Thursday, 01 September 2016 15:31

The good ol’ days when big was bigger

Written by  John Droppert
Big Roy was a 600 horsepower, eight wheeled monster. Image: Big Roy was a 600 horsepower, eight wheeled monster. Image:

LAST month’s article considered the Fendt 1000 series, masterpieces of modern tractor building that most of us will never need, let alone afford.

High-horsepower tractors have always been a bit like that, catering for the tractive requirements of the few, but preoccupying the dreams of the many.

In true Grunt fashion, pondering this got me thinking about some other examples of horsepower-based niche marketing over the years.
Fortunately, there are many.

Given the thought that’s gone into the 1000 series, I’m sure the good German folks over at Fendt are probably far too sensible to get caught up in some kind of diesel powered, um, ‘golden arch competition’.

However, by some accounts there were a few company executives on the other side of the Atlantic some years ago, who were.

Their legacies are some pretty impressive machines whose production runs were short-lived, but whose YouTube fame will probably out-live Google itself.

I wasn’t paying much attention back then, but from what I understand the 1970s and early 80s were good years for tractor production.

Technology was advancing rapidly, and a bevy of companies – big and small – were pushing advances in all directions.

A bit like app developers today I guess, but with more tangible results you could stand back and look at.

Versatile was (and via a purchase by Ford and eventual sale by CNH Global still is) an independent Canadian manufacturer of high horsepower tractors.

The story goes that in the late 1970s, a battle was raging between US companies Steiger and smaller rival Big Bud for bragging rights around who produced the world’s largest and most powerful tractor.

At the time, the cultivation of big acreages in Australia and parts of the US and Canada were creating demand for ever-bigger machines, so there was at least some business case to be made.

Whatever the ultimate motivation, Versatile’s larger than life president and general manager Roy Robinson commissioned a model to carry the company’s flag in this space.

The resulting 600 horsepower, eight-wheeled monster weighed 26 tonnes unladen and placed the 19 litre Cummins engine at the back, improving forward visibility but requiring a video camera installation for the operator to see the drawbar.

We’re talking about a tractor with a TV screen in the dash, in the 1970s.

Although a few versions were manufactured through the development phase, only one example remains of the Versatile Model 1080: ‘Big Roy’.

Unfortunately, whilst efficient at putting all that power to the ground, the four axle design produced serious compaction issues in the wheel track, which were its downfall.

Versatile have recently refurbished Big Roy as part of their 50th birthday celebrations, and the machine is on display at the Manitoba Agriculture Museum.

And YouTube.

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