Long before the Ford Model T, even before the first Mercedes ‘horseless carriage’, there was Lucas. The 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. Lucas has had a particularly profound impact throughout the history of vehicle lighting, from the Penny Farthing to the cars on our roads today, here are just some of the key moments.
Joseph Lucas began in the early 1860s as a dealer in paraffin oil for domestic lamps from a barrow cart around the streets of Hockley and soon saw potential to expand into the transport market.
1875 – The Ship’s Lamp
After moving to Great King Street in Birmingham (Eventually the site of the famous Great King Street Factory); Lucas began producing its first lamp for ships called the “Tom Bowling”. A patent was applied for in 1875.
The patent was for "Certain Improvements in the Manufacture of Lamps". This related to the mode of constructing them in a portable manner that enabled individual components to be repaired or replaced.
1878 – The Cycle Lamp
Lucas produced the first “King of the Road” hub lamp, for use on the Penny Farthing. Produced in 1878, this lamp used oil for illumination.
1880s – King of the Road Oil Lamps
An official patent was obtained in 1880 for the "King of the Road" bicycle lamp. In 1882, Joseph formed a private partnership with his son, Harry, trading under the title of Joseph Lucas & Son.
The "King of the Road" Lion became a trademark in 1884 and remained a major feature of Lucas advertising for the next 80 years.
Early 1900s – King of the Road, Acetylene Gas Lamps
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 and began producing oil lamps for motor-cars such as the oil side lamps shown here. The advertising of the time boasted the products “excellent results” that were “not affected by high winds”.
Very soon Lucas began producing carbide/acetylene lamps for motor-cars. Acetylene gas lamps produce and burn acetylene(C2H2) created by the reaction of calcium carbide(CaC2) with water. They were more resistant to weather than oil lamps.
As early as 1910 Lucas were producing electric car lamps but it would be a few more years before technological developments helped increase their popularity.
1912 – King of the Road Dynamo Headlights using Light Bulbs
using Light Bulbs
Lucas grew because it continued to identify and deliver innovations that automotive manufacturers really needed. Lucas revolutionised night driving, introducing the first dynamo powered headlights fitted with 12v 24cp bulbs as seen in the “Actual photograph of road illumination” taken in September 1911 and published in the 1912 Electricalitiesbrochure.
Lucas’ first contract for dynamo sets came from Morris in 1914.
1920s & 1930s
Lucas continued to produce vehicle lighting in many forms including the P80DB and P100DB high-powered projector lamps shown here. These models used 12 volt 60 watt special diffused short coil axial filament bulb (as shown here) and a supplementary transverse filament bulb to allow for a dipped beam when required.
For the new post war cars, Lucas designed and produced flush fitting round headlamps. The first car to use the new design was the 1949/50 ‘raised headlamp’ Morris Minor. It was simply known as the “7 inch Headlamp” and consisted of a lens/reflector unit with a replaceable British Pre-Focus (BPF) tungsten double filament bulb similar to the LLB185. This bulb allowed the driver to dip the beam and avoid dazzling oncoming traffic.
1950s – An advertisement for Lucas Replacement Bulbs
By the 1950s Lucas had begun selling its own replacement bulbs.
1960s – Sealed Beams
Although standardized in the USA in 1940; no one British company had sufficient volume to justify the expense of producing sealed beams. However in 1959 three UK manufacturers combined efforts and formed the joint company 'British Sealed Beams Limited' (40% AEI-Mazda, 20% Osram-GEC, and 40% Lucas.)Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Lucas produced sealed beam headlights for many British car manufacturers including prestige marques like Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Bristol and Jowett.
Sealed beam lamps include the reflector, one or more filaments, and a glass or polycarbonate lens all permanently attached together and sealed.
1960 – The Lucas Pathfinder
Lucas also introduced the first British sealed beam fog lamps to the aftermarket in 1964. They were called ‘PathFinder’ lamps.
1962 – H1, The First Halogen Headlight Bulb
In 1962 by a European consortium of bulb and headlamp makers introduced the H1 bulb; a 55w halogen lamp approved for automotive use that produced 1500 lm. The Lucas H1 LLB448 is still widely used in headlights and fog lights today. Before Halogen, traditional bulb envelopes would be prone to blackening as the Tungsten evaporated. Adding Halogen results in a chemical reaction and evaporated tungsten is deposited back onto the filament. This “Halogen Cycle” maintains clarity of the envelope.
1971 – H4 The First High and Low Beam Halogen BNulb
In 1971, the H4 bulb was introduced in Europe. It was the world’s first halogen headlamp bulb that could produce both low and high beam from a single bulb. The Lucas LLB472 H4 bulb remains one of the most popular bulbs in the range today.
The U.S. prohibited halogen headlamps until 1978 remaining with the standardized sealed beams. H4 bulbs are still not legal for automotive (except motorcycles) use in the United States. American vehicles use their own very similar standard called HB2/9003.
1990s – High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Lamps
Little changed in the world lighting for several decades and almost all vehicles used halogen light bulbs in one form for headlights. That was until 1991 when the BMW 7 Series was introduced as the first car to use HID (also known as Xenon) headlight bulbs.
HID systems provide 200% more light on the road and brighter/whiter light than a standard Halogen bulb. Unlike a standard bulb a HID system requires an electronic ballast to ignite the bulb creating a spark between two points.Traditional HID replacement bulbs we’re very expensive but the Lucas range of HID bulbs delivers a more affordable solution without compromising quality.
Early 2000s – Halogen Upgrade Bulbs
Despite the success of HID systems many manufactures remained with Halogen lighting for most of their vehicles. HID systems were of only seen of high end vehicles or available as expensive optional extras. By contrast though, the bright white light of HID systems made halogen bulbs look yellowish and old fashioned. This saw a rise in demand from the market for a brighter / whiter halogen bulb. In response Lucas introduced their first upgrade halogen bulbs at this time. The recently rebranded LightBooster range now includes a range of halogen bulbs to deliver up to 130% more light on the road and white or blue tints to give a HID look.
The Future – LED or Laser?
LED (light Emitting Diode) Technology is by no means new and many vehicles now feature LED lighting. The super quick response times of LEDs makes ideal for stop and tail lights where they have become commonplace. Despite this, they are still not a common choice for headlights. The heat generating properties and costs have proven challenging for vehicle manufacturers. The 2009 Audi R8 V10 was the first car to feature all-LED lighting. However, there is also another contender. The latest BMW i8, Audi R8 LMX and the BMW 7 Series all use full beam laser which has a range of up to 600m. Twice that of LED headlights.
Whatever the future, the Lucas brand will continue to meet the demands of the automotive aftermarket with trusted quality lighting components.
ELTA Automotive – Official Lucas Vision Licensee
ELTA Automotive is proud to be the official Lucas Licensee for Driving Vision and Switchgear throughout the UK and Europe. Contact us for more information and distributor opportunities.