Fordson Engine Conversions

By Staff
article image
English Fordson N converted to a Ford flathead V-8.

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

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

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

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