The history 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
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
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
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
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
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.
The Early STP Days(From the STP Corporate archives)
In October 1954, three businessmen with a mere $3,000 in start-up capital introduced the first STP® product in St. Joseph, Mo. Scientifically Treated Petroleum, better know as STP, began with one product STP® Oil Treatment that helped automobile motor oil resist thinning at high temperatures and pressures.
The group composed of Charles Dwight (Doc) Liggett, Jim Hill and Robert DeHart, began packaging STP® in a backyard garage. They packaged it at night and sold it from the trunks of their cars during their business and pleasure trips. The company's initial growth and profitability attributed to strong word-of-mouth and the brands link to auto racing enabled STP to introduce its first Gas Treatment in 1960. In 1961, STP was purchased by the Studebaker Packard Corporation. Andy Granatelli was appointed CEO in 1963 and began to increase the brands marketing efforts through auto and boat racing. Eventually, STP sponsored its own Indy Car racing team, featuring Mario Andretti, the winner of the 1969 Indianapolis 500.
STP® product distribution began to grow and by 1963 STP® products were available in more than 200,000 gasoline stations across the U.S. By the end of 1968, sales had climbed to more than $43 million. In early 1969, STP became a public corporation and shares went on the American Stock Exchange under the symbol "STP."
(Ed. Note: The above does not explain the development of STP, only it's early distribution. When the origin of the product has been found, it will be published here!)