Fuelled growth: a history of F Perkins

How did F Perkins become the largest manufacturer of diesel engines in the world?

Establishment of F Perkins
Francis “Frank” Arthur Perkins (1889 – 1967) and Charles Wallace Chapman (1897 – 1979) decided to develop a lightweight diesel engine for use in trucks and lorries. They were convinced that a diesel engine could be made more reliable and efficient than their petrol equivalents.

Frank Perkins (1889 – 1967)

F Perkins was established at Queen Street, Peterborough in 1932. The company had a capital of £10,000, four directors and three employees. One engine a week was produced in the first year.

Frank Perkins broke the high speed world record for a diesel engine with a 100mph run in 1935.

Over 600 engines a year were produced by 1938.

F Perkins built marine engines for the Royal Navy during the Second World War.

Post-war expansion
F Perkins anticipated an increased demand for diesel engines in the post-war period, and built a new factory at Eastfield, Peterborough. The business operated 75 acres of factories by 1950.

F Perkins was converted into a public company in 1951.

F Perkins was the largest manufacturer of diesel engines in the world by 1953, with an annual production of 60,000. Almost 9,000 people were employed.

A diesel engine designed for motor cars was introduced from 1958.

Subsequent ownership
F Perkins began to appear vulnerable as the large vehicle manufacturers began to produce their own diesel engines. The business was acquired by Massey-Ferguson, the largest manufacturer of farm tractors in the world, for £4.5 million in 1959. Perkins was contracted to supply Massey-Ferguson with all of their engine requirements.

F Perkins employed 10,000 people by 1967, including 7,000 in Peterborough. 1,500 diesel engines could be produced every day.

Massey-Ferguson was renamed Varity Corporation from 1982.

Around 400,000 engines a year were built across 15 different countries by 1992.

4,000 people were employed in Peterborough in 1997.

LucasVarity sold Perkins to Caterpillar, the largest manufacturer of construction equipment in the world, for £803 million in 1998.

Perkins remains one of the largest diesel engine manufacturers in the world.