Classic corner: Betting on a ‘Winner’ in Co. Limerick

Fiat has always gone about the business of growing its agricultural division in a rather quiet but very determined way.

It is an approach that has paid dividends, for it is now one of the world’s major tractor producer groups – with its Case IH and New Holland brands featuring prominently on sales charts throughout the west.

A major step in this ascendancy was the acquisition of the Ford tractor business in 1991. It wasn’t a complete take-over however; Ford retained a 20% share in the new company, which was known as NH Geotech, for another two years.

Other details of the agreement placed a time limit on the use of the Ford insignia, but not the actual colour. That’s why the famous blue ‘hue’ is still with us today.

The early 1990s was, therefore, a time of transition for both sides – as Fiat consolidated its new agricultural subsidiary and the old Ford New Holland company adapted to the new arrangement.

Eventually, there was to be an integration of the model lines, but this was not a rushed affair. The two distinct ranges were sold side-by-side for a while, as they were gradually brought together.

Cautious approach

There were many good reasons for taking this cautious approach, not least of which was that both sides had recently made a considerable investment in their respective product lines. These investments needed to be recuperated.

For its part, Fiat had launched the ‘Winner’ series in 1990 – brought in to eventually replace the Fiatagri 90 series. This, too, was a gradual transition rather than a sudden switch.

This updated (Winner) range of tractors kept the same 5.9L engine, but wrapped it in a much more modern package. The sharp lines of the previous models were rounded off and the cab interior was dragged out of the 1970s and blessed with a far more user-friendly feel.

Over the years of their production, Fiatagri and Winner models had built up quite a reputation for traction and a penchant for hard work; they are still in demand as ‘working tractors’ even now.

One surviving example of the ‘Winner’ family, which is still earning its keep, is this F130 (pictured below). It belongs to Ger Collins (see main picture) of Co. Limerick. It’s a tractor that he has plenty of plans for.

Ger is a busy fellow. In between working for Gary Brogan Tractor Sales of Newcastle West and running the family farm, he does a fair mileage each year hauling bales of straw, hay and silage around the region, as well as his own 14t Hitachi digger.

To do this he likes to have a little muscle under the bonnet; the six-cylinder F130 is more than up to the task.

He bought it in 2017 when it appeared in Gary Brogan’s yard in a rather sorry-looking condition. Underneath the battered and rather tired-looking paint, however, there was still a sound tractor and, so, the decision was made to take it home and treat it to a little TLC.

Another feature that attracted him to the F130 was its simplicity. It is very much a ‘pre-electronics’ tractor (albeit with electronic linkage controls), which still largely relies on the mechanical connection between the driver and machine – rather than trusting all such ‘communication’ to switches and dials.

Ger is not of an older generation but, even so, he feels that modern tractors are “trying to be cars”, rather than working tools. He is also keen on the idea that he has a chance of fixing it himself, rather than waiting for a man with a laptop to turn up to zero in on the fault.

The Fiat has a 40kph transmission; it replaces a Zetor in which Ger clocked up 38,000km hauling bales and machinery.

“That is a huge distance; yet, I didn’t get much tyre wear. It’ll probably be different with a more powerful tractor,” he said.

That extra power will also come in handy on his McHale 550 round baler. He considers this a great machine for Irish conditions, mainly because it doesn’t block as easily as previous makes he has tried.

His ideal machine would be a Fusion, as it would cut out at least one operation.

“I can see the same bale four or five times – from cutting to feeding,” he mused. “A Fusion would reduce that by one appearance at least.”

The Fiat will certainly handle the McHale 550; that’s another job he has planned for it, along with mowing. He feels that a Fusion might ultimately need something larger.

Mechanically, the tractor is still in sound shape. Ger has hardly had to touch the engine or transmission, though there are one or two niggles that will require some fettling.

It was mainly the bodywork that needed attention; it took a whole day with a power-washer to find out exactly what the situation was underneath the mud and grime. The previous owner was a contractor who, it seems, was none-too-fussy about keeping the tractor clean, though he had obviously serviced it regularly.

Having straightened out the tin-work where necessary, Ger then treated the tractor to a full re-spray. The result is a rather impressive looking beast.

The 130hp turbo-charged engine sounds crisp and keen – whether at idling or under a modest load. Despite having almost reached its ‘quarter century’, it would appear willing and able for yet more years of graft.