Genius of the Lamp Ltd
15 Northampton Street
Jewellery Quarter
Hockley
Birmingham B18 6DU
T: +44 (0) 121 212 0155
M: +44 (0) 7817 051 807
E: enquiries@geniusofthelamp.co.uk
Vat No.990153613
Company No.7238213

Editorial

Kam Lawla and a polished copper-plated Lucas P100R headlight.


 

Situated in the heart of Birmingham’s renowned Jewelry Quarter, less than one hundred yards from the old Lucas factory on King Street where many early British lamps were manufactured, Genius of the Lamp offers a bespoke lamp restoration service. Catering to clients from “the motor-trader round the corner” to the “seasoned vintage car collector,” the firm takes real pride in resurrecting Brass Era lighting equipment that might, at first, appear to have perished with the passing of time.

Kam Lawla and long time friend Joe Vella started working together in the silver-smith's trade making bespoke jewelry, working with precious metals and learning the art of fine-detailed metal craft that they now use to great effect on motoring lamps that arrive for restoration. Since starting they have not stopped. Indeed four years ago the friends were joined by Kam's brothers Raj and Suraj in order to keep up with the demand for their skills in this niche market. The combination of craftsmanship and a canny business sense is hard to find but reassuring to experience and the four of them exude a very friendly and welcoming attitude at their workshop.

Using traditional techniques, their reputation as leaders in the restoration of vintage headlamps is getting them noticed by some serious collectors and aficionados like John Shirley who contacted the company when he wanted his 2008 Pebble Beach Best of Show Alfa Romeo 8C2900's lights restored.

The restoration process is as old as the lighting industry itself, and the methods used are actually quite simple. It’s the meticulous approach and patience of these craftsmen that bring items back from the dead. As with many things, preparation is the key to a successful lamp restoration. To ensure a flawless finish, dull and lifeless pieces are first completely disassembled and the old plate or paint is stripped chemically from the bodies, rims and reflectors, which are then repaired. Holes are filled in and weak patches are built up and strengthened. If new metal parts are required, they are formed over a planishing stake using rawhide or hardwood planishing hammers. On the rare occasion that a lamp is deemed to be beyond repair, it can be reproduced. Whole lamp bodies can be made by spinning new metal on a lathe while it is annealed, or gently heated and cooled, to form the required shape and size.

Top left: A pair of fully restored brass Bleriot non-self-generating acetylene headlamps, circa 1905.

Below left: A pair of LUCAS P100S headlamps finished in chrome.

Top right: Work begins on the restoration of a similar brass Bleriot acetylene headlamp damaged in a recent accident.

Bottom: A delicate and extremely rare Bébé Peugeot motif awaits restoration.

Top left: This insignia and horse emblem from a 1952 Pegaso Z102 is mid-restoration.

Bottom: A Lucas P100 headlamp is polished before it is electroplated in chromium.

Once the lamp parts are restored or remade, it’s time for the shiny stuff to be applied. To the uneducated, the alchemy that occurs beneath the surface in the various tanks of slightly whiffy, slightly bubbling liquids is almost magical. Meaningless bits of dull brass are first copper plated and then either nickeled or chromed as appropriate. The various plating processes add strength to what are often rather thin and fragile pieces. This magic takes place quickly—just 20 minutes to an hour pass from beginning to end—and the result is truly eye opening. Once buffed and polished, the many different parts of a lamp are reassembled and the lamp is as good as new—never better because these craftsmen are keen to maintain the authenticity of their work.

The history of lamps and lighting is something that these craftsmen know well, and they will often advise an owner who is sourcing replacement lighting units as to what lamps are best for a particular car or era. It’s a fascinating subject that can make or break a restoration.

We take headlights for granted these days, of course, but the early pioneers of motoring did not. As with the 1892 Henriod that was shown at Pebble Beach in 2007, early motorcars relied on candle power to illuminate their journey. From there it was a short step forward to oil lamps and then calcium carbide / acetylene gas lights. Famed French aviator Louis Blériot was also an avid inventor, and he created the calcium carbide “no-glare” car lamp. He also successfully manufactured other automobile accessories, including foot warmers for car passengers and luminous license plates. His fame spread when he became the first pilot to fly across the English Channel. He did this in daylight though—what a missed opportunity to show off his invention!

Above left: A copper weather vane has been produced for the new Dutch National Motor Museum in The Hague.

Above right: Various oil lamps by the renowned firms of Lucas, Bleriot, Ducellier, and Powell & Hanmer await their owners.

Below: The final inspection of a fully restored headlamp.

A replicated chimney and badge sit proudly on a Bleriot headlamp.

Below left: Even the smallest parts like these small screw fittings are restored.

Below right: The team: Raj Lawla, Kam Lawla, Mark Beards & Joe Vella

In the United Kingdom, the Lucas Company was founded by Joseph Lucas along with his son Harry around 1872. At first it made general pressed metal merchandise, including lamps for ships and horse-drawn coaches before moving into oil and acetylene lamps for bicycles. Then in 1879, Harry Lucas designed a hub-mounted oil lamp for use on a “high bicycle” and, with brilliant inspiration, named it King of the Road, a name that remains associated with the Lucas company to the present day.

Weather resistant acetylene lamps or carbide lamps were first developed for mining. In these lamps, water drips onto calcium carbide, which produces the acetylene gas, which is then burnt in the lamp. The resulting flame is sooty and the byproduct is a caustic lime, a toxic substance that has to be properly disposed of. As a consequence, acetylene lights all but disappeared from vehicles by the end of World War I.

It’s no surprise that the first electric headlights debuted on an electric car, a Columbia. These lights weren’t necessarily an improvement: they had weak tungsten filaments that often broke on the rough roads of the time. Nonetheless, they were soon adopted by gas-powered vehicles. At that point all gasoline- powered vehicles used dynamos rather than the alternators we know today, so they produced a lot less electricity and the headlights were very dim. Perhaps more importantly, they lacked a lens to focus their light. That innovation would come soon after. The fully integrated electrical lighting system that we know today first appeared on the 1912 Cadillac.

It’s been said many times before that the front of a car is its face and the headlamps are its eyes. As with people, you can tell a lot by looking at a car’s face, and in almost every case it’s the lights that give a car its character. The passing of time and the ageing that shows on the face of your much-loved car can be fixed by some plastic surgery-or you can go the more traditional route!

- Nic Waller

Genius of the Lamp Ltd
15 Northampton Street
Jewellery Quarter
Hockley
Birmingham B18 6DU
T: +44 (0) 121 212 0155
M: +44 (0) 7817 051 807
E: enquiries@geniusofthelamp.co.uk
Vat No.990153613
Company No.7238213
     
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