If the Standard Fordson is not quite what you are looking for in a tractor, why not try the similar but much more substantial Major. Jonathan Whitlam looks at its pros and cons.

Ford introduced the Fordson Major in 1945 but it was not the tractor they really wanted to build. The new Major, known by its Ford code number of E27N, was basically an upgrade of the Fordson Model N that had preceded it during the Second World War, in fact the Major had the same side-valve engine that first saw the light of day back in 1917!

The Ford Motor Co. had a new design on the drawing board, including a brand new engine, but the British Government would not let the company put it into production. This was not totally unexpected as Britain was in a bit of a state after the ravages of the war and many materials were in short supply while there was also a huge demand for tractors and farm machinery to help keep the population fed. So Ford had to stay with the basic design of the old Model N but they did manage to fit in a new backend that was a considerable improvement over the older model and made use of the old gearbox but incorporated a single-plate clutch and independent rear wheel brakes. The result was a stopgap machine that soon proved its worth as a simple but reliable machine that was available immediately to farmers thanks to Ford's skill in mass production.

The Dagenham production line in Essex was soon in full swing building the Major which was painted in the dark blue and red colour scheme used on the Model N tractors from 1933 to 1937. Four versions were soon offered; the standard agricultural, row crop model with adjustable wheel width, a land utility model and an industrial version. A hydraulic implement lift was available from 1948 using a system that did not include draft control, so as not to affect the Ferguson patents.

The old splash lubricated petrol and vaporising oil engine had been pushed to its limits in the Major to produce 28.5hp and this was fine for general farm duties, but was often found to be rather underpowered when conditions became hard going. The answer was the fitting of a diesel engine and from 1948 a Perkins L4 engine became available followed later by the 45hp Perkins P6 which was produced as a factory fitted option. This was readily accepted by farmers and eventually the diesel version became the most popular option The Major was undoubtedly a much more imposing looking machine than its predecessors and many drivers preferred the 'high major' as they called it although some thought that the higher driving position took them too far away from their work, especially when ploughing, and getting on and off was also more difficult than on the old Model N.

The E27N was also equipped with a power take off as well as a belt pulley but the position of the drive shaft from the engine to the pto would not please the Health and Safety inspector of today as it was an unguarded shaft across the middle of the driving platform.

The Fordson Major was available in large numbers from 1945 to 1951 and proved to be ideal for a growing number of conversion specialists who used the basic E27N skid unit to produce their own specialist machinery. County Commercial Cars of Fleet in Hampshire, built a crawler version called the CFT while Roadless of Hounslow built a few crawlers but also a four wheel drive version of the E27N using GMC truck axles. Roadless also produced a range of half-track machines based on the Major which proved very popular both in agriculture and industry.

During its six year production run the Fordson Major was one of Britain's most popular tractors, along with the Ferguson TE20 launched in 1947, and many farms ran both machines, giving the Major the heaviest work for which the TE20 was not ideally suited. It may have been a rather crude machine by later standards but it filled a niche that no other manufacturer could provide at the time, and many of them are still to be found at work at vintage plough days and working events all over the country. Most auctions and sales contain a few examples and many are sold through the classified sections of the tractor magazines so finding a suitable example should not be difficult. Prices range from around £950 to £3200 for a petrol-paraffin example and from £3900 to £17,500 for the more sought after diesel powered tractors.

For the money a petrol-paraffin powered tractor would easily be able to work on a smallholding at little cost but if you are intending to really work your machine then a diesel powered example, such as the P6, is definitely worth considering as paying the extra money gets you better reliability, fuel economy and longevity.

The various four wheel drive and crawler conversions are much harder to find and also fetch higher prices so it is probably best to stick to the original tractor for most jobs around the smallholding, but if you can find a cheaply priced Roadless four wheel drive conversion of the E27N snap it up as the prices of these types of machines are on an upward spiral and show no signs of levelling out.