Classic corner: As good as it gets? No-nonsense workhorse can still earn a crust

During the 1970s and 1980s the race to sell tractors moved from one of getting as many standard models out on farms as possible to offering a range of machines to slot into various niches – across a broad spectrum of farm types.

In Ireland and the UK, it could be said to have kicked off in 1964 when Ford unveiled its replacements for the aging Major and Dexta duo. Meanwhile, Massey Ferguson presented the fruits of its DX project – which included the 37hp 135 all the way up to the 120hp American-built 1130.

The European-built tractors of this series came to be known as the 100 series which, by 1976, needed a thorough revamp.

Massey Ferguson, therefore, introduced the smaller 200 and mid-sized 500 series tractors which had new (legally-required) safety cabs – with just one big door on the larger models.

A new and distinctively styled radiator grill (with a silver-grey surround and which tipped forward at the top) also appeared for the first time. It stayed for many years, whereas the single-door cab did not.

In-cab ergonomics

To counteract the less-than-enthusiastic response to the 500 series cab, the company introduced the 600 series (which hardly improved the situation, according to some).

Yes, it had two doors and a flat floor, but the ergonomics were considered poor and it took two tall steps to access the cab. The 600 series only lasted four years and was replaced, alongside the 200 series, by the 300 and 3000 series in 1986.

Introducing the 300 and 3000 series was the move that really took the Massey Ferguson brand forward – into the modern age of tractor design.

The larger, French-built 3000 series ushered in the era of electronic control, while the smaller Coventry-built 300 series brought an improved cab (available in Hi-line guise, for those with more money to spend) with more glass.

Changes within the gearbox were not so dramatic though. Most tractors still came with three main ratios, supplemented by high and low ranges and Multi-Power – offering a total of 12 speeds in all. However, it was now fully synchronised.

The 300 series tractors were produced from 1986 into the 1990s and proved to be a great success for Massey Ferguson. At Connolly, in Co. Clare, there exists a well-restored example; it belongs to Declan Markham (pictured below).

This tractor was built in 1990 and is fitted with the Hi-Line cab; it was originally sold in the UK and then brought over to Ireland – either in 2002 or 2003.

Its history up until it was imported remains unknown. However, Declan can be fairly certain of its story since – as it belonged to a near neighbour who used it mainly for light duties around his stock farm.

Such work rarely tests the engine and certainly does little to help it stay in trim, so when its oil consumption became a notable feature on the farm accounts Declan was given the opportunity to purchase it for refurbishment.

The first task was to strip the engine right down for a thorough rebuild – a task that would require a good deal of time. The linings, pistons and rings had to be scrapped and replaced.

The head was skimmed but the valves simply needed to be lapped rather than re-seated. All the bearings were renewed, as was the radiator and the various hoses and pipes that circulated the coolant.

A new clutch was installed and many other smaller items replaced as needed. These included mirrors, lights and the small extensions at the front of the mudguards, which were rusted through.

The rest of the bodywork was reasonably sound, other than a bonnet panel which turned out to be another item for the scrap metal bin.

A new one was sourced but, much to Declan’s frustration, it turned out to have the later type of catches. So far, he has managed to avoid cutting up a brand new panel to replace them with the items correct for the year, but the temptation may yet linger!

The transmission and hydraulics have not needed any attention; all appear to work well and there is no obvious sign of wear or damage. The arms respond rapidly to the quadrant and there is no outward trace of oil, other than some weeping from one of the spool valve connections (a small fix, which has been marked for attention).

Parts for Massey Fergusons of this age are reasonably easy to come by. Declan would like to acknowledge the assistance of Kings Agri Parts and Whelans Garages – both of Ennis. Both entities took an interest in the project, helping him to complete the job in around six months.

Despite Declan coming from a farming background, there is very little work for it back on the home farm – the odd day drawing bales for his father, for example.

It was, after all, the challenge of restoration that attracted him to buying it and having brought it back to this fine condition he is looking to sell it on – to make way for his next project (a Same Jaguar, which is already underway).

At €12,500 (currently advertised on DoneDeal) and resplendent in its new coat of two-pack paint, this 86hp tractor would appear to have many more years of work left in it yet.

Declan believes that it was never really overworked during its career. Even so, he feels that the fact that it has lasted so long is a testament to the solidity of its original design and build quality.