Casting light on the marvel of Lucas electrical systems.
Autoweek January 25, 1988
by Satch Carlson

We were, I believe, talking about Lucas electrical systems.

That's probably when the lights went out. Just the other day I found myself thinking, with a certain sympathetic pity, of all these modern sprouts who have grown up with no Lucasian experiences. There is now an entire generation wandering around who believes if you throw the switch for the windshield wipers, these little rubber arms will automatically commence sweeping water off the glass. These people will never know the wonder of watching windshield wiper blades tremble, hesitate as if evolving into some pathetically weak life form, and stumble haltingly across the glass, pausing now and then along their arc, then shuddering and dying once again. No wonder so many of these young people don't believe in God.

Truly, the followers of Lucas, Prince of Darkness, have had their faith tested time and again; there comes that moment of black despair, that existential anguish when we believe we are alone, that we are lost and long-forsaken, that we are but aimless Brownian particles in an indifferent universe.

And suddenly, inexplicably, without warning or explanation, the lights will come on. A miracle! We're saved!

Of course, the lights being Lucas parts themselves, we can easily be distracted by theological debates regarding the Nature of Light, and whether this is really light at all, or merely the soft reflection of light, a shadow of Platonic ideal of light, which is what we get from Cibie and the like. Lucas light is the Jell-O of light; you know something is there, but it has no real shape of definition. Nor is it very filling.

I had forgotten about Lucas electrics until I fell into possession of the red Bugeye Sprite a few months ago. (If you are now asking, "Mom, what's a Bugeye Sprite?" you are too young to be reading this.) I mean, hey, it looked so gosh-darned cute, you know? And the next thing you know I am driving this silly roller skate form Oregon to California. (Okay, I know; Oregon is right next to California, so you could drive from Oregon the California in ten feet, ha ha. I'm talking about the back porch of Oregon to the living room of California, okay? Jeez

Everything was fine until I turned on the lights.

Now to be fair to people at the Austin-Healey works and the Lucas plant (you know the last words of Joseph Lucas? ("Never drive at night!".) This particular Bugeye Sprite has had some work done to it, which means something has been done to the wiring; because the first thing you do if you have a British car is do something about the wiring; some former owner had installed a walnut dashboard, for instance, and the simple toggle switch, optimistically labeled LIGHTS, was not a Lucas item. Probably the car rolled (or fell) off the assembly line with a full ration of Lucas lights allotted to it (though that is never very much, since the British have always had the disadvantage, being an island nation, of having to import their electrons from whatever sources they could find, resulting in weak, genetically tremulous electrons quite unlike and inferior to the robust electrons available in the U.S. and Sweden.

Still, whether by design or default, the fact remains that I had to pull off the road and get out and check to see whether the lights were working or not. The last time I did this was driving a 1943 military Jeep with blackout lighting, though I am not sure whether or not it was provided by Lucas. The good thing about the American interstate highway system is that generally the people on it are going somewhere, so lights are not as necessary as they would be in other situations; it is a simple matter to tuck in behind some fellow with headlights that are actually white-Lucas prefers a warmer tone, something between red and amber-and motor on down the road until he decides to exit the freeway or speed up beyond the catch-up abilities of the Bugeye Sprite, which are somewhat less than phenomenal. The bad thing about the system is that cars coming up behind you expect to see real taillights; perhaps something in a nice, bright red, instead of the eentsy-beensy dots at the back end of a Bugeye Sprite, which are no bigger than Susan B. Anthony dollars and which emit even less light than the headlights. You can duplicate the effect of these taillights by leaving a flashlight on for seven hours and then putting it inside a red cereal box.

Of course, whoever installed the new dashboard staffed it haphazardly with Smiths gauges (people go to work for Smiths when they get laid off from Lucas), but there seemed little point in illuminating those gauges, since one never drives at night and one fears the draining-off of the third-string electrons one is holding in reserve for the windshield wipers. The electronic tachometer was simply there to fill up a large hole in the dash, the speedometer worked at about the same rate as British Labor Unions, and the only reliable instrument was the familiar two-in-one oil pressure and water temperature gauge so beloved of our childhood, the one that uses no electricity.

That left the fuel gauge. True, when the fuel tank was topped up, the gauge read FULL; in fact, for the next 150 miles, the gauge still read FULL, until it would drop suddenly to the "_" mark for about 15 minutes, and then to the halfway mark. It would linger like a tubercular cripple for another 100 miles or so, at which point it would give up the ghost and fall halfway to EMPTY. Which meant you had about ten miles to find a gas station or take up jogging.

For that reason, it might have been nice to have a light in that gauge, since striking a match seemed an unacceptable risk, there being a can of spare gasoline wedged behind the driver's seat. But one copes; one learns to ignore the gauges, the vagaries of electricity, the unanswered question of whether anything really happens when one throws the switch marked FAN; one assumes a state of grace and travels on faith; as I say, harkening back to an age of miracles and true belief.

Wait a minute. Do you suppose there's anything in the similarities between Lucas and Lucifer.

Originally posted to the Tiger E-Mail list, with the Author's permission, by Joe Parlanti

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