Background to Mobil 1

Background to Mobil 1

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While the concept of synthetic oil is known to have been studied by Standard Oil of Indiana in the USA in the 1930s, its roots as a volume-produced oil are often said to be during World War II. At that time, German scientists developed a synthetic lubricant which could retain its properties in the extreme temperatures of the Russian winter and allow the tanks to keep running.

After the war, it also became apparent that the new generation of jet aircraft presented new demands on lubricating oils because of the higher operating temperatures of jet engines and also their operating environments in extremely low temperatures at high altitudes. This is where synthetic oil development was advanced and when the space programs started, synthetic oil was found to be the only kind of lubricant that could still perform in outer space.

Mobil 1 was introduced in 1973 as Mobil SHC; the three alphabets were for ‘Synthetic HydroCarbons’, which gave a clue to its unique nature that differed markedly from conventional oils using mineral-based fluids from the ground. The history of Mobil 1 actually goes back to almost 40 years ago when the oil company resolved a problem plaguing military aircraft which concerned the grease on wheel bearings solidifying when they flew in sub-zero temperatures at high altitudes. This was particularly worrying for carrier-based aircraft because they landed very hard on aircraft carrier decks and the bearings would fail. Mobil’s solution was a synthetic wheel bearing grease which did not solidify in temperature extremes.

From this development, interest in synthetic lubricants grew although this type of oil was still only used in specialized applications. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of synthetic oil was encouraging and in 1971, the New Concept Engine Oil team that was formed in Mobil to look into future developments picked synthetic oil as the way to go.

Thus was born Mobil SHC, which was renamed Mobil 1 in 1974 (although there is still a ‘SHC’ product line in North America), and in the early marketing themes, the focus was more on its ultra-slippery qualities cutting friction so significantly that fuel economy could be improved. This benefit was much sought after in that period when the world was going through the first energy crisis and there was concern that there was not going to be enough fuel to last forever (which is still true) so conservation was the order of the day.

Early Mobil 1 advertising also highlighted that the oil could be used for a much longer period than mineral-based oils because its just didn’t wear out in the same way. When asked just where the limit was, Mobil engineers often responded by saying that it was just ‘very high’. However, by the early 1990s, Mobil avoided promoting the long-life aspect as a key feature when the engine manufacturers expressed concern that consumers could ignore their specified intervals for oil change and engine damage could result. Instead, it states that there is a ‘performance reserve’ for the oil, meaning it will not lose its impressive properties as quickly as other mineral-based or semi-synthetic oils.

The superiority of the Mobil 1 formulation can be seen from the fact that until 1992, it did not go through any reformulation at all even though the universally-recognised API service grades went through two specification changes in that period. While conventional engine oils had to be reformulated to meet each new standard, Mobil 1 was able to exceed the standards by such a wide margin that it did not need to be changed.

In 1996, when the API SG specification was announced, Mobil 1 was reformulated at about the same time and it offered improved high-temperature protection, among other benefits. It protected parts better and had lower phosphorus levels to increase the life of catalytic converters. If a machine had to operate in a temperature of 200 degrees C or -45 degrees C, Mobil 1 was the only oil that would be able to lubricate and protect it.

1999 saw the fourth generation of Mobil 1 with a ‘Tri-Synthetic’ formula. It combined three highly advanced synthetic components with an innovative synthetic package of unique additives. All benefits were enhanced and this generation surpassed the one it replaced in all tests. In that year, API released the SJ service specification and predictably, the new Mobil 1 exceeded it easily.

Seven years down the road (six in the US market) comes the fifth generation with SuperSyn technology, again a benchmark for synthetic oils and able to exceed the toughest industry standards.

In Malaysia, Mobil 1 was introduced in the early 1980s but in the early years, its image was almost damaged when many motorists found they had to keep topping up the oil. It turned out that the thin viscosity of the early version (SAE 5W/20) proved unsuitable for the higher ambient temperatures here and oil vapourisation was occurring. This was quickly addressed with slightly thicker viscosities and before long, Mobil 1 became a highly respected lubricant and those with high-performance cars as well as enthusiasts made it their usual choice. Needless to say, it has also been a popular oil in racing circles as teams know that synthetic oil can give an edge in engine output.

Mobil 1 is a popular oil among racing teams


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