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Looking back at 50 years of STP

Think of engine oil treatments and for those of us who are old enough to remember, the initials S - T- P will spring instantly to mind. After all, it was STP or Scientifically Treated Petroleum (as it came to be known) that was the innovator of this black art back in the 1954.

The company, (known then as Chemical Compounds) was founded by three Americans, Charles Dwight (Doc) Liggett, Jim Hall and Robert De Hart, who started their backyard business selling STP Oil Treatment from the boots of their cars.

Put simply, STP Oil Treatment was designed to help engine oil resist thinning at high temperatures and pressures –and it worked! The product quickly caught on through strong word-of-mouth endorsement and the brand’s link to racing. The initial profitability allowed the company to flourish, so that by 1960 the company could introduce its second product - STP Gas (petrol) Treatment.

The company continued to grow and by 1961 STP was purchased by the Studebaker Packard Corporation. Two years later, in the hands of its new CEO Andy Granatelli, a former chief tester and engineer for Studebaker, he began to increase the brand’s awareness through a number of marketing initiatives in automobile and boat racing. Under his influence, the name of Chemical Compounds changed to STP and the brand flourished.


Jim McElreath at the wheel of the Novi-powered Studebaker-STP Special after qualifying for the 1964 Indy 500 at a speed of 152.381 mph

Granatelli was a multi-talented individual who not only knew how to race (he set over 400 land speed records), but through his strong engineering background – he designed engines for Chrysler, Cadillac and Studebaker - knew what it took to win. And to cap it all, he was more than capable of promoting his products.

Granatelli also knew how to make headlines and in 1967 masterminded one of the best-kept secrets in motor racing history when he wheeled out the STP-Paxton turbine car to a dumbstruck media. The revolutionary race car, designed specifically for America’s most prestigious motor race - the Indianapolis 500 - was his brainchild and featured a 550bhp Pratt & Whitney gas turbine engine mated to a Ferguson Formula four-wheel drive system coupled to a reduction gear system.

The car was built in-house by the Granatelli brothers to keep it away from prying eyes. Amazingly, everything except the wheels and the turbine engine were Granatelli built and, incredibly, the car was race ready and built exactly to the rules. The car was a radical development for the time, and even more fascinating now, as we look back at the huge leap forward Granatelli made to competitive motor racing.

A lightweight gas turbine engine was positioned on one side of the chassis, and the driving compartment was designed on the other to counterbalance the weight. Over this was fashioned a unique single seater aluminium body with a styled carbuncle on one side to house the bulky turbine. Granatelli’s vision was fast, quiet and amazingly manoeuvrable.


Parnelli Jones leads at Indy 1967 until rain stopped the action

On its inaugural Indy 500 race in 1967 the STP Paxton turbine car led for 171 laps in the hands of Parnelli Jones. Frustratingly for the team, the car coasted to a stop on lap 196 of 200 when a bearing in the gear casing failed. It was a bitter disappointment with just over seven miles to go to complete the race, but showed the amazing potential of Granatelli’s turbine vision.


In spite of spinning early in the race with Lee Roy Yarbrough, Parnelli Jones (car 40) went on to dominate the 1967 Indy 500 until the closing stages


Parnelli Jones (centre) sits dejected with Andy Granatelli (left) and Vince Granatelli after their revolutionary turbine car expired in the 1967 Indy 500 with just four laps to go

The following year the race’s governing body changed the rules to reduce the competitiveness of turbine cars – by restricting the inlet area so that it developed less horsepower. In fact the car produced around 480hp in this specification, or 270hp less than the conventional piston engined cars, but it scored heavily on track with its high manoeuvrability -it was described as being able to “go anywhere on the track and literally drive round the opposition”. However, as in 1967, another STP (but this time Lotus developed) turbine car led until the closing stages of the 1968 race (lap 192 of 200) when the fuel pump shaft broke, forcing the car into retirement.


Joe Leonard is all smiles after setting a record lap at Indy of 171.953mph in 1968, driving his STP Lotus Turbine - Parnelli Jones looks on behind 
 


Previous Indy 500 winner Graham Hill also drove for STP at Indy in 1968 - shown here with Andy Granatelli

For 1969 STP extended its association with Lotus, and with the stranglehold now even tighter on turbine cars, decided to go the conventional piston-engined route with Ford turbocharged power in a Lotus 4wd chassis. The combination paid off and Mario Andretti finally captured the Indianapolis 500 for STP in the distinctive wedge-shaped STP Special.

The 1970s saw significant international growth for STP - it entered Grand Prix racing with March Engineering. The bright red livered cars finishing third in their first season and second a year later.


Jo Siffert at Monaco 1970 in a STP March


Ronnie Peterson at the 1972 Race of Champions 

On home soil STP began its association with a stock car driver called Richard Petty. Little did they know (or was it just another bright Granatelli idea?) that he would later become the sports biggest living legend with 200 wins under his belt and more records than any other driver. So successful has the Petty association become that he continues to represent STP to this day in the longest running sponsorship association in motor sport history.


Richard - or King Richard - Petty

STP not only became a name to be recognised in stock car racing, on the circuits and speedways, but during the mid-sixties the company extended its roots in to drag racing, supporting American fast lady Paula Murphy with her series of  funny cars. As part of the Peterson-Publishing’s entourage of American drag racers to visit the UK in 1973, they put on a show that UK fans will not forget. STP also backed British top fuel pilot Dennis Priddle – most prominently with his Avenger Funny Car.


Dennis Priddle - Photo courtesy of Acceleration Archive

During this period, STP’s sales rocketed to $54 million and net income was more than $1 million. Products were marketed throughout the US, Canada, Mexico and nearly 100 countries around the world. The company introduced new grades of motor oil and sleek looking, easy pour containers.

Such was STP’s dominance, in the market place and on the track, that in 1982, every car (42) which started the Daytona 500 race used STP products. In the years to follow the company continued to grow, so that by the 1990s STP had built a presence in practically every country in the world. The company diversified in to new markets and products and was equally adventurous in its associations.


Petty out in front again - he has 200 wins to his name

Having supported drag racer Don Prudhomme in the late eighties, it seized the opportunity of involvement with the dramatic and spectacular World of Outlaws sprint cars in 1994. Back on asphalt, Alex Zanardi took a starring role for STP in the Ganassi/STP/Target Ford when he recorded back-to-back championship titles in the 1997 and 1998 CART series.

Today STP continues its involvement in motorsports and at the start of 2004 announced a new association with the Petty Enterprises NASCAR team. Driver Jeff Green is carrying the infamous red oval and number 43 on the bonnet of the team’s Dodge.

The STP brand is now owned by the mighty Clorox Company in the USA and remains the market leader in engine additives, with innovative products being added to the STP range to keep pace with passenger car engine development and the ever-changing critreria of maintaining peak engine efficiency, performance and longevity.

In the UK, STP enjoys nationwide distribution through accessory chains including Halfords, independent accessory shops, garage forecourts and motorway service areas.

NOTE: For further product information, and to enter STP’s 50th anniversary free draw, to win a share of a £100,000 prize fund, visit http://www.stp50.com

Story: Andy Kirk
Photos: Ferret Fotographics

 
 
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