Versatile Mfg. Ltd. became a leader in 4-wheel-drive tractors with innovative design
Famed as the first company to mass-produce an articulated 4-wheel-drive tractor, Versatile can be traced to 1947, when Peter Pakosh and Roy Robinson started Hydraulic Engineering Co., Toronto. Initially launched to produce small farm implements, the company relocated to a Winnipeg, Manitoba, suburb a few years later. In 1963, the company was renamed Versatile Mfg. Ltd.
Versatile’s first foray into the tractor market was with its 4-wheel-drive D100 tractor in 1966, a 100 hp tractor with a Ford 6-cylinder diesel engine. Without a cab, this model (and the Versatile C100) sold for less than $10,000 (roughly $69,970 today). About a hundred were sold. In 1967 three more models were introduced: the D118, G125 and D145 and the SP420 self-propelled combine.
In 1968 the SP400 self-propelled swather with hydrostatic drive was introduced followed two years later by the SP5000 hydrostatic combine.
Series 2 tractors were introduced in the 1970s, now called models 700, 800, 850 and 900, with horsepower, respectively, of 220, 250, 280 and 300. The Model 300 row crop tractor with live power take-off was next in line. As Versatile controlled 70 percent of the 4-wheel-drive tractor market, the company upgraded Series 2 and added models 750, 825 and 950.
In Ultimate Tractor Power, Vol. 2, author Peter D. Simpson writes, “Axles and transmissions were designed and built by Versatile for agricultural use, which made it withstand hard, aggressive wear and tear.”
He adds that the standard category three-point hitch could be adjusted to category two with the lift capacity of 2.67 tons. Dual wheels made the Versatile more adaptable to varying soil and weather conditions and gave it a more comfortable ride. Custom-built rubber-mounted cabs reduced noise. “This new range of tractors was very versatile indeed,” Simpson says.
In 1976 the company built the biggest tractor in the world. The Model 1080 Big Roy (named after company co-founder Roy Robinson) was an 8-wheel behemoth weighing 26 tons, propelled by a 600 hp Cummins KTA 1150-600 engine. Only one prototype was built.
Four models in the Constant Power series were introduced in 1977: the 835, 855, 875 and 935, ranging in horsepower from 230 to 330.
Versatile tractors, Simpson says, offered big savings in time, fuel and labor. “The tractor articulated 42 degrees in either direction for better field turns. The center pivot design allowed 30 degrees of oscillation for maximum all-wheel traction in the roughest of terrain.”
The company was sold to Cornat Industries of Vancouver in 1978 after a failed bid by Hesston Co. In the late 1970s Versatile tractors painted a sandy orange shade were sold in Europe as Fiats. In 1987 the company was taken over by Ford Motor Co., which also bought Sperry New Holland and renamed the tractor division Ford New Holland. FC
For more on Versatile tractors, read Versatile 700: One Powerful Tractor from the June 2011 issue of Farm Collector.