Against the Odds
Words and photos by Craig Watson
Although being well-equiped and more capable than its size would suggest, the BMC Mini Tractor was a slow seller, and was updated to a bigger engine within less than three years.
First impressions might be to wonder what a tractor is doing in this magazine, but look closely at the unusual bonnet badge and the connection becomes clearer. The BMC Mini Tractor was an attempt to revolutionise the farming industry in the way the Mini had revolutionised the car industry.
However, the famous Ferguson TE20, often referred to as the Grey Fergie, had such a stronghold on the market that the Mini Tractor was doomed from the outset, despite being signifi cantly more advanced and capable.
The Nuffi eld Corporation entered the tractor market in 1948, on the back of the agricultural resurgence after the War. By 1965 Nuffi eld were building over 17,000 tractors a year (70% of which were exported), with production moving from the Ward End, Birmingham, factory to a new £12 Million plant at Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland. Opened in 1961, Bathgate employed over 5,000 people in its expansive 260 acre site.
By 1960 Nuffi eld could see a need for a small tractor, to “bridge the gap between expensive, large units and costly manpower on the mixed property”.
Development was carried out by Harry Ferguson Research Ltd – a company formed after Harry Ferguson had left the Ferguson company following its sale to Massey-Harris in 1953, and which had no relationship with the former company. According to Tractor and Farming Heritage magazine (March 2005) Harry Ferguson himself had no direct input into the design of the Mini Tractor, as he died suddenly in October 1960.
However, Ferguson’s indirect infl uence in the design of the tractor is evidenced by the similarity of a number of features with those made famous on the little Grey Fergie, in particular the self-centering three-point linkage, for implement control behind the tractor – called the Free Link by BMC – which had been patented by Ferguson in 1926.
However, the Mini Tractor had numerous improvements over the Fergie. Not the least of these was the gearbox, which gave nine forward and three reverse gears, the locking differential, which was a boon in slippery conditions, and live hydraulics, which obviated the need for the PTO to be engaged for hydraulic equipment to be operated.
The transmission featured three constant mesh gears, with an integrated high/medium/ low/reverse range gearbox.
The gear ratios in reverse were approximately equal to the medium range forward ratios, and ease of use was made by the Reverse position of the selector lever being directly opposite the Medium range position.
The fi rst two prototype tractors, registered 495 EUE and 496 EUE, and designated 9/16 – the Nuffi eld nomenclature for nine forward gears and 16hp – were completed in early 1965.
BMC had specifi ed that the tractor must utilize an existing engine from within their production range, and the A-series, being the smallest, was chosen.
If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 17 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>23</plumshop>