About Lubricants, wet and greasy stuff for ClassicVehicles

Rather like acquiring a new pet, you need to know quite quickly just what is good for it and what will upset it.

So it is with your Classic Vehicle, it will thrive on the right lubricants and may become expensive on the wrong ones. Our Man James takes a look at those available and gives heed to advice gained over the years.

Environmental Note; You already have a vehicle which was constructed prior to the global warming issue becoming so important. You may therefore feel obliged to use the eco -friendly fuels and oils, to make amends for your social transgression in acquiring such a device in the first place. Our Man James is sympathetic to the green issues but would rather not see the roadsides littered with broken Classic Vehicles, thereby adding further abuse to the environment.

Since the latter part of the last millennium, cars have acquired cats, not the type which regularly find warmth under the bonnet of vehicles in the Motor House and have to be ejected therefrom, but things that reduce the harmful emissions from the engine by means way beyond the writer’s expertise. ( cue for a boring blog perhaps). Using a special high tech oil suitable for cats, in an old engine can be a mistake.

Thoughts on making the right choice.

Firstly, if in the excitement of acquiring your Classic you can remember, ask the vendor what oils he has used and where. This will save time and give you a clue as to whether or not he/she has maintained the car in a sensible manner.

Secondly look in the Instruction book or better still, the Workshop manual, if the car comes with one. If not contact the owner’s club and find out if you can obtain one. If none available, ask the Club’s technical expert. Don’t be shy, he should know.

Generally speaking prewar cars and some of those built in the fifties and sixties, will probably fare best on straight 30 grade oil in winter and 40 grade in summer. These are available from the likes of Castrol, Penrite, Millers, Morris etc. They will not necessarily be cheap in comparison to budget 20/50’s and sundry other multigrades, but engine rebuilds are not cheap either.

Remember the oil changes in those times were carried out every three thousand miles or so, unlike modern cars which seem to survive for 20,000 miles between services. Also be aware that cars of the older type, will be a mite incontinent and probably burn a bit, so it is important to check the oil level regularly, i.e. at least once a week.

Modern multigrades contain detergents amongst other things. Hence that bit of sludge you have minding its own business in one corner of the sump, can with a modern multigrade, be seized and flung into some more important part of the works, causing blockage or worse.

Careful how you use running- in oil on a newly rebuilt engine with white metal bearings as opposed to shells. It can have the effect of eating away at your nice new white metalling.

If you are not sure what oil is in the various parts of your new acquisition, it may be worth draining everything out, consult the manual/club expert, as to what should go where, note it down and put what you know is right where you know it should be.


Early cars ran on unleaded. It was not until 1933 that lead arrived in petrol. In those days however you had to de-carbonise your engine about every 10,000 miles. This involved removal of the cylinder head, carefully scraping the carbon deposits off the top of the pistons, removing the valves and likewise cleaning them and re grinding them into their seats. The seating of the valves ensured that nothing leaked past the valves and a perfect flush fit was everything. Lead lubricated the valves and seats and helped to extend the period needed between de-carbonising. Modern fuels made the process redundant.

Enter the Green Party and eco- warriors. Lead quickly became bad news and had to go.  Engines without hardened valve seats were most at risk, but many could continue to be used on the new unleaded fuel. There are firms which will convert a cylinder head to take unleaded fuel and there are various additives one can use to replace the lead. Again this is a good moment to ask your Technical expert of the Club for advice.

One of the biggest issues at this time is the government’s desire to increase the amount of ethanol in petrol. This environmentally friendly idea is causing problems with the older vehicle as this substance appears to attack certain rubber and other seals and it has been reported that it will eat through a motorcycle’s fibregalss fuel tank with disastrous results.

Certainly there appears to be an upsurge in fuel related problems in the classic car world.Where a rusty fuel tank has been treated with a sealant, it seems that the ethanol breaks down this sealant, blocking fuel lines, jets and so forth. There is an upsurge in the demand for new fuel tanks. The F.B.H.V.C.* is combating the use of ethanol on behalf of the classic car movement. Comments and updates welcomed.

Good News- Well done F.B.H.V.C.

Despite there being an E.U. directive to have a 10% target on biofuel use by 2020, the Department of Transport have deferred their plans to double the maximum amount of Ethanol in our petrol. It has been pointed out that some 4 million vehicles will be severely affected by the new E10 fuel. The F.B.H.V.C. is currently testing suitable additives to combat the use of Ethanol. Meanwhile it appears that if in doubt use petrol with a minimum octane of 97 RON or more as so far these are ethanol free.


The introduction of synthetic oils for hydraulic brakes and clutch systems throws up another question. How suitable are these in the older car? The earlier hydraulic systems were a bit prone to sticking pistons in the wheel cylinders, especially if the vehicle was left unused for a period. Apparently changing to a synthetic hydraulic oil can help. Our Man James welcomes further thoughts on this and all matters relating to lubricants, greases and so forth.


*Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs aka ‘FBHVC’


This is the organisation which represents our fancy with the Government’s various forms of legislation and administration. It runs a most informative and factual website wherein may be found data on such hot topics as Bio Fuel, and the addition of ethanol with the associated problems that this occasions.




It is worth half an hour’s browse at this address …..







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