-liter inline six, built and tuned by Alfred Momo, who had prepared the engines for Hansgen’s 1958 championship season. Running in the SCCA’s C-Modified class, the Costin-bodied Lister proved competitive in its first outing, with Hansgen delivering a class win and a second-place overall finish at Marlboro.
During the rest of the 1959 season, Hansgen scored a total of four wins, two more second-places and a fourth-place finish in BHL123, a performance good enough to take his fourth SCCA National Championship. Briggs Cunningham raced the car as well, driving it to a class win (and third-place overall) at Thompson in May, and at the Road America 500 Miles in September, it was Phil Forno and Ed Hugus who shared driving duties with Hansgen. A broken DeDion tube ended that particular effort early, one of the few times the Lister-Jaguar retired with a mechanical failure.
By the end of the 1959 season, it was clear that the Lister-Jaguars in Cunningham’s stable wouldn’t remain competitive for another season. Despite their turbulent relationship, Costin proposed an all-new chassis for Lister for the 1960 season, but following the racing deaths of close friends Archie Scott Brown (killed driving a Lister at Spa-Francorchamps in May 1958) and Ivor Bueb (who died of injuries suffered in a Formula Two crash at France’s Charade Circuit in July 1959), Listed opted to pull the company that carried his name out of racing entirely.
For 1960, Hansgen – still driving for Briggs Cunningham – switched from a Lister-Jaguar to a Maserati Tipo 61 for most of his season. There are differing versions of chassis BHL123’s fate, with some saying the car was sold by Cunningham at the end of 1959, and others insisting it was retained by the team into 1961. Records show the car was raced at the 1962 Daytona 3 Hour by Joe Weatherly, fitted with a Corvette V-8 instead of the Jaguar six-cylinder. In this configuration, it was raced by Gene Hobbs four more times, delivering a win at a Marlboro SCCA Regional in July.
In the years since, BHL123 has passed through a string of caretakers, including Syd Silverman, whose son Michael regularly campaigned it in vintage events. In January 2010, the Costin-bodied Lister crossed the block in Scottsdale, selling for a fee-inclusive $1 million, then a record for a Lister. Since then, it has appeared regularly at vintage events on both sides of the Atlantic, and, in 2015, was displayed in the Postwar Racing class at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Lister produced just 11 Costin-bodied cars for the 1959 season, and of these, just two were Jaguar-powered. Given its provenance as a championship-winning Cunningham team car driven by Moss, Bueb, Hansgen, and Cunningham himself, Bonhams predicts a selling price between $2.0 and $2.6 million when the 1959 Lister Jaguar crosses the block on January 17, 2019.
For more on the Scottsdale sale, taking place at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona, visit Bonhams.com.