One of the often overlooked key factors in everyday motoring life is the fuel and lubrication our vehicles need to keep them running. MIKE MONK takes a look at the background to some of South Africa’s historic oil companies.
Fuel is a total-loss commodity that we need a constant supply of to keep us on the move. Lubricating oil is also a key necessity, but modern engines seldom require topping up between services. Oil companies are involved in the supply and distribution of both, and here are the brief backgrounds to some of South Africa’s well known brands.
SHELL and BP
The Royal Dutch Petroleum Co was founded in 1890 and The Royal Dutch Shell Group was created in 1907 through its merger with the Shell Transport and Trading Co. Shell first appeared in SA in 1902. In 1919, Shell took control of the Mexican Eagle Petroleum Co and in 1921 formed Shell-Mex Ltd. British Petroleum’s (BP) origins date back to the founding of the Anglo-Persian Oil Co in 1908, established as a subsidiary of the Burmah Oil Co. BP Southern Africa was founded in 1924. In 1932, Shell and BP merged their UK operations as Shell-Mex and BP Ltd. However, they separated in 1975.
CALTEX and TEXACO
The California Texas Oil Co (Caltex) was created from a joint venture between the Standard Oil Co (Socal, later Chevron) and the Texas Co (Texaco) in 1936. Chevron has been involved in SA since 1911 and Caltex constructed the Cape Town refinery in 1966. A quarter of Caltex’s service stations are located in SA.
Sasol was established in 1950 but it was only after a joint venture with the Natref oil refinery that Sasol petrol, originally developed for Formula 1 racing, goes into production for the first time. The company established two towns for its operation, first Sasolburg, then Secunda.
ENGEN and MOBIL
Engen’s roots in SA go back to 1881, first as Vacuum Oil and then the Standard Oil Co. Mobil is first introduced into Vacuum Oil’s product range in 1910 as Vacuum Mobil Oil and Gargoyle Mobil Oil. In 1911, Pegasus Motor Spirit is introduced. In 1960, Vacuum’s international interests are transferred to the Mobil Petroleum Co and in SA the company is renamed Mobil. In 1989 Mobil divests from SA but the organisation re-emerges in 1993 as Engen. The Standard Oil business was transferred to Esso who divested from SA in 1987.
Total Oil Products Pty Ltd was first registered in 1954 and the first gallon of Total petrol sold from a Total service station took place in 1954. Total took part in the construction of the first national crude oil refinery at Sasolburg, and it has a 30% interest in the Natref refinery.
CASTROL and DUCKHAMS
Charles Wakefield left Vacuum Oil in 1899 to set up his own business selling lubricants labelled Castrol. The company was re-named Castrol in 1960. Alexander Duckham founded his company in 1899. It introduced Europe’s first multigrade oil in 1951. BP bought out Duckhams in 1970 and eventually dropped the brand, but it was relaunched last year. BP bought Castrol-Burmah in 2000.