A Varied Trio of Old Tractors

A retired mechanic boasts a set of old tractors comprised of American, French and British machines.

Allis-Chalmers D272

There’s a lovely, warm patina to the old Allis-Chalmers D272 now that the lurid orange paint has faded.

Photo by Josephine Roberts

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Tony Jones of North Wales is a pleasant person to visit. Not only is he easy company – someone you can chew the fat with for hours, oblivious to time sailing by – he also has a fascinating set of three very different tractors. It’s a neat and varied collection of tractors: One is of American origin, one hails from over the channel in France and one is totally British.

Whilst Tony’s Allis-Chalmers D272 is American in name, she was actually built at the Allis factory in Essendine, Lincolnshire, here in the U.K. Does this make her British? I don’t think so. To me, all Allis tractors are American, regardless of where they were built.

Tony’s Allis D272 is a bit of a curiosity. She appears to date to 1961 – the casting date on the gearbox certainly reads “21.12.61” – indicating that the tractor might have been assembled as late as 1962. However, as Tony points out, most authorities suggest production of this particular model ceased in 1960, so the date on the gearbox is something of a mystery. Nothing is ever straightforward, it seems. There are always tractors that don’t fit in with what the books have to say.

Tractor with local ties

Tony, a retired mechanic, hadn’t gone looking for an Allis-Chalmers, but she was interesting in that she was a bit different from the Massey Fergusons, Fordson Majors and Fergusons we regularly see in our shows. What clinched the deal for Tony was that this Allis had a connection to the part of North Wales where he lives.

“It is an unusual tractor in that it was clearly one of the last ones made,” he says, “but the real reason I wanted it was because it has something of a local history.” The tractor was used for most of its life as a grounds tractor at Howell’s School, a private school for girls in Denbigh, North Wales.

The Allis was bought new for use at the school, but it wasn’t road registered until a few years later, in 1971. Before that, the tractor had been used solely on the school’s grounds. In 1971, however, Howell’s School acquired land separate from the main campus, requiring the tractor to be road legal. The Allis has a Perkins 3-cylinder engine; these tractors were available either with a 4-cylinder petrol engine or with the Perkins diesel. Tony has left the original grass tires on the tractor, the same ones on it when it was used to mow and roll the school grounds and sports fields. These tires are part of its story as a groundskeeper’s tractor, and in any case tires don’t come cheap, so why not use what you already have?

Tony is fond of the Allis, of course, but when it comes to driver comfort, he has a few reservations. “It isn’t the nicest tractor in the world to drive,” he says with a laugh, adding that the brakes and steering have a rather primitive feel. “It has the feel of a very old-fashioned tractor,” he says, “and in many ways it was quite outdated, even when it was new.”

Nuffield launches a hobby

Tony has a massive interest in local history, in particular our industrial and agricultural heritage. An interest in mining and steelworks merged with an interest in vintage machinery, which in turn led to an interest in old tractors. The first tractor Tony drove, as a child on his grandfather’s farm, was a Standard Fordson. Later, Tony worked in a garage. “We fixed a bit of everything back then,” he recalls. But that varied training helped turn mechanics like Tony into amazing “all-rounders” – the sort of people who could turn their hands to mending just about anything.

Tony bought his first tractor in 2000. It was a purchase that marked the beginning of a hugely fulfilling retirement hobby. Some people struggle to fill their time when they retire, but if you own an old tractor there’s never a dull moment. There’s always something that needs attention, and there’s a whole social life out there full of like-minded folks. Tony is actively involved in tractor and vintage events, and he regularly takes his tractors to shows and on road runs.

 When Tony was a young man working as a mechanic, he became familiar with all of the current makes of tractor here in the U.K. One tractor he always admired was the Nuffield. Few farmers in this part of North Wales actually used Nuffield tractors, so it was quite rare to be asked to repair one. There was something about the way they were put together that Tony liked and he never forgot that. When the opportunity came years later to buy a classic tractor, one make was in the forefront of Tony’s mind, and that of course was the Nuffield.

Tony found his Nuffield 10/60 for sale locally. Sold new to a North Wales farmer in 1965, it hadn’t travelled far since. After a year, the tractor was traded for a new 4-wheel drive tractor. The Nuffield was then sold to a buyer in a village called Bryneglwys not far from where Tony lives. In Bryneglwys, the Nuffield was used for many years as a ploughing tractor, right up until 15 years ago, in fact, when Tony heard that it was for sale. To find the tractor of his dreams, so close, was fantastic. It opened up the sort of hobby that leaves a person wondering how he ever had time to work before!

Innovative design

The Nuffield tractor went into production in 1948, built by the Agricultural Division of British Morris Motors, later a subsidiary of British Motor Corp. When Morris Motors founder William Morris was given a title, he chose Nuffield – the name of his Oxfordshire village – and hence became Lord Nuffield. When the Agricultural Deptartment of Morris Motors launched a range of tractors in 1948, Nuffield seemed like the obvious name for them too.

The earliest Nuffield models ran on petrol/paraffin, but by 1950 diesel examples were available. Between 1964 and 1967, the 10/60 with its 3.8 engine was produced. The 10/60 claimed to be the first British tractor to have 10 forward gears. It was certainly the first Nuffield tractor to be equipped with power take-off and hydraulic linkage with interchangeable dual category lower link ball ends as standard equipment. Disc brakes were another 10 series innovation, and independent power take-off was fitted as standard equipment to the deluxe models.

In 1968, British Motor Corp.’s holding company amalgamated with Leyland Motor Corp., and the company became known as British Leyland. Tractor production continued under the Nuffield name until 1969, when the tractors were renamed as Leyland tractors. The orange-red colour scheme was lost and the new Leyland tractors were born with a two-tone blue livery. It was the end of an era for Nuffield.

A French connection

The Nuffield 10/60 is without doubt Tony’s favorite tractor. It is a good, strong, no-nonsense tractor and it’s a joy to drive. It is very fast on the roads too, making it ideal for road runs, but it isn’t the rarest machine ever, and for that reason it probably doesn’t attract a huge amount of attention at shows. Tony’s most recent purchase, a little French Société Française Vierzon tractor, by contrast, attracts attention wherever it goes. No one, or at least hardly anyone, knows what this tractor is. If we see a green tractor with yellow trim we think John Deere, simple as that. This strange, little French-made tractor has started a lot of conversations at recent North Wales shows. If Tony had a pound for every time he’s been asked, “What’s that?” he’d be a rich man by now.

The tractor is a 1958 Super 202 built by Société Française Vierzon (the French Society of Vierzon). This company was founded in 1847 by Gerard Celestin, a French pioneer in agricultural machinery. Tony’s 202 is a vineyard model, meaning it is extra narrow and compact. It features a 27 hp single-cylinder, semi-diesel hot bulb engine. Although this tractor has electric start, it has a low compression engine, so it must either be started on petrol and switched to diesel when warm, or it can be started directly on the diesel by applying a heat source to the hot bulb. Once running, it has the loud, distinctive beat typical of a single-cylinder tractor.

The tractor can also be started using the flywheel, but that isn’t always easy. These tractors have been known to “run the wrong way” when started on the flywheel. If the driver fails to notice that has happened, it will soon became obvious as the tractor will suddenly have lots of reverse gears, and just the one very slow forward gear! When new, the Super 202 would have come complete with its own paraffin-powered blowlamp, mounted on a stand, for use in starting the tractor. It is as if Société Française Vierzon (SFV) tried to offer several starting options for this tractor, either because they wished to offer the buyer a choice of methods, or because they didn’t feel confident that any one method could be guaranteed to work! The hot bulb method is without doubt slightly archaic, but it is almost foolproof, even in very cold weather.

The 202 can also be used for belt work. The pulley is on the left side, under a cover. When in use, the belt only just misses that enormous cigar-shaped exhaust pipe. Tony’s Super 202 was used in a vineyard near Nimes in France, and only came over to the U.K. about a decade back.

Unusual construction

Tony bought the 202 simply because it was an oddity. It’s proved a bit of a learning curve as, like most elderly tractors, it came with no instructions. “I really had no idea how it all worked when I first had it,” Tony recalls, “and I’m still finding things out about it now!”

The 202 is an eye-catching tractor, and it seems to have just about everything one could want in a small tractor: PTO, hydraulics, pulley, lights – all of which are squashed into a very small space indeed. Climbing on board the tractor is an acrobatic feat in itself. There is no obvious way to do so, and scrambling awkwardly over the back is probably your only option. Once on board, there is very little in the way of foot-room, even for me with my size 5 feet. Getting off again is even harder; I had to wriggle sideways onto the top of the rear wheel and then leap off. One can easily image an athletic French teenager managing this maneuver quite gracefully, but if a rotund, elderly vineyard owner ever made it in to the tractor seat, he’d definitely have to be removed by a crane.

The high-position, continental-style hitch is curiously heavy duty for a small tractor, but what’s more unusual than that is the fact that there is very little tinwork on this tractor, and the majority of it – the seat, bonnet and indeed the whole front end – is made of fiberglass. The obvious advantage is that fiberglass is almost impervious to corrosion. However, it can become damaged by excessive heat and can lose its shape. The fact that it has more “give” than steel can be an advantage. If it gets a wallop, it is not as likely to crack or dent in the way thin tinwork might. All in all, the peculiar fiberglass body, the archaic starting method and the shrunk-down width of this little tractor all serve to make it a quirky, unforgettable little thing and a great addition to a wonderfully varied collection.

A long heritage in manufacturing

Specialising in farm machinery, Société Française Vierzon began in the late 1840s. By the 1860s, SFV had moved into the steam engine business. In 1931, the company built its first tractor – a Vierzon hot bulb heavily inspired by Lanz’s hot bulb design. The name Vierzon was dropped after World War II and the restyled versions were marketed as SFV tractors. By the mid-1950s, the company was in decline; Case bought a share of the company and took it over a year later. Models were redesigned, but sales still fell. The firm went under in the early 1960s. FC


Josephine Roberts lives on an old-fashioned smallholding in Snowdonia, North Wales, and has a passion for all things vintage. Email her at pheenie@talktalk.net.