A British Tractor with a French Connection

Learn about the fascinating history of Austin tractors. Built first in England and then in France, Austin tractors remain a rare pleasure.


Herbert Austin was born a farmer’s son in Buckinghamshire, England, in 1866. At 18, he went to Australia, where he worked for several engineering companies before gaining a position as a manager at an engineering workshop owned by Richard Pickup Park, who was then developing a new sheep shearing machine for Frederick York Wolseley. Wolseley later became famous as inventor of the world’s first commercially successful sheep shearing machine, a revolutionary labour-saving device that would change the face of the entire wool industry.

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Edwin Hughes of North Wales is the proud owner of this handsome pair of Austin tractors. The blue tractor on the left was built in England, and the green tractor on the right was built in France, but both are the work of 1st Baron Sir Herbert Austin, automobile designer and builder, and founder of Austin Motor Co. Photo by Josephine Roberts

From early adulthood, Herbert Austin was mixing with some real talent in engineering circles, and he learned all he could from those around him. After his work on the new shearing machine, Austin was given a role at Wolseley Sheep Shearing Co. in Sydney. While there, Austin made improvements to the shearing machines in his own name, which he patented and later sold to Wolseley in exchange for shares in the company.

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Edwin’s French-built Austin SA3 was produced in the late 1920s. The French factory continued in operation right up until World War II, and eventually produced diesel models too. Photo by Josephine Roberts.



Austin and Wolseley moved to Britain in 1893 to set up a factory in Birmingham producing sheep shearing machines. Because the machines tended to be a seasonal product, the company built bicycles during slack periods. However, Austin was an ambitious man, keen to expand into motor car production. In 1905, he left Wolseley to set up Austin Motor Co. By 1908, the company was producing several models of cars, and in 1913 it began to produce trucks.

French connection gives Austin a boost

With the advent of World War I, the factory shifted to production of munitions. During World War I, Austin also became involved in the sale of imported American tractors to British farmers. Inspired by these machines, when the war ended he began to design his own tractor.



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