Today's Motor Oils

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    What is the best type oil to use in an original 1954 Mercury engine?


    There is a ton of debate right now in the old car world about what oil to use in the older engines.  It appears that emissions requirements have caused zinc to be removed from current gasoline motor oils.  Zinc is said to be a necessity for older engines to prevent excessive wear on cam lobes and lifters.  Many owners are now using Rotella which is a diesel engine oil but has the lubricants, detergents, and other additives needed in gasoline engines.  Other diesel oils would have the same properties.  There are also zinc additives available at parts stores I have been told.

    Viscosity (thickness) is also an important consideration.  This would be the “weight” of the oil, as in 30 weight or 10w-40 weight.  The higher the number the thicker the oil.  20 weight oil is the recommended viscosity in many late model engines but I would not use it in an older engine especially one with alot of miles on it.  I live in Nebraska and use 10w-40 in my ’55 which is the same basic engine design as your ’54.  I use a mulitviscosity oil because of the cold weather we have but I get the thickness of a 40 weight when things warm up.  I happen to come from a “Texaco” family and we are great believers in Havoline.  The brand is currently owned by Chevron however.

    Do you need a synthetic?  My personal opinion is, “NO”.  Most of us don’t put enough miles on the car between oil changes to justify the additional expense of a synthetic.  I don’t think you would hurt anything using a synthetic oil except your wallet.

    The most important thing you can do is change your oil and filter at least twice a year and more often if you drive alot or in adverse conditions. 

    Non detergent oils would not be great choice either.  They are still available  but do nothing to keep the internal parts of the engine clean.  There is a debate that if you have an old dirty engine that a detergent oil will just gum things up.  If an engine is that dirty, frankly, it needs to be overhauled anyway.

    There are many good motor oils out there.  Brand is not as important as API rating and viscosity. So get a quality oil that makes you happy and enjoy driving that ’54.  They are great cars.



    Thanks Virgil, I have owned this ’54 Monterey Coupe 2 & 1/2 years and due to time restraints only driven it approximately 800 miles and never changed the oil as every time I check the oil about every 200 miles it is very clear as if it was just changed. Guess I will now get it changed. Here in Georgia we only have a few days when it gets below freezing and then it’s usually not below 20 degrees. We do have hot summers. What weight would you think best straight 30w, 10w-30 or something different?


    I personally would use a 10W-30.  When I lived in Southern California I always used mulit-viscosity oils eventhough it rarely got below freezing.  Oil will deteriorate just sitting in the engine and may look clean on the dipstick (a good thing) but may have drawn moisture from the atmosphere.  Condensation can be a problem for oils although modern oils have additives to help with that.  Be sure to use a quality filter as well.  I prefer Motorcraft but have used Purolator and Fram as well.


    As a general rule, any detergent motor oil sold today is far superior to anything sold in 1954.  I would find it unlikely that your car has not been using what ever was current in motor oils, simply because the “currrent” oils were what were going to be available.  I’ll have to dig back in my memory banks, but it seems to me that if you get an oil that has the rating on the cap of SJ or lower letter, like SH, you even get some of the zinc.  I think I recall  that SM is the one with the reduced zinc content.  In truth, if you are not driving 20,000 miles a year, pulling a trailer or drag racing, SM is not likely to damage your engine.




    I use Valvoline VR1 20W-50 racing  oil that I get from Napa.  I use it in my three cars with flatheads engines.  According to the label it exceeds API SERVICES SM/SL/CD; whatever that means.  The Napa dealer told me that it has zinc in it and I have not had any oil related problems.

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