Long before the Ford Model T, even before the first Mercedes ‘horseless carriage’, there was Lucas. Our business was established in 1872, the same year that the petrol engine was first patented. The story of the business that Joseph Lucas founded in Birmingham, still the global HQ of Lucas today, is the story of one of the most successful automotive brands in history. If you would like to know more about the heritage of Lucas, visit www.heritage-motor-centre.co.uk, whose support we gratefully acknowledge.
Our founder, Joseph Lucas, born in Birmingham in 1834, knew how to deliver what customers needed. He began in the early 1860s as a dealer in paraffin oil for domestic lamps and soon saw potential to expand into the transport market. In 1875, he opened a small workshop on Little King Street with 5 employees. The early product range included ship's lamps (Tom Bowling) with the first "King of the Road" cycle lamp, for use on the Penny Farthing, produced in 1878.
Such was the demand for the "King of the Road" bicycle lamp that Joseph Lucas secured an official patent in 1880 and reaped the rewards during the “bicycle boom” of the time. A new factory was built, which later developed into the iconic Great King Street premises and became the hugely successful Lucas Electrical business in Birmingham.
In 1897 a public company, Joseph Lucas Ltd, was formed with Joseph as Chairman. The company had now achieved a leading position in its market and the strength of the business enabled Joseph to enter the infant automotive parts and accessories market.
Joseph Lucas died in 1902 to be succeeded by his son, Harry, as Chairman. Harry was able to take full advantage of the automotive boom, which had been spurred on by an act of Parliament that had raised the speed limit above walking pace! The range extended to include cycle, motorcycle and car accessories, including oil, acetylene, and electric lamps. Great King Street was expanded to meet increased demand and Lucas continued to grow and grow.
Lucas grew because it continued to identify and deliver innovations that automotive manufacturers really needed. For example, when the acquisition of Thomson-Bennett Ltd provided magneto capability to add to the growing Electrical portfolio, Lucas added starters and dynamos to its range. This revolutionised night driving as this quote from the 1914 catalogue shows; "The illustration is from an actual photograph of road illumination, taken on a dark night, by aid of the LUCAS DYNAMO LIGHTING SYSTEM."
And still Lucas continued to grow. This period saw further rapid expansion as Lucas grew alongside motor car production. With the acquisition of C.A. Vandervell & Co. Ltd. and Rotax (Motor Accessories) Ltd. Lucas became the largest supplier of electrical equipment to the vast majority of British vehicles and the largest manufacturer of accessories. The illustration shows the sign of the first Service Agent, appointed in 1929.
This decade saw establish many of the key product lines – not only electrical but beyond – that we still operate today. There was heavy-duty electrical vehicle equipment, fuel injection pumps for diesel engines, and the beginning of the aviation business that was the foundation of Lucas Aerospace.
In 1943, the Girling brake business was acquired from the New Hudson company, adding hydraulic braking to the company's product portfolio. With a multi-award-winning history in F1, Girling is still a thriving brand today.
In 1951 the company was renamed Joseph Lucas (Industries) Limited, now a holding company, and distributive subsidiary companies were set up due to the ever increasing range of products. There were eight manufacturing groups in the UK and more than 12 distribution companies operating overseas. Product milestones included the first disc brake fitted to a production car and the introduction of the DPA rotary fuel injection pump.
Lucas grew yet again in 1960 as expansion across Europe gained momentum, with brake manufacturing in France and Germany, diesel partnerships in France and Spain plus a significant development of the aftermarket network. As Lucas manufacturing spread through Europe, Lucas Service became a global enterprise, exporting to over 130 markets with around 4,000 authorised outlets.
The group was renamed as Lucas Industries in 1974 and, as part of a new corporate identity, the Lucas diagonal was introduced, a brand icon now familiar throughout the world. That diagonal first became a familiar feature of garages in 1975 when 35% of all cars manufactured worldwide were fitted with brakes manufactured by Lucas Girling, its associate company, or one of its licensees.
While the UK car manufacturing base declined in the 1980s, Lucas remained strong by restructuring and refocusing into overseas markets. Lucas Automotive, created in 1988, moved into the production of high-technology engine management and braking systems for automotive customers around the world. Our three core technologies of Electrical, Braking and Diesel were recognised through the red, yellow and blue representations of Lucas with the diagonal logo providing the continuity of one company.
In 1994 we met the need for globalised production by adopting a green brand colour for all our signage, publications, product packaging and advertising, and by providing high technology products. The merger to create Lucas Varity in 1996 resulted in the formation of one of the top ten automotive component suppliers in the world. This was followed by acquisition by TRW in 1999. TRW is now the global leader in automotive safety systems.
By the year 2000, Lucas has been trading continuously for over 125 years and began the new millennium as a renowned supplier of premium quality, technically excellent automotive and motorcycle products for both vehicle manufacturers and the aftermarket. To continue innovation, development and investment in Lucas, TRW decided to license the brand to specialist licensees.
To celebrate the new levels of success we have achieved, and how this has been built on our proud heritage and the strong recognition of our brand, we launched the Icon campaign, showing our familiar green boxes towering into the skylines of France and the UK, two of our key markets. The campaign has been seen by 190,000 people.
Automotive technology changes fast. We’re successful because, as you can see from our history, we’ve always been innovators, giving you the solutions that keep you equipped for the future.