Hagerty.com

Are Lucas electricals as bad as everyone says?

My vote for the bad rap on Lucas is the poorly maintained older car too. That and the fact that the parts simply weren’t meant to last more than about 10 years (doesn’t account for <10 year failures though…). Manufacturers build parts to make money, so they don’t want to make a part that lasts 20 years for a car meant to last 10. They want to get close to that 10 years expected lifespan then they don’t care what happens! Makes sense, if thinking from a manufacturers perspective. While a better part may only add 10 cents to the total cost, multiply by 20 parts and 10,000+ cars and you’re talking about a LOT of money.

I’m a late 50s-60s Rambler/AMC fan. LOTS of stories about “the POS I had way back when”. Those years were typically “value” cars – lots of bang for the buck, and economical. Not a big resell value after about 65 though, so run into the ground and poorly maintained. The guy with the POS that talks bad about it fails to mention it was passed from his grandfather to his wife then 2-3 kids, and now it’s been pulled out of the barn/woods for him to have a turn at too… Not a POS because of manufacturing, just beat and worn down!!

I’ve never had any problems with Lucas gear, except on my brother’s Triumph Stag … but that car was snakebit from birth. What I have had go awry have been Bosch devices, the worst being the wiper motor assembly on my Alfa Berlina. The “clap-hands” wipers operated from a fiber gear driven by a steel worm, and several years of driving at speed in the rain had pretty much destroyed the upsweep side of that driven gear … which you can figure out if you think a bit. Of course no parts were available, only a complete motor assembly for more money than I had handy. But I did remember that my non-runner Fiat 128 had what looked like the same mountings for its Marelli motor. I checked, and those and the wiring WERE identical … and it had a NYLON driven gear in perfect condition! twenty minutes later, the Alfa had working wipers. SO! Now that I’ve gone and blown two pet biases, at least in this case (the innate superiority of German machinery, the innate awfulness of all things Marelli), I think we should just agree to the fallibility of all folklore and the necessity for just trying to find what works.

2 Likes

I owned a 1971 Europa, I don’t recall having electrical issues. My most memorable one was being about 60 miles from home when I pushed the clutch down at a stop light and it went to the floor and nothing happened. I had to put the trans in neutral. A quick troubleshooting revealed that the forward mount for the clutch cable had broken. The cable runs inside along the tunnel on the floor. By grabbing it and pulling up I could disengage the clutch. When I needed to stop for a traffic light I would shift into neutral. Before the light turned green I would pull up the cable with my right arm, shift into first with my left and ease the cable back down to engage the clutch and just shift without the clutch once moving.

1 Like

“Correct as far as it goes. Motor cycles are really where Lucas earned their reputation.”

And yet, as a current owner of several BSAs (my first, a 1958 A10, was bought in high school in '78), I can only say I wish many of my Japanese-made motorcycles were at least as reliable as the Beezers. I’ve never had to replace a Lucas alternator, but have had to replace two in Honda CB450s, and one in a 2002 Kawasaki VN750 (which are notorious for alternator failures over the whole of their 21-year production run, and require dropping the engine to get to it!). The Yamaha XJs are known wiring harness friers. None of these failures were due to ham-fisted mechanicking. Just poor engineering. Meanwhile, my favorite ride, a 1969 BSA Rocket 3, has plugged along reliably since I purchased it in 1982. I ride it almost daily, in sun, rain and, yes, Colorado snow.

1 Like

I would absolutely agree with Dave. I trained as an auto electrician in the 70s and worked on all sorts of exotica that had terrible wiring, particularly the Italian breeds including the prancing horse. MM had a strange concept of what was safe and often seemed to use up reels of any coloured cable they could lay their hands on when producing looms. You could revisit a Ferrari wiring loom in a Fiat van or a Lancia Fulvia if you could pick your way through the rust. The German car makers weren’t beyond reproach either, I remember working on Porsche 944s particularly the Turbo versions that had a cobbled together Audi loom and fuse box that sat directly under the spot where all windscreens on 944s leaked, you cold find powdered copper in the wires as far back as the tail lights. By comparison, Lucas produced simple reliable products that would give few problems that couldn’t be contributed to garages or owners bodging bits on. Adding spotlights and radios seem to be a mystery to most of them, proper cables gave way to table lamp wires or bell wire, fuses were apparently made from the silver paper that cigarettes were packed in and earth was something you got on your boots whilst gardening. Bullet connectors were not great but you must remember, they were contemporary as were dynamos and 6v positive ground systems. The world has moved on but bodgers still remain the constant factor with poor car electrical systems. Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.

2 Likes

I had a 1976 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle with Lucas electronics for 30 years. You had to kick start it. So that is the reason my right calf is bigger than my left calf till this day. Never understood how you could build a motorcycle in England that wouldn’t start if it rained! Mike

My experience has been exactly – well perhaps not exactly – the opposite.

I had my share of adventures with English car electrics. There was the time I heard a “whap” under the hood of my Mini Countryman, then a whine, and opened the hood to find that the generator had thrown its belt and become a motor. And the time I was on my way to a wedding in my nice clean fancy duds when the fuel pump quit on my MGBGT. Stuff like that.

I pulled a wire off the generator to stop it from spinning, got back in the car, and drove home. I found a friendly person to loan me a blanket, got out the knockoff hammer, gave the fuel pump a whack, and drove to the wedding and home after. Every single time that Lucas electrics failed me, they did so in a way that made it possible for me to continue to drive the vehicle.

Then I started buying German and Swedish cars, and Bosch electrics. Same number of failures, every one of which left me stranded on the side of the road with a vehicle that no longer functioned as transportation. Bosch may not be a prince but my thoughts about their electrics are dark indeed. Give me Lucas over Bosch every time.

Amen! Bosch is the true electro-devil, not Lucas.

Its the law Mike !!!

I had a new :lemon: yellow1975 TR7 that had a “Brown out” on I95 in NC. Had to disconnect the right headlight to make it home in SC. After spending months in and out of the dealership for all kinds of troubles, mechanical and electrical, I sold it. Good by to the “Wedge”.

1 Like

“Lucas Electrics the inventors of darkness” Owned and restored 2 Spitfires, Got to love the Lucas parts.

Part of the problem with Lucas’s bad reputation had to do with the terrible ‘quality control’ issues that plagued British manufacturing. My ‘71 Norton Commando died while I was on a long trip (quite distant from home) and also low on funds. I finally found the problem was that the bracket that held one of the coils had been overtightened at the factory, crushing the outer case and eventually causing a short. Luckily I was within walking distance of a junkyard, and bought the big 6 volt coil out of a wrecked early 50s Buick, which I taped to the handlebars. After jury-rigging the wire connections, I was able to start the motor and ride home.
BTW: About the same time, a friend bought another new Commando, and as he gunned it while leaving the dealership, the (un-lubricated) throttle cable froze. Before he could pull out the clutch (another dry cable) or shift into neutral, he ran into a parked car and broke both his legs!

1 Like

What the…? @vanriel How about those that don’t understand how to make complete sentences with punctuation? Jokes? There wouldn’t be humor without truth.
And yes, the electrical systems in those “yank tanks” (and in Japanese cars that led to British cars all but disappearing from those “yank” streets) were better designed, with better materials and more reliable. If that wasn’t the case, this thread would not exist.
I still love the cars and appreciate their cool factor. But there ARE realities.

1 Like

I have owned a number of British motorcycles, including a 73 Norton Commando I favored. I did a basic low-buck tear down & rebuild almost 30 years ago. I remember the horror stories about Lucas, but since I was low budget at that time, and I didn’t want to “chopper” wire it, I took the harness off the bike and laid it out on a white sheet on the dining room table and basically rebuilt it. I cleaned, inspected, & ohm’d every lead. I would repair any I found loose, but mostly just removed any corrosion, added dielectric grease to all connections, then rewrapped the complete harness. I even kept the zener diode. The only other electrical change made at the same time was to replace the aluminum coils with a dual lead coil typically used on Harley-Davidsons. I rode that bike for several thousand miles as my sole transportation. I later sleeved the Amal’s and added electronic ignition for a smooth running and reliable rider.
My bottom line is I believe with proper care, there’s very little wrong with Lucas electrics.

I’m very familiar with Lucas electrics as I’ve owned 3 Triumphs and 4 Mini’s. I’ve found that once you learn to understand how they’re designed and how to maintain various components, they can be quite reliable, (same said for twin S.U. carb. setups). With the handy can of WD-40 for connections and a drop of oil or two for generator and starter bushings, they have been long lasting overall. I do appreciate some design approaches such as with Lucas voltage regulators, for example. If it’s found the generator voltage output isn’t sufficient, you can adjust the voltage regulator with a feeler gauge, needle nose pliers and a screwdriver to put things right. Adjustable electrical bits, what a concept! With other period cars, find a new/rebuilt one if possible? On my first Mini, a '67 Cooper S, the commutator inside the generator was badly worn and it went through brushes like once a month on this 60 miles a day, daily driver. I got so good at replacing gen. brushes that I could change them out during my 45 minute lunch break so I could get home at night. The only other real problem I had on another Mini was that the previous owner had converted the car to an alternator and bodged the wiring conversion that bypasses the removed voltage regulator, creating a nearly impossible to detect short that drained the battery after a few days, but the car still ran otherwise? I managed to find the offending wire and fixed things but not a fault of Lucas design, just a half-ass attempt by a previous owner to modernize something that didn’t really need it! I’m not really a purist but my other Mini still retains it’s original generator…