I still get asked questions about lubricating oils, so here are a few reminiscences regarding them.
In my uneducated youth I didn’t know much about lubricating oils, however by trial and error I had grasped the fact that if you oiled a moving metal part, it stopped squeaking, moved easier, and didn’t wear out so quickly.
My first motorized transport was a P&M Panther motor cycle of early thirties vintage, and cost the princely sum of £3 10 shillings. [Can anyone else remember girder forks]. The lower part of the crankcase casting was extended into a large sump to contain the lubricating oil. There was a dipstick to ascertain the level of oil. This engine had no oil pump, but the lower half of the con-rod big-end bearing went down into a shape like a tea-spoon, which dipped into the oil and flung it about everywhere inside the crankcase. This engine also had push-rods for the overhead valves which protruded through the crankcase, the rods, rockers, and valve springs being completely exposed. Oiling them by hand occasionally seemed to negate wear, but the offside of this was that the inside leg of the riders trousers were always rather oily; and for girlfriends wearing nylons this was definitely a no-no! In those times I thought that any oil was good enough, why buy posh oil, after all any oil would stop things rusting or wearing if they rubbed together. This type of vintage machine happily survived my treatment, mainly due to the fact that in the 20’s and 30’s those engines were hugely over engineered, so the loading of bearings and moving parts were quite low.
My next vehicle was a £10, 1930 Austin 7, Weyman fabric body over wood frame, The engine also had no oil pump, and no oil filter, but the same type of splash lubrication system. Having side valves, the camshaft and tappets were amply lubricated by the splashes from the paddles under the big-end bearings. This car had a bit of an oil leak whilst the engine was running, so as the sump needed topping up after each journey it didn’t ever require an oil change as this occurred during normal use! I did find that lowering the level of oil in the sump did reduce the amount of leakage, and therefore topping up,[ important on a student’s budget that required an allowance for beer over the weekend], but obviously went too far as the car ran some of its white metalled big ends one dark wet winters night!
I eventually moved up to a 1935 Rover 10. Purchased for £20 from the original Reg Vardy at Stoneygate Garage, Houghton le Spring, [and sold it two years later for £25 in London]. By then I was wise to the importance of clean filtered lubricating oil, but still on a student budget, and not really understanding the importance of additives. This car also had no oil filter, so at regular intervals I drained the sump into a washing-up bowl, filtered it through a girl friends discarded nylon stocking and poured it back into the engine.
My move into the echelons of modern motoring started with a 1948 Rover 75, an engine with overhead inlet, side exhaust valves, and an oil filter. Disposable oil filter cannisters hadn’t been invented then, so the metal gauze filter had to be withdrawn from its casing, and washed by hand, dried off and refitted. This is the first car that I actually bought the recommended oil for.
That these vehicles survived my ministrations and lack of knowledge regarding lubricants is a tribute to old fashioned engineering, designed and made in the old days before computers, when everyone from designer to tool-fitter just added on a bit more metal or made things a little bit thicker to make sure that nothing broke. Modern engines designed by CAD-CAM and built by robots, whilst being far lighter, cheaper, and fuel efficient are intolerant of poor lubricants.