Lubricating the Bull

When William Morris was busily putting the finishing touches to the design of what was to become the Morris Oxford, oil companies of the day were starting to get their act together in supplying standard grades of lubricants to an ever increasing market.

At the turn of the century (20th) oils were basically unadulterated crude oils taken straight from the ground and thrown straight into engines. Little thought or care was given as to the thickness or the quality.

Most of what was then available was experimented with including steam cylinder oils, whale oil and lighting oils.

With the growth of the automobile, more care was given to lubricating oils in particular to their application.

Such names as “light” “medium” and “heavy” grades became widely used although one company’s idea of a “light” oil, could easily have been viewed by another company as a “medium” which made things rather difficult.

It wasn’t unusual for vehicle manufacturers to get oil companies to produce oils specifically for their own vehicles. De Dion-Bouton was one such company, and the French firm Mathis went one step further and established their own oil company in Stasbourg along with their vehicle plant in Paris.

This primitive form of identifying grades of oils carried forth through the war years until the early 1920’s when the formed Society of Automotive Engineers (S.A.E) got together and defined a system of categorising oils into a worldwide standard.

The result of this was the introduction of SAE 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 grade engine oils.

This certainly made life easy for those choosing the right oil for their “motor” but there were still a few problems to contend with.

At cold these oils were heavy which meant one had to “warm the engine” before proceeding. What they were really doing was warming the oil to get it to flow!

Another problem associated with these oils was that once hot, it didn’t take very long for them to thin out offering very little in terms of engine protection particularly in hot climatic conditions.

This thick when cold, light when hot scenario is still encountered today by those people still using single or mono grade engine oils. Asked why, the answer is always “because that is what they were recommended when new.”

The introduction of multi-grade technology in the late 1950’s was a major breakthrough in oil development, the means of decreasing the loss of viscosity with temperature by the addition of a viscosity index improving additive saw the introduction of such grades as 20w/50, 30w/50 and 15w/40 oils.

To make things simple, operating temperatures were based on 0 Degree C. and 100 Degrees C.

As well as having SAE ratings, the “American Petroleum Institute” devised a separate rating based on performance levels.

They chose the letter “S” (spark) to define petrol engines and a “C” (compression) to define diesel engines. Consecutive letters of the alphabet starting with the letter “A” followed either “S” or “C”. As the performance rating of the oil improved, the next letter was used. “SB” was next followed by “SC”, “SD”, “SE” etc.

Areas of great concern that were to affect the performance rating were deposit forming oil oxidation, wear, rust and corrosion.

Today modern oils are rated API “SJ” along with the European specification ACEA, and great importance is being put towards increased engine efficiency, reduced pollutants in the atmosphere, less drag on engine components and greater fuel efficiency.

Where once the most common grade in Australia was a 20w/50, we now see oils of much lower viscosity more suited to European conditions than those found here.

Viscosities of 0w, 5w and 10w whilst offering good low temperature viscosmetrics usually have rather low viscosities at high temperatures and are not suited for use in Morris cars.

The Penrite HPR range which was well suited to the needs of vintage vehicles because of its high viscosity, is now so orientated towards modern cars that the additive package used today bears little resemblance to what it was even twelve months ago.

A 1924 Cowley for example, would not benefit from an oil containing synthetic composites nor would it reach operating temperatures that modern oils are designed around for optimum performance.

It would also be detrimental to use low viscosity oils in engines with wide tolerances.

So what then is the alternative?

We at Penrite decided it was time to dedicate a range of oils solely to meet the needs and requirements of veteran, vintage and classic vehicles.

Based around engine characteristics of the period, climatic conditions and operating temperatures, these oils have been designed with additive packages more suited to older engines than the modern type oils used today.

Whilst here we are not dealing with veteran cars, I’ll merely say that we offer two oils in our “Heritage” range aimed at cars with primitive lubrication systems such as wick feed, drip feed, splash and total loss systems.

These oils may also be used in stationary engine applications, and early forms of agricultural machinery.

The “Shelsley” range covers the Morris range from the Cowley/Oxford through to the Morris Minor MM, or from 1920-1950.

Four engine oils are included in the range.

Shelsley Polar is designed for use when rallying in sub zero temperatures for long periods of time.

Shelsley Light has been designed for use in ambient temperatures around 5 Degrees C. or where SAE 30 were once recommended.

For warmer climates, Shelsley Medium is recommended in large engined cars such as the six-cylinder range, or where a SAE 40 oil was originally recommended.

Shelsley Heavy is intended for vehicles showing signs of oil consumption or in vehicles recommending a SAE 50 engine oil.

All four oils are based on high viscosity multi-grade formulations.

The Classic range covers the needs of cars built from 1950 to 1980. The additive package differs again, as these vehicles require oils with a bit more detergency and operate under higher temperatures. The Classic range also contains four oils, Classic Polar, Light, Medium and Heavy, the use depending on the condition of vehicle and climatic conditions. These four oils come close to what oils were like in the mid sixties although today we are blessed with far superior additive packages.

Gear Oils

Selecting the right gear oil for the right application is fairly critical so it may be beneficial to briefly cover this topic.

Gear oils are classified similar to engine oils in regards to performance levels. The ones that we are interested in for vintage Morris cars are GL1 type gear oils of SAE 90, 140 and 250 grades.

GL1 gear oils are single grade straight gear oils with virtually no additives.

For gearbox applications, SAE 90 is the common grade. Our SAE 90 is called Transoil 90. Transoil 90 may also be used in rear axles although in most cases people find it preferable to use a140gear oil instead. Our 140gear oil is called Transoil 140.

Hopefully there is not the need to use anything heavier in a Morris as Transoil 250 is really designed for veteran car transmissions.

On the subject of gearboxes, it may be worth noting that the heavier the oil determines how quickly it will take to change gear although it would be unwise to use anything under a SAE 90.

In the late 1920’s, Packard who at that time was building cars for the carriage trade was looking at ways of eliminating transmission tunnels in favour of a flat rear floor.

To solve this problem, he had a brain wave!

By moving the pinion (in relation to the crown-wheel) downwards, the angle of the tail-shaft would then be sufficient to enable him to achieve his flat floor.

This he did, but soon came upon problems of friction caused by sliding and rolling movement of the pinion as it meshed with the crown-wheel at a lower height and angle.

Additives were put into the oil to stop the friction. These additives are called extreme pressure or EP additives.

Our Mild EP gear oil is suitable in rear axles from the early 1930’s through to 1950.

The additives used in this gear oil are compatible with brass and bronze bearings and bushes.

GL2 oils came and went. These oils were largely based on animal fats.

GL3 type oils were widely used in worm drive applications, the last manufacturer to stipulate the use of GL3 type oils being Peugeot in the 1960’s.

GL4 type oils are used widely as gear oils for modern manual gearbox applications.

GL5 type oils cater to modern rear axle applications and are referred to as hypoid gear oils.

I mention these modern gear oils because now and again we hear the tragic story of modern GL5 type gear oils being put into vintage, pre and post war rear axles which contain large amounts of brass bronze and slowly get eaten away.

Steering Boxes

Requirements for steering boxes have in many cases been a hit and miss affair.

In the old days, people experimented with heavy grease, heavy oils and a mixture of both in a ditched attempt to keep the liquid in the box rather than outside it! The problem with mixing oil and grease is that the oil parts company from the grease , which slumps to the bottom of the box whilst the oil oozes out past the steering arm onto the ground. Penrite Steering Box Lube is a non-slumping grease which means it will not fling itself around the box but will, once picked up by the worm gear do it’s job and then fall back to its natural level to be picked up again on the next revolution.


When it comes to investigating the use of coolants in vintage cars, all hell breaks loose.

The old brigade still insist that the use of soluble oil is fine to use in radiators as a means of lubricating water pumps but all it seems to do is put a oily coating throughout the cooling system.

Using a glycol-based mixture can be fraught with danger particularly in vehicles that have a mixture of metals such as brass, bronze, copper, aluminium and cast iron.

Using anti-freeze anti-boil products is ok if you are rallying in sub zero temperatures, but for it to work properly, you will need the benefit of a pressurised system.

The obvious solution is to use a non-glycol based corrosion inhibitor, which has a number of benefits to the vintage car enthusiast.

Classic Car Coolant works by putting a chemical coating on all parts below the water line.

It also contains a vapour phase inhibitor, which means that if the radiator was empty for any reason, both it and the engine internals will remain corrosion resistant.

Where this comes in handy is in vehicles sitting in large collections that seldom get used, the radiator and the engine devoid of water but being totally protected by the vapour phaser.

Whilst this product is more of a corrosion inhibitor it does possess cooling characteristics; as much as 10 º C. in some cases.

Any dyed product used in cooling systems looks unsightly when leaking from a vintage car. Originally dyed red, we were inundated with requests to change the dye.

The colour is now straw and will not stain nickel, chrome or German silver.

The product also possesses the ability to lubricate rubber components so the days of using messy soluble oils should now be extinct.

Chassis greases are also available as well as high temperature wheel bearing greases and graphite grease.

Brochures outlining the full product range are available upon request along with a detailed question and answer brochure on veteran vintage and classic car lubrication.

For information on any of the above, or queries regarding oils for Morris cars, please feel free to phone our Technical Hot Line on 1800 110080.

Yours in motoring

Chester McKaige

Technical Services Manager
Penrite Oil Company

P.S. As well as my above title, I’m also a veteran, vintage and classic car enthusiast specialising in English and European cars from 1911-1958.