Lucas Industries plc

Lucas Industries plc

Lucas Industries plc was a famous manufacturer of components for the motor industry and aerospace industry. It was based in Birmingham, England, and quoted on the London Stock Exchange

Infobox Defunct Company
company_name = Lucas Industries plc
fate = Merged
successor = LucasVarity plc
foundation = 1872
defunct = 1996
location = United Kingdom
industry = Automotive and Aerospace
key_people = Joseph Lucas, George Simpson
products = Braking, Diesel, Electrical, Defence Systems & Aerospace Systems
num_employees = 92,000
subsid = CAV/Simms/RotoDiesel/Condiesel,, Girling, Lucas Automotive, Lucas Aerospace



The company was founded by Joseph Lucas along with his son Harry, around 1872. Initially called "Joseph Lucas & Son" it was based in 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. The company started its main growth in 1914 with a contract to supply the Morris Motor Company with electrical equipment. During the First World War Lucas made shells and fuses, as well as electrical equipment for military vehicles.

Joseph Lucas

Joseph Lucas was born in 1834 and died in 1902 of typhoid after drinking contaminated water in Naples.


After WWI the firm expanded rapidly, branching out into products such as braking systems and diesel system 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 others markets.

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.


In August 1996, Lucas Industries plc merged with the North American Varity Corporation to form LucasVarity plc. Subsequent history is covered on the LucasVarity page.


Lucas also acquired many of their British competitors, such as CAV and Girling.


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. Girling brakes had the quirk of using natural rubber (later nitrile) seals, which caused difficulties for some American owners of British cars.

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


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 A. 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 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.


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, and the company took over many other other firms. Simms Motor Units was itself taken over by Lucas in 1968. 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.


"(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.

King of the Road

Lucas marketed its early headlights under the brand name "King of the Road". There appears to be a reputation or saying within North America that Joseph Lucas, the founder of Lucas Industries is the Prince of Darkness because of the electrical problems common in Lucas-equipped cars, especially British Leyland products. As Joseph Lucas died in 1902 and British Leyland was only formed in 1968, some 66 years later, this reputation appears to be unfounded. However this perception 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 vehicles which tend to wear out or corrode quickly.


*cite book
last = Nockolds
first = Harold
title = Lucas : the first hundred years - Vol.1: The King of the Road
publisher = Newton Abbot
id = ISBN 0-7153-7306-4

*cite book
last = Cheeseright
first = Paul
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 2005
title = Lucas the Sunset Years
publisher = James & James
location = London
id = ISBN 1-904022-10-3

External links

* [ 1976: The fight for useful work at Lucas Aerospace]
* [ History of Great King Street site]
* [ History of Lucas contained in report by UK Competition Commission]
* [ Birmingham's Industrial History Website]
* Daimler Motor Company
* History of East Finchley, Simms Motors
* [ RAC - Papers of Frederick Simms]
* [ History of the Lucas Factory East Finchley]
*cite web | url= | title='Acton: Economic history'| publisher=Victoria County History| work=A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7: Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden (1982), pp. 23-30| accessdate=2007-10-26
* [ Rotax]
* [ Lucas company history]

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