Classic Car Gas and Oils

Q.

I just purchased a 1957 Ford Skyliner and have questions about correct gas and oil uses. It is un-restored and looks like it just rolled off the assembly line in Kansas City where it was built minus the 60 year old normal where and tear because it was not in a museum. My question is about gas and oil. It has the 312C.I. Thunderbird Special engine. The seller bought it and a 1968 Chrysler 300 from his mechanics neighbor, whose husband passed away. He said he has been using unleaded gas for the short time he has owned it. Is that recommended or is there an additive to be used? Also what kind of oil should be used for it?

A.

Gas and oil are certainly two topics that can start a lively conversation amongst car enthusiasts. Let’s take a look at gasoline first.

Tetraethyl lead was originally added to gasoline to cheaply boost the octane levels as opposed to further refining although in high-performance applications it also served as a buffer against micro-welds forming between the hot exhaust valves and their valve seats. Without the lead these micro-welds occur when the valves are closed, when these valves reopen the micro-welds pull apart and leave the valves with a rough surface that abrade the valve seats, leading to valve recession. When lead was phased out of motor fuel, the automotive industry began specifying hardened valve seats and upgraded exhaust valve materials to prevent valve recession without lead. If you drive a vehicle conservatively that doesn’t have hardened seats and valves you will likely not have any problems, however if you sometimes use your car for performance driving (drag strip, road course etc…) you should consider gasoline additives or having stainless exhaust valves and even hardened seats installed in your heads. There are a number of lead substitute additives on the market, and while I don’t believe they’re necessary for non-performance driving, they do give many classic car enthusiasts a degree of “peace of mind”.

Perhaps a bigger concern with modern fuels and classic cars is ethanol. The alcohol in modern fuels does cause it to burn cleaner it can be detrimental to older fuel systems. Vintage carb seals, fuel pumps, o-rings, fuel lines, fuel filter and fuel level floats can all be damaged by ethanol. Most states allow distribution of non-oxygenated fuels for classic cars, ask around to locate a service station that carries it near you.

Most standard “off the shelf” oils at the local auto parts stores are not good choices for your classic car. Modern oils lack sufficient zinc (zinc dialkyldithiophosphate) to properly lubricate flat tappet cams and lifters, especially during startup. The zinc was removed from modern oils as it caused carbon to build up in the exhaust system causing catalytic converters to prematurely fail. You have a couple of options, either use oil specifically blended for use with classic cars that still contains zinc or adding a zinc additive to modern oils. Which one is best? That’s an argument I don’t want to get into but here are a few options to consider:

Oils: Lucas Hot Rod & Classic Car Oil, Valvoline VR1 Racing , Amsoil Z-Rod, Brad Penn ‘Penn-Grade 1’, Royal Purple HPS, Shell Rotella Diesel Oil

Additives: Cam-Shield, ZddPlus, Edelbrock High Performance Zinc Additive, Eastwood ZDDP

I am sure there are dozens I left off this short list, but I’ll post this reply on the site and am certain we’ll hear from fellow members their thoughts as well.

Wrench Safe,
Mark

Discussion
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34 Responses to “Classic Car Gas and Oils”
  1. DENNIS
    DENNIS

    Was interesting to read about the lack of zinc in newer oils. I’ve been using the partial Synthetic oils in my older cars, 1964, 65, & 78. And of course alway premium gas, and without the ethenol. And then I add and additive like “Instead O lead”, to help with valve wear, etc. wish I could still get real leaded gas. I haven’t go it running yet, but I’ve heard that Royal Purple would be best for my 1937 Packard Six Touring Sedan. Is that good advice?

    Reply
    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      Hi Dennis. Royal Purple resisted the move to eliminate zinc in it’s motor oil for some time.
      Although, I believe their current standard oil has eliminated the zinc.
      They do offer Royal Purple HPS oil that still has high zinc levels, also they offer a high zinc break-in oil for new engines.
      Thanks
      Mark-CCRC

      Reply
  2. Wesley Edens
    Wesley Edens

    Lucas oil for hot rods (listed). Is it an additive used as a small amt. to be used at each oil change or is it a 5 qt. addition?

    Reply
    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      Hi Wesley. The Lucas Hot Rod motor oil is a full “high-zinc” motor oil, that is formulated for older classic cars and hot rods using flat tappets (non-roller lifters).
      Lucas also offers zinc (ZDDP) oil additives also.
      Thanks
      Mark-CCRC

      Reply
  3. Drew
    Drew

    If you have a friend at your local airport, you might be able to convince them of your need for leaded gas purchase “avgas” or 100LL Aviation gas. It is 100 octane low lead alcohol free gasoline. Price is high so be prepared.

    Reply
  4. Glenn Swaney
    Glenn Swaney

    Can I add the zink compounds to full synthetic lubricants? I am currently using Pennzoil full synthetic in my 57 Chevy.

    Reply
    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      Hi Glenn. Yes, There are several good zinc (ZDDP) oil additives on the market.
      They are a very good choice for flat tappet motors, and an absolute must when breaking in new flat tappet motors.
      Thanks
      Mark-CCRC

      Reply
    • Carroll
      Carroll

      Glenn I also own A 57 Chevy 270 hp with duel quads and solid lifters. I use shell Rotella synthetic it is or was designed for diesel which I also have 2 of but they have solids my Dodge has over 300 thousand miles never been touched. Rotella is great oil for them also I replaced a engine in my Tacoma a few years ago and the manufactur recommend Rotella for the break in oil. I highly recommend it.

      Reply
  5. David Nepley
    David Nepley

    Why not mention STP which contains ZDDP, the regular blue bottle and the harder to find red bottle, that contains extra ZDDP? STP can also be added to old manual steering boxes to slow leaks, even using straight STP in them, or any motor “honey”.

    Reply
  6. Ron Stanley
    Ron Stanley

    Hi, Enjoyed this article and would like to add my two cents worth. I have owned older cars since I was a teenager which was more decades of life than most folk are fortunate enough to have. Most of my old rides were flat head Fords and Mercurys. All the guys that I hung out with used SAE 30 with a non detergent rating. I recently purchased a ’39 Ford with a ’53 flathead and the old reocuring thought of what oil to use again came to mind. At a recent Goodguys event, I stopped by the H&H Flathead booth and asked about the up to date thinking on oil use. The answer that I received was one of the oils mentioned in this article “we use Valvoline VR1 20-50 in all our rebuilds, it has a high zinc content”. My immediate thought was ” multigrade in an vintage engine?” Then, yeah why not. I guess it seemed strange because multi grade hadn’t been born in the 50’s. The next day I purchased a case and gave my old flattie a taste of something new which has also given me a little peace of mind. Happy Holidays to all you old car nuts !!!

    Reply
  7. Lou Helbling
    Lou Helbling

    You left a few oils off your list which you should have perhaps mentioned. Chief among these is Kendall GT-1 competition motor oil. Some of the benefits include:Exclusive Liquid Titanium protection additive provides extra protection against engine wear
    Formulated for engines equipped with turbochargers or superchargers
    Excellent resistance to viscosity and thermal breakdown at high temperatures
    Protects against sludge and varnish formation
    Protects against rust and bearing corrosion
    Highly resistant to foaming
    High ZDDP content for additional wear protection for engines with flat-tappet camshafts (SAE 20W-50)
    Racetrack-proven performance
    taken from their website.

    Reply
  8. Roger
    Roger

    I helped develop additive systems in the oil industry for over 40 years and my recommendation for classic car engine oil is using a HD diesel oil. HD diesel oils contain almost twice as much ZDDP ( zinc anti-wear) as do modern PCMO,S ( passenger car motor oils). I use a 5w-40 vis which will handle both low and high ambient temps.

    Reply
  9. Michael
    Michael

    I’ve been adding a lead substitute & Mystery Oil to my 10W40 motor oil in my Chevy 283 engine with no noticeable problems over the last 20 yrs. Is this good, or bad? Is the HD Diesel Oil, 5W/40 better? Choices, choices, choices. What’s the best for my baby?

    Reply
    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      If you’ve been running this combination for 20-years without problems I would hesitate to change anything.
      Diesel oils have begun to remove the zinc also, so don’t count on those anymore.
      Adding zinc is most important on newly built flat tappet engines, as the engine breaks in they become less important.
      personally a continue to use zinc additives in my flat tappet engines after break in, for added protection.

      I’ve never used Mystery Oil in my engines, however I know plenty of enthusiasts who swear by it.
      So if it works for you… keep using it!
      Wrench Safe, Mark

      Reply
  10. Mike the Oil Guy
    Mike the Oil Guy

    I’ve worked in the fuels and lubricants industry for 38 years and have formulated many types of oils for large and small lubricant companies. I agree with Mark’s comments. At all costs avoid any fuel with ethanol. You will pay a high cost if you do not. Also, I would recommend oils which contain 1000 – 1200 ppm zinc content. You will not find this amount in current API licensed oils. I would also recommend checking out Driven Racing Oil’s product line. They market oils and fuel additives suitable for classic and vintage cars.

    Reply
  11. jackcharrin659
    jackcharrin659

    How often should oil change occur on a classic muscle car (68 442 olds) putting 100 miles annually?

    Reply
    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      Hello,

      Technically your oil should be changed once per year even with only 100 miles on it.
      Oil begins to break down due to age and temperature changes, depending on where you live of course…
      A car in a garage in Minnesota can be subjected to a temp range from -40 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
      Also your crankcase is vented and exposed to air. I’ll assume your car does not just make one 100 mile trip a year, so your 100 miles is an accumulation of much shorter trips.
      When your crankcase warms up after a few short miles and then the engine is turned of condensation occurs in the crankcase, the same way it occurs in the exhaust system.
      If the engine never gets hot for an extended period of time (50 miles or so) the moisture begins to accumulate and can be corrosive to internal engine components.
      It is best to change the engine oil every year before you put it away for the winter.

      Hope this helps,

      Mark
      Classic Car Repair Club Video Membership

      Reply
  12. STANLEY
    STANLEY

    Just want to add to Mark’s post, use straight weight oil, not the 5-20 that modern cars use.Check what was used in your car back then. (probably 30 weight.)

    Reply
  13. Robert
    Robert

    Could I use an additive like best line with a high zinc content oil ….or should I just not add it at all …..seems like. A good product but just wondering if the chemicals would help out or cancel each other out …thanks in advanced ….Robert

    Reply
    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      Hello Robert,

      I guess on on older flat tappet engines I personally would avoid using it, but only due to concerns that the high cleaning attributes of this additive may clean away the zinc I want present to protect my camshaft and valve train components.

      But that is just my gut reaction, I would avoid adding it, until I could do some additional research though.

      Wrench Safe,

      Mark
      Classic Car Restoration Club Video Membership

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  14. Paf450
    Paf450

    I use the Shell Rotella Diesel Oil, in my 1970 Dodge Challenger, 440, Do you feel this same oil will work just as well in a 1941 Chevy , six cylinder?

    Reply
    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      Hello,

      The Zinc and Phosphorous levels have been lowered in Rotella T oils, with zinc levels at 1,200ppm, which is the minimum many flat tappet cams require for break-in.

      But many Break-In oils contain as much as 2,200ppm of zinc.

      I believe you’re fine running Rotella T oils in your ’41 Chevy, however I would recommend using High-Zinc Break-in oils for newly rebuilt engines.

      Hope this helps,

      Mark
      Classic Car Restoration Club Video Membership

      Reply
  15. Kevin Pratt
    Kevin Pratt

    I’ve been using Eastwood’s ZDDP additive in my “classic” engines for a couple of yrs. now with no negative effects. Then I thought about my “older” lawn+garden equipment engines. I’ll mix 1 oz. of Eastwood’s ZDDP per qt. of 30W oil. Even though these engines sometimes operate under a heavy load, I wonder if the ZDDP additive is even necessary and also, is it possible that I’m using too much of it? I definitely use non-ethanol gasoline, as I’ve had to rebuild two carbs!

    Reply
  16. Todd Harding
    Todd Harding

    My Grandfather told me to add 2 or 3 oz. of trans fluid into the gas tank before fueling to help lubes the valves. We have done that for 20 plus years and no troubles with any of our 7 antique cars. Wd put straight 30w non detergent oils in all.

    Reply
  17. Rebecca Vasquez
    Rebecca Vasquez

    I just purchased a 1965 Mercury marauder Montclair, what type of gas premium and oil should I use for my new old car.

    Reply
    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      Dear Rebecca,

      Thank you for the question, here is the answer from the experts:

      Every state offers different fuel standards, For this car I would look for a non-oxygenated premium fuel (no alcohol).
      I would use a high-zinc oil also, often available for high-mileage and racing formulations.
      The added zinc will help preserve your camshaft and lifters.

      Wrench Safe,

      Mark
      Classic Car Restoration Club

      Reply
  18. Rick
    Rick

    I don’t have any advice, just wanted to say what I am using and that I am open to suggestions. I have a 63 Corvair Monza with a flat six air-cooled motor. I use SuperTech 15W40 Heavy Duty (for diesels) with a bottle of STP. My car runs on propane, so no ethanol is involved.

    Reply
  19. Layne Cogan
    Layne Cogan

    I just had the 283 in my 1966 Chevelle rebuilt and had the valves updated for unleaded fuel. The car is still being put back together. I know I need to run break in oil for the first 500 or so miles, after that will it matter if I use modern oil or will I still need the zinc – old motor, new rebuild and valves? Also, if I still need the zinc, I have a couple of cases of oil that is about 25 years old that has been stored in the garage where it does not get too hot or cold. Does the oil still break down if not being used? Should the oil be used or just taken to a recycler? Thanks!!!

    Reply
    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

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  20. Fred
    Fred

    If you remember the ’70’s, and the “gasohol” mixture sold as fuel, and the attendant damage and mechanical horrors it produced, please realize that all ethanol diluted fuel is Gasohol. Today’s fuel corrodes fuel system parts, and will eat through the parts of carburetors that hold it. It destroys leather accelerator pumps, and is not kind to the phenolic types. Marvel Mystery oil helps keep those parts lubricated and intact. Ethanol attracts lots of water into the fuel, and the use of Heet or any dry-gas additive breaks the water down so it passes through the carburetor without leaving you calling for a slide back. Remember that engines built in the 50’s and 60’s used fuel that was 95 octane for regular, and 97 to 103 for premium. Today premium is 90 to 93 octane, but please realize that ethanol not only stretches fuel, but it adds a four point bump to octane ratings. So when you pull up to a pump remember to subtract “4”octane points from the advertised strength if ethanol is present. Ever wonder why a 60’s muscle car hammers and delivers horrible fuel mileage on current “regular” fuel? If you have time, go to the nearest vendor of new carburetors near you and ask to look at a new Edelbrock carburetor. Open the box, and note the bright red-orange tag on the fuel inlet that proclaims “Warranty void if E 85 is used.” Look for a carburetor specialist who may have a long idled unit that was left full of ethanol laced fuel. The white powder that is inside is dissolved carburetor and fuel system parts. And remember that before tetra-ethyl lead, it was not uncommon to need a valve job every 10 to 15 thousand miles.

    Reply
  21. Don G Fedak
    Don G Fedak

    A friend recently bought a 1957 Ford Retractable like the one pictured. Unfortunately. his car had apparently been serviced with a non-detergent oil.

    After he changed to a detergent oil the oil pickup screen became plugged with sludge and he had to have the engine completely rebuilt.

    We advise all of our customers to try and find out what oil was used by the previous owners and then use a similar compatible oil for future service

    Reply
  22. Howard Thomas
    Howard Thomas

    I got a 51 ford v8 with 65000 miles use,s no oil I been running penz 20w40 with unlead gas what do you think

    Reply