In Praise of Castrol

First published February 2017.

In Praise of Castrol – by Nigel Raeburn.


Back in the 60s, the major sponsors and supporters of motor sport were the car industry ‘suppliers’ like the oil companies, tyre companies, spark plug manufacturers etc.. Think Dunlop, Shell, BP, Esso, Champion. Long before the cigarette and drink companies came along (wasn’t Gold Leaf the first full livery sponsor in F1?) these car industry companies gave a lot of support to events and drivers – I think Stirling Moss was supported by BP for a long time. However, across the whole spectrum of motor sport from the top international events to club events, I think Castrol was perhaps the best and longest-serving sponsor and supporter.

I can recall a wide range of Castrol support – materials for motor clubs (marshal armbands, water-filled cones, signage etc), their sponsorship and organising of inter-Club quizzes, of the Motoring News road rally championship etc. – as well as their sponsorship of teams (eg BMC rally team) and championships at higher levels. They had some good people working for them too – Stuart Turner for a period, and especially Roger Willis who was a really friendly personality who seemed to attend every event (from Internationals to small club events) – sadly he died far too young at just 35. I really got to know Roger when I once gave him a lift back to Lancashire from the Isle of Mull after the rally there.

Of course Castrol are still involved today – supporting the VW rally team to their many successes in the last few years, winning their class at Le Mans with Ford in 2016 – and are now rumoured to be returning to F1 with McLaren. Castrol is now owned by BP. Finally, their lasting influence on motorsport is surely the aroma of Castrol R – wonderfully evocative of motorsport paddocks and rally routes in the 60s.

As I write I have to hand four Castrol publications from the 1960s and early 70s. One is the Castrol Achievements booklet from 1960, and the other three are the three Castrol Rally Manuals, a hardback published at he end of 1971 through to 1974.

The Castrol Achievements booklet was published I think 6 times, after 1956 and from 1960 to 1966. It covered all forms of motorsport – cars, bikes, boats, even planes – in which Castrol was involved and summarised the successes in the previous year. The 1960 one I have has a coloured cover with an evocative painting of a works Austin Healey driven on Liege-Rome-Liege by Pat Moss on the front, and inside is all black and white photos – about 60 pages in all. There is a special feature on the achievements of Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom with photos of them in Healeys, MG TF, Austin A40, MGA, Riley 1.5 and Morris Minor – showing the versatility of drivers and indeed teams like BMC in those days. Many of the major international rallies are covered with their own pages – Tulip, Safari, Alpine etc.. – showing mainly the cars supported by Castrol (especially the BMC and Ford teams).

Then there are pages covering speed records, motor-bikes, Le Mans, hill climbs etc.. There is a photo of my ‘mentor’ John Aley alongside his famous Mini JRA85 – I can remember being driven at an indicated 100 mph on the Stevenage by-pass in this car which was one of the first ever racing Minis. No speed limits at that time! He was photographed after winning a race in France at Montlhery.

The Castrol Rally Manuals were more substantial affairs – hardbacks running to some 130 pages. With coloured covers and all black and white inside they contained a lot of photos and text too. There was a lot of ‘how to’ information as well as reports and profiles of well-known events and competitors. The first two editions were edited by Peter Browning and the third by Mike Greasley – both respected motorsport journalists, and many famous names contributed chapters – Brian Culcheth, Gerry Phillips, John Davenport, Stuart Turner, Martin Holmes etc..

The second Rally Manual has special resonance for me and for Knutsford &DMC – because of the front cover! It is mainly a photo of Roy Fidler and Barrie Hughes in a Withers of Winsford entered Datsun 240Z on the Scottish Rally in 1972 – but in the background (and around the binding partly onto the back cover) and clearly seen are a number of people known in KDMC circles.

I had been competing earlier in the event with Will Sparrow in what was I think the last rally we did in a Mini, but we retired in Dumfriesshire and had returned to the rally HQ in Nairn, and then gone spectating. The line-up of spectators shows (E&OE), L to R, ANO, John Poole (KDMC Chairman in the 70s), ANO, Vicky Lambert (rally driver and of Horsmans of Liverpool Opel dealers), two ANOs, Tony Goulding (one-time Plains CoC and works co-driver), my wife-to-be Margaret, Ian (one of Will’s service crew – sorry I can’t recall his surname), me, another of Will’s service crew, Dave Campion (ex KDMC, MCD and Prodrive), three ANOs and then one of the Samson brothers (twice Scottish Champions in the 70s) and finally another ANO.

Duckhams produced their version of an Achievements book in 1966, but apart from that this sort of publication seems to have disappeared, which is a shame. Duckhams is also now owned by BP, but they don’t seem to market it anymore. Their Q20/50 in the late 60s was a popular innovation as 50 grade was rare and here was a multigrade which could cover the 20/50 band and help reduce oil consumption at high temperatures and still provide the needed lubrication, and it became popular in competition cars and older cars with high oil consumption.

Thanks to Castrol for all they did for the sport – especially at the Club level.


Cover of Castrol Achievements 1960 – Pat Moss.

Cover of Castrol Rally Manual 2 – 1972.

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