Tractor Talk: 1955 Case 400D: Case Compact Power

1955 Case 400D: Case Compact Power

Sometimes big ideas come in smaller packages. Case in point: the 400 Series Case tractors that debuted for 1955. This was the first all-new J.I. Case tractor in 28 years. Not only did the 400 line get a new four-cylinder engine for diesel, gasoline, distillate and LPG fuels, it got an entirely new eight-speed final drive that would become a cornerstone design for many years to come.


The World of Diesel-Powered Tractors

Changes in the steering system, the seating arrangement and controls were also integrated. Most noticeably, the color scheme changed, from all red (elegantly termed Flambeau Red), to a combination of a Flambeau Red engine and final drive with tan (Desert Sunset) sheet metal. This combo would become the Case standard into 1969.

The 400’s 251D four-cylinder diesel engine was a chip off the old Case block… the Case 377D six-cylinder diesel that had debuted in 1953. Case was a late bloomer in the diesel tractor world (no pun intended), but they did it right when they did it, having started the process of designing a diesel in 1948. The 377-cid Lanova cell (which Case called the Powrcel) six-cylinder diesel hit the mark right off with only a few teething issues when it debuted in the 500 models. For 1955, Case debuted a four-cylinder version of the same basic design with the same 4-inch bore and 5-inch stroke. In fact, the 251-cubic-inch displacement is exactly that of the six less two cylinders. Many parts interchanged.

Both the 377D and 251D four had many notable design features. The 377 was a seven-main bearing engine with a deep skirted block for the ultimate in crankshaft support. Similarly, the 251-cid four was a five-main engine. Both were unusual features at the time, with sixes commonly being four-main and fours only three. The Case diesels and gas engines share the same blocks, so the gassers were extra stout. The Case engines were wet sleeved and featured paired cylinder heads. The 251 mounted two pairs and the 377 had three. They were interchangeable.

“49.40 belt horsepower and 328.5 lb-ft of torque…”

The paired cylinders made for easier repairs and fewer incidents with warped heads due to heat. The 251-cid four cranked out a Nebraska-rated 49.40 belt horsepower at 1,501 rpm but was rated at 328.5 lb-ft of torque at 1,106 rpm, with a whopping 307 lb-ft at 773 rpm. For 1957, both the Case four and six were enlarged to 267 cid and 401 cid, respectively. The four gained a six percent power boost in the process.

This 1955 401 rowcrop has the adjustable rear wheel track, the “Eagle” three-point hitch, and hydraulic system, but is lacking either the rear shaft PTO or center belt PTO. That’s somewhat unusual in a general-purpose tractor, where PTO work is often a part of the general purpose.

The early Case Powrcel engines were among the first direct-start AG diesels, spinning over with a pair of large 6-volt batteries. For cold starts, an ether system was installed which utilized a gelatin capsule filled with liquid ether. Placed near the operator was a tube, into which a thumb-sized capsule was inserted. The cover was installed and the driver had only to start cranking the engine, mash down on a handle and the engine got a shot of ether.

Let’s not ignore the Case 400 final drive. It was claimed to be the first eight-speed tractor, with a dual-range, single-stick four-speed transmission. The single lever had two four-speed shift patterns, with low range close to the operator and high towards the engine. The system worked well and was durable, but complex and a bit tricky to learn. By the end of the 1950s, the system would be adapted to a more conventional unit with a range lever. Being able to split the gear ranges was an important evolution in tractors.

The 400 line consisted of 15 variations starting with the 400 diesel standard, which had a fixed track and solid front axle. The 401 diesel rowcrop was next with an adjustable track (tricycle or wide front), followed by the 402 diesel orchard/vineyard, the 403 diesel high clearance, the 405 diesel orchard (different hitch than the 402), 420 diesel industrial, the 400 Western Special Diesel (a platform station tractor of a type that would one day be known generally as a “wheatland”), the 410 gas standard, the 411 gas rowcrop, the 412 gas orchard/vineyard, the 413 gas high-clearance, the 414 LPG orchard model, 425 gas industrial and the 415 gas orchard. As you may have just figured out, the middle digit indicated the fuel type, with “0” being compression ignition and “1” being spark ignition (which could be gasoline, distillate or LPG).

On the pump side of the 251D, you can see the American Bosch PSB series pump, the dual fuel filters and the paired cylinder heads. Paired heads were not unknown in the era, but were unusual. The heads were shared with the 377-cid six and made for a lot of production commonality for Case. The sleeves, pistons, rods, bearing shells, timing gear and many other parts were in common. You can also see the injectors, which are mounted horizontally on a Lanova engine. This engine bumped to 267 cid in 1957 with an 1/8-inch bore increase, but farther down the road it jumped again to 284, 301 and 336 displacements with bore and/or stroke dimension increases. This basic engine was in use and produced into the 1990s.

The proof meter on the old Case looks more like a clock than an hour meter.

Here’s the manifold side of the Case Powrcel four. Just in front of the manifold, you see a large hex cap. This is the Lanova cell, which can be removed for cleaning. If they get carboned up, performance is impaired. You can also see this block cracked at some point and has been welded. Such is life with 60-year-old tractors. Originally, two 6-volt batteries were mounted side by side, but with the improved batteries of today, a single 12-volt can now do the job.

The 400 lines had the options of a fixed or swinging drawbar or the “Eagle” hitch, a three-point system with draft control.

Hydraulics were optional, as well as a belt-drive PTO and/or a rear shaft live PTO. Power steering was optional in the 400 line and the seat was suspended for operator comfort.

“For cold starts, an ether system was installed which utilized a gelatin capsule filled with liquid ether.”

The 400 was built through 1957. That year, a Super 400 was introduced that featured a larger 54 hp (belt) 267-cid four and both types were sold concurrently. The 700B replaced the 400 line in 1958 but was largely the 400 Super with some restyling.

The 401 model was the most numerous of the 400 line, even outselling the gas model in three years of production. A bit more than 16,000 400 model tractors of all types were built in three years of production. The 400 line was a benchmark medium-sized tractor for Case, and for the tractor industry itself, and one that debuted during Case’s peak decade. J.I. Case wasn’t the biggest manufacturer but they were often leading the pack with innovative technology. DW

Typical Specifications: 1955 Case 401 Tractor

Engine: Four-cylinder Case
Displacement: 251 cid
Bore & Stroke: 4×5 in.
*Rated Power: 49.4 belt hp @ 1,501 rpm
*Rated Torque: 328.5 lbs-ft @ 1,106 rpm
Compression Ratio: 15:1
Transmission: Eight-speed
Weight: 6,580 lbs.
Tires: Front- 6.00-16/Rear- 13-38
*Fuel Consumption: 3.1 GPH
*Drawbar Pull: 6,008 lbs @ 16.5% slip
*Top Speed: 13.66 mph

*As Rated by Nebraska Tractor Test 565