Lis­ter-jaguar knob­bly

Restor­ing the first-ever Lis­ter-Jaguar ‘Knob­bly’ to its for­mer glory was never go­ing to be easy. Tony Dron track-tests the re­sult and re­veals all

Octane - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy Mitch Pashavair

Tony Dron track-tests a very faith­ful restora­tion

‘A car like this, the first of its kind and with a great story to tell, is a se­ri­ous prize for any col­lec­tor to­day’

Some­where along the way, this car came to be known as EE101. That’s wrong, but it’s a mi­nor point in the his­tory of one very im­por­tant car that has been res­cued and re­stored to per­fec­tion by its lat­est owner.

What we have here is the very first Lis­terJaguar ‘Knob­bly’, the same car that has been seen so many times in that fa­mous pho­to­graph with its cre­ator, Brian Lis­ter, posed along­side the River Cam in Cam­bridge. Built for the 1958 sea­son, with Brian’s cun­ning in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the reg­u­la­tions for wind­screen height in sports car rac­ing, the ‘Knob­bly’ soon proved to be the car to have if you wanted to win.

One thing we know for sure is that, while it was be­ing built, it was in­tended for the Ecurie Ecosse team, but then Briggs Cun­ning­ham or­dered two cars from Lis­ter and he needed them quickly, in time for the Se­bring 12 Hours on 22 March that year. For that rea­son, Cun­ning­ham’s or­der took prece­dence and this car and BHL102 were duly ex­ported to the USA. Con­trary to some re­ports, ap­par­ently they both had the stan­dard alu­minium bod­ies and not the lighter mag­ne­sium al­loy ver­sion of­fered by the coach­builders, Wil­liams & Pritchard. At that time both cars were fit­ted with Jaguar’s frag­ile 3.0-litre en­gine, com­ply­ing with the pre­vail­ing in­ter­na­tional reg­u­la­tions for sports car rac­ing.

At Se­bring, Lis­ter works driver Archie Scott Brown was in­vited to share BHL101 with Walt Hans­gen. It wasn’t a great start for the new Lis­ters be­cause both re­tired with pis­ton fail­ure and, when its en­gine let go, BHL101 was hit up the back by Gen­de­bien’s Fer­rari.

Cun­ning­ham then aban­doned the 3.0-litre en­gine and his prepa­ra­tion ex­pert, Al­fred Momo, in­stalled more pow­er­ful and re­li­able 3.8-litre en­gines in both cars, which went on to dom­i­nate SCCA Na­tional Cham­pi­onship rac­ing. Walt Hans­gen scored many vic­to­ries in BHL101, its out­stand­ing his­tory and chain of own­er­ship over the fol­low­ing decades be­ing well-doc­u­mented to date.

A car like this, the first of its kind and with a great story to tell, is a se­ri­ous prize for any col­lec­tor to­day. Its value has been demon­strated clearly in a num­ber of auc­tions in re­cent years, cul­mi­nat­ing in the RM sale at Monaco in May 2014 when it was sold for €1,176,000 – al­most a mil­lion pounds at that time.

Any car that fetches a seven-fig­ure sum would surely be per­fect in ev­ery de­tail, right? The av­er­age car buyer prob­a­bly thinks so but, of course, it’s not al­ways that sim­ple. And, with his­toric rac­ing cars, mat­ters can be ex­tremely com­plex.

This car makes that point well and its most re­cent his­tory could serve as a text­book on how to get ev­ery­thing dead right. The man who bought it, Hel­mut Rothen­berger, knew ex­actly what he was get­ting into and, as an ex­pert en­gi­neer and busi­ness­man, he knew what needed to be done.

Pre­dictably enough, fol­low­ing its time with Cun­ning­ham, BHL101 had a se­ries of keen own­ers who raced it in a wide va­ri­ety of club events, some in the States and some on our side of the At­lantic. Decades of such use are bound to in­volve in­ci­dents, which inevitably take their toll. Old race cars may look great, un­re­stored but well cared for and all pol­ished up for sale, but it would be fool­ish to imag­ine that un­der their pleas­ingly pati­nated skins they all re­main ex­actly as they were when new. This Lis­ter is the gen­uine orig­i­nal car, of course, but Rothen­berger knew that close ex­pert in­spec­tion would be re­quired.

He went to the right place, CKL De­vel­op­ments, where Chris Keith-Lu­cas and his team pro­duced the re­quired de­tailed re­port, cov­er­ing ev­ery inch of the car.

An ex­am­ple: ‘The bon­net nei­ther ap­peared to be new nor hav­ing been made as long ago as 1958, but some­where in be­tween. As the first ever Lis­ter-Jaguar Knob­bly, it would have had the “long” bon­net with no scut­tle panel and the half-round front wings char­ac­ter­is­tic of those cars. How­ever, we know from pe­riod pho­tos that this was changed dur­ing the Cun­ning­ham pe­riod for a later-style “short” bon­net in­cor­po­rat­ing the mod­i­fied anti-lift front wing shape. The bon­net on BHL101 is a mix­ture of the two: short but with the early half-round wing shape. Sub­se­quently we have heard from pre­vi­ous owner Roger Wil­liams, who told us he had this bon­net made 30 years ago to re­place the one then fit­ted, which he con­sid­ered be­yond re­pair.’

The ini­tial in­spec­tion of the chas­sis re­vealed ‘signs of some quite rough weld­ing and re­pairs, not of the orig­i­nal Lis­ter stan­dard… con­sis­tent with a hard life in mo­tor rac­ing.’

A re­port like that is the es­sen­tial start­ing point be­fore de­cid­ing what to do next. CKL and Hel­mut Rothen­berger then agreed that restora­tion was es­sen­tial, with the ob­jec­tive of achiev­ing ‘a safe, re­li­able and truly com­pet­i­tive car, at the same time deal­ing fully with all ar­eas of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion’. Chris was also asked to re­turn BHL101 to its orig­i­nal spec­i­fi­ca­tion wher­ever that had been com­pro­mised dur­ing its rac­ing life. The idea was to re­main true to pe­riod fin­ishes and tech­niques, bring­ing this 1958 racer back to what it re­ally was in its day and em­phat­i­cally not to end up with a 21st Cen­tury concours con­tender. BHL101 had found a good home in­deed.

Cen­tral to the task was the restora­tion of the chas­sis. Once it was stripped down, it was pos­si­ble to iden­tify all the orig­i­nal tubes and to see ex­actly what had been done over the years. Chris was very pleased to find that a sig­nif­i­cant amount of the struc­ture was orig­i­nal but it was ob­vi­ous that a large re­pair and re­con­struc­tion job had been car­ried out, prob­a­bly fol­low­ing a crash in the 1960s in the USA.

What do you do when a car has been like that for most of its life? Some­times it might be right to keep it as it is be­cause it’s part of that car’s spe­cial his­tory. For BHL101, the an­swer was ob­vi­ous be­cause of the poor work­man­ship in those old re­pairs. As it was taken apart, CKL dis­cov­ered that the crude welds were largely non-pen­e­trat­ing, the steel was of the wrong spec­i­fi­ca­tion and, in­cred­i­bly, the wall thick­ness of the two main chas­sis tubes was at least twice that used by Lis­ter.

That chas­sis needed to be re­paired prop­erly and that’s where all Lis­ter own­ers are ex­traor­di­nar­ily for­tu­nate. Ge­orge Lis­ter En­gi­neer­ing Ltd still ex­ists near Cam­bridge, the orig­i­nal chas­sis jigs are still there and the com­pany com­pleted a small run of new Knob­blies in 2015. The welder on BHL101 would be Arthur Irons, who in 1958 was the young ap­pren­tice of Bob Gawthrop, the man who welded that chas­sis to­gether in the first place. Restora­tions do not get more au­then­tic.

Re­tired Lis­ter em­ploy­ees, Ed­win ‘Dick’ Bar­ton and Colin ‘Chippy’ Crisp, joined in to in­spect the dis­man­tled chas­sis parts, which were in­stalled on the jig by Gra­ham ‘Curly’ Hut­ton. It was no sur­prise to dis­cover some dis­tor­tion there, which re­quired fur­ther ex­pert

‘If the chas­sis re­build was com­plex, the body was even more in­tri­cate’

re­pairs. The Lis­ter fac­tory is only ten min­utes from my house, so I was able to drop in and fol­low progress through the sum­mer. It ended up as a beau­ti­ful job that would have made the late Brian Lis­ter re­ally proud. Weeks of work went into it, so it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that the bill came to nearly three-quar­ters of the price of a brand new chas­sis. It was worth ev­ery penny.

As this work went along, Chris Keith-Lu­cas be­came in­creas­ingly puz­zled over how it had come to be called chas­sis EE101. That des­ig­na­tion was in­deed stamped on a front sus­pen­sion tur­ret, but over-stamped ‘BHL’. That part of the chas­sis was, as we know, re­placed in a later ma­jor re­pair, so it was clearly not orig­i­nal. Chris sus­pects, and he could well be right, that the dou­ble-E pre­fix comes from the en­gine. The orig­i­nal en­gine in BHL101 was EE1201, the ‘EE’ in­di­cat­ing that it was a works loan en­gine from the Jaguar fac­tory. As this con­fu­sion is part of this car’s his­tory, the mys­te­ri­ous stamped sec­tion was care­fully in­cor­po­rated into the re­built chas­sis.

Want­ing to clear this mat­ter up prop­erly, I asked the Lis­ter di­rec­tor in charge of cars, Mark Hal­lam, for a state­ment. He wrote: ‘I can con­firm that this car should be known as BHL101 and would have left the fac­tory in 1958 stamped ac­cord­ingly; the EE mark­ing is in­cor­rect and we are of the opin­ion this has been in­cluded at a later date by oth­ers.’ It could not be clearer than that: this car has al­ways been BHL101 and that’s the end of it.

If the chas­sis re­build was com­plex, the treat­ment of the body was even more in­tri­cate and del­i­cate. Once the en­tire body had been re­moved and poly­mer-bead blasted, it was clear that the tail sec­tion was orig­i­nal – the ev­i­dence of re­pairs fol­low­ing Gen­de­bien’s ram­ming in­ci­dent in its first race was plain to see. The old alu­minium was thin, weak and split in many places, re­quir­ing skilled re­beat­ing, the graft­ing in of some new metal and the recre­ation of cor­rectly pro­filed wired edges.

An­other prob­lem was that, at var­i­ous stages in the past, the en­tire bodywork had been made to ac­com­mo­date the poorly re­paired chas­sis. With the chas­sis now straight, the body re­stor­ers had to take that into ac­count. The non-orig­i­nal but well-made bon­net was in much bet­ter shape than the rear bodywork, but there were some cracks around the nose and hinge mount­ings. The much greater prob­lem here was that, long ago, th­ese mount­ings had been very clev­erly made to fit the bodged old chas­sis, putting them well out of line.

Af­ter much dis­cus­sion it had been de­cided to re­store the bodywork to be as it was when raced by Cun­ning­ham’s team. Early in that era it had been mod­i­fied to have a hinged bon­net with scut­tle, which was bet­ter than the orig­i­nal lift-off bon­net ar­range­ment. Restor­ing all of this to good health and the cor­rect shape as raced by Walt Hans­gen in­volved the re­moval and re­build­ing of all in­ter­nal pan­els. It was a tricky job, done to per­fec­tion.

As the orig­i­nal floor­pans, sills, bulk­head, foot-boxes, seat bases and cen­tre-sec­tion alu­minium work had been lost and re­placed decades ago with parts that were slightly in­cor­rect, all of th­ese were made from scratch pre­cisely to the orig­i­nal Lis­ter pat­tern. Cun­ning­ham’s dis­tinc­tive lou­vres were added to the sills, us­ing pur­pose-made tool­ing.

A long book could be writ­ten about the su­perb work that has gone into this restora­tion. Hav­ing cov­ered the chas­sis and body story in some depth here, I must add that the rest of the job re­ceived ex­actly the same level of at­ten­tion and well-in­formed CKL ex­per­tise.

BHL101 has two en­gines: the 3.8-litre that was in it as bought and a rare ex-Cun­ning­ham ‘Momo’ 3.75-litre that is kept sep­a­rately be­cause it is con­sid­ered too valu­able for cur­rent com­pe­ti­tion use. The 3.8, freshly re­built to His­toric rac­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tion and pro­duc­ing 350bhp, is re­tained in the car.

The gear­box looks right to the ca­sual ob­server but is, as in many Lis­ters to­day, a later 4.2-litre E-type unit fit­ted with a re­pro­duc­tion D-type top cover and bell-hous­ing. The search is on for a gen­uine D-type four-speed close-ra­tio gear­box, as orig­i­nally fit­ted to BHL101, but that’s not the sort of thing you find ev­ery day on eBay. Mean­while, the ex­ist­ing gear­box has been re­built.

There was plenty wrong with the fi­nal drive, which has been prop­erly re­con­structed around a new Crosth­waite & Gardiner mag­ne­sium cas­ing, made to the orig­i­nal pat­tern and fit­ted with a Sal­is­bury lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial.

In ev­ery tiny de­tail, no ef­fort has been spared to take this car back to what it should be. Chris Keith-Lu­cas was fas­ci­nated to find that the head­lamps are of a rare com­pe­ti­tion type used only in works D-types and some later Light­weight E-types. Lu­cas Elec­tri­cal made them spe­cially, in­cor­po­rat­ing quick-change bulb hold­ers, and Chris’s best guess is that Cun­ning­ham’s team must have fit­ted them from their own spares depart­ment.

Such an out­stand­ing restora­tion has been pos­si­ble partly be­cause of the ex­per­tise of CKL De­vel­op­ments but, above all, it is the owner who makes the de­ci­sions. Hel­mut Rothen­berger has the en­gi­neer­ing knowl­edge and the sen­si­tive ap­proach to his­tory re­quired. He knew what he was tak­ing on and he had no il­lu­sions about what had to be done.

He must have felt jus­ti­fi­ably sat­is­fied when he took to the track at the 2015 Good­wood Re­vival to com­pete in the Sus­sex Tro­phy race. I hope Hel­mut Rothen­berger won’t mind it be­ing said that he’s never likely to chal­lenge the likes of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and com­pany for

sheer speed – but that’s not the point. He has res­cued one very im­por­tant car, put it back in ac­tion in front of the pub­lic and he reached the che­quered flag with­out trou­ble on its first out­ing. That is a huge achieve­ment.

At Good­wood again with BHL101 a few weeks later, in the sun­shine for our pho­to­graphic ses­sion, it was a nos­tal­gic ex­pe­ri­ence for me to be back on a cir­cuit in a good Lis­ter-Jaguar Knob­bly. In the 1990s, thanks to that great en­thu­si­ast Syd Sil­ver­man, I won races in an­other 1958 Cun­ning­ham Knob­bly (BHL112) at places such as Pocono, Mid-Ohio and Road At­lanta. Syd’s Lis­ters were su­perbly pre­pared by The Vin­tage Con­nec­tion of Ok­la­hama City, so I know very well what a first-class Jaguar-pow­ered ‘Knob­bly’ should feel like – well bal­anced at speed, se­cure un­der brak­ing and se­ri­ously quick, with fan­tas­tic trac­tion out of slow cor­ners thanks to the de Dion back end.

BHL101 is right there. Were they alive to­day, those who were closely in­volved with this car when it was new – Brian Lis­ter, Archie Scott Brown, Briggs Cun­ning­ham, Walt Hans­gen, Bob Gawthrop and all the rest – would be de­lighted by ev­ery­thing about it.

Cer­tainly, those orig­i­nal driv­ers would have been im­pressed by how it feels at speed. The au­then­tic re­pairs to the chas­sis go to the heart of the mat­ter, giv­ing the ba­sis of a fab­u­lously fresh, cor­rect feel to the com­plete 57-year-old car. It’s ob­vi­ously a po­ten­tial front-run­ner in His­toric sports car rac­ing to­day, in which the speeds on the straights would amaze the own­ers of even mod­ern high­per­for­mance road cars.

The ex­hil­a­ra­tion of pow­er­ing this Lis­ter through the nearly flat-out right-han­der at Ford­wa­ter, in per­fect weather, and press­ing on down to­wards the brak­ing point for the right and left of St Mary’s, is one of those priv­i­leges that can never be re­alised by more than a very small num­ber of peo­ple.

Such mo­ments are re­ally spe­cial, worth all the years of ef­fort it takes to get to that po­si­tion in life. With his per­fect Lis­ter-Jaguar, the very first of the 1958 se­ries, Hel­mut Rothen­berger has achieved that. It doesn’t get much bet­ter than this in our lit­tle cor­ner of the world, and I take my hat off to him for ap­proach­ing the own­er­ship of this im­por­tant piece of me­chan­i­cal his­tory with such a deep un­der­stand­ing of what it’s all about.

Above Tony Dron track-tests the Knob­bly at Good­wood. It has been re­stored as au­then­ti­cally as pos­si­ble to how it was when raced by Briggs Cun­ning­ham.

Left and right This Lis­ter’s dis­tinc­tive lou­vred sills were made us­ing

pur­pose-built tool­ing; the re­built chas­sis prior to paint­ing, with Lis­ter em­ploy­ees (left to right) di­rec­tor

Mark Hal­lam, ‘Curly’ Hut­ton and Arthur Irons.

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