One Motorcyclist’s Response To Fad And Fashion

With tongue in cheek…

Marvel Mystery Oil
Marvel Mystery Oil was created in 1923 by Burt Pierce, who also invented the Marvel carburetor. More than a century after the original design was launched, Marvel-Schebler Aircraft Carburetors continues to produce a line of carburetors and replacement parts.Marvel Oil Company

Back in the 1960s as the popularity of motorcycling exploded in the US, new products appeared by the week. At the regional roadraces we were attending, the number of two-stroke oils grew every weekend—Bardahl, Klotz, Steen C, Blendzall, Spectro, Castrol R—and with it the number of their passionate adherents.

My late friend, Ron, whose “real” job was winding fine-wire detector arrays for high-energy physics, was amused by the proliferation of what he regarded as patent medicines and by the trusting loyalty of their worshippers.

Ron was also amused by inconsistencies in the thinking of his college-town neighbors. They all drove little cars to save energy, so he asked if they preferred microwave cooking for the same reason; microwave ovens heat only the food, not the plate or the kitchen. They looked at him in horror. “Microwaves? No way! They’re bad for the environment!”

“More bottom-end, a big boost in the mid, killer top-end—and better gas mileage!”

He came to two-stroke racing from a British-bike background. In his collection were a Vincent Black Shadow, one of Vincent’s caped avengers—the series-D Black Prince with very weird full fiberglass enclosure—and an Ariel square-four. His earlier plan to build a 90-hp Vincent racer with his own fuel injection had been zapped by flywheel vibration. Every time his carefully assembled engine touched 7,500 rpm (stock redline was 5,800), the flywheels would shift on the crankpin.

His new project for 1969 was roadracing a Kawasaki 250cc A1R two-stroke twin. At the tracks he encountered many riders, each swearing by a different brand of two-stroke oil, many of which had only sprung into existence recently. All were sensational, proven winners, cleaner-burning, making engines last as never before.

“More bottom-end, a big boost in the mid, killer top-end—and better gas mileage!”

No user had any idea what was in his chosen oil, but was sure it was the answer. Ron, who smiled at unsubstantiated beliefs, began to refer to all two-stroke lubes as “mystery” oil.

Remembering from his grandfather’s garage the patent oil product in the red screw-top tin, he went to the auto-parts store and bought a case of the real thing, Marvel Mystery Oil. Saving the contents in a jug, he then refilled the red tins with a Union Carbide synthetic, a polyglycol that a little research had shown to be the basis of several popular brand-on-a-can two-stroke oils.

At the races, as Ron measured out oil from a red tin for his engine’s 16:1 premix, others would ask him, “What’s that oil you’re using?” He would reply, “It’s a mystery.”

I’m not sure anyone ever got the joke but Ron. That was okay with him.