10 Best Engine Oil For Classic Cars

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Owning a vintage auto is a joy, but they need special maintenance, as in the oil to protect the engine. What are the ten best engine oils for classic cars?

The motor oil that might have worked in your father’s day is just not the same as the kinds of oil many consumers use in their engines today. The last thing you want to do is use a type of oil unsuitable for your older model car, creating unnecessary aggravation for your engine down the road. What kinds of oil are best for a classic car? What about a car with a flat tappet? Is there much difference? Is it all right to use a synthetic? As you can see, there are lots of questions!

Some of the ten best engine oils for classic cars are -

  • Castrol GTX Part-Synthetic High Mileage
  • AeroShell Oil W100 Plus
  • Z-ROD® 20W-50 Synthetic Motor Oil
  • Lucas Oil SAE 10W-40 Hot Rod Motor Oil 3X1/5Q
  • Valvoline VR1 Racing 20W-50 Motor Oil
  • Shell Rotella Synthetic Blend 15W-40 Diesel

As you already know, regular oil changes are the lifeblood of any motor. Keeping on top of the fluids, oil, coolant, and the like can mean the difference between cruising and throwing a rod. You should know certain things before you start unbolting the oil pan plug. Because the engine is the heart of any vintage vehicle, it will pay dividends to know what kind, how much, and how to check on it between changes.

If you are as obsessed with every detail of your classic car as we are, then you will want to have some answers to the basics of oil in a vintage automobile.

Table of Contents


Why Does the Right Oil for a Classic Car Even Matter?

There is no question that older vehicles have special needs. While the internal combustion engine was a scientific marvel with many advancements over the years, it was still nothing like the motors that power vehicles today.

The most important thing about using oil in an engine is using the right thickness, or viscosity, for your particular car's engine. Using too thin oil will not have the weight to carry away the debris or prevent heat from the building, and an overly thick oil will just get clogged and not flow freely through your engine, causing your motor to work harder. The owner’s manual that comes with your car can help you determine the weight of the oil that your car needs.

Many classic cars have engines fitted with flat-tappet camshafts and, in particular, engines that include high-tension valve springs (Most V8 muscle cars before 1975) need a zinc additive called ZDDP (Zinc dialkyldithiophosphate). The additive prevents corrosion and premature engine wear. Over the past few decades, the EPA has significantly reduced the amount of ZDDP in motor oil to prevent the damage that high zinc levels can create in catalytic converters. Unfortunately, many classic car owners have damaged their engines' longevity by using oils without enough zinc and phosphorus additives to protect their investment.

What are the Top Ten Best Oils for Classic Cars?

The answer to that question depends a lot on the year of your classic car. Again, the owner's manual can indicate which oil is most appropriate.

There is great debate about using synthetic motor oil in your classic car. At one time, there was some truth in the fact that artificial motor oils could eat away at older gaskets and did not provide the protection for antique cars or trucks needing a specific ZDDP additive. While that might once have been true, most semi-synthetic and synthetic oils have enough ZDDP or ZDTP (Zinc dialkyldithiophosphate) to adequately protect classic car engines during everyday use.

Castrol GTX Classic

Englishman Charles Wakefield founded a small oil company in London to develop lubricants for emerging industries needing lubricants. Developing some of the first car lubricants in 1906, the company has been on the leading edge of motor technology ever since.

The GTX Classic oil Castro is specifically designed for classic/collector cars, muscle cars, hot rods, and race cars. High-mileage vehicles. This GTX has zinc and phosphorus additives (1400 ppm MAX) to protect older and hot rod high-performance engines. Unique compounds prevent thermal breakdown, and the oil can work with gasoline or alcohol-based fuels.

Rating on Amazon - The oil is one of the best-reviewed on Amazon, with 4.8 out of 5 stars.

Price - $35.28 (pack of 6 quarts)

For more information, check out the manufacturer's website or Amazon.

Z-ROD® 20W-50 Synthetic Motor Oil

In 1972, AMSOIL founder Al Amatuzio cumulated years of research by developing a synthetic motor oil that became the first to meet API service requirements. Tests showed that this particular synthetic outperformed every conventional oil on the market, so the synthetic revolution in lubricants was born. Most oil companies were not warm to using anything other than conventional oils, but as Amatuzio’s “fake oil” began to gain popularity. As automakers began building smaller, more heat-producing engines, the need for a lubricant to withstand the strain became apparent. While it took a few years for the big oil companies to get on board, almost everyone has some form of synthetic lubricant today.

This AMSOIL oil has a ZDDP additive that is specifically designed for use in classic cars. It also has a proprietary blend of rust inhibitors to prevent corrosion, particularly if you plan to store your classic in a damp garage or barn where moisture might create issues.

Rating on Amazon - The oil is one of the best-reviewed on Amazon, with 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Price - $32.63 (pack of 6 quarts)

For more information, check out the manufacturer’s website.

Lucas Oil SAE 10W-40 Hot Rod Motor Oil

Lucas Oil is a relatively new company as far as oil companies go. Founded in 1989 by a trucker, Forrest Lucas, and his wife, Charlotte, they provide a wide variety of lubricants and oil additives. The company has grown significantly since the early days and has the naming rights to the stadium where the Indianapolis Colts play. Their oil products are sold in over 30,000 stores nationwide.

Lucas Hot Rod & Classic Car Motor Oil has added zinc, molybdenum, and phosphorus to the oil. This oil is particularly effective in colder climates, where more protection is needed for sealing piston rings. It is designed to improve pressure in older engines as well. It is not recommended for passenger cars or vehicles with catalytic converters.

Rating on Amazon - The oil is one of the best-reviewed on Amazon, with a 4.8 out of 5 stars.

Price - $45.22 (pack of 6 quarts)

For more information, check out the manufacturer's website.

Valvoline VR1 Racing 20W-50 Motor Oil

Valvoline is one of the oldest oil lubricant companies in America, having marketed products since the late 1800s. They were the first company to have their oil recommended (Ford suggested using only Valvoline in their Model T in 1920). When muscle cars were at their height in the mid-sixties, they designed an engine oil specifically for racing and larger engines called VR1.

The oil is the Number one racing oil and has been formulated with zinc additives that make it ideal for use with engines equipped with flat tappets. A majority of vintage car collectors use this oil.

Rating on Amazon - The oil is one of the best-reviewed on Amazon with 4.9 out of 5 stars.

Price - $48.06 (pack of 6 quarts)

For more information, check out the manufacturer's website.

Shell Rotella Synthetic Blend 15W-40 Diesel Oil

Shell is another one of the big boys on the block regarding oil and lubricants. The company was formed through the merger of Royal Dutch Petroleum and Shell Transport of the UK in the early 1900s. They soon grew to be the largest producer of oil in the world, and Shell continues to dominate the market - they are currently #4.

Even though this is diesel oil, it has enough zinc additive to be used in classic car applications. It is designed to provide the lubricant needed for reducing any metal-to-metal scuffing. It is a synthetic blend that works under extreme heat conditions. It is probably better for use in hotter and warmer climates (with global warming becoming just about everywhere). The oil is offered in 15W-30 and 10W-30.

The rating on Amazon is 4.8 out of 5.

Price - $20.71 (gallon)

For more information, check out the manufacturer's website.

Lunati 15W-50 High Zinc

The company grew from a racing background making cams and cranks into lubricants and other products. Based out of the Memphis area, it has developed a good reputation for offering quality lubricants. Lunati has worked hard over the past twenty years to be a company that prides itself on quality customer service. The staff is knowledgeable and willing to answer questions. It is a company that knows its niche and is only destined to continue to grow.

This oil is designed for break-ins on classic cars and hot rods with rebuilt engines. It is suitable for about 400 miles of initial running and helps seal gaskets and piston rings. The ZDDP has already been added, so there is no need for a separate additive. The oil is also good at protecting cams and lifters during the initial break-in period. The compound has rust inhibitors designed to protect against moisture during winter storage.

Rating on Amazon (None)

Price - $117.60 (12-pack)

For more information, check out the manufacturer's website.

Pennzoil SAE 20W-50 Motor Oil

Pennzoil is an American motor oil company that Shell currently owns. Even though they were one of the first oil companies in America since its founding in 1913, they were bought out in 2002. Pennzoil acquired Quaker State in 1998 and continues to market under various entities to dominate market share.

This conventional engine oil is acceptable for use in any car and truck. The oil is good for removing sludge and built-up deposits for older engines. It controls high oxidation and enhances engine performance. It can protect cars with flat-tappet engines and guard against rust during cold storage.

The rating on Amazon is 4.8 out of 5, and many reviewers have had good luck with this product.

Price - $67.94 (6-pack)

For more information, check out the manufacturer's website and Amazon

Liqui Moly 4T Street 20W-50 Engine Oil

Liqui Moly is a molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) compound that includes inorganic material and sulfur. The compound was initially used as an additive to engine oils to prevent catastrophic failure in the event of a sudden loss of power. During WWII, the additive was mixed with aircraft oils to enable the engine to continue to run when a plane was hit and needed to find a place to set down. (The pilot could sometimes guide the plane down to a nearby field because the engine was still lubricating). In short, the additive was responsible for saving many lives, and that’s a history to be proud of.

The oil is trendy in Germany, and other European markets, and is often used to protect flat-tappet engines prone to high-stress environments. It reduces oil consumption, quiets the idle rattle, and shields against breakdown in higher temperatures. While it may not be a household word yet, the company continues to sell to overseas markets and is finding a serious market with classic car enthusiasts.

Rating on Amazon (None).

Price - $32.94 (4 - litres)

For more information, check out the manufacturer's website and Amazon

Mobil 1 Flat Tappet 10W-40 Engine Oil

Mobil Oil was one of 34 companies emerging from the breakup of Standard Oil in 1911 and merged with Exxon in 1999. Since then, they have broadened their horizons by offering ll manor of engine lubricants, such as the Mobil 1 series. Mobil continued to operate a bunch of convenience stores around the county and was the first gas station to offer modern-day conveniences like pay at the pump or the pay-and-go option called Speedpass.

This particular oil is designed for flat-tapped engines, has suitable viscosity, and will prevent excess wear in older models. It is also designed to improve fuel economy (oil can affect mpg). It is a full synthetic that will keep your engine running. It is the primary choice of many classic car enthusiasts.

Rating on Amazon (None).

Price - $32.94 (4 - litres)

For more information, check out the manufacturer's website and Amazon

Royal Purple 20W-50 Synthetic Motor Oil

Royal is one of the newest companies to delve into the synthetic oil and lubricant market. Headquartered out of Indiana, the company continues to grow and develop. Unlike the larger oil companies who try to saturate the market, this little company sticks with what it knows best - making the finest synthetic it can). The oil is also compatible with four-cylinder and six- cyl engines. It strengthens film protection 3x to 4x times as compared to other synthetics. Ideal for classic cars with flat tappets

Rating on Amazon 4.9 stars out of 5.

Price - $60.62 (6 quarts)

For more information, check out the manufacturer's website and Amazon