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Departing from my usual topics, Im going to talk a bit about the old days in the automotive lubricants industry. By old I mean the 1980s, when SAE was the place to be.

Youre probably wondering what prompted this walk down memory lane. Well, two things happened. First, we just added a new engine oil grade to the SAE Standard J300 viscosity classification system (see page 8). Second, in late September I received an e-mail from a longtime subscriber named Charles Chuck Colyer. This was pretty humbling to me, as Chuck wrote:

For some time I have wanted to compliment you on your LubesnGreases articles. I am about to put 91 candles on my birthday cake, so I better do it pronto. I am Chuck Colyer, former SAE/ASTM/API Committee chairman of various engine oil performance/classification systems during the post-WWII years -the beginning of it all. We thought we produced harmony between the oil and auto industry worldwide. We had gone from base oils to complex additive packages, from oil name quality to performance based on lab engine tests and field tests. You were one of the younger SAE members, representing Pennzoil, thus I dont have to go into more detail.

Today one classification doesnt satisfy all and we continue to strive for improved fuel economy/volatility/shear stability, etc., with improved additives; who would ever have thought I would consider SAE 0W-20 grade? I wish in our time we would have had someone like you summarizing the status to date and giving all a chance to contribute, knowing the facts. Again, continue to provide the facts necessary to make proper decisions. – Chuck Colyer, also SAE 1983 president.

Chuck passed away on Dec. 12, at the age of 91. But he was right in saying I was one of the younger SAE members in the 1980s. Id just gone to work for Pennzoil and was newly stationed in Houston. As automotive product manager, I would be the guy to attend the SAE meetings and join the appropriate technical committees. At the time, SAE Subcommittee TC-1 covered fuels and TC-2 focused on engine oils. Dick Kabel from General Motors Research was chairman of TC-2 and Paramins (now Infineum) Jim Newcombe was its secretary.

Dick Kabel and I discussed some of the activities of SAE at the time, and he explained how Chuck was instrumental in getting SAE 15W added to the viscosity grade list. The Europeans (via the Coordinating European Council) were eager to have this winter grade but there was a lot of resistance on the part of North American oil companies. BP Europe was a strong champion of 15W, and Volkswagen was also very keen on adding it to the SAE viscosity classification system.

Chuck was the SAE Fuels & Lubricants Committee chairman then, so he called a special meeting to discuss the subject prior to the 1979 SAE Congress. At that time, the Congress was held in Detroit each February. The F&L Committee met on Sunday just prior to the Congress and included representatives of North American and European companies and trade groups. The debate was intense yet Chuck was able to gain consensus. An employee of Amoco, he himself voted in favor – which was counter to his own companys position. He just felt that it was technically right to add the grade.

SAE 15W was officially added to SAE J300 in the September 1980 revision of the classification system. As we all know, SAE 15W has taken its place as one of the mainstay grades, especially for heavy-duty engine oils.

In another move with far-reaching effects, Chuck was the main driving force in moving the Lubricants Review Institute to SAE headquarters on behalf of the U.S. Army. It doesnt seem to be a very big deal, but it was important in gaining SAE oversight of this important function. The LRI (now part of SAEs Performance Review Institute) is responsible for reviewing and recommending engine oils and gear lubricants for Army vehicles and equipment.

There were a lot of hot topics during Chucks tenure at SAE in the early 80s. The winters of 1980-81 and 1981-82 were the years of the great pumpability problems. SAE J300 had been modified in 1967 to include a cold-cranking requirement at 0 degrees F., and in 1980 a low-temperature pumpability test was added as well. However, this latter test was not able to predict low-temperature pumpability correctly. I distinctly remember Tony Berylo from Chrysler standing in an SAE TC-2 meeting and reporting major field problems with camshaft bearing seizures during cold weather. Meanwhile Quaker State (long before its marriage with Pennzoil) was also in the throes of a public relations nightmare over engine oil low-temp pumpability.

Two forces were at work that were not fully understood at the time. First, the cooling cycle that an oil goes through has a major effect on whether or not the oil will pump. One good example of this was when major field problems occurred in Sioux Falls, S.D., after a very slow cooling cycle which took about 48 hours. When engine oils were subjected to this cycle, wax structures formed which prevented the oil from flowing, although initially it may have pumped. The test method included in the 1980 version of J300 used a relatively fast cooling process and didnt catch this type of gel formation in some oils.

Quaker States woes arose from using base oils from different sources which had been refined by widely varying processes. Its product development work had been carried out in a solvent refined base stock. However, some of its commercial products were made with base stocks which had been dewaxed by a cold chilling process, which left a larger quantity of wax behind. The selection of pour point depressants and viscosity index improvers had not taken into account these differences; the result was that some batches were satisfactory and others not. (In fact, you can trace Pennzoils capturing of the number one position in branded engine oils to this 1980-81 Quaker State pumpability problem.)

The red flag raised by Chryslers Tony Berylo was related to cooling as well, but had a unique dimension in that the bearing surfaces were part of the aluminum casting and the camshaft was steel. As temperatures fell, the difference in cooling rates between steel and aluminum created a situation where the head shrank and left insufficient clearance for the camshaft to turn freely. So the metallurgy was also part of the puzzle, not just the lubricant. Chrysler quickly recognized this and corrected it.

About the time all of this low-temperature stuff was calming down, Chuck left Amoco and went to work at Lubrizol. He became SAE president in 1983, a rare honor for a lubricants guy.

As the 1980s wore on, rumblings arose from the OEMs desire for tougher engine oil performance requirements versus the oil industrys wish for a category description which was not overly burdensome. The disagreement came to a head in 1989 at an SAE Fuels & Lubricants meeting in Portland, Ore. That was when vehicle manufacturers introduced the North American Lubricant Standardization and Approval System (NALSAS), which was roundly disliked by engine oil marketers. I suspect there was more than one person at that meeting who would have welcomed a calm and cool person like Chuck Colyer to rein in the passions and begin the job of consensus building. Instead, it would be several years before that happened.

Abandoning NALSAS, U.S. and Japanese automakers eventually went on to form ILSAC and propose the GF-series of engine oil specifications. Finally, GMs Mike McMillan and Don Johnson of Pennzoil led the industry groups that co-founded the Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System described in API Document 1509, and launched the Starburst certification mark.

Weve come a long way since then, but there are still a lot of strong positions being taken which sometimes result in delays to category development. In addition, SAE, which I thought was the best forum for bringing all of the issues together, has lost its luster and been replaced by API, ASTM and ILSAC – which meet regularly but dont have the same people around the table every time. An SAE meeting in the 1980s and 90s had all of the players and then some. In fact, we used to reserve the largest conference room in hotels where the meetings were held, since the attendance was often over 200!

Ill close with some comments from Chuck Colyers friends and colleagues since they echo what Ive said. George Barth, who worked for him at Amoco, recalls that Chuck would close the door to his office and print long-hand SAE history papers rapidly and effortlessly. His office held a desk and credenza piled high with stacks of files from which he could at a moments notice extract whatever a visitor needed, George said. Chuck knew everyone in the industry, he was a master politician and consensus builder, and he was one of the true giants of the lubricants industry.

From my perspective, remarked Tom McDonnell, who also worked with Chuck, he was an understanding and patient supervisor and mentor whose counsel I always valued, particularly in regards to the workings of SAE.

Joe Colucci, former head of General Motors Researchs Fuels and Lubricants Group, said it best, simply stating, My dads highest praise for someone was to say hes a gentleman. I can say that about Chuck.

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