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Lucas Industries plc
Fate Merged
Successor LucasVarity plc, ultimately acquired by Goodrich and TRW
Founded 1872
Defunct 1996
Headquarters United Kingdom
Key people Joseph Lucas, George Simpson
Industry Automotive and Aerospace
Products Braking, Diesel, Electrical, Defence Systems & Aerospace Systems
Employees 92,000 (was)
Subsidiaries CAV/Simms/RotoDiesel/Condiesel,, Girling, Lucas Automotive, Lucas Aerospace

Lucas SR Magneto as fitted to post war Allis Chalmers tractor

Lucas Industries plc was a famous manufacturer of components for the motor industry and aerospace industry. The companies history goes back to 1872 making Lamps. It was based in Birmingham, England. It was listed on the London Stock Exchange and was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. The company merged with the American Varity Inc to form LucasVarity in 1996.



The company was founded by Joseph Lucas along with his son Harry, around 1872.[1] Initially called Joseph Lucas & Son it was based in Great King Street, Birmingham. At first it made general pressed metal merchandise including lamps for ships and coaches, later moving into oil and acetylene lamps for bicycles. In 1902, what by then had become Joseph Lucas Ltd 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 the Morris Motor Company with electrical equipment.[1] During the First World War Lucas made shells and fuses, as well as electrical equipment for military vehicles.

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 others markets.[1] this practise would today be in breach of anti monopolist / competition law aimed a creating a free market.

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 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.[2]


Main article: LucasVarity

In August 1996, Lucas Industries plc merged with the North American Varity Corporation to form LucasVarity plc.[3]

Acquisitions And Agreements

Lucas also acquired many of their British competitors:


Main article: CA Vandervell

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.[4]

The company was formed by Charles Anthony Vandervell (1870-1955), making accumulators, electric carriage lamps, and switchboards in Willesden.[4]

In 1904 the firm, moved to Warple Way, Acton.[4] 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.[4] By 1918 1,000 employees were making vehicle electrics and aircraft magnetos.[4] Wireless components were also made from 1923.[4]

In 1926 CAV was bought by Lucas.[4] 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.[4] Lucas bought Bosch's interest out in 1937 and it became CAV Ltd in 1939. In 1978 the company's name became Lucas CAV.[4] In 1980 the Acton factory employed around 3,000 people making heavy duty electric equipment for commercial vehicles,[4] by this time diesel fuel injection manufacturing had been relocated to larger modern factories in Kent, Suffolk, Gloucestershire and many countries throughout the world.

The diesel fuel injection equipment research, engineering and manufacturing business known in later years as Lucas Diesel Systems Ltd continues at all of the world wide sites (with the exception of those in Japan and South Carolina, USA which had closed by this time) and since 2000 has been owned by Delphi Inc, a USA based automotive parts and systems manufacturer. The name has been changed to Delphi and the business is a major part of the Powertrain Division.[5]


The company started as a car brake manufacturer after Albert H. Girling in 1925 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 very successful on racing cars from the early 1950s to the 1970s.[6] 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 fluid.

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:


(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.[7] Initially a motor cycle accessory business, Rotax began to specialise in aircraft components after the First World War.[7] 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.


Main article: Simms

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.[8] During the 1930s the factory developed a range of Diesel fuel injectors.[8] 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.[8]

The East Finchley factory continued to expand after the war, eventually reaching 300,000 square feet, and the company took over many other other firms.[8] Simms Motor Units was itself taken over by Lucas in 1968.[8] Manufacturing in East Finchley was steadily run down and the factory closed in 1991 to be redeveloped for housing.[8] It is commemorated by Simms Gardens and Lucas Gardens.

Cross-licensing agreements

In the 1920's 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 1930's 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.[9][10]

King of the Road

Lucas marketed its early headlights under the brand name "King of the Road".[11] 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 disputed. As Joseph Lucas died in 1902 and British Leyland was only formed in 1968, some 66 years later, this title is undeserved. This perception also could be connected with early supply problems of the 'King of the Road' lighting products within the North American Markets during the late 1890s and early 1900s or this could also be attributed to the reputation that the company used small gauge wiring in vehicles which tend to wear out or corrode quickly.


Add links to any Lucas products with an article here - please

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 History of Lucas contained in report by UK Competition Commission
  2. The fight for useful jobs at Lucas Aerospace
  3. Two automotive part makers agree to merge
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 "'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 on 2007-10-26.
  5. Delphi buys Lucas Diesel
  6. PowerTrack brakes
  7. 7.0 7.1 History of the radio manufacturer Rotax Ltd Radio Museum
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 The Lucas Factory John Dearing, 2002
  9. 'Jaguar XK8's engine, electronics now match styling, handling'- Washington Times, 18 October 1996.
  10. 'BMW Z3 a roadster for the many'- Denver Post, 9 August 1996.
  11. A selection of Joseph Lucas lamps

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. ISBN 0-7153-7306-4. 
  • Cheeseright, Paul (2005). Lucas the Sunset Years. London: James & James. ISBN 1-904022-10-3. 

External links

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