Small but Mighty: The Ransomes M.G. Crawler

The M.G. crawler remains popular with British collectors, despite production ceasing in the 1960s.

| January 2017

In 1789, a British brass and iron founder, Robert Ransome, began to cast iron plowshares in Ipswich. Cast iron shares wore quickly and required sharpening by heating and hammering the edge, a process that could be repeated only a few times.

An accidental spill of molten iron on a cold surface resulted in Ransome’s discovery of chilled iron, which made much tougher shares that retained their edge longer. Ransome parlayed this into the Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies Co. By 1900, the company was making a variety of agricultural machinery, such as plows, harrows, hay tools, threshing machines and cultivators, as well as stationary, portable and traction steam engines. Other products included iron bridges and a range of railroad products.

In 1832, the firm began building lawn mowers under the 1830 Edwin Beard Budding patent and soon was making lawn mowers of every size, including horse-drawn models. During the late 1800s, a steam-powered lawn mower was developed and, in 1902, Ransomes produced the first commercially available gas-powered mower, and lawn and estate mowers became an important part of their business.

Smaller turns out to be better

After failed attempts to make a heavy gas tractor in 1903 and 1919, Ransomes hit pay dirt in 1936 with the tiny, tracked motor garden cultivator. The Ransomes M.G. (motor garden) cultivator, later called the M.G.2, was powered by a 600cc air-cooled, 1-cylinder Sturmey Archer “T” engine that put out 6 hp, had a dry sump with a separate tank for the lubricating oil, and cost £135 in 1936.

Sturmey Archer was, and still is (although the firm is now owned by Chinese interests) well known for their bicycle gear change sets, but also built engines and gearboxes for motorcycles during the 1920s. The Great Depression hit the company hard, and engine manufacture ceased around 1930. It’s unclear who made the S-A badged engines used by Ransomes; perhaps they built them under license.

The M.G.’s 6-inch wide rubber-jointed tracks were made by Roadless and were driven by a 4-to-1 reduction gearbox through a centrifugal clutch that automatically engaged the drive to the tracks when the engine speed reached 500 rpm. A simple transmission provided one forward and one reverse gear with a top speed in either direction of 2 mph. Steering was by two hand levers operating band brakes on the track drive shafts. The M.G.2 had a 1-foot ground clearance; track width could be set at 2 feet, 4 inches; 2 feet, 7 inches; and 2 feet, 10 inches for work in various row widths.