Lucas Industries

Lucas Industries plc was a Birmingham-based British manufacturer of motor industry and aerospace industry components. Once prominent, it was listed on the London Stock Exchange and was formerly a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. In August 1996, Lucas merged with the American Varity Corporation to form LucasVarity plc.

Lucas Industries plc
privately held company 
IndustryAutomotive and aerospace
SuccessorLucasVarity plc, subsequently acquired by Goodrich and TRW
FounderJoseph Lucas
HeadquartersBirmingham, West Midlands, United Kingdom
Key people
George Simpson (CEO)
ProductsBraking, diesel, electrical, defence systems and aerospace systems
Number of employees
SubsidiariesCAV/Simms/RotoDiesel/Condiesel,, Girling, Lucas Automotive, Lucas Aerospace 

After LucasVarity was sold to TRW the Lucas brand name was licensed for its brand equity to Elta Lighting for aftermarket auto parts in the United Kingdom. The Lucas trademark is currently owned by ZF Friedrichshafen, which retained the Elta arrangement.



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.[1] 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.

1902 to World War I

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.[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.

Post-World War I expansion

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 about 1957[2] they started a semiconductor manufacturing plant to make rectifiers and transistors.

Lucas Plan (1976)

In 1976, the militant workforce within Lucas Aerospace were facing significant layoffs. Under the leadership of Mike Cooley, they developed the Lucas Plan[3] 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".[4]:1 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.[4]:5

The plan was not put into place but it is claimed that the associated industrial action saved some jobs.[5] 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".[4]:5 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.[4]:1–2, 9–10, 15 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.[4]:16–18

LucasVarity (1996)

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.[6]

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". 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.[7] 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.

Acquisitions and agreements

Lucas also acquired many of its 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.[8]

The company was formed by Charles Anthony Vandervell (1870–1955), making accumulators, electric carriage lamps, and switchboards in Willesden.[8]

In 1904 the firm, moved to Warple Way, Acton.[8] 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.[8] By 1918 1,000 employees were making vehicle electrics and aircraft magnetos.[8] Wireless components were also made from 1923.[8]

In 1926 CAV was bought by Lucas.[8] 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.[8] Lucas bought Bosch's interest out in 1937 and it became CAV Ltd in 1939. In 1978 the company's name became Lucas CAV.[8] In 1980 the Acton factory employed around 3,000 people making heavy duty electric equipment for commercial vehicles,[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11]


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.[12] Initially a motor cycle accessory business, Rotax began to specialise in aircraft components after the First World War.[12] 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.[13] During the 1930s the factory developed a range of Diesel fuel injectors.[13] 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.[13]

The East Finchley factory continued to expand after the war, eventually reaching 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2).[13] In 1955, the company acquired seven other British light engineering companies: R.F. Landon Partners, Horstman, Mono-Cam, Hadrill and Horstmann, Industrial Fan and Heater, Clearex Products and Simplus Products.[14][15] At the end of 1957, the company formally changed its name to Simms Motor and Electronics Corporation Ltd., informally known as the Simms Group.[16] The Simms Group was taken over by Lucas in 1968 and integrated within the CAV division.[13] Manufacturing in East Finchley was steadily run down and the factory closed in 1991 to be redeveloped for housing.[13] 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.[17][18]

UK sites


  • Acton (Diesel Systems)
  • Antrim (Electrical)
  • Bradford (Aerospace)
  • Broadgreen, Liverpool (Aerospace)
  • Bromborough ([20] - Industrial Braking)
  • Burnley (Aerospace (4 sites) and Automotive (3 sites))
  • Cranmore Boulevard (Starter Motor Drives)
  • Cwmbran (Automotive Brakes)
  • Dog Kennel Lane, Shirley (Aerospace, Automotive, Consulting and Research)
  • Fazakerley, Liverpool (Automotive, Diesel Systems)
  • Fen End, Birmingham (Test Track)
  • Finchley
  • Fordhouses, Wolverhampton (Aerospace)[21]
  • Formans Road, Birmingham (Batteries)
  • Fradley, Woodend Lane, Staffordshire (Distribution)
  • Fradley, Gorse Lane, Staffordshire (B90 Remanufacturing, Automotive)
  • Gillingham, Kent (Diesel Systems)
  • Great King Street, Birmingham (HQ + Automotive)
  • Great Hampton Street, Birmingham (Automotive)
  • Hemel Hempstead (Aerospace)
  • Honiley (Aerospace)
  • Huyton, Liverpool (Aerospace)
  • Kings Road, Tyseley, Birmingham (Automotive Brakes)
  • Luton (Aerospace)
  • Marshall Lake Road, Birmingham (Aerospace)
  • Mere Green (Automotive Electrical)
  • Netherton liverpool (Aerospace)
  • Newcastle under Lyme (Wiring Harnesses)
  • Oakenshaw Road, Shirley (Electronics)
  • Park Royal London (Diesel Systems)
  • Pontypool (Automotive Brakes)
  • Shaftmoor Lane (Aerospace and Alternators)
  • Shipley (Aerospace
  • Shirley, Solihull (HQ, Aftermarket, Group Research)
  • Stonehouse, Gloucestershire (Diesel Systems)
  • Sudbury (Diesel Systems)
  • Telford, Halesfield (Automotive Lighting)
  • Telford, Stafford Park (Flexible Machining Services)
  • Telford, Stafford Park (Rists, Wiring Harnesses)
  • York Road, Birmingham (Aircraft Engine Management)
  • Ystradgynlais, South Wales (Wiring Harnesses)

Overseas operations

  • Brazil
  • France
  • India
  • Korea
  • Czech Republic
  • Mexico
  • Spain (Sant Cugat, Pamplona, Navarra)
  • USA (Greenville SC, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Winona, Troy, Michigan)
  • Canada (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver)
  • Pakistan

See also



  1. History of Lucas contained in report by UK Competition Commission Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Lucas Industries Vintage Semiconductors
  3. Wainwright, Hilary, The Lucas Plan, London: Allison & Busby, 1981, ISBN 978-0850314304; New York: Schocken Books, 1981, ISBN 978-0-8052-8098-2.
  4. Smith, Adrian (2014). "Socially Useful Production" (PDF). STEPS Working Papers. 58. Brighton: STEPS Centre. Retrieved 15 October 2016. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. Doyle, Kevin, "1976: The fight for useful jobs at Lucas Aerospace",, 13 September 2006.
  6. Holusha, John, "2 Automotive Part Makers Agree to Merge", The New York Times, 9 June 1996.
  7. A selection of Joseph Lucas lamps. Text adapted from Early Vehicle Lighting, by P. W. Card, Shire Books. Archived 4 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  8. "'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 26 October 2007.
  9. Delphi buys Lucas Diesel
  10. PowerTrack brakes
  11. "The Luvax-Girling Damper | Totally T-Type 2". 20 June 2014. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  12. History of the radio manufacturer Rotax Ltd Radio Museum
  13. The Lucas Factory John Dearing, 2002
  14. "Simms Group". Passenger Transport. 115. 1956. p. 142.
  15. "Simms Motor Units Ltd. expands". The Oil Engine and Gas Turbine. 25-26. Temple Press Limited. 1957.
  16. "The Simms Group". The Engineers' Digest. 19. Engineering Industries Association. 1958. p. 94.
  17. "Jaguar XK8's engine, electronics now match styling, handling", Washington Times, 18 October 1996.
  18. "BMW Z3 a roadster for the many", Denver Post, 9 August 1996.
  19. Nockolds, Harold, Lucas: The First Hundred Years, Volumes I-II, Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1976–78.
  20. Automotive disc brakes
  21. "It's all systems go for UTC Aerospace empire". Express & Star. Midland Newspapers Limited. 20 September 2012. Retrieved 24 October 2016.

Further reading

  • 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.
  • Card, Peter W. Early Cycle Lighting. Crowood Press. ISBN 978-1-86126-964-5.
  • Card, Peter W. Early Vehicle Lighting. Shire Publications Ltd. ISBN 0-7478-0585-7.
  • Brooks, David S. Vikings at Waterloo. Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust. ISBN 1-872922-08-2.
  • "Death of a Pioneer: obituary of Harry Lucas", p. 762, Practical Motorist, 25 March 1939. A George Newnes publication

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