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Big Fergie

Author Photo
By Robert N. Pripps | Mar 9, 2021

Massey Ferguson model 85 muscles its way to the front of larger three-point hitch tractor category.

1960 Massey Ferguson 85
The author’s 1960 Massey Ferguson 85 in front of the Smith Rapids covered bridge in northern Wisconsin’s Price County.
Photo by Robert Pripps

By 1950, the bloom of the post-war tractor boom was fading. With the Korean conflict came material restrictions that favored the larger implement producers. Harry Ferguson was desperate to keep his operations afloat, what with Henry Ford II backing out of the famed “handshake agreement” and struggling to get his new Detroit factory into production.

At the same time, Massey-Harris of Canada was also struggling with its Scottish tractor factory. The company’s Model 744 row-crop tractor was generating little enthusiasm in the British market.

Harry Ferguson and M-H had made overtures toward some kind of cooperation. Ferguson wanted to add a combine to his product line and thought Massey-Harris could help, but misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the other’s intentions blocked progress. Finally, M-H – wanting to utilize excess Scottish factory capacity – approached Ferguson about manufacturing a combine for him. Ferguson and Massey-Harris Chairman James Duncan met face to face. That meeting ultimately led to the merger of the two firms, creating Massey Ferguson in 1953.

An undercover operation

Meanwhile, Ferguson sensed market readiness for a larger three-point hitch tractor. Back at Banner Lane in Coventry (Ferguson’s British headquarters), Ferguson had authorized top engineer John Chambers to move forward rapidly. Chambers aimed to double the power of the Ferguson TO-30 (then in production) for a 60hp five-plow TO-60. It would be the first tractor of that size to have a draft-compensating three-point hitch.

Big Fergie

The Big Fergie: An LTX (Large Tractor Experimental) prototype in its work clothes.

Development of this tractor, also known as the Big Fergie, the LTX (Large Tractor Experimental) and the Ferguson 60, was shrouded in secrecy reminiscent of that surrounding the famed Manhattan Project for fear that Massey management would shut it down before it could prove itself. This work had been going on since 1948. When the merger occurred in 1953, the tractor was well along in field testing.

LTX prototypes

One of the LTX prototypes was provided with updated styling to match Ferguson’s production TO-35.

Designed in-house, the drivetrain of the Big Fergie was sized to take up to 100hp. Previous Ferguson tractors had problems with rear axle failures, so final reduction gears were placed at the outboard ends by the wheels. The engine was also an in-house product, configured to be used in two-, three-, four- or six-cylinder arrangements with either carburetors or diesel injectors. The four-cylinder unit for the TO-60 would displace 275 cubic inches, ample for 60hp.

“Give it 1,000 hours”

In 1949, the first prototype of the Big Fergie (along with appropriately sized implements) was ready for field trials at a remote farm in Warwickshire in England’s West Midlands. The tractor featured live hydraulics with a three-piston pump, a differential lock, a live 540/1,000-rpm PTO, and a transport lock for the three-point hitch. The hitch itself had a lifting capacity of 6,000 pounds. The tractor’s 12×36 rear tires were used with 6.00×19 fronts.

This first iteration met engineers’ expectations and further examples were constructed to accelerate the test program. Harry Ferguson came to the farm to see the tractor in action, and even plowed a few rounds with a five-bottom plow. “Give it 1,000 hours,” he said, and left the field.

row-crop wide front Massey Ferguson 85

A row-crop wide-front Massey Ferguson 85. All MF-85 row-crops offered fairly high crop clearance regardless of the front-end configuration. This view shows how front wheel spacing was accomplished. The rear wheels are “power-adjustable.” The hood tilts to the right to provide access to gas and radiator filler caps. The bend in the exhaust pipe allows space for the hood to tilt.
Photo by Robert Pripps

The test crew then plowed 16 hours a day, rain or shine, with no problems reported, except that the combination of power and traction stripped the lugs off of the rear tires. The tire manufacturer provided stronger tires and testing resumed.

The test prototypes looked much the same as the TE/TO-20 and 30 production tractors, except larger. One final version was modernized to be styled like the TE/TO-35.

Ferguson 60 gets lost in the shuffle

At the time of the 1953 Ferguson / Massey-Harris merger, testing of the Big Fergie was halted while company leaders sorted out the two product lines. M-H had standard-tread tractors in the 50hp to 60hp range, and 40hp row-crop tractors. They were also adding the Ferguson three-point hitch to their row-crop tractors.

Massey Ferguson 85

The author on his Massey Ferguson 85 with a pull-behind snow blower, opening the road to his maple syrup operation. Snow blowing was a first-gear, full-throttle operation. The blower could throw baseball-size rocks 40 feet out into the woods. Larger rocks sheared the drive pin.
Photo by Robert Pripps

The M-H marketing team saw no need for an additional entry in the market that was not adaptable to the row-crop configuration. Ferguson marketing staff maintained that the market was ready for a five-plow, three-point hitch tractor, but saw no need for a row-crop entry, and since their TO/TE-35 was selling well, why risk anything on the big tractor? Thus sounded the death knell for the Ferguson 60. The prototypes were destroyed and drawings and documents were shredded.

Miraculously, one prototype escaped immediate destruction, safely ensconced in the barn of the farmer who had hosted the testing. This farmer had used the machine in routine farm chores for about 500 hours when the clutch went out. He requested a factory replacement, but instead of parts, the company sent a truck to pick the tractor up. The farmer never saw it again.

More than a passing resemblance

By the mid-1950s, the market had a clear preference for more powerful tractors in the utility configuration. Ford’s popular 800 series approached 50hp and the Fordson New Major was also just under 50hp. The 1958 50hp Farmall 460 had a four-plow rating. By 1960, there would be a number of 60-plus horsepower, 5-plow tractors on the market, with one very notable example: the Massey Ferguson Model 85, the heir-apparent of the Big Fergie, and the first in its class to have a draft-compensating three-point hitch.

other sideview

These side views offer a comparison of a row-crop MF-85 with the standard-tread MF-88. Engineers with Massey-Harris roots wanted to revive the M-H Model 555 with more power and a three-point hitch for Great Plains farmers, but an easier course was to beef up the standard-tread MF-85 with a 377-cubic inch Continental diesel engine and bigger tires and fenders, and call it the MF-88.
Photo by Robert Pripps

tractor grass

Photo by Robert Pripps

It is not clear that any design data from the Big Fergie was actually available to the designers of the MF-85, but there certainly is a family resemblance. In both cases, gasoline and diesel were contemplated, but only gasoline materialized. The Fergie got a four-cylinder, 275-cubic inch engine, while the Continental four-cylinder, 242-cubic inch engine of the MF-85 was officially rated at 62hp.

The two were about the same size and weight and both had excellent weight distribution. The MF-85 featured a two-range transmission with eight forward and two reverse speeds, while the 60 offered just four forward and one reverse speed. The 60 had a three-cylinder hydraulic pump with a Ferguson-system three-point hitch (before categories were established) with upper-link sensing; the MF-85 had a four-cylinder pump with a Category 2 hitch with lower link draft sensing.

sideview


While the MF-85’s heritage is clearly from the Ferguson 60, the styling is definitely Massey-Harris. The tractor’s steering wheel angle is Ferguson (or Ford) but unlike some brands, the steering wheel is centered. A short shaft ends in a universal joint connecting a long, horizontal shaft to the power steering unit and gearbox at the front. This shaft runs through a tube through the entire length of the 20-gallon gas tank.
Photo by Robert Pripps

Both tractors featured live hydraulics and live PTOs. The MF-85 offered only a 540rpm PTO while the 60 provided both 540 and 1,000rpm PTO outputs. Both tractors used the two-stage clutch to control both the PTO and the transmission, a feature covered by a Ferguson patent.

The Massey Ferguson Model 85 was introduced with much fanfare in late 1958 for the 1959 model year. It was available in the standard utility configuration and a row-crop style, with various front-end arrangements, all of which would be considered “high-clearance” types. Gasoline and LPG fuel systems were offered; a diesel was promised, but if any were built, they were extremely rare. Actually, all ’85s are fairly rare, as only about 8,000 were built in the three years of production. 

At the time when the Model 85 was being planned, Massey-Ferguson was still under the Two-Line Policy, meaning different designations for tractors for competing Massey-Harris and Ferguson dealers. Accordingly, Ferguson dealers were to get a Model 80 while Massey-Harris dealers received the same tractor with a different “Model 90” grille. However, before production got underway, the Two-Line Policy was ended and, as a compromise, the designation was changed to MF-85. FC


After 36 years in the aircraft industry, Bob Pripps returned to his first love and began writing about tractors. He has authored some 30 books on the subject and several magazine articles. Pripps has a maple syrup farm near Park Falls, Wisconsin. In harvesting the maple sap, he relies on a Ford Jubilee and a Massey Ferguson 85.

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