Ford Motor Company entered the 50s battling a lawsuit with former partner Harry Ferguson and fighting to rebuild their market share after being out of the U.S. tractor business altogether in the 30s and surviving wartime restrictions in the 40s.
In the 20s, Ford had dominated the tractor market in the same way they dominated the car market. When the decade began, there were at least 166 tractor manufacturers building around 200,000 machines per year. In 1921, there was an economic recession, and Henry Ford responded by cutting his prices, first from $785 for a Fordson to $620. Other tractor makers responded. So Ford dropped his price again, to $395. This time, small, independent manufacturers couldn’t cut any deeper, and hundreds of competitors went out of business. By the end of the decade, there were only around 10 tractor companies of any consequence left.
Then, technology caught up with Ford. The Fordson, like most early tractors were good at plowing and stationary engine applications, but not much else. In 1924, International Harvester introduced the “all purpose” Farmall. With its high, 30-inch ground clearance and front wheels that would fit between corn or cotton rows, the Farmall could cultivate crops as well as plow. That was a first. Other manufacturers and the U.S. customers responded. Ford did not.
So, in 1928, Ford shifted his U.S. tractor production line to building the new Model-A car, and consolidated tractor production, first in Ireland and then in England where demand for the Fordson Model “N” continued.
Then Harry Ferguson and his revolutionary three-point hitch came into the picture in 1938, and an aging Henry Ford was back in the U.S. tractor business – just in time for World War II. Wartime production of tractors was encouraged but limited.
After the war, the Ford Models “9N,” “2N” and “8N” began selling well. Just in time for the partnership with Ferguson to end in a long, bitter lawsuit. Ferguson went out on his own for a while and then merged with Massey-Harris.
- Ford Model “8N.” In 1947, the “8N” replaced the wartime “2N” with basically the same engine but with a four-speed transmission, the left and right brake pedals on the same side of the transmission and a better steering system. Ford sold more tractors that year than in any of the previous 20 years. The “8N” produced around 21 horsepower on the drawbar and was produced until 1953.
- The “NAA Jubilee.” 1953 was the 50th anniversary of Ford Motor Company, and the company celebrated with a completely new model, the “NAA.” It had 26 HP and was produced for two years.
- The British “Fordson Major” series and “Ford 5000 Diesel.” In Great Britain, a separate design team was responding to European market pressures by building larger diesel tractors. From 1951-58, they built the “Fordson New Major” with 45 HP. That was succeeded by the “Power Major” from ’58-60 with 52 HP, and the “Super Major” from ’60-63. The Super had the same horsepower but with better draft control hydraulics, disk brakes and a manual differential lock. The “Super Major” was imported back to the U.S. and sold as the “Ford 500.”
- The British “Fordson Dexta.” In 1957, the “Dexta” was introduced in Europe as a compact tractor with 27 HP. The “Super Dexta” came along in 1962 with 39 HP, and it was imported back to the U.S. as the Ford “2000.”
- The U.S. “Hundred” Series. In the meantime, Ford U.S. brought out four models from 1955-56. The “600” and “700” both had around 30 HP on the drawbar with the “600” set up as a utility or plowing tractor while the “700” was a row crop version with high ground clearance. The “800” and “900” both had around 40 HP with the “900” as the row crop tractor.
- The “1” Series. From 1957-62, Ford brought out a series where all the model numbers ended in a “1.” The first numeral – the ‘hundreds’ place – indicated the relative power and configuration. The second numeral indicated the transmission, hitch and PTO options. The “501,” “601” and “701” series all had the same 27-29 HP engine. But the “501” series were offset, high clearance tractors, the “601” series were utility configurations, and the “701” series were row crop tractors. So, if a farmer wanted a row crop tractor with around 30 HP, he chose the “701” series and then chose from the “second numeral” options. For example, the “721” had a four-speed transmission but no PTO or three-point hitch. The “741” had all three. The option choices increased as the numbers went up. So, the “781” had a “Select-O-Speed” transmission, two-speed PTO and three-point hitch. The “801” and “901” series had the same options available and boasted between 35 and 40 HP depending on fuel type.
- The “Thousand” Series. In 1961, Ford brought out a new, higher-powered series of tractors that would see them through to the end of the decade. The first was the high powered, 60HP Model “6000.” But the design hadn’t had enough testing and developed engine and transmission problems. Ford retooled the design and reintroduced the tractor with a whole new paint scheme. Gone was the red and white paint and in its place was the new trademark blue and white. In 1962, the line was expanded to include the Model “2000” (based on the British Dexta) with 32 HP, and the Model “5000” (based on the British Super Major) with 40 HP. The “4000” was introduced in 1963 with 42 HP.
- The World Tractor Concept. In 1965, Ford consolidated all of its models and eliminated the practice of producing different designs for different markets. They retained the same numbering scheme, but upped the horsepower of most models. The “2000” now offered 27 HP on the drawbar, the “3000” was at 33-35 HP, the “4000” produced around 40 HP, the “5000” around 50, and the “6000” around 60 HP. In 1968, the “8000” pushed the horsepower window up a little producing 86 HP, and a year later the “9000” upped the window again producing 110 HP.
Written by Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First published in 2007. A partial bibliography of sources is here.