The New Major Takes Command - Diesel World

1958 Fordson New Major E1A

The Fordson tractor line started in 1916 as another chip off the old Ford block. Henry Ford Company was dominating the American auto market with the legendary Model-T when the founder’s interest in agriculture led to a new tractor that embodied everything the Model-T stood for: simplicity, reliability, and low cost.

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You Don’t Mess With Henry!

The new tractors might have been badged “Ford,” but some cheeky entrepreneurs in Minnesota preempted Henry by locking up the “Ford” name for tractors, thinking they could either capitalize on the growing Ford name recognition or force Henry to buy them out. They actually built some tractors, but they should have known better than to mess with Henry Ford. He called his new tractor the “Fordson” to foil the Minnesota usurpers, who quickly faded away. The name was a slurring of Henry Ford and Son Company, the name Henry chose in 1917 for his new tractor company.

Irish and British Production

Ford established an English subsidiary in 1911 and planned to start a manufacturing plant in Ireland to build tractors and other products. The aim was to eventually manufacture all or most Ford products in the British Isles with a goal of increasing sales in Europe. Dearborn-built Fordson Model F tractors were already being sold in England, but when they started rolling off the line in Cork, Ireland, in 1919, they became even more popular. The Cork plant also producing materials for World War I.

Fordson F tractor production was discontinued in Cork in 1922 because of the Irish Rebellion and declining markets, but production continued in the U.S. through 1927. Early in 1928, Henry Ford abruptly ceased tractor production in the U.S., ostensibly because his market share had fallen and if he couldn’t dominate the market here, it wasn’t worth his time. He did, however, reopen the Cork plant because the European market for Fordson was still very profitable. Ford operations in England gradually gained more autonomy to deal with their unique market issues, and when tractor production resumed in 1929, it was the Fordson Model N, an evolved version of the Model F.  A new Ford plant was opened in Dagenham, England, in 1933, and the Cork plant was again closed. Dagenham would become Fordson and Ford tractor HQ in England for many decades.

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The key to the E1A New Major success was the 4D engine. When it debuted in 1952, it was a modern, five-main bearing, wet-sleeved, direct-injected, direct-start diesel. It was designed to be used in ag, industrial, or automotive applications, with manifolding, injection pump calibration differing to suit the application. The rpm range differed as well, with the ag applications limited to 1600 rpm and trucks as high as 2400. The Mark II engine, which appeared in April of 1957, incorporated some improvements including revised cylinder head port arrangements, updates to the rocker gear, block updates to improve lubrication, revisions to the pistons for a better combustion chamber, injection calibration changes to increase power, increased diameter injection nozzle spray holes, and a host of smaller details. While the actual power figure was not advertised for the Mark II, 44 horsepower is often cited. More small improvements would be added to gain the 51.8 horsepower advertised for the Power Major, but most of those were of the tuning variety rather than major updates.

Let’s fast forward now to 1945 and the introduction of the E27A Major. The Fordson N had been a popular part of the British and European farming market since it’s introduction in 1933. The U.K-built Fordson N had also traveled back to the U.S. in small numbers during the American Fordson tractor production hiatus. They carried the flag here until the all new Ford/Ferguson 9N debuted for 1939. Despite a fair bit of introductory hoopla, the 1945 E27N Major was mostly a refreshed Fordson N at heart. That wasn’t optimal, but the British manufacturing industry was shattered from the war, and the economy was even worse. Materials rationing and financial woes prevented the work needed to do a new tractor from the ground up. That would finally happen in 1952 with the E1A New Major.

The New Major

The E1A New Major incorporated everything Fordson knew about tractors and the tractor market in Britain and Europe. One of those lessons was the efficacy of diesel power. Later in its production, the E27A Major was offered with a diesel engine from Perkins, and it was a popular option. Diesel power was a cornerstone in the New Major line and not an outside-sourced engine either. Ford of England developed its own line of diesels and a version was developed for the New Major.

The New Major was not all new. It shared a basic platform size with the N and a few large parts such as the front axle. While the final drive had similar external dimensions, there was a lot of new stuff inside. Although the main box was still a three-speed, the engineers added a range box that enabled six total gear splits. An integral hydraulic pump was added and the upper belt PTO was eliminated.

The big news, of course, was the engine. The new five-main four was developed from scratch and simultaneously for diesel fuel, gasoline, and TVO (Tractor Vaporizing Oil ). The gas and TVO engines were 198 cubic inches. The diesel was 220 cubic inches, with a larger 3.94-in bore (vs 3.74-in.). What’s TVO? It was a cross between what the Brits call paraffin (kerosene) and gasoline. We had a similar product here called “distillate,” A.K.A. tractor fuel. Both are basically kerosene with an octane rating. TVO and distillate engines faded out because they were cranky to start, got worse fuel economy that gas or diesel, and developed less power. The fuel was cheaper and, in the case of the Brits, untaxed, but the downsides exceeded the benefits. Plus, about the time of the New Major debut, the British government levied a tax on TVO, further negating its benefits. By 1953, 95 percent of New Major production were diesels.

The new diesel engine initially developed 34 PTO horsepower at 1400 and 37 at 1600. This was the continuous ag rating. Industrial and Automotive rating were higher. Drawbar was 29.75 horses max (these early numbers come from Allan Condie’s great Fordson New Major E1As 1951-64 book). Now, that doesn’t sound like a lot of power, but if you compare it to many tractors on the market in the U.K., those are marketable outputs. Because this engine was also used in trucks and for stationary power, it was a very cost-effective powerplant for Ford of England.

Back to the USA

Though production had started in November of 1951, Fordson New Majors didn’t arrive in the U.S. until September of 1953. Ford was building it’s own line in Dearborn, Michigan, which complicated the distribution and marketing of the Brit-built tractors. Nonetheless, the New Major found a place here, proving the Fordson name had not been forgotten. Its biggest strength compared to the U.S.-built tractors of the day was the modern, direct-start diesel engine. It was also a little bigger and heavier, making for a better heavy-tillage unit.

The New Major was the only American diesel option from Ford from 1953-’58, but as the Dearborn tractor plant began producing a diesel of its own in 1955, the New Major entered a sales limbo. The apparent marketing schizophrenia is a long story, one which we have discussed before. It led to the wise World Tractor program, which debuted in 1964 with all new tractors distributed worldwide.

The New Major underwent some evolution, but the changes were generally minor. The Mark II engine, which began production in April 1957, was an exception. It had a large number of breathing, fuel system, and internal durability improvements leading to a power increase to 44 horsepower—a milestone which wasn’t advertised. The next evolution, the Power Major in late 1958, had a 51.8-horsepower Mark III engine and only a few updates over the Mark II. Also in 1957, the New Major got a live PTO, a necessary option for keeping pace with the market.

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Though missing some linkage, you can see the three-point gear, rear PTO, and swinging drawbar standard on the New Major. Most of the Dearborn implement worked here, including the rear mower forage harvester, disc plow, sickle mower, Danuser blade, and post hole digger, just to mention a few. Power steering was optional, though this tractor doesn’t have it.

When the Fordson Power Major debuted in July of 1958, it was largely the same  tractor, albeit with updates. The Super Major replaced it with even more updates for 1960. Both of these tractors were imported in numbers that were likely small. The Ford 6000 debuted in 1961 as the big Ford tractor, partly supplanting the place held by the New Major. As part of the new “Thousand Series”-model designations, the Super Major was badged as the Ford 5000 Diesel for 1962 and repainted the blue and grey colors of the period. It soldiered on through 1963 and into 1964. Major production ceased in 1964 with the advent of the World Tractor program as a host of all-new tractors emerged and were shared all over the world. A few bits of Major DNA soldiered on including the engine and a six-cylinder derivative of it called the 330 or 6D.

The E1A Major (and all its iterations) had begun as an advanced tractor, but it was good enough to hold its own against competition even as it grew long in the tooth. It was best suited to the U.K. and European markets where it was more a “mainline” tractor for the customarily smaller farms. Here, the larger acreages dictated larger tractors, but the Major made a fine utility machine.

History has been kind to the Major because it had few vices and no notorious problems. Thousands were made, and its a relatively easy-to-maintain classic tractor with good parts availability. For American collectors, however, that means dealing with suppliers in the U.K. because we had only a small percentage of Major production.