Automotive Products was the major employer in Leamington for around 40 years in the 20th century. It was generally referred to locally as AP or Lockheed although the company used many other brand names.
Origins. The Automotive Products company began in Berners Street in London in 1920 with the purpose of importing components from the USA to maintain ex-military vehicles which were adapted for civilian use in this country. The business soon expanded to manufacture components for the fast-growing British motor industry.
The Three Musketeers. The three partners who set up the company were Edward Bishop Boughton (b. 1873), Willie Emmott (b. 1881) and Denis Tabor Brock (b. 1883). They were known to the employees as the “Three Musketeers”. The tempo quickened in 1928 when the company bought the rights to manufacture Lockheed hydraulic brakes in the UK from the American Lockheed Corporation.
AP in Leamington. In 1929 AP bought Zephyr Carburettors which was based in Clemens Street in Leamington at what is now number 32 and which is occupied in 2016 by John Atkins Cycles. This building had been built very early in the growth of the town as a chapel about 1816. AP began to manufacture components for Lockheed Brakes at these premises with 25 employees.
AP went on to buy the rights to Borg and Beck clutches in 1931 and also saw the future of retractable undercarriages for aircraft in 1937. Such was the rapid growth of the company that the first block of their new plant in Tachbrook Road received planning permission in 1930, only 10 years after the company was established in London.
World War II and beyond The factory worked continuous shifts during the war making components for armaments and aircraft and employed up to 10,000 people, including many women. The factory was marked as a target on German maps and was bombed several times. This aspect is played down in the official company history but, in fact, several employees were killed and injured. After the war AP went on to supply equipment for the Brabazon, Comet, Trident and HS125. The Aircraft Division was moved from Leamington to Speke airport, Liverpool. Such was the reputation of Lockheed brakes that were fitted to John Cobb’s when he set the world land speed record of 394 mph in 1947.
Miranda The company wanted to celebrate its success and at the Festival of Britain in 1951 they commissioned a large bronze statue of a mermaid named Miranda. It was later situated at a main entrance to the factory on Tachbrook Road.
Further Expansion The one millionth set of Lockheed brakes was made as early as 1939 but this achievement was eclipsed when the ten millionth clutch was made in 1958. In 1956 the company supplied an astonishing 50% of the brakes made in the UK and 85% of the clutches. At its peak the company owned 200 acres on Tachbrook Road. The company established more sites away from Leamington with a spares depot in Banbury in 1962 and the factory in Liverpool. It had established also roots in Australia in 1949 and in South Africa in 1952. A new Automatic Transmission Division manufactured a radically different automatic/manual gearbox for the BMC Mini and Maxi vehicles.
Decline The company declined along with the British motor industry as foreign imports of motor vehicles and components into Britain increased rapidly in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and the company was unable to supply to manufacturers at competitive prices.
AP was eventually bought by British Belting and Asbestos (BBA) in 1986. The Emmott family was involved in the company up to the sale to BBA. However, the factory was demolished in 2005 and the site is a business park in 2014.
This is an introduction to a longer history of the company which can be seen HERE
Acknowledgements. I wish to acknowledge help from John Willock, a member of the Warwickshire Industrial Archaeological Society; however, any errors are mine.
Another valuable source of information was the book published by AP in 1970 entitled “50 Years of Progress, 1920 to 1970 – AP Jubilee” by T H Wisdom.
Mick Jeffs, October 2014.