Inside the Aftermarket: Penrite

Motor oil brands today are a dime a dozen, with popular ones including Castrol, Valvoline, Shell, Mobil and Liqui Moly. Penrite is Australia’s own motor oil company.

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Vivek Shah
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Today, there are several motor oil brands available for your car, generally offering products across categories such as the standard mineral oil, and more premium semi-synthetic and synthetic options.

Many of these are from the global oil giants. Castrol, for example, is a brand of BP, while Shell and Mobil share the name of their parent companies respectively.

Other brands, such as America’s Valvoline and Germany’s Liqui Moly, focus on producing and selling motor oils and associated products exclusively, without the backing of a multinational oil giant. 

Penrite is Australia’s motor oil company. Established in Melbourne in 1926, the company currently employs over 150 people across three blending plants and 22 distribution centres.

It exports its oil and lubricant products to more than 35 nations, with a blending capacity of over 35 million litres.  

Early history

The suburb of St Kilda in Melbourne was initially home to Penrite. Legend has it Les Mecoles, then an enterprising 16 year old, produced the first batches of motor oil using the kitchen stove in his mother’s home.

At the time, Les was using crude oil originally shipped from Pennsylvania, widely considered some of the best in the world. Indeed, the name Penrite is a portmanteau, of sorts, between Pennsylvania and Lou’s intention to ensure his customers were only being provided with the ‘right’ product. 

Logistically, the early days of the business saw Lou making deliveries via wheelbarrow. A substantial part of Melbourne at the time was dedicated to industries such as farming and agriculture, and the initial range of products consisted of two types of oil catering to these customers rather than the everyday motorist.

Alongside oil, the company at the time sold products such as filters, and at one point was even selling batteries for commercial machinery.  

The company moved into Richmond in 1932, at a site with specialised oil blending equipment.

Cars were becoming an everyday household possession by the ’30s, and increasing demand for vehicles meant a corresponding increase in demand for parts and servicing products. The Penrite business expanded accordingly. 

Suffering from ill health, Lescoles sold the business to friend John Dymond in 1979, who continued to steadily grow the firm and also increase its association with motorsport.   

Motorsport involvement

Dymond began his career as a mechanical engineer for Vauxhall in the UK, where he designed gearboxes. He subsequently moved to Australia after taking up a role with BP.

From BP, his career progressed to American firm Lubrizol, where he worked on the development of lubricants designed for Papua New Guinea and Malaysia.

This experience provided him with significant expertise in the development of oils for automotive applications. More importantly, he was able to strike a friendship with Penrite founder Mecoles.

Dymond eventually took over the company after Mecoles lacked family of his own to pass the business on to. 

Fortunately, Dymond had several children, many of whom were into racing. It was through them he was able to further build Penrite’s association with motorsports.

John’s eldest son, the late Mark Dymond, was especially talented at motorcycle racing. Being sponsored through his father’s business, grew Penrite’s presence at the track. 

John himself was especially invested in racing vintage and historical cars, and the ’80s and ’90s saw Team Penrite race a range of vehicles including the Brabham BT16, Cooper Mk IX, and AC ACE.

Penrite’s participation in these events helped promote its range of motor oils for classic cars, and improved the image of the brand by reinforcing the idea its products were developed on the track ‘in a racing car, not a test tube’.

More recently, Penrite has been heavily involved in the Supercars competition as a major sponsor for the Erebus Motorsport team.

Penrite branding featured prominently first on the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG vehicles, and subsequently on the team’s Holden Commodores.

Product range

Having begun with a range aimed almost exclusively at agricultural and farming customers, the Penrite range underwent a serious expansion in the 1981 with the launch of its HPR engine oil.

Standing for ‘High Performance Range’, products under the HPR banner were specifically designed to lower vehicle oil consumption in harsher Australian driving conditions.

Other notable products in the current Penrite range include the 10 Tenths range of fully synthetic oils designed for racing and competitive use, as well as the Classic, Shelsley, and Heritage brands for older, pre-1989 models, including classic cars. 

More recently, Penrite has launched the Enviro+ range of engine oils, designed for contemporary fuel efficient engines, including those with diesel particulate filters.

Also catering for vehicles with longer recommended service intervals, they feature a low level of SAPS (Sulphated Ash Phosphorous and Sulphur). 


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