Lister and Archie Scott Brown – a glorious success story that ended too soon

22nd February 2017
Paul Fearnley

A race for grunty Lister sports-racers under the headline ‘Scott Brown Trophy’ will add a new thrill to 75MM. Sixty years after the Cambridgeshire marque’s greatest season, we look back on 1957 and the achievements of the extraordinary Archie Scott Brown.  


Bulges in all the right places wrapped in clingy bodywork, the Lister-Jaguar – or Lister-Chevrolet, if even more muscle was your thing – was as thrillingly unsubtle as Jayne Mansfield in cashmere. That ‘Knobbly’ nickname was an ugly injustice.

Its predecessor had been less ‘mature’, though startlingly successful. Its successor would wear an unflattering dress – think men in low-drag – and soon go out of fashion. But the 1958 version of this sports-racer was every schoolboy’s dream.

It helped that it was driven by a Boy’s Own hero possessed of charm and flair, who overcame physical handicaps with – or so it seemed – a mere flick of the wrist.

Archie Scott Brown was 5ft tall and a giant among men. Born with a stub of a right hand – a small palm with vestigial thumb – on a shortened arm, and twisted feet on short legs without shinbones – he would neither sugar coat it nor use it as an excuse – he was the prototype Paralympian.

Sadly, that dream would die with him in May 1958.


In partnership with designer Brian Lister and engine tuner Don Moore, Scott Brown enjoyed a stupendous 1957. Using MG, Bristol and (less so) Maserati power, their simple tubular ladder-frame chassis with de Dion rear end – “the easiest to make work”, according to pragmatist Brian – had scored notable results in the past. But this was different league: a tiny team – “a vest pocket factory,” according to Motor Sport magazine – from Cambridge was putting the might of millionaire industrialist David Brown’s Aston Martin to the sword.

Its big chance – access to a rare engine now spare, plus a widening pool of 1950s-style covert ‘sponsorship’ – came when Jaguar withdrew from racing in 1956. Others – Cooper, HWM and Tojeiro among them – had essayed the Jag' path. But Lister timed its pounce to perfection and got the cream.

Scott Brown’s Sussex Trophy win at the Easter Goodwood meeting was the second of 11 victories from 14 starts that season. A showman with a superb sense of balance and a powerful upper body, his style was ostentatious. On this occasion, however, he was relatively subdued – yet he beat Roy Salvadori’s Aston Martin DBR1 by 21 seconds after 21 laps. The latter had led from pole position but ‘Archie’ breezed around the outside of him at the first corner.

That 3-litre Aston, designed for the long-distance races of the world sportscar championship, was underpowered and overweight compared to the sleek ‘sprint’ Lister, the dry-sump 3.8-litre XK twin-cam ‘six’ of which was canted at 15 degrees, rather than the D-Type’s 8.5, to reduce frontal area. 


Sceptical European race organisers were less convinced of his competence – in their defence his ability verged on unbelievable – but New Zealand was more relaxed and welcoming. So Scott Brown and the Lister spent the Down Under summer mixing it with single-seaters in Formule Libre races, beating them to win the Lady Wigram Trophy.

Car and driver were ready for bigger and better things – and now the whole world knew them.

Brian Lister (Light Engineering) Ltd was formed and went into production, building 17 cars “of a less makeshift element” that complied with Appendix C of the International Sporting Code. This involved fitting a full-width windscreen of a minimum (15cm) vertical height. Brian, who was no aerodynamicist, neatly lessened its impact by lowering the front deck and scuttle around a more pronounced power bulge. And so created the curvy ‘Knobbly’.

The new rules also limited engines to 3,000cc – and XK would prove uncomfortable and unreliable in this form; Scott Brown’s burned a piston after just four laps of the Sebring 12 Hours. Its sister Lister lasted six.

In 3.8 form, however, Scott Brown showed a clean pair of heels to DBR2, now driven by Moss no less, in the Sussex Trophy – until a steering arm buckled under the increased grip generated by the latest Dunlops. The exact same thing happened in the British Empire Trophy at Oulton Park – and Moss’s DBR2 again inherited victory.

Image courtesy of The GP Library

Image courtesy of The GP Library

Offending part modified, Scott Brown won at Aintree, ahead of Salvadori in DBR2, but would receive a shock at Silverstone’s International Trophy, restored to its usual May date. Though he led the early stages, he was powerless to resist the advances of Masten Gregory in Ecurie Ecosse’s Lister. The bespectacled young American sliced by and romped away. Archie was stunned – and determined to turn the tables.

The same pair was at it hammer and tongs at Spa a fortnight later – persuaded continental organisers were clamouring for him now – when Scott Brown lost control on an unanticipated wet patch. He died of his injuries the next day.

Brian, whose ‘deal’ with Archie had been sealed by a left-handed handshake, struggled on. He had commitments to meet – thanks to his friend’s brilliant successes. In conjunction with Frank Costin, the godfather of aerodynamics in motor racing, he produced a more slippery version for 1959 but, despite a victory on its UK debut for Ivor Bueb in a wet Sussex Trophy, it was not a success. Nimbler rear-engine cars were coming on stream. Plus Brian was running out of steam.

It came to a head on August 1st. Both his drivers – Bueb and Bruce Halford – having been hurt in a Formula 2 race at Clermont-Ferrand the weekend before, Lister had witnessed replacement Peter Blond crash heavily at Brands Hatch. On his return journey, he listened with heavy to radio reports of Jean Behra’s death at AVUS in Germany – he was a great admirer of the feisty Frenchman – and upon his arrival home was informed that poor Bueb had succumbed.

Brian pulled the plug.

The light, in truth, had gone out with Archie.

Uncaptioned images courtesy of LAT

  • Archie Scott Brown

  • Lister

  • 75MM

  • Scott Brown Trophy

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