6 January 2020
Once upon a time, in a land not far from London, there existed a booming British car industry. Here, the likes of MG, Rover, Vauxhall and Jaguar created some of the finest motorcars the world had ever seen. Now, these former bastions of the British economy, are – for the most part – still going strong albeit under the eye of foreign owners. With only a handful of truly British car brands still motoring along, one name shouts louder than the rest. Quite a bit louder, in fact.
Introducing Lister. Now in its third era, the plucky British workshop was founded by Brian Lister in 1954 when the Lister MG won its first race at Snetterton with racing driver Archie Scott-Brown behind the wheel. Like many of its peers, Lister was one of a handful of workshops producing home-made racing cars, designed and engineered by enthusiasts like John Cooper and Colin Chapman. Together, they formed a highly competitive cottage industry, which led the resurgence of the British motor racing scene after the war.
Lister continued to go from strength to strength during the 1950s, with more race wins leading to a succession of more powerful racing cars featuring powerplants from the likes of Maserati, Bristol and Jaguar. But none were quite as iconic as the Lister Knobbly – named after its curvaceous exterior – which led the pack in the 1950s racing scene. Powered by a 3.8-litre Jaguar D-type engine, the Knobbly won 12 of the 14 races in its maiden season in 1957. The car catapulted the Lister name into motorsport history but, although the brand continued to make cars for its customers for several more years, it ended factory racing in 1959. It wasn’t until 1986, under the new ownership of Laurence Pearce, that the name re-emerged. In its new iteration, the company became renowned for tuning versions of Jaguar’s XJS sport tourer and once again hit the track with the development of the V12 Lister Storm in 1993. In 2013, the marque entered its third era, when father-and-son team Andrew and Laurence Whittaker bought the Cambridge-based company to produce recreations of the iconic Knobbly 1950s racer.
What started as a niche nod to Lister’s past soon rose into a fully fledged car company with a penchant for modifying loud and ludicrous Jaguar F-types, like the topless LFT-C in front of me. To the untrained eye, the Lister LFT-C could well be mistaken for a slightly tweaked and tuned F-type but it’s far from standard, in any way. It is based on the F-type R convertible and Lister’s army of engineering alchemists have worked over every aspect of the two-seater drop top. Under its long bonnet lies the gutsy, Jaguar factory-fitted 5.0-litre V8 engine – only Lister has bolted on an upgraded supercharger, intercooler, air filter and engine management system. All this means the LFT-C churns out 666bph and can hit 62mph in just 3.2 seconds, 100mph in seven seconds and reach a top speed of 205mph.
While the stats are certainly impressive, it’s out on the road that it all makes sense. Just starting the Lister is an event – and one that’s almost certain to offend the neighbours. With a trick, bespoke exhaust system, sprouting into four, carbon-clad tips at the rear, the LFT-C certainly makes it presence known – especially with the exhaust amplifier firmly pressed. Cracks, pops and bangs accompany downshifts, while the full force of an electrical storm is let loose when you plant the throttle – fitting, considering the pre-production project was called Thunder before it took its current arrangement of letters.
The moment the supercharger kicks in, pinning you back against your seat, a relentless ear-splitting symphony follows, as the LFT-C shifts through the gears with remarkable pace. People in the surrounding counties will know what you’re up to, as will the local constabulary. Never before has noise been such a clear indicator of the speed you’re clocking – a handy reminder if you still want to hold onto that driving licence. Despite the additional power, Jaguar’s all-wheel-drive system and stability programmes keep everything facing the right way, and it’s possible to switch between the driving modes through the familiar Jaguar switchgear.
Happily, things are just as mad on the inside. Making the most of the F-type’s well laid out interior, Lister commissioned Scottish interior trimmers Bridge of Weir to overhaul the LFT-C’s cabin. With 36 colours to choose from, Bridge of Weir’s nappa leather covers everything from the doors to the roof lining and steering wheel. Finished in a striking combination of black and yellow, this particular car pays homage to the original Lister colour scheme used for its first motor in 1954. Leather aside, the Lister’s interior is identical to the F-type’s, sporting the same Jaguar-made infotainment screen and dials. Even the jumping Jaguar logo remains firmly planted in the centre of the steering wheel.
Those admiring Lister’s handiwork from the outside will notice a few subtle but important changes to the looks. With a handsome base car – the work of former Jaguar design director Ian Callum – the LFT-C wears all-new carbon-fibre bodywork such as the deeper front bumper and splitter, which sit just millimetres off the ground thanks to the car’s new lower suspension set up. Along the sides, new skirts lead to the monstrous rear diffuser, which houses the four larger exhaust tips. Rounding off the look are optional 21-inch rims, which sit in front of the yellow painted brake calipers. Collectively, the visual changes are respectful to the original design, giving the LFT-C a menacing stance to match its devilish performance.
Of course, all this lunacy comes at a price – £139,000 at base cost, to be precise. Going someway to justifying the cost is the fact that only 10 LFT-Cs will be made, compared to 99 examples of the LFT coupe. With that financial foundation, let alone the almost endless options list, the Lister is lifted firmly into supercar territory, with competition from the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo and Aston Martin Vantage. But few will match up to the madness of the Cambridge-made LFT-C.
While its competitors might go about their business more effectively, the charm of this rare piece of British-made exotica is hard to shy away from, especially in an age of mass-produced luxury. When Brian Lister first put together his home-made racing car in 1954, it’s unlikely he’d have thought the Lister badge would still be thriving well into the 21st century. What Andrew and Laurence Whittaker have created is a fitting tribute to Lister’s early work. This car is an excessive and eccentric tribute to the colourful characters that spawned the fledgling British sports car explosion in the 1950s. With more theatre than all of its peers put together, the drop top LFT-C brings the Cambridge carmaker’s remarkable relationship with Jaguar into the modern age with full force.
Power: 666bhp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 720.33 nm
Acceleration: 0-60 in 3.2 secs
Max speed: 205 mph
Price: From £139,000