The Selectamatic, owned by Geraint Jones, won the trophy for Best Tractor at the David Brown Tractor Club's 50th anniversary event.
Looking at my articles, readers might be mistaken in thinking that all of us who collect old tractors in Britain are scruffy beggars. This simply isn’t true. It just happens to be the case that many of my family members whom I write about tend to have unrestored tractors.
It seems that we as a family are quite good at getting old tractors running, but we lack the patience and skill involved in producing a perfect finish when it comes to paintwork. We tend to wipe our tractors over with an oily rag and leave it at that. I’ve personally always been of the opinion that unless you are going to do a really top class job at painting a tractor, it is better to leave it well alone, as it is all too easy to devalue and spoil an old tractor by getting too enthusiastic with the paintbrush.
The David Brown Selectamatic 880 on the day Geraint Jones bought it in 2012. He stripped it right down and worked his way through the whole tractor, a process that took two years from start to finish.
Raising the restoration bar
The unrestored look, complete with rust and dents, isn’t something that tractor enthusiast and all-round perfectionist and Welshman Geraint Jones could even begin to entertain. We all buy old tractors for different reasons, and the reason Geraint bought his 1967 David Brown Selectamatic 880 was to restore it to a high level and then to show it.
Geraint has no wish to work his tractor, or to plough competitively with it. “I just couldn’t!” he says with a laugh. “Not after all the work we’ve put in!” Geraint is keen to emphasize the word “we” as opposed to “I” when it comes to the restoration, because although Geraint is the owner and the mastermind behind the project, he freely admits that he couldn’t have done it alone. Geraint’s good friend, John Armitage, acted as “chief engineer” on the project and proved invaluable in helping Geraint with what proved to be a much bigger project than first anticipated.
“When Geraint first started thinking about the restoration, he said he just wanted the tractor to look OK … but then he started saying he wanted it to look really good, and the bar gradually got raised. In the end, he decided he wanted it to look excellent, with no filler anywhere,” John says, laughing.
The restoration was a joint effort, after Geraint persuaded his friend John Armitage (at right) to lend a hand.
Geraint had started by simply giving the tractor a service and fitting some new rings, but he soon realized that in order to feel completely satisfied (and to be able to sleep at night!) he was going to have to totally strip the tractor down and start right at the beginning. “I admit I’m very particular,” he says. “I knew that I really wanted the tractor to be like new from the ground up.”
So Geraint took the tractor apart, and although the engine and gearbox were working perfectly, he felt he needed to check them over properly before going any further. He asked Matthew Packer, a well-known local engineer and respected tractor restorer, to check them over. “Matthew has very high standards,” Geraint says, “so I trusted him to go through it all with a fine-toothed comb. He ended up replacing a few bearings, so it was well worth the look.”
Geraint failed to buy exact copies of the original 880 wheel nuts, so John made some.
Disappointed by quality of replacement parts
Several parts needed to be replaced, like the mudguards for instance, and since new parts are easy to come by for these tractors, it should have been a simple case of buying and fitting. Geraint soon found it wasn’t quite that straightforward. Replacement tin work isn’t always as good as it should be. “I bought some new mudguards, only to find that they didn’t fit properly,” he says. “I had to cut them to make them fit better, and then I had to re-roll the edges, as they weren’t rolled properly in the first place.”
Geraint doesn’t have anything very positive to say about new replacement parts because he has had to adapt pretty much every replacement part that he bought for the tractor. “Aside from the mudguards, which didn’t fit properly, I also bought an exhaust, which came with a little dent in it,” he explains, “and then I bought a new steering wheel which was the wrong sort of white and had rough edges, so we had to polish up and re-paint that.
Geraint was disappointed by the quality of new replacements parts. It is no wonder restorers prefer, where possible, to restore old parts rather than buy new.
“Then I bought a seat, which had the frame pins in the wrong place, so John had to make new ones. Of course these parts are all fine if you just want a useable exhaust, or a seat just so you can drive the tractor, but if you want to restore to a high level, then these replacement parts are definitely not of good enough quality.”
Then there are some things that can’t be bought, which is where John’s skills as an engineer came in. “We couldn’t buy the correct wheel nuts for the 880,” explains Geraint. “Wheel nuts for other models were available, but not for this model, so although nuts from a 990 would fit, I wanted exact replicas, so John volunteered to make some from scratch.”
One thing leads to six more
While John was fabricating the wheel nuts, Geraint busied himself by stripping back the David Brown badge to its bare brass, scratching out each letter and groove with a pin and then re-painting it. These small touches are very important, because, as Geraint explains, “when you start a detailed restoration like this, you soon find that anything that has not been restored to a high level will really stand out and will let the rest of the job down. Really, once you’ve started, you have to carry on the same level of workmanship right through the tractor.”
Once you restore part of a tractor, the parts that haven’t been restored look worse than ever. Geraint thought that this pedal looked far too worn to be seen on a restored tractor so he and John built it up with weld, and then cut new grooves into it to make it look like new again.
John was more used to restoring cars than tractors (and admits to not being a tractor enthusiast at all) but all the same he threw himself into the project. In fact, he says, he found the tractor’s easy accessibility and lack of complicated electronics a pleasant change.
John is an excellent panel beater and was called on to straighten out the dented dashboard on the David Brown.
In the meantime, Geraint straightened out the mangled PTO guard. As they went along, the pair found more and more things that needed attention, so that at times it looked as though the project was going to be never-ending.
“At one point I was looking at one of the pedals,” Geraint recalls, “and I noticed how worn it was compared to the others, and I thought, ‘I can’t leave it like that, you can’t have a worn-out pedal on a newly restored tractor!’” They added some weld to the pedal to build it up, and then cut grips into the new weld, cleverly creating what now looks like a brandnew pedal.
The attention to detail didn’t end there. Geraint decided that he wanted the new wiring he’d fitted to run through the mudguards, as he couldn’t bear to think of it being simply tacked to the underside of the mudguards. “It would really have infuriated me to know that the wires weren’t in their proper place,” he says, laughing. He is fully aware that, to some people, this might seem unimportant, but if you have the sort of mind that picks up on these things, which Geraint does, then you really can’t rest until the work is done properly.
With one thing and another, keeping the wiring discreet and correct proved to be no small task. “I also had to make sure that the joints in the wires are all made using proper connectors,” Geraint says, “as opposed to spade connectors.”
The old bonnet was restored and it took a lot of time to get it right, eventually requiring the entire tractor to be repainted. High-end restorations are certainly not for those lacking in patience!
A fresh coat of paint – or two
Early David Brown tractors were red (the exact shade of red was known as Hunting Pink) but in 1965 the red colour disappeared and was replaced by Orchid White with chocolate brown wheels. Go into any paint shop and look at the range of colours that pass themselves off as cream or white, and you will see that quite a number of them have dreamy names like Buttermilk and Soft Ivory. Whilst they all look similar, they vary massively when placed next to each other.
Geraint soon found, much to his annoyance, that even paint of the same make and name can vary from batch to batch. “First we sprayed the whole tractor,” he recalls. “Then we saw a mark on the bonnet, so we decided to re-spray that, but once we’d done that we saw that it no longer matched the rest of the tractor, as it was from a different tin, so we ended up having to repaint the whole tractor, re-stripping all the lights and so on, which was a right pain!”
The wheels were rather tricky to spray, as the paint tended to run off the raised parts and settle in the dips, so it took a while to get them right. Now, though, the tractor is beautifully finished. The creamy white paint is so smooth that one can’t help stroking the tractor, just as no doubt the first owner did on the day that the tractor arrived new in 1967.
In the past I have always preferred the look of the earlier red David Brown tractors to the later white examples, but I realise now that this preference is because most of the white examples I have seen have been rusty, and no colour is less forgiving when it comes to rust than white is.
Whilst rust blends in quite seamlessly with red paint, with white (or even creamy white), rust really stands out and makes the tractor look like an abandoned and unloved refrigerator. Geraint’s beautifully finished Orchid White paint, however, is clean, smooth, seamless and immensely tactile, and seeing this beautifully restored tractor really has changed my opinion of white David Brown tractors. I’ve now come to realize that as long as they are sensitively restored, they actually look amazing.
Many of the old tractors I see are unrestored, so it’s not often that I see a gearbox diagram on a tractor that is readable. Very often they are covered in a layer of mud and grease!
Protecting the exceptional restoration
By restoring the tractor to this level, Geraint has created something of a princess. Gone are the days when he can leave the tractor out in the rain and sun. There can be no more stuffing past hedges, and no more getting muddy. “It can be a bit stressful maintaining the restored look,” he admits.
Whilst flawless white paintwork looks dazzlingly clean and new, like a new white bathroom, it highlights even the tiniest dirty mark. Geraint deals with this by owning a good cleaning kit, consisting of some useful long-handled cotton ear buds for cleaning inside the awkward grooves where dirt can lurk. He also avoids using the tractor for work, and he never takes it out in wet or muddy conditions.
Even fitting some implements is a no-no, as some will inevitably mark the tractor while in use. When it comes to transporting the tractor, Geraint uses a covered trailer so that the tractor gets no dirt on it from the road, and it can be left on the trailer before and after a show without getting wet and dirty.
Prior to having a covered canopy for the trailer, Geraint had to ensure that he unloaded the tractor and put it in an outbuilding as soon as he arrived home, whereas now, if he arrives home in the dark he feels he can leave the tractor where it is, safe in the knowledge that it is well protected from the elements. FC
Josephine Roberts lives on an old-fashioned smallholding in Snowdonia, North Wales, and has a passion for all things vintage. Email her at email@example.com.