Lucas Industries

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Lucas Industries Emblem


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. His 17-year-old son Harry joined the firm around 1872. At first it made general pressed metal merchandise, including plant pot holders, scoops and buckets, and later in 1875 lamps for ships. Joseph Lucas & Son was based in Little King Street from 1882 and later Great King Street Birmingham. In 1902, what had by then become Joseph Lucas Ltd, incorporated in 1898, started making automotive electrical components such as magnetos, alternators, windscreen wipers, horns, lighting, wiring and starter motors.

King of the Road

Harry Lucas designed a hub lamp for use in a high bicycle in 1879 and named the oil lamp "King of the Road" - the claim was that it "will not blow out in the toughest gale". 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. 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.

A Time Of Growth

The company started its main growth in 1914 with a contract to supply Morris Motors Limited with electrical equipment for its vehicles and munitions. 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. 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. Around 1930, Lucas and Smiths established a trading agreement to avoid competition in each other's markets.

Lucas King of the Road headlamps

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.

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 World War Two 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.


One of Lucas Industries best inventions was known as Spherax – and it was acclaimed as one of the most exciting and innovative automotive developments to that time! The Spherax system was launched at the 1974 Geneva Motor Show – and it promised to revolutionise automotive switchgear. The product was called Spherax - and it looked just like an ordinary piece of rubber. The material was what the scientists called a conductive elastomer - in other words it carried an "arrangement" of small metal fragments "in suspension" in the rubber sponge that acted as a conductor when compressed.

The new material was suitable for use in all automotive switchgear and, by 1974, Lucas had thoroughly tested the product for use in touch switches, panel switches, direction indicator switches, gear lever and steering column lock switches, oil temperature and pressure switches, and brake warning light switches. Spherax was far from a laboratory publicity gimmick - in fact the switch was first put into production as a horn push on a Jaguar.

The Fabrostrip Wiring Harness

Spherax fitted snugly into the 1970s Lucas concept of reduction of labour intensive vehicle assembly operations. The vehicle electrical harness had long been recognised by the industry as the most labour intensive component involved in vehicle assembly. Lucas struck the first blow against this problem in late 1972 when it introduced the “Fabrostrip” wiring harness, which eliminated the complicated loom assembly operation and replaced it with a machine-operated, semi-automated wiring bonding system that was simple, efficient, explicit in its operation and much more suited to modern vehicle design. British Leyland began fitting fabrostrip harnesses to the Austin Allegro at the rate of 4000 a week and later Leyland models also incorporated this system.

Spherax came as the fitting ''climax" to the Lucas anti-labour-intensive program - effectively sealing the "ends" of the Fabrostrip system with a simple, durable switching system. The Conductive Elastomer Switching System which was jointly developed with Essex International had been proven as virtually indestructible. It was meant to eliminate vehicle switching failures forever. Tests were conducted for resistance to intense heat, intense cold, exposure to oil, petrol, fumes etc and the material proved itself time and time again.

From a scientific viewpoint, a big attraction of the material was its complete design flexibility. Compression rates, conductivity property etc could all be calculated by computer and programmed into the design on the material. The variety of applications was, for the early 1970s, stunning. But more important was the way in which the material would alter some elements of then current vehicle design. For example, the brake lights were normally operated by a switching device or solenoid which interfered the hydraulic system and measured flow or pressure. With the Lucas Spherax System a pad could be placed under the brake pedal rubber, and the shaft of the pedal could be employed as the "wiring circuit". Alternatively, a simple pad could be located behind the pedal arm, compressing and actuating the lights when the brake pedal was depressed.

Another problem which annoyed many drivers was over sensitive horns The Lucas Spherax System could be programmed to provide electric current flow at the precise level of pressure required for desired operation - rather than accidental operation. Vehicle lane-changing systems were very much in demand in cars of the early 1970s and the then current systems employed involved expensive multi-facet switches. The Spherax approach to this problem was simply to employ multiple layers of “Conductive Elastomer” with different compression rates. As well as in initial saving in switch manufacture, the Spherax switch for this application would never require maintenance, was infinitely more durable, and was never likely to fail.

Lucas pointed out that in most metal-to-metal contact and connection systems only a small number of actual interfacial contacts are obtained. Consequently high current densities are produced at these points. But, because of the elasticity of Conductive Elastomer materials, the contours of contacting surfaces adapt to each other, resulting in a great number of interfacial conducting paths and less than half the millivolt drop and energy loss of conventional systems! Lucas cited these positive advantages in the switchgear:

  • Reduction in heat generated within the switch.
  • Longer life.
  • The rheostatic nature of the switch provides substantial arc suppression.
  • There are fewer components than in conventional switches.
  • There is an increased resistance to adverse environmental conditions (inert chemicals common to the average vehicle, humid conditions etc.)
  • Touch-operated switches with very low operating pressures can be easily produced (especially suitable for windscreen washer system, headlight flashers etc). And these are the advantages from the connector viewpoint:
  • Capable of connecting virtually any type of electrical conductor, in any combination, without the use of rivets, terminal etc.
  • No loss of performance resulting from repeated disconnecting and reconnection.
  • Good ageing stability in various environmental conditions. Water-tight connections can be readily obtained. Heat generated in a multiple connector system is less than half that of a conventional system.

The Integrated Fuse Box

Ancillary to the Spherax switch development and the Fabrostrip wiring harness, Lucas developed an integrated fuse box which was adopted by most British car makers. Lucas were also marketing domestic solar power charging units. These pics show two applications. These units charge storage batteries which power lighting systems, thereby conserving drive battery power.

At the 1974 Geneva Motor Show Lucas announced that Fabrostrip would soon be available world-wide under marketing licence agreements it is now signing-out Already almost every British manufacturer has adopted the system for their "next models". Other countries certain to adopt the system in the near future include West Germany, Japan, USA, France, Italy, Brazil, South Africa and Russia. And of course Australia - local manufacturers have shown great interest in the scheme (and not without reason since they have suffered considerable electrical wiring difficulties even in recent years at both assembly and retail levels).

Fabrostrip also combined with another product produced by the Lucas division - Rist's Wires and Cables Limited - the integrated fuse boxes. These were employed on all British Leyland and Chrysler European vehicles of the future and are already employed on most existing models. Other companies are testing them as well. And in their something-for-everyone Geneva samplebag handout Lucas came up with a great easter egg for the leisure-seeker - solar-energy battery chargers.

These were provided under an exclusive agreement Lucas negotiated with the Solar Power Corporation of America to market solar cells for the leisure market They will be made available in packs for boating enthusiasts, caravanners, cars, farmers or technical, scientific and industrial people. They had already been employed in such diverse fields as powering television and telecommunication relay stations, and providing supplementary power for boat navigation systems. One Englishman even employed a cell unit on his vehicle to keep his battery charged.

The Lucas new product releases were made simultaneously with the announcement of their then newly created Multiple Division Export and After-Market Affairs Group established in Lausanne, Switzerland. The new Euro-company was called Lucas International Trading S.A. It operated on a world-wide basis to give greater attention to overseas markets. Australia had immediate benefit from this division in terms of marketing expertise and more direct communication.

The 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 described at the time by the Financial Times as "one of the most radical alternative plans ever drawn up by workers for their company", and by Tony Benn as "one of the most remarkable exercises that has ever occurred in British industrial history". The Plan took a year to put together, consisted of six volumes of around 200 pages each, and included designs for 150 proposed items for manufacture, market analysis and proposals for employee training and restructuring the firm's work organisation.<

The plan was not put into place but it is claimed that the associated industrial action saved some jobs. In addition, the Plan had an impact outside of Lucas Aerospace: according to a 1977 article in New Statesman, "the philosophical and technical implications of the plan were now being discussed on average of twenty-five times a week in international media". Workers in other companies subsequently undertook similar initiatives elsewhere in the UK, continental Europe, Australia and the United States, and the Plan was also supported by and influenced the work of radical scientists such as the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science and community, peace and environmental activists through spreading the idea of encouraging socially useful production.

The Plan's proposals also had an influence on the economic development strategies of a number of left-wing Labour councils, for example the West Midlands, Sheffield, Cleveland and the Greater London Council, where Cooley was appointed Technology Director of the Greater London Enterprise Board after being sacked by Lucas in 1981 due to his activism.


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. The company was formed by Charles Anthony Vandervell (1870 – 1955), making accumulators, electric carriage lamps, and switchboards in Willesden. In 1904 the firm, moved to Warple Way, Acton. 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. By 1918 1,000 employees were making vehicle electrics and aircraft magnetos. Wireless components were also made from 1923.

In 1926 CAV was bought by Lucas. 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. Lucas bought Bosch's interest out in 1937 and it became CAV Ltd in 1939. In 1978 the company's name became Lucas CAV. In 1980 the Acton factory employed around 3,000 people making heavy duty electric equipment for commercial vehicles, 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 US-domiciled automotive parts and systems manufacturer. The name has been changed to Delphi, and the business is a major part of the Delphi Powertrain Division.

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 Girling 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. 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 its 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.


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. Initially a motor cycle accessory business, Rotax began to specialise in aircraft components after the First World War. After an initial proposal for Lucas and Rotax to jointly take over CAV, Lucas decided in 1926 to take over both companies. 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. During the 1930s the factory developed a range of Diesel fuel injectors. 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.

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. Simms Motor Units was itself taken over by Lucas in 1968 and integrated within the CAV division. Manufacturing in East Finchley was steadily run down and the factory closed in 1991 to be redeveloped for housing. It is commemorated by Simms Gardens and Lucas Gardens.

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