AC Spark Plug Division
Written by Bill Bowman
During the early 1900s, France was the dominant manufacturer of spark plugs. Frenchman, Albert Champion was a bicycle and motorcycle racer who immigrated to the United States in 1889 to race. As a sideline, Champion manufactured and sold spark plugs, to support himself, in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1904, GM founder William Durant brought him and his operation to Flint, Michigan and established the Champion Ignition Company. Champion later lost control of this company and founded the AC Spark Plug Company in 1908. The company operated out of a Buick building in Flint. General Motors Corporation purchased the AC Spark Plug Company in 1909 to supply the growing automobile company and AC Spark Plug moved to a factory on Harriet Street in Flint.
The company added aircraft spark plugs in 1916 and was producing 50,000 a day during World War I. AC plugs have ridden with some of the most famous names in aviation history: Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Richard Byrd. Champion branched into speedometer production in 1919.
In 1921, Champion founded the Flint Faience & Tile Company. The tile company was one of the best Arts & Crafts tile companies in the United States, known for their glossy, painted tiles. They fired decorative tiles in the same kilns as spark plugs, in a building adjacent to the Harriet Street factory. This was done so they could avoid shutting down the kilns when they were finished with spark plug production, because repeated cycles of cooling and reheating would damage the kilns. When AC expanded its operations to the former Dort Motor complex, Flint Faience moved to a new building there. In 1933, General Motors closed the tile operation because of increased demands on the kilns for spark plugs.
GM was forced to relinquish the Champion name in 1922, after Albert Champion’s former backers from Boston successfully concluded a lawsuit over its ownership. The subsidiary’s name officially was changed to AC Spark Plug (the AC standing for Albert Champion). Meanwhile, the Boston backers set up the Champion Spark Plug Company, a competing enterprise based in Toledo, Ohio. Champion had been given a 25% interest in Champion Ignition Company at the outset by Durant. Champion died in Paris in 1927 and GM bought all of the AC assets from his widow.
By the time it was made a GM division in 1933, AC Spark Plug was producing a lot more than plugs. Output included oil and gasoline filters, a meter to check electrical current in the car and the first mechanical fuel pump.
In 1974, AC Spark Plug’s replacement/aftermarket sales operation was merged with GM’s United Delco Division to form AC-Delco Division. In 1988, AC Spark Plug and Rochester Products merged to form AC Rochester Division, which merged with Delco Remy Division in 1994, forming AC Delco Systems.
In 1995, the entire Automotive Components Group became Delphi Automotive Systems .