Granddad of David Brown Tractors

Tales from Wales: Looking at the VAK 1 David Brown tractor, and the oldest survivor in a small Welsh village


| December 2011



David Brown VAK 1

The imposing cast iron barred-style grille and those fantastic sweeping curves make this David Brown VAK 1 an eye-catching and beautifully styled tractor.

David Brown Engineering Ltd. has been at the forefront of the engineering industry for some 150 years, but tractor manufacturing has been but a small part of that history. David Brown tractors may no longer be in production, but the company remains famous for manufacturing gearing systems in Huddersfield, England. 

Unique+pricey=rare

David Brown’s first foray into tractor production was a joint project with Harry Ferguson in 1936, resulting in the Ferguson Brown tractor. The little Ferguson Brown tractor had some innovative features. For instance, many components were made from cast alloy, which meant that they were lightweight but somewhat fragile. New, the Ferguson Brown tractor cost around £224 ($1,113, or $18,095 today), whereas a Fordson tractor from the same period was priced at about £140. In the rather depressed economic climate of the time, it was no wonder that Ferguson Browns failed to sell well.

Only 1,350 Ferguson Brown tractors were built, making them rare little tractors today. At the time, though, the poor sales record led to a disagreement between David Brown and Harry Ferguson about how to increase sales. David Brown began to see that there might be a future in going solo into tractor production, and in secret the company began to build its own tractor, the VAK 1. The first true David Brown tractor was launched at the Royal Show in 1939. It was a bold move, and it paid off, as the VAK 1 was widely acclaimed.

The new VAK 1 looked absolutely nothing like the Ferguson Brown. David Brown had certainly gone its own way: The VAK 1's unmistakable shape continued fairly unaltered in the improved Cropmaster or the VAK 1C, which was introduced in 1947. The new Cropmaster would only run on petrol or TVO (Tractor Vaporising Oil) but a diesel version was added in 1949.

Some tractor manufacturers have to define themselves with colour, as there is nothing outstandingly unique in their styling. Early David Brown tractors, however, are like no other tractor. They have imposing grilles and a grand presence for what is, after all, a small tractor. Best of all though is their shape. Those sweeping curves and rounded edges are so very easy on the eye. The cowling around the dashboard sweeps right down to the footplates and really finishes the tractor off with a flourish. This cowling must have been designed with the idea of keeping the driver’s hands and feet out of the driving wind and rain, but it also served to make the tractor stand out from all of the rest.

The courting tractor

The Cropmaster came with a double seat, inspiring the nickname “the courting tractor,” as it was a tractor made for two – though the double seat may have been designed more with the idea of a farmer carrying an assistant on the seat next to him, rather than his sweetheart, but still, it’s a nice idea.