Vintage Engines Page 2

Lister Engine

Perhaps the most-well known stationary engine brand, the firm of R.A. Lister was originally founded by Ashton Lister in 1867, and basically made anything required, but by 1900, the manufacture of cream separators, dairy & general agricultural equipment had established the firm.

As regards engines, Listers initially held an agency for the Yeovil firm of Petters, selling the horizontal Handyman range, but soon decided to introduce their own range. Listers' first engine was in fact an American designed Stover sold under the Southwell name, a company who Lister took over in 1908, but their own first design was launched in 1909. Lister seemed to concentrate on vertical engines, largely ignoring horizontals designs that were prevalent at the time.

One feature of all Lister designed engines was a robust construction and ease of access to all vital parts. Features such as twin flywheels on the A & B models enabled fitting of pulleys on either or both sides to drive 2 separate machines. The A was introduced in the early 20s and the B followed in 1924, production of the latter finally ceasing in 1962.

Of course the longest running model was the ubiquitous D type which was introduced in 1926 at engine number 80 000 and ran until 1964, which must have been one of the longest and largest production runs of any single type of engine. Available with either hopper, tank or radiator cooling, in petrol, paraffin or TVO forms, and in a variety of horsepower outputs dependent on engine speed, this was the most versatile agricultural engine ever produced in the UK. With its higher-speed industrial brother, the Model F, most applications could be catered for.

1n 1929, the start of what was to become an immensely popular range of small diesel engines was introduced. These had significant cold-starting improvements over other manufacturers engines. These engines came to be known as the CS diesels and were branded in a output/cylinder format e.g. 5/1 for 5bhp/single cylinder.

In the immediate post-war years, as sales of Petters air-cooled A series engines grew, sales of equivalent 11/2-21/2hp Lister engines dropped off, so an agreement was made to import and latterly manufacture under licence, the American Wisconsin range of lightweight air-cooled engines. These resemble Villiers, BSA or Jap engines of the same period and we almost threw one away thinking it was a little Villiers until a friend realised what we had been given. Now it is awaiting restoration.

Listers eventually became part of the Hawker Siddley Group, which included Mirrlees (who took over Blackstones) National, Gardner & Petter. Indeed Lister became known as Lister Petter, still occupying the premises at Dursley in Gloucestershire. In recent years, there have been several imminent collapses and at the time of writing, I'm unable to confirm status of the company.

Petter Engine

Lister Petter is a British company that manufactures internal combustion engines for industry.

It was formed in 1986 from the merger of Petters Limited and R A Lister and Company. At that time the company was part of the Hawker Siddeley group, but today L-P is independent. Its products are small diesel engine market, ranging from single-cylinder water-cooled engines of 2.7 horsepower (the 'Zeta' series) up to the 64 horsepower (48 kW) 'Delta' engine. One higher-power engine of up to 335 horsepower (250 kW), the 'Omega' is also produced under licence. The engine designs range from more recent design high-speed turbodiesels (such as the 'Gamma' or 'Omega' engines) to traditional single-cylinder medium-speed types such as the 'A-Series' and 'Phi' types.


Lister Petter engines are generally used in stationary industrial applications such as pumping and electricity generation. The company produces a range of complete generator sets, units equipped for welding and in-house pumping sets, as well as supplying engines to other equipment manufacturers. L-P engines are widely exported[citation needed], especially for use in irrigation projects[citation needed]. The company also maintains a long tradition (of both its founder companies) in supplying engines for marine applications both as prime mover engines for small vessels and as auxiliary power units in larger ones.

Gas-fuelled engines

Lister Petter's main product[citation needed], the 'Alpha' series of sub-2-litre engines, is also available in spark ignition forms for running on natural gas or propane. L-P also manufactures and sells biodiesel plants, allowing customers to produce their own fuel for diesel engines.


1867 R A Lister company founded by Robert Ashton Lister.

1893 James B Petter & Sons founded.

1895 First oil engines made by Petters.

1910 Petters Ltd founded.

1929 First diesel engines produced by R A Lister in Dursley.

1986 R A Listers and Petters Ltd merged to form Lister Petter Ltd.

2004/2005 Lister Petter sees unprecedented growth and re-investment in its core products.

Lister & Petter engines were workhorses of the British Commonwealth[citation needed]; many of these engines[citation needed] are still in use today in dump trucks[citation needed], generators[citation needed] and water pumps[citation needed]. They generally, but not exclusively, leave the factory in a Mid Brunswick Green colouring.

Engine ranges

One of the most popular[citation needed] early Petter engines was the AVA series, AVA1 and AVA2 (1- and 2-cylinder engines respectively), and the Lister D. The majority of these engines were hand-crank start and fully mechanical, without any electronics or electrical controls. Engines like this, if not still working, are now considered collectors' pieces[citation needed].

Widely used examples of later models include the LT series, often used in single-cylinder form to power small cement mixers, and the ST series, a popular engine for canal boats. They too were large and heavy engines with low power outputs, low operating speeds and extremely robust construction, capable of reliable operation for years[citation needed] even under the conditions of abuse[citation needed] and neglect[citation needed] of maintenance found in their typical construction-site applications.

A particularly successful[citation needed] model was the A range; these engines were much smaller and lighter than earlier models[citation needed], although still extremely robustly constructed[citation needed]. Plant powered by an A-range engine is often light enough to be lifted and carried by two workers, instead of requiring a wheeled chassis, which is a great advantage on a construction site. The A range is particularly suitable for powering small generators of around 4-5kVA output. Unlike earlier designs it is capable of running at up to 3600 rpm and can therefore generate mains-frequency AC using a two-pole alternator; the lower operating speed of earlier designs mandates the use of a four-pole alternator, which is much larger and heavier for the same output power.

In the writers opinion the Petter A range can be problematic especially in the raw water cooled marine version known as the Petter Mini-6. The problem is that the aluminium heads corrode rather badly in salt water and head gaskets are rather troublesome. Frequently water will leak out of the engine into the boat. Special head nuts can be obtained that will allow a slightly higher torque to be used and special high temperature black RTV silicon sealant can be used on the water jacket. If possible use a genuine Petter gasket (old type that has asbestos reinforcement) In jellyfish infested waters a large basket type water strainer and an engine overheat alarm are must-haves as without these items one can easily have an engine fire (the rubber exhaust hose catches fire and the silencer melts) After an engine fire the head gasket WILL need replacing. There was also a freshwater cooled Petter Mini-6 that was made for Westerbeke but these are extremely rare in Europe. The good points about the Mini-6 are its compact size and low weight (it is smaller than the Japanese market leader and it can be used to replace petrol engines without overloading the boat) If the Japanese engine will not fit one can replace the Petter with the Farryman Yellow River Star, however the cost is quite considerable. Another solution is to change the cylinder barrel and head for the highly reliable air cooled versions but this fairly popular method is more suitable for an open boat or workboat. Some marine Mini-6 engines were air cooled from the factory.

Starting procedures

Starting an engine like this involves switching the Bryce Berger injection pump to excess fuel mode and lifting the decompressor (this held exhaust valve open) to allow the engine to turn over without compression. The engine is then turned over at a steady pace until 10/15 clicks from the injector are heard; these clicks are a result of the spring & needle of the injector jumping with each injection of diesel at a relatively slow speed as the engine may only be doing 60-70 rpm. This now means there are 10/15 injections of diesel sitting in the combustion bowl on top of the piston. The engine is then turned over much faster, and when the engine had lots of momentum the decompressor is flung down; this means on the next compression stage the pressure in the cylinder becomes so great that the temperature rises to a point that the diesel bursts into flames. Once the first combustion cycle has taken place this gives the engine more momentum until it is over-revving, at which point the excess fuel lever automatically drops off and the engine sits at its governed idle speed.

The smallest A-range models such as the AA1 were available with rope start - a sheave was attached to the flywheel and the engine started by pulling on a rope wound round the sheave. This requires a particular technique[citation needed] to obtain the "clicks" from the injector and prime the combustion chamber with fuel. The decompressor is not used; the engine is rotated to just after top dead centre (TDC) on the intake stroke, then the starter rope is pulled with a nicely judged[citation needed] amount of force calculated to give the engine just enough momentum to raise the piston against compression pressure to the point where the injector operates, at around 20 degrees before TDC, but not so much that the engine carries on past TDC. Instead the compression pressure takes over and reverses the rotation, turning the engine backwards to its starting point and rewinding the rope onto the sheave; effectively the engine is "bounced" off the compression pressure. This is repeated several times until a sufficient number of priming injections have been made; then the starting rope is given a mighty heave sufficient to carry the engine over compression and hopefully cause it to fire. If the heave is not sufficiently vigorous the engine will not fire and the whole process has to be repeated from the start. The method requires considerable amounts of both strength and skill[citation needed].

When the A Series units are in a generally good state of repair, with compression in the correct range, starting can be relatively painless. The 1960-70's AB1 I own presently starts very easily on the first or second pull every time when primed with engine oil in the in built priming orifice as per instructions. A previous AC1 driving a 4kVA generator I purchased cheaply proved almost impossible to start initially, but the problem was traced to both a broken piston land (probably from intensive work and Easy Start (Ether) use, as it had been a workman's type unit), and the Injector only bleeding-opening at high rpm. Once solved she started and ran very well indeed, despite being 30+ years old, with no smoke.

All Lister single cylinder air cooled units have a 'running' compression ratio of about 15-16:1 to keep stresses on the piston, big end bearing, and connecting rod within reason. To start easily (especially in lower temperatures) all Diesels need around 18-19:1, so the engine may be "primed", according to the operating instructions, using 1-2 'shots' (approx. 5ml) of engine oil injected into the intake duct via a tapping provided for the purpose. This temporarily boosts the compression ratio for the first 2-6 firing strokes, the effect dropping down quickly as the oil is burnt off. Without priming the user is attempting to achieve the same result using tiny amounts of less-viscous injected non-combusted Diesel fuel, which of course takes many revolutions of hand-cranking to accumulate a sufficient amount, with associated frustration and effort. Needless to say, if the engines were unusable at time of purchase, new owners would demand refunds, so obviously they were reliable units when made to be so successful in many lands around the world.

Few electric start models - Lister-Petter, Yanmar, or Chinese types - need any additional starting devices as 1-2 seconds cranking injects enough unburnt Diesel into the combustion space above the piston to boost the compression automatically and quickly.

Some engines are equipped with a "cold starting aid" comprising a pipette incorporated into the oil dipstick which allows a few ml of lubricating oil to be taken from the crankcase, and a removable plug through which this oil can be injected into the inlet manifold. This aids starting in three ways: the oil improves the low-speed sealing ability of the piston rings and valves - especially in a worn engine - thereby ensuring that maximum compression pressure and hence temperature is achieved; the volume of oil injected is a significant fraction of the combustion chamber volume, so the volume at TDC is reduced and the compression ratio increased; and lubricating oil has a lower ignition temperature than diesel fuel, so less extreme conditions are required for the first combustion event.

Electric starting was an option for most of these engines except the smallest A-range models. Electric start models were fitted with a starter motor and a flywheel generator - a set of magnets embedded in the flywheel which induced current in a set of coils in the flywheel housing - to recharge the starting battery. It was never a very popular option[citation needed]. The cost of the engine was significantly more than the hand-start models; the starter motor and the large lead-acid battery added significant extra weight[citation needed]; the flywheel generator was not very effective, and flat batteries were common[citation needed]; the vibration for which these engines are notorious tended to damage the battery and shorten its useful life[citation needed]; the electrical components were not as robust[citation needed] as the "hewn from granite" engines[citation needed], and did not stand up well to the harsh operating conditions of the construction site applications for which these engines were frequently used[citation needed]. Electric starting was therefore fitted relatively rarely[citation needed], mainly to the larger engines and especially to engines powering generators, where the lack of robustness of electrical apparatus was a problem that had to be lived with in any case.


The company's headquarters and manufacturing facility are in Dursley, Gloucestershire, formerly the headquarters of R A Lister and Company. Lister Petter have agents in France, the USA, China and India, which market their products and carry out final assembly of larger items such as generating sets from imported parts.

Wolseley Engine

All Airspeed aeroplanes under manufacture or development in 1936 were to use a Wolseley radial aero engine of about 250 horsepower (190 kW) which was under development by Nuffield, the Wolseley Scorpio. The project was abandoned in September 1936 after the expenditure of about two hundred thousand pounds when Lord Nuffield got the fixed price I.T.P. (Intention to Proceed) contract papers (which would have required re-orientation of their offices with an army of chartered accountants) and decided to deal only with the War Office and the Admiralty, not the Air Ministry.

According to Nevil Shute Norway it was a very advanced engine (and the price struck Shute as low; much lower than competing engines on the basis of power-to-weight ratio), so its loss was a major disaster for Airspeed (and Britain). But when he asked Lord Nuffield to retain the engine, Nuffield said "I tell you, Norway ... I sent that I.T.P. thing back to them, and I told them they could put it where the monkey put the nuts!" Shute wrote that the loss of the Wolseley engine due to the over-cautious high civil servants of the Air Ministry was a great loss to Britain. Shute said that "admitting Air Ministry methods of doing business ... would be like introducing a maggot into an apple .. Better to stick to selling motor vehicles for cash to the War Office and the Admiralty who retained the normal methods of buying and selling."