With that finely restored 1954 Jaguar XK120 that graced the rotunda the other week, the speed and performance of that production model for the time paused me to muse on the importance of the XK engine – motor sport-wise as well.
One story and one book in which the XK engine comes to the fore is the development of the iconic ‘knobbly’ Lister-Jaguar sports car. And it’s a great British story on many levels. The ‘back-street’ Cambridge designer Brian Lister, the gifted engineer Don Moore, and the physically handicapped but irresistibly talented driver Archie Scott-Brown; amazingly enough they were all self-taught, and together they ruled the roost for a while in mid- and late-1950s sports car racing over great works teams such as Aston Martin.
And verily it all came about by a happy collision of a chance meeting between Lister and travelling salesman Scott-Brown at a Cambridge University Automobile Club event in 1951: the former’s powerful racer squared up against the latter’s knackered MG TD, the marque incidentally with which Moore displayed a recognised expertise. In a 1997 interview with Motor Sport, Lister admitted, however, that the whole racing scene for him had been a simple means to a financially-driven end: promotion of Lister’s metalwork company name had been the paramount aim.
Nevertheless, after previously utilizing MG-, Bristol-, and Maserati-powered units, Lister cars reached their competitive pinnacle with their partnering of the powerful and highly efficient Jaguar XK engine. Sadly though it was in one of those cars that Scott-Brown tragically met his death at Spa in 1958 – an incident that almost prompted Lister to retire on the spot.
Nearly a decade ago renowned Jaguar author Paul Skilleter wrote a most attractive account of those fine cars and the ‘amateur triumvirate’ that played such an important part in their instigation. His book is intercut with fine period photographs and a lively narrative concentrating on those interpersonal relationships. Much memorabilia that had never been published before was provided by Lister himself and his first mechanic ‘Dick’ Barton too. All taken, it’s a fine example of the genre, first-class historic motor racing action.
Paul Skilleter, 2010. Lister-Jaguar: Brian Lister and the cars from Cambridge. Barton on Sea, Hampshire: PJ Publishing.