Lubrication – the engine's life blood



No car can be run without oil in its engine and air in its tyres; if the mid-engined Trojans on solid tyres are overlooked in the latter respect, they still require their oil. The lack of which may be why a Trojan owner was on his way to the works to enquire about odd noises in his engine. Lost, he stopped to ask the way of a man who happened to work at the factory. “Where are the Trojan works?” “Under your seat, Guv’nor,” came the reply.

One must also feel sorry for the lady owner of a new car who did her own maintenance. The car’s instruction book told her to drain the sump after 500 miles, which she did. It was not long before the new engine ran its bearings. The instruction book had omitted to say after draining, refill!

I have nearly always used Castrol, appreciative of Lord Wakefield’s very generous support of motor racing and car, aero and boat records. Castrol’s PR sent the Press samples of summer and winter-grade lubricant in five-gallon drums for test so that we were free to criticise or praise. (I still have a few and I have been told that unless the caps are removed the oil therein should be alright for years.)

This led to another top-rank lubricant company’s PR enquiring why Castrol so often occupied my writings? I explained, and a few days later received a one-gallon tin of the rival product. To be fair, I topped-up the next road-test car’s engine from it…

There is still a choice of oils — those from the petrol giants, Castrol, Shell, Duckhams, Texaco, Penrite, Morris’s Steam Oil from Shrewsbury, etc.

In vintage times the choice of oil was more confusing, with Filtrate, Sternol, Senga (‘Silently Soothes the Engine), Valvoline, Speedwell, Huile de Luxe, Brotherhood’s, Brigsolene, Westalene, Oleum, Vigsol, Motoline, Silvalene, Nulsec, Gamage’s Aero Deluxe, Gargoyle etc.

Some car makers, like Napier, had their own oils. Some specified one brand; Lagonda recommended Shell, ‘used on all our racing cars’. Castrol was suggested by Rover for the engine of the air-cooled 8, but Price’s Amber B for the gearbox and Ambroleum for its back axle.

Back to the lady who wasn’t told to refill a drained sump. Maybe she drove a Delaunay-Belleville, because that car’s handbook said ‘completely empty the sump after 500 miles’ on one page and then, much later on, ‘renew oil every 1000 to 1500 miles, but never with vegetable oils’.

Modem oils are of a far lower viscosity than those of pre-war times but I still suffer when I hear engines highly revved up from stone-cold. Long ago, upper-cylinder lubricating tablets were used by some in the hope of better mpg or longer engine life, as additives are now to protect valve seats from lead-free petrol. I once narrowly avoided a libel action when I criticised a prominent brand after an engine on test had gained a few revs after it had been fed these tablets. Its owner was delighted, until it was realised that what they did was dilute the oil, giving a slightly lower drag at risk to the bearings.