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Lucas Industries

Lucas Industries plc
Industry Automotive and Aerospace
Fate Merged
Successor LucasVarity plc, subsequently acquired by Goodrich and TRW
Founded 1860
Founder Joseph Lucas
Defunct 1996
Headquarters Birmingham, West Midlands, United Kingdom
Key people
George Simpson (CEO)
Products Braking, Diesel, Electrical, Defence Systems & Aerospace Systems
Number of employees
Subsidiaries CAV/Simms/RotoDiesel/Condiesel,, Girling, Lucas Automotive, Lucas Aerospace

Lucas Industries plc was a well-known British manufacturer of components for the motor industry and aerospace industry. It was based in Birmingham. It was listed on the London Stock Exchange and was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. In August 1996, Lucas merged with the American Varity Corporation to form LucasVarity plc.

The Lucas trademark is currently owned by ZF Friedrichshafen and is licensed to Elta Lighting for aftermarket auto parts in the United Kingdom.


  • History 1
    • Foundation 1.1
    • Expansion 1.2
    • Lucas Plan 1.3
    • LucasVarity 1.4
  • Acquisitions And Agreements 2
    • CAV 2.1
    • Girling 2.2
    • Rotax 2.3
    • Aerospace 2.4
    • Simms 2.5
  • Cross-licensing agreements 3
  • King of the Road 4
  • UK sites 5
  • Overseas Operations 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
    • Notes 8.1
    • Further reading 8.2
  • External links 9



In the 1850s, Joseph Lucas, a jobless father of six, sold paraffin oil from a barrow cart around the streets of Hockley. In 1860, he founded the firm that would become Lucas Industries. Harry Lucas, his son, joined the firm around 1872, aged 17.[1] Initially called Joseph Lucas & Son from 1882 it was based in Little King Street, later Great King Street Birmingham. At first it made general pressed metal merchandise including plant pot holders, scoops and buckets and later in 1875 lamps for ships, later moving into oil and acetylene lamps for bicycles from 1879.

In 1902, what by then had become Joseph Lucas Ltd, incorporated in 1898, started making automotive electrical components such as magnetos, alternators, windscreen wipers, horns, lighting, wiring and starter motors.[1] The company started its main growth in 1914 with a contract to supply Morris Motors Limited with electrical equipment.[1] During the First World War Lucas made shells and fuses, as well as electrical equipment for military vehicles. Up until the early 1970s, Lucas was the principal supplier to British manufacturers (such as BSA, Norton and Triumph) of magnetos, dynamos, alternators, switches and other electrical components.

Blue plaque on factory building in Carver Street, Birmingham


After the First World War the firm expanded rapidly, branching out into products such as braking systems and diesel systems for the automotive industry and hydraulic actuators and electronic engine control systems for the aerospace industry. In 1926 they gained an exclusive contract with Austin.[1] Around 1930, Lucas and Smiths established a trading agreement to avoid competition in each other's markets.[1] During the 1920s and 1930s Lucas grew rapidly by taking over a number of their competitors such as Rotax and C.A.Vandervell (CAV). During WW2 Lucas were engaged by Rover to work on the combustion and fuel systems for the Whittle jet engine project making the burners. This came about because of their experience of sheet metal manufacture and CAV for the pumps and injectors. In the 1950s (exact dates needed) they started a semiconductor manufacturing plant to make rectifiers and transistors.

Lucas Plan

In 1976, the militant workforce within Lucas Aerospace were facing significant layoffs. Under the leadership of Mike Cooley, they developed the Lucas Plan[2] to convert the company from arms to the manufacture of socially useful products, and save jobs. The plan was not put into place but it is claimed that the associated industrial action saved some jobs.[3]


In August 1996, Lucas Industries plc merged with the North American Varity Corporation to form LucasVarity plc. Its specific history is covered on the LucasVarity page but for the sake of continuity key aspects of the old Lucas business histories to date, particularly that referring to CAV and Lucas Diesel Systems are still included here.[4]

Acquisitions And Agreements

Lucas also acquired many of their British competitors:


CAV Ltd was headquartered in Acton, London making diesel fuel injection equipment for diesel engine manufacturers worldwide and electrical equipment for commercial and military vehicles.[5]

The company was formed by Charles Anthony Vandervell (1870–1955), making accumulators, electric carriage lamps, and switchboards in Willesden.[5]

In 1904 the firm, moved to Warple Way, Acton.[5] The firm pioneered the dynamo-charged battery principle and in 1911 it produced the world's first lighting system used on a double-decker bus.[5] By 1918 1,000 employees were making vehicle electrics and aircraft magnetos.[5] Wireless components were also made from 1923.[5]

In 1926 CAV was bought by Lucas.[5] In 1931, CAV in partnership with Robert Bosch Ltd., became CAV-Bosch Ltd and began making fuel injection pumps for the diesel industry and later fuel systems for aircraft.[5] Lucas bought Bosch's interest out in 1937 and it became CAV Ltd in 1939. In 1978 the company's name became Lucas CAV.[5] In 1980 the Acton factory employed around 3,000 people making heavy duty electric equipment for commercial vehicles,[5] by this time high volume diesel fuel injection manufacturing had been relocated to larger modern factories in Kent, Suffolk, Gloucestershire and many countries throughout the world. Acton continued to make low volume specialist pumps for the military and for Gardner engines.

The electrical business was sold to US company Prestolite Electric in 1998 and remained at Acton until relocating to nearby Greenford in 2005.

The diesel fuel injection equipment research, engineering and manufacturing business known in later years as Lucas Diesel Systems Ltd continues at all of the worldwide sites (with the exception of those in Japan and South Carolina, US, which had closed by this time) and since 2000 has been owned by Delphi, a UK-based automotive parts and systems manufacturer. The name has been changed to Delphi, and the business is a major part of the Delphi Powertrain Division.[6]

Worldwide dieselfuel injection business sites: England - Gillingham, Kent; Park Royal, London; Sudbury, Suffolk; Stonehouse, Gloucestershire. France - Blois and La Rochelle. Brazil - São Paulo. Mexico - Saltillo. Spain - Sant Cugat, Barcelona. Turkey - Ismir. India - Mannure, Chennai. Korea - Changwon, Busan.


The company started as a car brake manufacturer after, in 1925, Albert H. Girling (also co-founder of Franks-Girling Universal Postage) patented a wedge-actuated braking system. In 1929 he sold the patent rights to the New Hudson company. Girling later developed disc brakes, which were successful on racing cars from the early 1950s to the 1970s.[7] Girling brakes had the quirk of using natural rubber (later nitrile) seals, which caused difficulties for some American owners of British cars because of incompatibility with US brake fluids.

Girling brake manufacture was taken over by Lucas in 1938, but the patent remained held by New Hudson until this in turn was purchased by Lucas in 1943. Lucas then moved their Bendix brake and Luvax shock absorber interests into a new division which became Girling Ltd. Girling products included:

  • Brake systems.
  • Clutch systems
  • Shock absorbers
  • Hydraulic dampers A short lived Luvax/Girling cooperation that moderated up and down leaf spring movement by turning that motion into a horizontal back and forth motion from center. The damper hydraulically moderates, equally, both upward and downward motion of the wheels. In this sense they are quite different from shock absorbers, which mainly moderate upward movement of the wheel. Such dampers were used for a few years on light-weight British post-war cars, such as MG and Austin. [8]


(Lucas Rotax has no connection with Rotax the Austrian engine maker)

Rotax went through several name changes and manufacturing locations, the last of these being the former premises of the Edison Phonograph Company in Willesden, west London in 1913.[9] Initially a motor cycle accessory business, Rotax began to specialise in aircraft components after the First World War.[9] After an initial proposal for Lucas and Rotax to jointly take over CAV, Lucas decided in 1926 to take over both companies.[1]

In 1956 Lucas Rotax opened a new plant in the new town of Hemel Hempstead to the north of London. Lucas Rotax was later renamed Lucas Aerospace. By the 1970s the company had 15 plants at various locations.


Based in the Park Royal Industrial Estate, London next to a Soy Sauce factory and opposite Lucas Rotax, this facility provided components for BAE Systems, principally for the Stingray Torpedo Project.


In 1913 Frederick Richard Simms started Simms Motor Units Ltd, which in the First World War became the principal supplier of magnetos to the armed forces. In 1920 the company took over a former piano factory in East Finchley, north London.[10] During the 1930s the factory developed a range of Diesel fuel injectors.[10] In the Second World War the company again became the principal supplier of magnetos for aircraft and tanks, also supplying dynamos, starter motors, lights, pumps, nozzles, spark plugs and coils.[10]

The East Finchley factory continued to expand after the war, eventually reaching 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2), and the company took over many other firms.[10] Simms Motor Units was itself taken over by Lucas in 1968 and integrated within the CAV division.[10] Manufacturing in East Finchley was steadily run down and the factory closed in 1991 to be redeveloped for housing.[10] It is commemorated by Simms Gardens and Lucas Gardens.

Cross-licensing agreements

In the 1920s Lucas signed a number of cross licensing agreements with Bosch, Delco and most of the other automotive electrical equipment manufacturers in Europe and North America. In addition, these agreements included a non-competitive clause agreeing that Lucas would not sell any electrical equipment in their countries and they would not sell electrical equipment in Great Britain. By the mid-1930s Lucas had a virtual monopoly of automotive electrical equipment in Great Britain.

With a monopoly in place, Lucas proceeded to supply electrical equipment that was commonly cited as the best reason not to buy a British car.[11][12]

King of the Road

Side Lamp, King of the Road
will not blow out in the roughest gale
Lucas 'King of the Road' lamps

Harry Lucas designed a hub lamp for use in a high bicycle in 1879 and named the oil lamp "King of the Road". This name would come to be associated with the manufactured products of Lucas Companies, into the present day. However, Lucas did not use the "King of the Road" epithet for every lamp manufactured. They used this name on only their most prestigious and usually highest priced lamps and goods. This naming format would last until the 1920s when the "King of the Road" wording was pressed into the outer edge of the small "lion and torch" button motifs that frequently decorated the tops of both bicycle and motor-car lamps. The public were encouraged by Lucas to refer to every Lucas lamp as a "King of the Road", but strictly speaking, this is quite wrong, as most lamps throughout the 20th century possessed either a name, a number, or both.[13]

Joseph Lucas, the founder of Lucas Industries was humorously known as the Prince of Darkness in North America, because of the electrical problems common in Lucas-equipped cars, especially British Leyland products. Whether the fault lay with Lucas or British Leyland cost-cutting is open to dispute. As Joseph Lucas died in 1902 and British Leyland was not formed until 1968, some 66 years later, this title is undeserved. This perception is also connected with early supply problems of "King of the Road" lighting products within the North American Markets during the early 1900s, and also be attributed to the reputation that in vehicles the company used small gauge wiring, which tended to wear out or corrode quickly. Interestingly, Joseph and Harry Lucas formed a joint stock corporation with the New Departure Bell Co., of America in 1896, so that Lucas designed bicycle lamps could be manufactured in America to avoid import duties.

The King of the Road name returned in 2013 as Lucas Electrical reintroduced a range of bicycle lighting to the UK. The name was reserved for the Lucas Electrical's premium LED bike lights.

UK sites


  • Acton (Diesel Systems)
  • Antrim (Electrical)
  • Bromborough (Industrial Braking)
  • Burnley (Aerospace and Automotive)
  • Cranamore Boulevard (Aerospace?)
  • Cwmbran (Automotive Brakes)
  • Dog Kennel Lane, Shirley (Aerospace, Automotive, Consulting and Research)
  • Fen End, Birmingham (Test Track)
  • Foremans Road, Birmingham (Batteries)
  • Gillingham (Diesel Systems)
  • Great King Street, Birmingham (Automotive)
  • Great Hampton Street, Birmingham (Automotive)
  • Hemel Hempstead (Aerospace)
  • Honiley (Aerospace)
  • Huyton, Liverpool (Aerospace)
  • Luton (Aerospace)
  • Marshall Lake Road, Birmingham (Aerospace)
  • Meregreen (Automotive Electical)
  • Newcastle under Lyme (Wiring Harnesses)
  • Park Royal London (Aerospace)
  • Pontypool (Automotive Brakes)
  • Shaftsmoor Lane (Aerospace)
  • Sudbury (Diesel Systems)
  • York Road, Birmingham (Aircraft Engine Management)
  • Ystradgynlais (Powys)

Overseas Operations

  • India
  • Spain (Pamplona, Navarra)
  • USA (Salt Lake City, Los Angeles)

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f History of Lucas contained in report by UK Competition Commission
  2. ^ Wainwright, Hilary. The Lucas Plan. Schocken Books (1981). ISBN 978-0-8052-8098-2.
  3. ^ The fight for useful jobs at Lucas Aerospace
  4. ^ Two automotive part makers agree to merge
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "'Acton: Economic history'". A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7: Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden (1982), pp. 23-30. Victoria County History. Retrieved 2007-10-26. 
  6. ^ Delphi buys Lucas Diesel
  7. ^ PowerTrack brakes
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b History of the radio manufacturer Rotax Ltd Radio Museum
  10. ^ a b c d e f The Lucas Factory John Dearing, 2002
  11. ^ 'Jaguar XK8's engine, electronics now match styling, handling'- Washington Times, 18 October 1996.
  12. ^ 'BMW Z3 a roadster for the many'- Denver Post, 9 August 1996.
  13. ^ , by P. W. Card, Shire Books.Early Vehicle LightingA selection of Joseph Lucas lamps. Text adapted from
  14. ^ Nockolds, Harold, Lucas: The First Hundred Years, Volumes I-II, Newton Abbot, David & Charles, 1976-1978

Further reading

Stamp on military vehicle lamp - "J.Lucas LD patent Birmingham". WWII time.
  • Nockolds, Harold. Lucas : the first hundred years - Vol.1: The King of the Road. Newton Abbot.  
  • Cheeseright, Paul (2005). Lucas the Sunset Years. London: James & James.  
  • Card, Peter W. Early Cycle Lighting. Crowood Press.  
  • Card, Peter W. Early Vehicle Lighting. Shire Publications Ltd.  
  • Brooks, David S. Vikings at Waterloo. Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust.  
  • Death of a Pioneer: obituary of Harry Lucas p762 Practical Motorist 25 March 1939 A George Newnes publication

External links

  • History of Great King Street site
  • Joseph Lucas final resting place
  • Birmingham's Industrial History Website
  • 1978 Open University programme on the Lucas Plan
  • RAC - Papers of Frederick Simms
  • Lucas company history
  • Combustion Research - the Development of Combustion Systems for Jet Engines - a 1946 Flight article on Lucas' work on gas turbine combustors
  • Lucas Bike Lights Today
  • Lucas Electrical Today
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