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Fordson Restoration

Fordson restored by volunteers at Beacon Mens Shed Community Workshop

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Restored Fordson Tractor new teal colour paint
Fordson tractor perfectly restored to navy blue with orange wheel hubs


  • Fordson Model F
  • Fordson Model N
  • Fordson All-Around (also called Fordson Row Crop)
  • Fordson Major E27N
  • Fordson New Major
  • Fordson Dexta
  • Fordson Power Major
  • Fordson Super Major (called the Ford 5000 in U.S.)
  • Fordson Super Dexta (called the Ford 2000 Diesel in U.S.)
close-up of rusty Fordson cast iron brand on tractor

Fordson Tractors

Fordson was a brand of tractors and trucks manufactured by Henry Ford & Son Inc from 1917 to 1920, by Ford Motor Company (U.S.) and Ford Motor Company Ltd (U.K.) from 1920 to 1964.

They later also built trucks under the Fordson brand. American engineer, inventor, and businessman Henry Ford built experimental tractors from automobile components during the early 20th century, and launched a prototype known as the Model B in August 1915. Further prototypes, with a dedicated tractor design, followed in 1916. With World War I raging in Europe, the first regular-production Henry Ford & Son tractors were exported to the U.K. in 1917 to expand British agriculture. In 1918, exports continued, the tractors began to be labeled as Fordsons, and U.S. domestic sales began. Sales boomed in 1918 and 1919.

Between 1917 and 1922, the Fordson was for tractors somewhat like the Ford Model T was for automobiles—it captured the public’s imagination and widely popularized the machine, with a reliable design, a low price affordable for workers and farmers, a widespread dealership network, and a production capacity for large numbers. The Fordson helped people to appreciate how soon tractors might replace most horses in farming (advancing the mechanisation of agriculture). As with cars, Ford never had the market to itself, but it dominated the market for a time (for cars, roughly 1910-1925; for tractors, roughly 1917-1925). Ford was the only automotive firm to sell cars, trucks and tractors simultaneously from 1917 to 1928.

For a decade between 1928 and 1939, Ford of the U.S. left the tractor business. During that decade, Ford of England continued to build Fordsons and to develop new variants, which it exported widely. In 1939 Ford of the U.S. reentered the tractor market with an all-new model, this time with the Ford brand. Ford of England continued to use the Fordson brand until 1964.

Fordson production occurred in the U.S. (1917–1928); Cork, Ireland (1919–1923 and 1928–1933); and at Dagenham, Essex, England  (1933 –1964). Tens of thousands of Fordsons, most from the U.S. and some from Ireland, were exported to the Soviet Union from 1920 to 1927. Soviet Fordson clones were also built at Leningrad from 1924 and at Stalingrad from 1930.

Ford Origins

Model F and Model N

The first prototypes of the new Henry Ford & Son tractor, which would later be called the Fordson, were completed in 1916. World War I was raging in Europe, and the United Kingdom, a net importer of food, was desperate for tractors in its attempt to expand its agriculture enough to feed Britain despite the great shipping disruption of the war. In 1917, the British Ministry of Munitions selected the Fordson for both importation from the U.S. and domestic U.K. production. It was thought that domestic U.K. production was preferable because so much Atlantic shipping was being sunk that exporting tractors from the U.S. would be counterproductive, as many would be lost at sea. This was soon modified to exclude the London area because of concerns about its vulnerability to German attacks. Henry Ford decided to build the tractor at Cork, Ireland (which at the time was still part of the U.K.), partly because he wanted to bring jobs to, and foster industriousness in, southern Ireland. But the Cork plant did not begin production until 1919, after the war had ended. As events turned out, thousands of tractors were exported from the U.S. in 1917 and 1918.

The tractor used a 20 hp (15 kW), inline four-cylinder engine. The engine was similar to the Ford Model T engine in many respects. Like many engines of its day, it was multifuel-capable; it was usually tuned for gasoline or kerosene, but alcohol could also be burned. (Tractor vaporising oil [TVO] existed in 1920 but was not yet widely used. It entered broader use in the 1930s and 1940s.)

Like many other multifuel machines, the Fordson started on gasoline from a small auxiliary tank and then switched over to the main fuel tank once warmed up sufficiently (no more than 5 minutes]). To handle the kerosene (or, rarely, TVO), the intake system had a vaporizer downstream of the carburetor. The mixture coming from the carburettor was intentionally rich, and the vaporizer heated it and mixed it with more air to lean it out to the final ratio before entering the intake manifold. The intake system also had a water-bath air cleaner to filter the dust out of the air inhaled by the engine (an invention that did not originate at Ford but that was still rather novel in 1917). Air cleaning is critical to engine lifespan,  most especially for farming and construction vehicles (which work in environments where dirt is frequently stirred up into the air). The Fordson carburettor and air cleaner were designed by Holley. In later decades, the water bath would be replaced with an oil bath for better filtering performance.

The ignition system was similar to that of the Model T, with a flywheel-mounted low-tension magneto and trembler coils. The ignition timing was manually advanced or retarded with the spark advance lever mounted near the steering column, which rotated the timer. The cooling wasby thermosiphon. (In later decades, a high-tension magneto and a water pump would be added.) The transmission was a three-speed spur gear (the three forward speeds ranged from approximately 21⁄4 to 61⁄4 mph). A worm drive reduction set and a differential made up the rear. The design of the rear was patented for its ease of manufacture and service. Brakes were not provided on early Fordsons, as high-ratio worm sets generally transmitted rotation in one direction only, from the worm element to the gear element, because of the high power loss through friction. To stop the tractor, the driver depressed the clutch.

Ford engineer Eugene Farkas successfully made the engine block, oil pan, transmission, and rear axle stressed members constituting the frame. By eliminating the need for a heavy separate frame, costs were reduced and manufacturing was simplified. Ford held a patent on a unit-frame tractor. 

The rear wheels were fabricated steel, spoked and cleated. The earliest ones were 12-spoke; a 14-spoke version followed. Several models of front wheel were used, including 10-spoked fabricated steel and 5-spoke cast iron. Industrial models also used other wheels designed for specific tasks, including aftermarket wheels.

The name “Fordson” was not yet widely used in 1916 and 1917, nor was “Model F”. Terms such as “the [real/genuine] Ford tractor” or “the Henry Ford tractor” were used at this time. Henry Ford & Son had used the cable address “Fordson” for years. In 1918, it was adopted as the brand name marked on the tractors. In April 1918, U.S. sales began under County War Board distribution rules. The Model F designation (for essentially the same model, with improvements) began in 1919. Sales boomed in 1918 and 1919.

There was nothing about the Fordson’s design or farming capabilities that was a “first ever” among tractors (the unit frame was novel for tractors, but that didn’t give it special farming advantages). But it was the first tractor that combined all of the following factors: it was small, lightweight, mass-produced, and affordable; it had a large distribution network (dealers nearby in many locales); and it had a widely trusted brand (via Ford). Such factors made it possible for the average farmer to own a tractor for the first time. Ford incorporated his private company, Henry Ford and Son Inc, to mass-produce the tractor on July 27, 1917. The Fordson tractor went into mass production in 1917 and debuted for sale on October 8, 1917, for US$750.

 “Fordson.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia,

The Free Encyclopedia, 2 May. 2018.  

By the late 1930s, Henry Ford’s enthusiasm for reentering the tractor market was growing, but he still did not have a design or features that could ensure a runaway, market-changing success. His idea for a tractor with one large drive wheel was extensively developed, but the prototypes did not perform well. Various people who worked on it have wondered whether it was just a ruse to mislead Ford’s competitors about his real intentions for a coming model, but it seems that he was quite serious about it and was probably disappointed that it did not work out; if it had worked, it would have been a powerful fulfillment of his penchant for simplicity and very low cost.

His 1938 meeting with Harry Ferguson was the turning point that led to the next Ford tractor, the 9N. The Ferguson system, whose hitch we now call the three-point hitch, gave Ford the kind of new and special feature that he was wishing to find—something to give a groundbreaking competitive advantage to any new Ford tractor entering the market. After the 1939 introduction of this new line of “Ford” tractors made in the U.S. (the Ford N-Series tractors), there was very little importation of English Fordson models to the U.S.


The Fordson E27N Major was an upgrade to the Fordson N, and made in England from March 1945, having the same engine and transmission as the Model N, but in a new casting which allowed for a PTO and a hydraulic lift unit manufactured by either Smiths or Varley. The differential however was of completely new design. For the first time Fordson owners could purchase a tractor from the dealer fully equipped with 3PL, PTO, full electrics and an adjustable-width front axle, allowing the tractor to work row-crops. Available in many different versions, one such as the crawler conversion made by County, and the half-tracked version by Roadless. from 1948 onwards the Perkins P6(TA) could be ordered fitted from the factory, giving the tractor a 45 hp power unit, and improving on the design that was let down by the under-powered petrol/TVO engine. The E27N was a popular Machine with Australian farmers, setting the way for large sales of the New Major (E1A).


Post-war shortages delayed the development of an entirely new tractor. In 1952, the “New Major” entered production with an all new all Ford engine range.The 4D engine was designed and manufactured in UK at Dagenham and was available as Diesel, Petrol or Petrol/Kerosene. The tractor had a 6 speed modified version of the E27N transmission. The driver sat significantly lower, which led to the E27N being nicknamed the ‘High Major’. In 1958, – the Power Major – was introduced with 51.8 hp and an improved transmission and ‘live-drive’ hydraulics, and then in 1960 the final version, the Super Major came out with a weight transfer system and differential lock. The Super Major was produced until 1964. These tractors were exported to the US – the first since 1939 – badged as Fords.


Meanwhile, a smaller new three-cylinder version which was named the Dexta had been launched to compete with the success of the Massey Ferguson 35, of which it shared the basic engine, gearbox and differential casings as well as many other parts. Both tractors featured the Perkins A3 engine, with a few differences. The engine was at 144 cubic inches in early Dextas, whereas later machines and all MF 35’s had the 152 cid version. The two tractors also had different injector systems and many further differences despite their common platform. The gasoline version of the Dexta basically had the same Standard engine as the Ferguson TEA and FE 35, one difference being that the starter was relocated to the right side on the Dexta. Unlike the Ferguson, the gasoline Dexta had the same gearbox castings as the diesel version.

After 1964, the Fordson name was dropped and all Ford tractors were simply badged as Fords in both the UK and the US.


Starting around 1961, the U.S. tractor operations and the Ford Ltd U.K. tractor operations, which had been substantially independent although always in close communication, were reorganized into closer integration. After 1964, all tractors made by the Ford companies worldwide carried the Ford brand. In 1986, Ford expanded its tractor business when it purchased the Sperry-New Holland skid-steer loader and hay baler, hay tools and implement company from Sperry Corporation and formed Ford-New Holland which bought out Versatile tractors in 1988. In 1991 Ford sold its tractor division to Fiat with the agreement that they must stop using the Ford name by 2000. In 1999, Fiat removed all Ford identification from their blue tractors and renamed them “New Holland” tractors.

“Fordson.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2 May. 2018.

Vintage 1919 Fordson tractor schematic diagram
Diagram of the Fordson Tractor