The 9N Ford: A Late Comer

Tractor geometric perfection of the design

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4353 75th St. W. Oronoco, Minnesota 55960.

The 9N Ford, even though 52 years old now, is a late comer in the antique scene. Somehow it just didn't fit in with the JD B's and Graham Brad-leys, even though it is older than most collector tractors. I recall about five years ago they wouldn't let me in the tractor pull with the other '39 and olders.

One reason they are late comers is cost. They cost a lot even before restoration. Another is that the majority of all those built are still on the job. About 900,000 8N's and 9N's were made. Only the Fordson sold more. Henry Ford believed in a one-tractor lineup. This brought his costs down to where no one could even come close to his price. The other, more expensive tractors had to sell on features other than cost.

The '39 9N used a lot of off the shelf hardware. The pistons, valves, clutch, differential, brakes and even the steering wheel were car or truck parts. The whole tractor went from concept to production in four months, and with only five engineers. Styling was accomplished concurrent with the new '39 Mercury, by the same people. It even had a polished aluminum grille. The electrical system was made of prior model cars.

1939 was rolling full speed ahead for other row crop designs. To introduce such a radical departure as the 9N would seem dumb. But Mr. Ford was no fool, and unswayed by fads. He knew in his gut that the safety and utility of three point hitch and low center of gravity was overdue and needed a strong supporter. The hitch with automatic draft control was the brainchild of Harry Ferguson.

Acceptance of the new tractor was slow for a Ford product. Only about 10,000 were sold in '39. But the infinite flexibility of the 9N began showing up in the most unexpected work settings, and the rush was on. Only WW II slowed production. After the war, the wait list was two to three years.

The much improved 8N came in July, 1947. The vermillion and gray colors attracted buyers like a Hollywood starlet. And the silky smooth performance sold over half a million in five years. If you have never driven an excellent 8N, you have missed a real treat.

By 1952, it was terribly underpowered, and had to be replaced. The Jubilee of 1953 was mainly just a bigger engine (again a clone of the car engine, OHV) and live hydraulics. That was replaced by the 600-800 series, followed by the 2000-4000 series. Even in 1991, some new Fords are similar to the 39 model. Of course, the Ferguson and Massey Ferguson tractors followed a similar path of evolution. Eventually all makers adopted some of the 1939 concepts. 

The key to all the success was the geometric perfection of the design, the perfectionism of Mr. Ford and Mr. Ferguson, and the human safety and comfort features.

I still farm with these old N's, and still marvel at the utter pleasure of operating them. To those pioneer tractor builders, and original owners, my hat is off to you!

I will farm with these till I die. I am now burning homegrown ethanol, and with parts from Ford, another 50 years of work seems quite likely. When the last N works its last day, I won't even be a memory.