1953 and 1959 Porsche Designed Tractors

Close your eyes and say the name “Porsche!” What pops into your mind is likely not the tractors you see here. Truth is, Professor Ferdinand Porsche, 1875-1951, designed a lot of thing from four-wheel drive electric cars, the car that would become the Volkswagen, a couple of German heavy tanks that rivaled the feared World War II Tiger II and Maus tanks. He also spend a fair bit of time designing farm tractors.

Hitler Made Him Do It

After working for various companies including Lohner, Austro-Daimler and Daimler-Benz early in his career, in 1931 Porsche started his own engineering consulting firm Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH, Konstruktionen und Beratungen für Motoren und Fahrzeugbau. We’ll just call that “Porsche” if it’s OK with you. Basically, you give him an idea and he works out the design. After he had a bit of money rolling in, he worked up ideas on his own and tried to license them to manufacturers. A moment in history would give his career a boost but also paste a swastika next to his name.

The roll bar is a later addition required by German law. Tractors have to be licensed in Germany as well, hence the license plate. Though the A-111 didn’t, some Porsche tractors used a dry clutch in front of a hydraulic coupling that operated much like a torque converter. The A-111 uses a portal style rear axle with gear reduction at the ends.

Shortly after Adolph Hitler became Germany’s Chancellor in 1933, he announced a plan to fully motorize Germany and put a car and/or tractor in the hands of every German. By the next year, Porsche had a contract to develop the Volks-Auto (People’s Car) and Volks-Schlepper (People’s Tractor). In the typical totalitarian regime “pay to play” fashion, Porsche had to renounce his Czech citizenship, gain German citizenship and become a Nazi party member. Most sources agree he wasn’t a Nazi at heart, at least in the way we now think of it. At the time he joined the party, it was just a political party, the ruling party, and if you wanted to get anywhere in business, you joined. In a few years by the time everyone realized what was happening… it was the proverbial offer you couldn’t refuse. We won’t go into the car that would become the Volkswagen, nor the military derivatives that would become the Kübelwagen and Schwimwagen, or even the tanks he designed, but here’s the skinny on the tractors.

At the working end of the A-111, we see how the sickle is belt driven off the rear PTO. There is also a typical drawbar and a less ordinary-looking, adjustable height pintle hitch of a type used mainly in Europe. We don’t know how much of this is original from Porsche or aftermarket, but like many popular American utility tractors, the aftermarket support for the Porsche tractors in Europe was huge.

Prewar Tractors

Porsche had already tinkered with several tractor ideas so the company jumped right in. The first Porsche tractors were very simple designs with a fluid clutch and air-cooled V-2 gasoline engines but by the time they were ready for production, the war  effort had taken over most of German industry and, like the civvy Volkswagen, not much happened beyond that.

Postwar Tractors

After the German defeat, the Allied Occupation Government pushed the manufacture of agricultural products. Many war-ravaged firms in Germany saw ag manufacturing as a way to get back on their feet. Porsche’s tractor designs were dusted off and revamped for prime time, but Dr. Porsche himself wasn’t involved. He was being held in a French prison for alleged war crimes.

One of the main things to come out of the tractor projects was the type 313 air-cooled diesel, the design of which was complete by 1945. At the end of the war, Porsche’s company was in disarray but Dr. Porsche’s son, Ferry, held it together and finished the development of a tractor, among other things. By 1949, the elder Porsche had been released from prison and helped finalize a deal with Allgaier, an Austrian agricultural manufacturing company, to build the Porsche tractors under license. The new design sold well and funds began rolling into Allgaier and Porsche’s bank accounts.

Typical of a wheatland style tractor, the operator’s station is entered from the rear and fully protected at the front from chaff and dirt by full fenders and other tin. It has a suspended seat that looks comfortable by 1959 standards. About the only “convenience” listed was a standard cigarette lighter. The GVI came with a hand operated clutch.

A big upgrade in 1952 yielded the Porsche System tractors with a substantially revised engine. The new units were upgraded with hydraulics and other modern features. Allgaier decided to move away from tractor manufacturing in 1955 and sold the Porsche licenses, and their tractor factory, to Mannesmann AG, who built the same tractor into 1957. That year, with some technical upgrades, the slightly restyled tractors were rebranded Porsche-Diesel. By 1958, the tractors had undergone further revision, been given new designations and the greatly expanded production included the 14 hp, 1-cylinder Junior, 25 hp, 2-cylinder Standard, 3-cylinder, 38 hp Super and the 4-cylinder, 50 hp Master.

The engines were all based on a modular design with a 50.15 ci cylinder that could be configured for one to four cylinders (and likely more if desired). They were direct injected and each head and cylinder were separate and identical so there was a lot of parts interchange. Air-cooled diesels were fairly common in Europe at that time, with several companies producing them. Deutz is one very similar modular diesel and it’s similar enough to wonder whose design influenced who.

A 1959 Porsche-Diesel Standard Model 218 built by Mannesmann, who redesignated all the tractors. The 2-cylinder Standard Model 218 was roughly equivalent to the Allgaier A-122. Going back to the green A-111 nearby, it was equivalent to the Mannesmann Junior Model 108. The tractors from Mannesmann and Allgaier were largely the same but differed a lot in detail. This tractor was sold in an auction in 2014 and made over $19,000.

Sales of the Porsche-Diesel tractors were very good in Europe and it was decided to begin marketing them in North America. After a few independent sales by a dealer in Connecticut, American Porsche Diesel Corporation was set up in Easton, Pennsylvania, to do just that and sales began here in 1959. It was a modest success here but, worldwide, Porsche-Diesel tractor sales began lagging when the market became saturated by too many brands. In 1963, Mannesmann decided to move into other areas of manufacturing and by January of 1964, their factory was making tank engines for NATO and the last few tractors were assembled from parts in the parking lot.

It’s estimated about 1,000 Mannesmann-built Porsche-Diesel tractors were sold in North America, about 700 in the USA and 300 in Canada. The best sellers in North America were the Junior and the Master because they were features standouts in their classes and fit the market best. They all had a solid and economical powertrain, three PTOs (two rear and one center), a good hydraulic system and a diff lock. The European tractor model didn’t always work here, but the Porsche tractors were close enough to have a shot at it. Marketing was ramping up and finding new dealers by the time production stopped. It isn’t clear how successful Porsche tractors could have been here but it’s clear they didn’t get the opportunity for a full shot at it.

The engine in the Junior is essentially same design as the Allgaier. With a Bosch PH pump, these engines made roughly 11-14 horsepower per cylinder depending on year. In 1961, the bore was increased from 3.74 to 3.86 inches and there was a power increase of about two ponies per cylinder.

Two of Porsche-Diesel tractors were tested at the University of Nebraska test lab in 1959, the single-cylinder Junior and the three-cylinder Super. The Junior was rated at 11.29 PTO hp, produced up to 9.58 drawbar hp and delivered 2482 lbs of pull at maximum ballast (800 lbs). The three-cylinder Super delivered 37 PTO hp and  up to 33.4 drawbar hp with a maximum of 6,411 lbs of pull with max ballast (3386 lbs.). The two-cylinder Standard would have likely performed somewhere in the middle of those two benchmarks, likely in the 20 PTO hp range.

From the start of production by Allgaier to the last units built by Mannesmann in 1964, some 125,000 Porsche-licensed tractors were built. Despite the increasing pizzazz associated with the Porsche name, these tractors were contenders in the markets in which they were sold based on their own merits. No doubt, they are the slowest thing to ever wear the legendary Porsche name but certainly lived up to the quality associated with that nameplate.


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