Lister Types


In India it has become to mean “A Dual Flywheel Engine”, this reminds me of how Americans have come to call any crawler tractor a ‘Caterpillar’.

I have studied this engine for years, and I see more variants of this design all the time. Steve Gray’s tear down of his British 3/1 is a good reminder of just how many variants are now for sale, and of course, a good many vendors will tell you the one they have is an excellent choice.

I’ve seen a few dogs in my shop, but even one that needs a good bit of TLC is as hard to turn out as a cute puppy. I still remember that one thread over at otherpower where a man makes a sales pitch for his latest container of Indian Engines. He was mentioning that his engines didn’t have sleeves, and that Indian sleeves were egg shell thin,  “so a perspective buyer might consider his engines”. A seasoned diesel mechanic would ask “What Idiot would select a non sleeved engine over a sleeved design?”

 There are a number of things that India does make well. QC is always key, and for some reason, parts of India shun QC.  I would imagine when you find it in India, it is because it was forced upon them. MICO injection pumps and nozzles, Cylinder liners, rings and a few other critical parts are made with good quality control. when it comes to some of the other parts, they can be good as counterfeit. Takes gears for instance, India makes everything from Junk, to some really good stuff, but it gets even more complicated.  

Steve Gray (oldengineshed.com) is in the process of tearing down a real Lister CS this week. Since I told him I would really enjoy pictures of the tear down when he got around to it, , he was kind enough to take them, and he also given permission to share same, more pictures on the CD to record what a REAL Lister CS is.


Above: Steve’s British 3/1. This ole engine has seen a good deal of work, and steve is now in the process of a full rebuild at the old engine shed.  


What I wish to bring to your attention is this sump in the front, if you were to look inside, you’d see that this sump forms an eddy, a place where a piece of ferrous metal can settle and never again move unless a caring maintenance man removes it upon inspection.


I think this deep sump is one of the reasons these engines ran so long, since there was no filter, a good settlement area is a great idea. Run a non detergent oil, and what settles to the bottom of this sump will stay there in deed, even with detergent, heavier particles will settle out here, and stay put.


I have spoken to a few travelers that claim that villagers in Africa and beyond never change oil in these engines, if this is true, this deep sump may be one of the reasons they get away with it?


If we look at the typical Indian 6/1, we will note they have done away with this deep sump. The British put it there because they needed an oil pickup spot, unless we have access to design notes, we only guess as to their other motives.  India may have removed the sump because it made it far easier to cast the crank case, and with the addition of TRBs, and the lack of a pump, they thought it was less than useful?


        Steve commented on all the goop found in the bottom of this deep sump, this might be an indicator that this engine didn’t receive regular oil changes during it’s long life.


If we look at the most popular Indian version of the Lister Type 6/1, we find the lack of this deep sump, and if you look at the violent splash system, there are no places for metal participles to settle out, each time you run the engine, everything is whipped up out of the spot it settled in, and is free to circulate through the various bushings and bearings in the engine, especially if you use a high detergent oil.


I believe TRBs are an excellent choice in a single, they need far less oil to live a healthy life, and they have proven themselves in similar applications. The TRBs, in conjunction with the deep sump seems a good combination for the engine that will run long hours. I it were my engine, I would not pass on this combination, the oil pump can be fitted with a filter to give us a filter, the standard variant is much more difficult to build a longest life design around.


The Lister CS Combustion System

    If we look back at the time period the CS was developed, we note the fuels for such an engine was not found at the pump! Fuel varied greatly, and Lister found it necessary to develop a system that would burn a wider variety of fuels. As many of us know, it was assumed by customers that the CS designation stood for cold start,  as many oil engines of the day were started with hot bulbs and blow torches, the Lister used the change over valve to up the compression for starting, and some say this was the first compression ignition oil engine that could start cold. If we research these COVs (Change over Valves, we find they often develop leaks, and this annoys their owners. 

 Today, fuels are still not regulated to the degree that one thinks, Diesel Petrol fuels are often brewed from a variety of hydrocarbons, and there is the attempt to approximate the characteristics of what was once taken off the cracking tower and called ‘diesel’ fuel. Still, there are a good many sources for the lighter fuels often burned in compression ignition oil engines.

At the root of the CS design are some other interesting design features that we should be aware of. The CS design makes use of a cast iron piston, and the pre combustion chamber. This design has proven itself, and the engine can burn fuels that will have some other designs building carbon, and compression knocking in just a few hours running. It is also responsible for the long life characteristics of the engine, the cast iron piston handles the heat far differently, and there are many engines that ran every day for fifty years on the same cast iron piston. We find that some old marine engine builders advertised that their engines used cast iron for the pistons! 

 The CS design was developed out of the need to burn a wide variety of fuels, this should be of great interest to the present day experimenter and Biofuels experimenter. There are other interesting features, like that big plug in the side of the head that gives you instant access to the pre combustion chamber, spin the plug out, and you can actually see the spray pattern, and check the condition of the chamber. There are other interesting things that can be done, the CS Plug as developed in India, takes the place of the change over valve, this simple plug can be modified to carry a glow plug. Utterpower is making a run of these plugs fitted with the German glow plug as used in the VW diesels that are so popular and easy to find here. Others might want to fit this plug with a spark plug and experiment with natural gas, or other fuels, setting up an ignition system for this engine is simple.

 If we compare the development of the CS engine and it's pre combustion chamber and compare it to the Direct Injection system, we should note several things. First, the DI system was developed when lighter fuels were available, and the system handles the heat in a far different way. Most DI engines make use of an Aluminum piston with a combustion chamber in top of the piston.

DI systems 'often' have valves made of better materials, because of the potentially higher combustion temperatures, the bottom side of the piston transfers far more heat to the lube oil, and the oil takes on a higher responsibility to cool the engine. Many DI engines are fitted with oil coolers to help carry off this added heat, and assure that the oil doesn’t ‘coke up’.

If we look at India and their present situation, we note that there is a very popular fuel there for their farmers, it a light Petrol fuel, and it gives the Farmers a tax break as they often run irrigation pumps and other equipment a good many hours during the growing season. India has a serious emissions problems, and the 2 stroke motorcycles was recently banned there. If we look at the goals of the Indian designers, and the new variants, we will note the DI head and it’s injection nozzle canted in the new style head, we will note the alloy piston and a good many other changes.

The principle goals of this combustion system would most likely be to burn the Indian Petrol fuel made available by that government, and to burn it efficiently, and reduce emissions. The DI engine can make more power, and some of the published fuel numbers do show a slight advantage in fuel economy.

When we turn to the internet for information on burning veggie fuels and what is best, we need to ask ourselves what bias the source might have? At this point, I believe we need to consider the hours we will run as well, if you have visions of running veggie a good many hours a day, I’d select the CS engine. If you will be running light fuels, and longevity is not a principle consideration, then there might be a case for the DI version. RPM gives more power, the GM90 I have in my shop does run well, but the rpm it’s rated at is far higher, and we all know that wear is basically RPM squared, add a few RPMs, and do not expect to run as long between overhauls.

Even though these are simple engines, we could study the Lister type and it’s variants for a good many years. When we put dissimilar metals together, we can form a battery. Even the modest temperatures of a normal day can pump water into an engine, and this water can condense and circulate inside of the engine. Any PH other than dead neutral can create a current flow and etch and damage rings, cylinder wall surfaces, crank pin, and more,  If the sun can hit your engine, the temperature swing will likely be higher, and more condensation (more water) will be found inside your engine.

 Many of use have read the accounts of an owner discovering an old Lister on a property and bringing it to life with little effort, even though it has been idle for 20 years! I think about the alloy pistons, and I wonder what force would be necessary to drive them from the sleeve, and what would be left? What happens to rings on alloy pistons, and steel pins on alloy over the years? It brings me back to the new marine and stationary power designs that brag about the Cast iron piston, and the great advantage it can provide.


For me, lower RPM, a cast iron piston, and other attributes found in the indirect design are keys to providing long life, long running, and the ability to run a wider variety of fuels. There are currently some independent studies being conducted by smart people. I have spoken to one PhD who is starting research on burning a specific veggie fuel in a third world country. The project is very conscious of cost and therefore the Indian Lister type was chosen as a Prime Mover. I was not surprised to learn that his Research Group had decided on the CS combustion chamber as their starting point for developing the best solution for burning this raw veggie fuel. I am hoping to stay in touch with this effort, and to learn from them. If they develop a WEB Site, I will link to it.

As I always say, this is my opinion, and you can count on finding many to the contrary.

All the best,

George B.