Thank Frankel It's Friday: The best car I've ever raced...

22nd August 2019
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

If, 60 years ago today, you wandered down to your local newsagents for your weekly fix of Autosport magazine, and flicked through the ads at the back, you might have been surprised to find one offering the worldly possessions of Lister Cars up for sale. Not just cars, but spares, tools, jigs – the lot. A six-year adventure that had seen Lister rise from nothing to perennial thorn in the side of some of the world’s biggest sports car teams was over.


There was no one reason why Lister shut its doors, though having spoken to Brian Lister at length about it, I believe his heart left the sport that terrible day at a wet Spa in 1958 when Archie Scott Brown lost his life. Everything else was contributory, including the fact that the Jaguar twin cam that had proven so dependable at 3.4 and 3.8-litre capacities, took a distinct aversion to being sleeved down to the new 3-litre limit mandated for international sportscar racing in 1958 and started popping like champagne corks. Some point also to the lingering death of Archie’s effective replacement, Ivor Bueb, on August 1st 1959, some six days after crashing his Cooper at Clermont Ferrand, but the truth is that by then the decision had already been made.

Among the assets you’d have been able to buy had you answered that ad’ was the car intended to be the future of Lister, or at least as much of it as had been completed at that time. It too was Jaguar powered, but in all other regards bore no relation to what had gone before.

The car was the work of Frank Costin, whose aerodynamic genius was a sizeable contributing factor to Vanwall winning the first ever Formula 1 Constructors Championship in 1958. He’d been drafted in to smooth out the aero profile of the so-called ‘Knobbly’ Lister (though I’ve never seen conclusive proof that the Costin cars were consistently quicker), but had convinced Brian that if he were to stay truly competitive against the best in the world, the old ladder chassis would have to go.

So Costin started work on a car that used a complex spaceframe chassis built up from multiple steel tubes, the aim being to create a structure that was both lighter and stiffer than any Jaguar-powered Lister that had come before, and then clothe it in a body that was more slippery. But the factory closed down, the car was sold and, it seemed, nothing would come of it.


Yet four years later, there it was, lining up on the grid at Le Mans. In the interim it had been both a closed and open car but it was in the configuration it is known today that Peters Sargent and Lumsden took the start. I bumped into the former at the Revival one year when I was racing the Costin Coupe (as has been known ever since) and he told me the car was still so undeveloped he had to hold the door shut with his hand while hammering down the Mulsanne Straight at what would have been better than 180mph.

It was a very quick car – I think I saw more than 170mph out of it on the straight at Dijon with an old and sick engine. Back at Le Mans in ’63 it retired after just 29 laps with engine failure. The following year it turned up at the Nürburgring 1,000km with none other than Jack Fairman – whose heroics in physically lifting his beached DBR1 back onto the road at this very track had been instrumental in securing the World Sportscar Championship for Aston Martin in 1959 – behind the wheel. It lasted even less time there and its belated career in frontline international motorsport was already over.

I’m not sure what happened to it thereafter, though I know it was owned for a while by Tim Harvey’s dad, but it was only when Don Law started to look after it and his son Justin started racing it at the Revival that its true potential was finally revealed. With a design that dates back long before those of all other front-runners, it came within a rainstorm of winning the TT Celebration race in 2013 with Chris Harris and Anthony Reid driving.

And of all the cars I’ve raced, it’s probably my favourite, the one more than any other I wish I were still able to drive. Although I never raced it with the wonderful Crosthwaite & Gardiner engine it was to receive, even with an elderly and comparatively modestly-specced motor, it was fabulously rapid.


But it was the car’s handling that absolutely entranced me. It seemed unbelievably modern and sophisticated given its age. I felt I could place it anywhere and while it would slide happily enough, it was one of those cars that actually rewarded a ‘fast in, fast out’ approach. You could carry speed like no other 1950s sportscar I’ve driven was so precise on turn-in you could really commit to a corner, even the fast and undulating curves that characterise Goodwood.

Lack of power aside, it only had one flaw, which was that it was hideously sensitive to set up. You could set it up for the dry beautifully, and you could make it work well enough in the wet, but if you encountered both conditions on the same track well, to be blunt, you were screwed.

It happened to me at the TT in, I think, 2011. I was sharing the car with Richard Attwood and as we lined up dark clouds were gathering. But I’ve always been told to play the cards you have, not those you think you might be dealt, so we left the car with an almost full dry set up. Big mistake. I went first and while the light drizzle I encountered during my stint was not enough to make the track more that slightly damp on line, the moment you went off-line to try to overtake someone, the car was all over the place. So I just drove around maintaining position before handing over to Richard just before the heavens really opened. He kept it pointing in the right direction because he’s Richard Attwood, but had a miserable time doing it. In the end we came 11th, which in those conditions was a far greater achievement than it sounds, and all the credit is Richard’s.

The Costin Coupe races on at the TT to this day, indeed I’d be interested to know if there’s another car that’s done a greater number of the UK’s most prestigious historic car race, but has never come closer to winning than it did that day back in 2013. Back then Chris had handed it to Anthony who held the healthy lead he had inherited right up to the moment, you guessed, it the rain came down whereafter he was hunted down by Simon Hadfield in the slower but softer Aston Martin DP212 and that was that. Maybe 2019 will be year it finally gets the job done.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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