Plough­ing money into trac­tors

An in­ter­est­ing al­ter­na­tive to a ride-on mower and won­der­ful relic from days gone by, vin­tage trac­tors are, sur­pris­ingly, be­com­ing col­lectable, too

The Field - - Contents - writ­ten BY ROGER field

Roger Field finds that vin­tage trac­tors are highly col­lectable

Aeons ago, I was walk­ing our dogs with an ex-army, “petrol head” chum of mine. Dud nor­mally only likes the finest of mo­tors. As­ton Martins and Maser­atis, cer­tainly; he had owned and raced them. Bent­leys: “Yes, great rac­ing her­itage.” Rolls-royce: “No.” Although whether this was be­cause I had once re­vealed that my fa­ther poo­tled around in a 1926 Rolls drop­head, or whether through some deep-seated and gen­uine scorn for a non-rac­ing mar­que, I have still to di­vine. So, to de­scribe Dud as a mo­tor­ing per­fec­tion­ist is to do the word a dis­ser­vice. Emerg­ing into a clear­ing, Dud pointed and started to gib­ber. All I could see were an­cient trac­tors, owned by Lester, our oc­ca­sional handy­man. Lots of them. Some old and rusty, oth­ers ready for ac­tion. While I knew that Lester, when not build­ing fences and pluck­ing pheas­ants, liked noth­ing more than to waste his week­ends driv­ing in per­fectly straight lines at plough­ing com­pe­ti­tions, the fact that a fine-car nut like Dud could get that ex­cited by a load of old agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery was a rev­e­la­tion.

I man­aged to en­sure that Dud and Lester failed to meet, which would doubt­less have re­sulted in the rest of the af­ter­noon be­ing spent bor­ing for Europe as they dis­cussed com­pres­sion and fuel mixes. I thought no more of it. That is, un­til I spot­ted, while re­search­ing my auc­tion col­umn, just how much col­lec­tors are pay­ing for old trac­tors: £82,000 in April 2017 for a 1963 Mat­bro Broth­ers Mas­tiff at Ch­effins in Cam­bridge – a UK record for an old wheeled trac­tor. They fol­lowed that a month later by achiev­ing £80,000 for a 1917, In­ter­na­tional 12-25 “Twin” Mogul. Two very dif­fer­ent trac­tors, with 50 years of au­to­mo­tive de­vel­op­ment be­tween them, but two jaw-drop­ping auc­tion prices. What is go­ing on?

The first thing, at the bot­tom end of the mar­ket, is a grow­ing re­al­i­sa­tion that a small, sec­ond­hand/old trac­tor – a Massey Fer­gu­son 135 or a three-cylin­der Massey 35 are peren­nial favourites – makes a great al­ter­na­tive

to a new, sit-on “lawn” trac­tor for larger acreages as they are ex­pen­sive to main­tain, li­able to go wrong and ne­ces­si­tate a hefty ini­tial cap­i­tal out­lay cou­pled to a rel­a­tively short “work­ing” life. And I would cer­tainly think hard be­fore buy­ing an old one, even if cheap, as I sus­pect I would be buy­ing some­one else’s ex­pen­sive prob­lems. In stark con­trast, an old Massey tends to be sim­ple – and there­fore in­ex­pen­sive – to main­tain, easy to use and, if stored out of the rain and not overly abused, should still be do­ing the job decades from now.

“The small Masseys are the per­fect pad­dock trac­tors,” says Oliver God­frey, the man in the know at Ch­effins, who de­scribes them as “the Swiss Army knife” of trac­tors, as, with the right at­tach­ment, they can do just about any­thing and squeeze through all but the small­est gates while they are about it. The Massey is the one he would rec­om­mend to a friend want­ing a mul­ti­pur­pose trac­tor that is go­ing to do more than just smart lawns – for which the sit-on lawn trac­tor is still king.

Five or six years ago you could have bought a “good, ex-farm trac­tor”, ready to work, for an easy £2,000 to £2,500. Now, with the word al­ready out as to what good value they are, you would need to spend £4,000 to £5,000 at auc­tion. A fully re­stored ver­sion – there are a grow­ing num­ber of me­chan­ics who spe­cialise in re­build­ing and then main­tain­ing old trac­tors – would set you back £7,000 to £8,000; still less than a top-price lawn sit-on, mind you.

In 2014 – again at Ch­effins – they sold a, lit­er­ally, “as new” (it only had five miles on the clock) Massey 135 for £34,000; in 2016, an­other 135, this with 969 miles on it, ploughed through its £12,000 es­ti­mate to

sell for £19,000. A good investment for the fu­ture, I asked? Yes, God­frey an­swered, but only if you want to use it. Don’t ex­pect the price to jump any time soon. At £2,500 they were ridicu­lously cheap and, he be­lieves, the cur­rent ba­sic price is prob­a­bly about right for the time be­ing.

pad­dock top­per

And what did my brother-in-law, Mal­colm, who tops our pad­docks and lawns with his fa­ther’s an­cient-looking Massey 35, think of all this? “Blink­ing ob­vi­ous,” was his as­sess­ment. My fa­ther-in-law bought it for peanuts decades ago and it has been in con­stant use ever since. He saw no rea­son ever to sell it, although the ku­dos of driv­ing what was now deemed by God­frey as “a work­ing clas­sic” was en­tirely lost on him. He’d kill for heat­ing in win­ter and mu­sic would be nice and, come to think of it and best of all, a cup holder.

An­other per­son who has no in­ten­tion of sell­ing any of his an­cient and ex­tremely valu­able trac­tors is avid col­lec­tor, and farmer, Charles Lin­nel. He reck­ons that his ob­ses­sion with these won­der­ful beasts most prob­a­bly goes back to rid­ing trac­tors with his fa­ther on their farm as a young­ster. As he puts it, most small boys of his gen­er­a­tion col­lected Dinky and Bri­tain’s trac­tors, trucks and farm­yard an­i­mals: after all, most of us are only a gen­er­a­tion or two away from work­ing the fields. All that has hap­pened is that he has kept that in­ter­est go­ing and, in so do­ing, he is also help­ing pre­serve a whole way of life that has now all but dis­ap­peared. He showed me a 1918 San­der­son, to­day worth £50,000 plus, and re­called see­ing one be­ing driven onto a lorry in the 1950s to be taken away for scrap.

Also a vic­tim of an­cient ne­glect was a 1928, 50-horse­power Vick­ers – at the time the largest wheeled (as against tracked)

He cranked the han­dle and once it was go­ing it was as noisy as hell

trac­tor on the mar­ket. “Vick­ers?” I asked. It seems that after each ma­jor war, ar­ma­ments man­u­fac­tur­ers with huge iron and steel-mak­ing ca­pac­ity and a sud­den lack of cus­tomers tried to di­ver­sify. Of­ten, and fa­tal for their bot­tom line, they alighted on trac­tors. This one had lived in Aus­tralia

where the bored lo­cals had used it for tar­get prac­tice; it still has a load of bul­let holes in it. It is 100% orig­i­nal, how­ever, and he had bought it a year ago for £8,000 – “a gift”, as a rough-looking one had sold for £14,000 five years ago and he reck­oned this was worth about £22,000. Next he pointed out a 1920 Peter­bro’. This was the orig­i­nal works demon­stra­tor and had cost £400 back then: a huge amount of money but then this trac­tor would save a farmer a great deal in wages. When Lin­nel bought it the en­gine would not work. How­ever, de­duc­tion and a span­ner re­vealed that bees had used the cylin­ders, pis­ton heads and car­bu­ret­tor to build an un­usual hive, which had crys­tallised into hon­ey­comb. Paraf­fin and a high-pres­sure hose had sorted the prob­lem and “away she went”. Now one of only two orig­i­nal ones left in Eng­land, she is worth about £40,000.

Wasn’t he wor­ried about them be­ing pur­loined? He found that con­cept amus­ing. Some­one might steal them but they’d never be able to sell them. The cognoscenti – and we’re talk­ing about a world­wide brother­hood here – know where each one of these rare sur­vivors is and who owns it.

As a grand fi­nale, Lin­nel kindly al­lowed me to drive a 1920 Weeks Dungey, the only one of this model left. What a palaver it was to get it go­ing, com­pared to a modern vehicle, but doubt­less quicker by a coun­try fur­long than a bunch of labour­ers get­ting go­ing first thing in the morn­ing. The en­gine is started us­ing petrol – it has two sep­a­rate fuel tanks – and then, when it is hot, it is switched over to paraf­fin. He primed the carb un­til it was drip­ping: “Good!” – coun­ter­in­tu­itive to my modern mind. Then he cranked the han­dle un­til the en­gine caught. Once it was go­ing it was as noisy as hell, with a sharp clack­ing sound that would in time doubt­less knacker your hear­ing. And then I was off – easy, in fact, and small and neat to ma­noeu­vre as the iron wheels (this was long be­fore rub­ber tyres for trac­tors) scrunched over the stones and my smile grew ever broader as I trun­dled along on this unique piece of agri­cul­tural his­tory.

Lin­nel, says Oliver God­frey, is typ­i­cal of one type of col­lec­tor who was in­tent on pre­serv­ing our agri­cul­tural her­itage be­fore it was sent to the scrap­pies. Ch­effins has been sell­ing this stuff since the mid 1970s when prices were cheap. The Weeks Dungey had sold for £80,500 but, back then, would have cost a few thou­sand, tops. How­ever, and back then, “peo­ple didn’t know what these things were”. Since then, agri­cul­tural mu­se­ums have been cre­ated and there are spe­cial­ist mag­a­zines, which means that en­thu­si­asts now know what things are and, it fol­lows, what they are worth. And as the num­bers of en­thu­si­asts con­tin­ues to rise, so do prices.

The last word to Lin­nel, though. Shouldn’t landown­ers be scour­ing their barns for undis­cov­ered gems? That smile again: farm­ers are a canny lot and, while any­thing was pos­si­ble, he rather doubted that many of them didn’t know ex­actly what they had in their barns. And, if they had a gem lurk­ing un­der a tarp, then it was prob­a­bly re­main­ing “undis­cov­ered” for a very good rea­son.

This Mat­bro Mas­tiff (left) set a UK record for a wheeled trac­tor at auc­tion; not far be­hind was a 1917 12-25 In­ter­na­tional Mogul (above)

Above: a 1918 Holt 75 (left) and the 1928, 50hp Vick­ers with bul­let holes vis­i­ble (right) Left: this 1920 Peter­bro’ was the orig­i­nal works demon­stra­tor

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