Classic Tractor Engine Modifications

Manufacturers have made great advances in tractor engines over the years.

| January 2016

Many companies have built hundreds of farm tractors over the years, from the 1910 Case 110 steam tractor to the latest-model John Deere 8320R. The most innovative models changed farming for years afterwards and influenced the designs of other tractors. The most wildly popular tractors have sold in the hundreds of thousands.

Tractor Superstars (Quarto Publishing Group, 2015) by Thomas E. Gaines. focuses on these remarkable tractors, including technical information such as the engine, horsepower, rpm, top speed, and weight. A wide collection of detailed photographs makes this one book that no one interested in tractors, tractor collectors, or anyone nostalgic for farm life will want to miss.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Tractor Superstars.

Engine Modifications

For as long as tractors have been designed and built, engineers have constantly been looking at ways to get more power out of the tractor or engine. As we learned in the previous chapter, engineers often used bigger engines to put more power through the powertrain. However, there were also numerous times when tractor engineers simply took an existing engine and beefed it up in one way or another. Sometimes it was as simple as adjusting the governor to increase the rated engine speed. Other times it involved making an internal modification to the piston or the valvetrain.

In other cases, a tractor company simply borrowed the engine from an automobile or truck division, modified it to some extent, and put it into a tractor. That was the solution for both Case and International Harvester on a few occasions. However, one of the biggest changes came when tractor manufacturers started offering a diesel engine as an option as early as the 1940s.

By 1960, of the 25 tractors tested at the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory, 14 had diesel engines. Fifteen years later, in 1975, all 30 tractors that were tested in Nebraska were powered by diesels. Today, engine modifications continue to improve fuel efficiency and boost horsepower. Consider, for example, that the Massey-Harris Challenger with its 247.7-cubic-inch engine cranked out just 28.58 horsepower on the belt when it was introduced in 1936. Seventy-seven years later, Massey Ferguson released the Model 5613, which is considered to be a utility tractor, rated at 125 engine horsepower and 100 horsepower on the PTO. In comparison to the Challenger’s 4.1-liter engine, the 5613 has a four-cylinder engine that is only slightly bigger at 4.4 liters.

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