Looking at Lucas



Even as a small boy, to whom a bicycle represented the ultimate in personal transport and, oh, such a magnificent status symbol. I looked upon the name Lucas in much the same way as Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Bens (I’ve mentioned both, you see) are regarded today. To own a bicycle and one of those cunning devices which needed no batteries, but gave both a front and a rear light by simply squeezing a knurled knob against the tyre sidewall, was to ascend the very pinnacle of affluence, so it is little wonder that Lucas was a name spoken in only the most respectful tones. When the opportunity came recently to spend u day looking over just a small part of the Lucas organisation at Birmingham it was with the realisation that, had i been in those schoolboy days, my fame, as one who had actually seen the King of the Road being made, would have been assured.

Being of the same mind as the Editor, that those who write about motor cars should take every opportunity to drive them, my first inclination was to go to Birmingham via M1, despite the traffic-snarled complexities at each of its ends. But when I heard that the motorway was suffering from a serious skin disease and was undergoing extensive grafting operations at the hands of local authority medicine men, I forsook the steering wheel and put myself squarely at the mercy of British Railways. Little over two hours after leaving Paddington I was being greeted by my contact beneath the clock at Snow Hill station, and we were soon nipping through the city traffic in his M.G. Midget on our way to Great King Street.

The main works and head offices of the Lucas organisation, acquired not long after the turn of the century to satisfy a demand for more production space, are rather drab from the outside compared with the plush glass palaces enjoyed by even lesser concerns, but inside all is purpose and function. With a pause only for an extremely welcome cup of tea. I was shown a display of Lucasware which left me rather puzzled that the company name should be popularly associated with lighting alone. Motoring sportsmen, of course, know of the other associations, of things such as petrol injection, electronic ignition, alternators and disc brakes. In fact, the range of products is so wide that it was rather difficult to select those about which readers of MOTOR SPORT would not really be concerned.. How many would know for instance, that one of the Lucas subsidiaries manufactures parts for aircraft gas-turbine engines and control mechanisms for undercarriages; that another deals with marine engines and commercial oil burners, another with guided weapons and aeronautical navigation and radar systems, and yet another with railway locomotives, contractors’ plant and agricultural machinery. All these represent factories dotted over the country from Burnley to Rochester and from Sudbury to Cwmbran, with no less than thirty-four overseas associates … all this from the manufacture, in 1875, of the humble ” Tom Bowling” ship’s lamp. one of the first products to come out of Joseph Lucas’ modest little workshop in little King Street, a building now used exclusively by the Stationery Department.

From ships’ lamps, policemen’s lanterns—carried then on the belt not on top of the helmet—and dark room lamps, the range was widened with the advent of the bicycle, and, just before the turn of the century, the first steps towards Lucas as we know it today were taken when two British companies, Lanchester and Daimler, began the manufacture of mysterious, noisy, almost frightening things called motor cars. Joseph Loots himself, alas. was to see no more than the earliest beginnings of this new field of activity, for he died in 1902 whilst visiting Naples in search of new business. A maxim which he coined is still impressed upon the employees of the organisation which he founded : “Take care of the complaint, and the compliments will take care of themselves.”

To get hack to the present, my chat with the Lucas.competitions Manager, a portly Midlander with a fierce dedication to his job, was understandably on sporting topics. After various racing and rallying preludes we got on to electronic ignition and, I must confess, his words served to prove that my knowledge of the subject was indeed lacking. Modern coil ignition systems, although capable of producing an incredible number of sparks per second-225 for a 6-cylinder engine at 4,500 r.p.m.—are quite inadequate to meet the demands at engines such as the 1.5-litre Formula One units of the 1965 season. Mechanical and electrical factors impose a limit of about 400 sparks per second on conventional ignition. Since 600 sparks per second is quite a modest requirement for racing .engines, a new system had to be devised and, by using an electronic circuit which eliminated almost all the moving pans, a spark rate per second of 1,000 is now a practical proposition, corresponding with engine speeds of 15.000 r.p.m. Obviously, this is well in excess of present r.p.m. demands, though modern G.P. engines spend much of their racing lives around 9,000.

Another proudly told tale which I heard concerned Lucas petrol injection, which was used as long ago as 1957 on the Le Mans winning Jaguar of Ecurie Ecosse, and has since spread to Formula One. The pressurised system meters accurate charges of petrol to each cylinder in turn, the quantity being matched to the throttle opening. This results in greater flexibility, smoother running at low resolutions, improved pick-up. reduced fuel consumption and an increase in power output.

Alternators are now as familiar as November logs, but perhaps the reason for their use is not quite as clear. With the growth of the vehicle population we can expect the daily trip to the office to become even more frustrating, and during such stop-start journeys much of the engine’s running time is at idling speed. Combine this with the use of heater blowers, windscreen wipers and, perhaps, lights, and we have an enormous drain on the battery: one that cannot be balanced by a direct current dynamo at a low rate of revolutions. Over the years, dynamos have become smaller and lighter, but have yet been able to produce higher maximum output,. To modify them in order that they might also cope with a low speed output would result in their. reverting to their former, bulky and heavy design. Generators of alternating current, on the other hand, can be designed to meet both requirements and yet be smaller, and lighter, than the smallest of comparable dynamos. For battery charging, direct current is necessary, so that a rectifier must be used in conjunction with the alternator. Rectifiers developed in recent years by Lucas are compact enough to be incorporated in the alternator, but those in use not so many years ago were considerably more bulky, a fact which virtually prohibited the use of alternators as means of current generation in motor cars.

A modern Lucas alternator offers an output of about 52 watts per lb. weight compared with the 5.5 watts per lb. produced by a dynamo of 1920 vintage. Because there are far less moving parts than in a D.C. generator, an alternator is capable of a useful output even when the car is stationary in a traffic jam, and is thus a boon to the city driver.

In the field of rallying, the mind of Lucas is extremely open, though they are proud that Timo Makinen won the 1965 Monte behind Lucas lighting. They can produce lamps fitted with either Mazda or Phillips iodine quartz bulbs (they do not make their own) but, though they are constantly seeking improvements, have not yet produced an iodine vapour headlamp which is capable of being dipped. They do offer a four-headlamp I.V. system, of course, but regard the type of single filament lamp which relies upon a shield drawn over the filament to produce a dipped beam as rather crude and certainly not yet efficient enough to be included in their range. Needless to say, experimentation is in full swing, and on their test cars, which carry a vast array of lamps on boards mounted in front of the grilles, I saw familiar units alongside those which are not yet in production. Among these were certain peculiar items which I could not relate to any British car currently in production. Enlarging upon this, I fear, is strictly verboten, but I can at least say that the shapes of some of the things to come are unusual, if not exciting.

Lunch was an interlude that I determined would consume as little time as possible since I had a lot to cram into the short time that a one-day visit gave me, but as we were joined by Archie Bryde, who used to race sports cars in the wonderful early ‘fifties, the urgency gave way to particularly delightful table talk over the coffee. How I wish that I could retell some of those hairy racing tales here, but if I meet some of you at a circuit, perhaps. . . . Archie, who is now a sales executive at Lucas, at one time sold Aston Martins in Italy, so if you ever hear of someone’s ability to make sand an attractive proposition to an Arab, you can cap it at once by the achievements of Archie Bryde. Lunch over, Trevor Hoskins, Lucas’ pressman, drove me to the lamp factory, where I got my first impression before even arriving at the gate. Parking space appears to be at as much of a premium in Birmingham as it is near the MOTOR SPORT offices. Lucas, whilst realising this, need to use as much of their available space as possible for production. Nevertheless, they cater for the needs of their motorised employees, for they are engaged in building a substantial car park which occupies no ground space at all. In fact, it takes the form of a huge concrete raft resting upon stilts, and is being erected over railway lines which run alongside the factory. No more, really, than an abnormally wide bridge, but ingeniously practical, I must say.

Inside the factory, I was shown an impressive array of assembly lines, presses, cable jointers and electro-plating tanks, but by far the most eye-catching was the largest collection of baby wear I have ever seen. My visit, so I gathered, coincided with a decision by one of the girls on a production line to produce something other than a Lucas lamp, and the happy event was being marked by a generous collective gift from her workmates.

Factory processes, however intricate, generally rouse in me no more than a fleeting interest, for assembly lines are usually reasonably slick wherever one goes. But I was intrigued by Lucas’ method of getting the shine on reflectors. Lamps with metal reflectors can be plated electrically, but sealed-beam units, with their all glass construction, are a different proposition. The technique used on glass reflectors has now been incorporated into the manufacture of metal units and it was a batch of these that I watched being plated. A wire cradle was festooned with unplated reflectors, forming a hollow “box,” with concave surfaces inwards. The cradle was then placed inside an airtight chamber in the centre of which was a battery of heating elements. On each element was a 3-in. length of pure aluminium wire. When the cradle was in position, the cluster of small heaters was in the centre of the formation of unplated reflectors. Simultaneously, the heaters were switched on and the chamber evacuated. The result was a rapid vaporisation of the aluminium which completely coated the reflecting surfaces of the lamps as soon as the air pressure in the chamber returned to normal, allowing the aluminium to re-solidify. We tend to take these reflectors for granted, but to see them being made is quite astonishing.

Finished lamps are subjected to a prolonged water spray test, a severe dust test in an atmosphere of blown cement, and all the bangs and shakes of a vibration platform. S.A.E. demands are stringent, but in each of these tests Lucas lamps are subjected to rigours beyond these requirements, which is perhaps why they have survived as the largest manufacturers of original lighting equipment for motor cars.

After suitable respects were paid, the drive to the station convinced me that I had chosen wisely to make the journey by train but after a decidedly uncomfortable 2-hour journey to Paddington and beyond, my feelings were quite the opposite From now on, I think I will stick to doing what, after all, represents bread and butter—driving motor cars.–G. P.