Flashback Friday: Is That Your Lister, Mister?

Back in 2005 I found myself at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington ready to drive Syd Silverman’s famous Costin-Lister Jaguar BHL 123, the Briggs Cunningham team Lister that had a very storied history. It became my favorite among the five Listers I had an opportunity to race over a number of years at different race venues around the country.

In reviewing the upcoming Gooding & Co. Pebble Beach auction happening August 16-17 (www.goodingco.com), lo and behold, there was BHL 123 consigned as Lot 019 with a pre-sale estimate of $1 million to $1.4 million. Talk about bringing back some wonderful memories!

Yes, would love to own this beauty, but I’d have to win a Powerball lottery first! Whoever winds up as its next caretaker I’m sure they will be most pleased with everything about it.

In honor of BHL 123 going to auction, we are rerunning my “Driver’s Seat” editorial about the car published in 2005, VM issue 05.5.

D. Randy Riggs, Editor-in-Chief

Is That Your Lister, Mister?

Wow, had it really been that long since I’d been in the cockpit of a race car and taken the green flag? Over a year in fact, but here I was at the historic Pacific Raceways near Seattle for the Fourth of July SOVREN Pacific Northwest Historic Races, arriving in time for Friday morning practice. I was looking forward to run a car I had never driven, on a track I had never seen. What an uplifting way to start a day—adventure, excitement and the unknown!

 

 

D. Randy Riggs races Costin-Lister BHL 123 at Pacific Raceways in 2005. Photo: Ryan Delane

 

Costin-Lister Jaguar BHL 123 heading for Gooding’s Pebble Beach auction. Photo: Gooding & Co.

In the old days, Pacific Raceways was known among racers simply as “Kent,” located as it is just seven miles east of the city of Kent. The track opened July 4, 1960 for drag racing but connected to that straight piece of asphalt was another two miles of blacktop that wound itself down some 300 feet into a twisty wooded section before it climbed back again to the front straight—10 turns in all. Its first sports car race was held August 14, 1960.

I’m happy to say the track hasn’t changed much. The vegetation has grown and, judging by the condition of the pavement, I’m not sure it’s seen much in the way of fresh blacktop. And even though the place is a bit rough around the edges, there’s a real feel of the good old racing days here and I climbed into the perfect car to suit the mood of the 1950s—Syd Silverman’s 1959 Costin-bodied Lister-Jaguar—BHL 123.

Back when BHL 123 was new and I was a lad in Jr. High sneaking glances at car mags in study hall, I remember reading about this one, driven at different times by a couple of my heroes, Stirling Moss (at Sebring in ’59) and New Jersey’s Walt Hansgen for Team Cunningham. Hansgen raced BHL 123 throughout the 1959 season where he earned his fourth consecutive SCCA national championship, the car sometimes bruised and battered by the end of a long race.

BHL 123 was the subject of a past Salon feature (VM 01.6), just after a complete restoration—about 12 owners on from when it first rolled out of Brian Lister’s Cambridge, England facility in early 1959.

I think the Costin-Lister is one of the most beautiful cars of the era. I can stare at it like a Victoria’s Secret catalog and the Team Cunningham colors are perfect. Front and rear aluminum body sections tilt to reveal all the lovely underpinnings and polished bits as well as that legendary Jaguar growler.

A young boy eyeballed BHL 123 in the paddock at the SOVREN event, looked at me in my driving suit and said, “Is that your Lister, Mister?”

“No, but I get to race it,” I said. Then I invited him into the cockpit and put the belts on him while his Dad took a few photos. I think I made his day (and his Dad’s).

Of course, there’s nothing quite like learning a strange and difficult track and experiencing a new race car at the same time, and though I got comfortable with the Lister soon enough, it came up with a terrible stumble off the tight Turn 3B, and the gearbox didn’t want to let me shift down to 2nd when it heated up.

The toughest competition in Group 2 consisted of some of the fastest 356 Porsches I’ve ever seen (on Hoosiers no less!), the two famous “Poopers,” Tom Hollfelder’s Devin Chevy, teammate John Harden’s Lister-Chevy, local hotshoe Tony Garmey’s Lister-Chevy, Mike Malone’s Lotus 15 and Bill Babcock’s pesty Peyote MkII. What a group!

Where the Lister and I were especially happy was through the big banked sweeper of Turn 2, those little five-inch-wide contact patches slip-sliding away in a wonderful four-wheel drift. Loose as a goose, it was like driving a sprint car on dirt.

I trimmed a good 10 seconds off my lap times from the beginning of the weekend to the end (1:41s quickest) but by then the well-used Dunlops were toast, although we hung in long enough to have a terrific duel with Bill Babcock’s Peyote MkII. Talk about the Beauty and the Beast! (Not you Bill—your car!)

Best of all, we mixed it up with the enthusiastic SOVREN gang, made lots of new friends and had an unforgettable weekend. My thanks to all for making our team feel right at home in Seattle, to Syd Silverman for letting me flog his magnificent Lister and to Chris Campbell of the Vintage Connection for helping me dial-in this grand hunk of motorsport history.

Wish I could punch the rewind button and do it all over again!