Cub Cadet Garden Tractor Restoration

A 21st-century odyssey: Restoring an IH Cub Cadet garden tractor

| May 2004

Restoring International Harvester Cub Cadet garden tractors is enough to make some collectors feel as lost as Odysseus as he wandered in search of home after the battle of Troy.

Yet, fear not! Hope isn't lost. Rather than succumb to the Sirens' call and give up on restoring that Cub Cadet parked in the garage, here are a few good suggestions to help get that little yellow-and-white tractor back into the garden.

Why restore a Cub Cadet?

International Harvester first introduced the Cub Cadet line in 1961. During the 21 years of  IH Cub Cadet production, nearly 700,000 were sold. Because of the line's diversity, the "built to last" quality of their design and affordability, Cub Cadet tractors are now highly collectable — and very useful. Even a 40-year-old Cub Cadet in original condition often will be capable of plowing the garden and cutting the grass. But many folks like to refurbish, or restore, their Cub Cadets for harder and longer use, or just for the sheer pleasure of making them like new.

Refurbishing a Cub Cadet is relatively easy for someone with basic mechanical skills. Unlike a vintage steam traction engine or gas tractor, Cub Cadets have relatively few parts and don't take up much room in the shop. Couple that with their simplicity and sturdy construction, the easy availability of replacement and used parts — as well as numerous online and print resources — and there are plenty of reasons to make that vintage Cub Cadet shine again. The finished tractor will be useful, beautiful and a great source of pride. Most of all, Cub Cadet restorers will enjoy an engaging project and learn much throughout the journey.

Research first — wrench later

The entire project will be easier and more enjoyable if you learn as much about Cub Cadets as possible. For research, make use of Cub Cadet-related websites, books, vintage brochures and even the McCormick/IH archives (see “The Tough International Harvester Cub Cadet Compact Garden Tractor” for more information and resources).

You should be familiar with the machines before restoring a Cub Cadet. Attend tractor shows where Cub Cadets are likely to be displayed. Take pictures of the tractors and ask questions of enthusiasts — be sure to take notes. In no time, you will know whether restoring a Cub Cadet is a burning passion or a passing fancy. For those who haven't secured a project tractor, the research process will help focus the search for a suitable candidate among the many models that exist.

Cub Cadets can be found virtually anywhere. Look for a flash of yellow and white — or even red — while driving through the countryside. Check local newspaper listings, trader publications or the Internet. Ideally, a would-be restorer should locate a complete, running tractor that doesn't need major body or mechanical work. If the basic components are sound such as the front axle, transmission and differential, if the engine doesn't have any holes in it and if the sheet metal and frame haven't rusted through, it’s a good candidate for restoration.

If the tractor runs, so much the better. Give it a spin to determine the condition of the drive train. If the Cub Cadet is a hydrostatic model, check the operation in forward and reverse. Some whining noise from the hydro is normal. If the tractor is a gear-driven model, check for noise in all three forward gears and reverse. Some gear whine is normal, but clicking or bearing growl indicates major transmission or differential work ahead.

If the tractor doesn't run, you'll have to take the seller's word for its condition. Obviously, some of the best finds will be tractors that aren't running — but determine if the price is worth the risk. Generally, parts are easy to find, and engines are easy to fix. Used hydros and transaxles are also easily obtained, although such parts add cost to a restoration project, especially if they must be shipped.

2/5/2018 7:51:55 AM

Hello, I was recently given a vintage cub cadet riding mower and I would be interested and finding out what year it is, I was told it's a 1960s but not sure of the year yet.

Jim Buck
4/21/2009 5:38:51 AM

I just bought a Cub Cadet and I suppose the first thing I would like to know from some helpful soul is the year it was made. It came with a plow and everything works to my knowledge but time will tell. It says on the side that it is a 1211 and the Model # 785275 and Serial #149630100. I would really appreciate any help with this question and then I may proceed to put it in Bristol Fashion. Thank You Jim Buck

Butch Mckie
3/25/2009 10:41:49 AM

excelant article. I am coming down with "yellow fever"