The Red Line logo has been familiar for decades to folks who spend time at auto racing tracks. That’s because Red Line Synthetic Oil was founded in 1979 to create lubricants and additives specifically formulated to meet the higher demands of motorsports applications.
Turns out that those same lubricants and additives can be ideal for vintage vehicles.
The reason is that Red Line uses higher amounts of anti-wear additives, including 1,200 parts per million of zinc components.
“Essentially we have the same approach we started with,” said Roy Howell, Red Line’s chief chemist. “We have two lines. One is the racing products. But we sell a lot more of what we call high-performance motor oil, in various viscosity grades — 0W20 to 20W60 — all designed for high-performance applications.
Those lubricants also are suited to older vehicles.
“We never separated the older-car market from the modern-car market,” Howell said. “We never looked at it separately. We were just making an oil that was good for all of those vehicles.”
However, late in 2018, Red Line launched a new line of lubricants in its Professional-Series that exceed original-equipment manufacturer’s factory warranty requirements for use in new vehicles.
Red Line celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Howell was with the company when it started, and was one of its owners. The original team sold the business to Phillips 66 five years ago, and Howell retired. Briefly, as it turned out, only to be invited back to continue to do product development, still as chief chemist but getting to spend more time in the lab and less dealing with paperwork.
Speaking of paperwork, there was a study once upon a time that claimed that zinc iron phosphates used in motor oil could shorten the life of the catalytic converter now required on all new cars. Howell said the original equipment automakers liked what the study found, especially in regard to their need to keep converters functioning for 300,000 miles.
Race cars and many vintage vehicles don’t have such converters, plus Howell said zinc is only one factor in converter longevity.
Howell said the biggest change in automotive lubricants in the past 50 years has been the growth of synthetic oils, the kind Red Line has used since the company launched. That meant that instead of catching up, Red Line could focus on improving chemistry to fight corrosion, to keep engines cleaner, to allow for longer drain intervals, etc.
Once upon a time, racers favored castor oil, a vegetable oil, for racing, but oxidation was a problem, leaving varnishes on engine surfaces and requiring frequent engine rebuilds. Red Line came in with synthetic oils instead.
And there are varying degrees of synthetic oils, Howell added, going into the degrees of processing, molecule sizes, carbon chains, etc., that define synthetics and separate them not only from non-synthetic oils but from each other as well
Stability in extreme temperatures with “good sludge protection” has been Red Line’s focus.
The company also makes performance lubricants for transmissions and differentials and for lubricants that will be needed even as the auto industry transitions from internal combustion engines to electric motors.