Fordson Engine Conversions

Converting Ford Tractors to V-8 Power Didn't Start with the 8N that Honor Falls to the Pioneering Fordson

English Fordson N converted to a Ford flathead V-8

English Fordson N converted to a Ford flathead V-8.

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Converting Ford 8Ns or 9Ns to Ford six-cylinder or V-8 engines was almost commonplace at one time, but those conversions didn't come along until after the introduction of the Ford-Ferguson tractor of 1939.

What many people don't realize, however, is that as early as the 1920s and 1930s backyard mechanics were busy fitting different engines into Fordson tractors. The most popular conversion involved shoehorning a flathead Ford V-8 in place of the Fordson's Hercules-designed four-cylinder engine, which originally come out in 1917-1918. But Fordson engine conversions were hardly confined to Ford V-8 engines and ran the gamut, including a diesel engine in a 1920 Fordson tractor and, later, a factory-quality Lister diesel conversion.

John Swanson, an enterprising gentleman from Almena, Wis., and founder of the Swanson Machine Co., built what he called the 'Linkon' tractor, so named when he 'linked on' a Buick or GMC truck engine to a Fordson chassis. This resulted in a stretched-out, more powerful Fordson giving low-cost belt power for threshing, filling silos and other farm chores. Seeing that Swanson was also the local Case tractor dealer you might wonder why he didn't convert a Case tractor instead of a Fordson, but perhaps it was because the low initial price of a Fordson meant he could sell his Linkon for only $495. Swanson was not the only one using GM engines, as other handy farmers installed Chevrolet six-cylinder engines in their Fordsons.

Different Engines, Different Fuels

Meanwhile, after the English Fordson 'IS' went in full production in 1932, the British Fordson Tractor Co. experimented with retrofitting the Fordson N with a Perkins diesel engine. This proved so successful they eventually bought the Perkins Company for future, factory-installed diesel engines, which became the standard of the industry in the Fordson Major of 1952-1953. Experiments with these 1932 diesel-powered Fordsons convinced British and

Fordson engine conversions went well beyond simply dropping in a Ford flathead V-8.

Enterprising owners experimented with a variety of power plants for the venerable Fordson, including diesel engines and six-cylinder engines.

European farmers that diesel was the fuel of the future years before U.S. tractor companies embraced diesel engines for small farm tractors. Most early American tractors were set up to start on gasoline and then, once warmed up, switch to kerosene. Kerosene was quite a bit cheaper than gasoline, and this gave farmers an economical running fuel, but by the mid-1930s, most U.S. tractors were running straight gas engines, although a few were operating on 'distillate.' Probably the only comparable diesel-engineered American tractor of the 1930s was the International WD40, which appeared on the farm scene shortly after introduction of the W40 in 1934.

Perkins diesels were not the only engines adapted to the English Fordson N. Other people attempted V-8 conversions with Fordson IS tractors, sometimes quite successfully and looking almost like factory installations.

Perhaps the weirdest conversion of all should really be called an 'adaptation.' In the years immediately following World War II, Germans routinely found themselves running out of supplies of oil-based fuel. Many buses in Germany (and even some automobiles) were equipped with a bulky apparatus to burn wood, in turn manufacturing a gas (methanol, but commonly called 'wood alcohol') to run the engines. One enterprising innovator in Europe installed one of these units on a Fordson F, and years later, during the gas shortage of the 1970s in the U.S., magazines like Mother Earth Hews ran feature articles complete with plans to convert a pickup to run on wood alcohol. Perhaps the most surprising Fordson conversion was one fitted with a small steam engine providing power, which was evidently not very successful.

While many engine conversions have been attempted over the years, it is interesting to note the Fordson's part in tractor history as being the first tractor used for these many conversions, some successful, some not. How many John Deere, Case, Farmall or Allis-Chalmers have you seen with a V-8 engine conversion? Clearly, the Fordson must be considered as the most innovative and versatile tractor of all time.

Jack Heald is national director of tne Fordson Tractor Club. Contact him at: 250 Robinson Road, Cave Junction, OR 97523.