TOAL: 1973 Massey-Ferguson 135 – Nearly Perfect

Dad had a yearning for another tractor.  A co-worker of mine had a Massey-Ferguson 135 Diesel that his father had bought nearly new in the 1970’s, and after decades of abuse it had held together superbly.  I knew what we should get.

Mike’s tractor had rolled over ten thousand hours, and had a minimum of issues.  He and his brother had taken care of the tractor after their father had died, and still used it regularly for bush-hogging and putting in small gardens in the summer, and plowing and blowing in the winter.  At the dealership where we worked, we sold and serviced construction equipment, but quite a few customers knew about farm tractors as well and were all in agreement in that the MF 135 was about the best classic tractor one could get.

What contributed to this perception?  High quality metal in the castings and parts, overengineered in all the important parts.  A live two-stage PTO.  Power steering and a front axle sturdy enough for loader work.  But in my opinion the best thing about the MF135 is its engine – the Perkins AD3.152. An English-built, direct injected 3 cylinder diesel making about 40 horsepower, it was a smooth-running torquey powerplant.  They are also known for being good starters in the cold.  Mike’s tractor and our own both started as well as gas units in the winters – sometimes down to -20 degrees Celsius, without glowplugs or any starting aid, including a block heater.  They’d also run on a sniff of fuel – very thrifty.  I believe this was a Perkins hallmark – Cat used Perkins engines in a lot of their gear, and the 4.236 used in backhoes and other gear was also a good cold-weather performer.  Now down to the specifics on our tractor.

We looked at a few, but they were all too expensive for what they were.  As a lark, we stopped at the Massey-Ferguson dealer in New Glasgow.  They had a few options, but this one was priced the best, and looking past the faded paint and patina it looked very solid.  Despite it being a winter day, it fired right up, but sprayed diesel fuel everywhere upon starting!  The dealer mechanic replaced a side cover gasket on the injection pump, and had to bleed the fuel system by cracking the injector lines, and it fired right up again.  They agreed on a price, and we were off with it.  It was an American-made model, which meant, if I recall correctly, an 8-speed dual range transmission, internal (to the box) power steering, and headlamps outside the grill, as opposed to down low on the grill.  It had a power loader that ran off of the internal hydraulic pump, a locking differential, and a full set of gauges.  The gauges had a neat trick:

From Twitter.

They had electroluminescent backlighting.  Much like some of the Chryslers and Imperials of the era, they had a high-voltage power supply, and when the lights were turned on, they’d glow.  It seemed funny to me that Massey-Ferguson would put this kind of a feature in a tractor.

For the time, everything was laid out pretty well.  The seat wasn’t comfortable, but the clutch and shifters were easily reached, and everything worked exactly as it should have, even after 7000 hours.  The difference between this and the Ford 2000 couldn’t be more different.  The diesel in the 2000 was supposed to have had some relationship to Perkins, but it wasn’t at all the same as the one in the 135 – the injection system was on the left side of the engine in the 3.152, on the right side of the 2000.  The Ford didn’t have the hours on the clock this one did, but everything was worn out on the Ford, but this tractor felt like it was at its mid-life point.

I can’t remember exactly why Dad decided to get rid of it.  The loader was slow – the internal pump just wouldn’t pump the flow and pressure require to adequately run the loader for snow, and plowing backwards wasn’t an option.  The bucket was lousy to use with no float function – it’d dig in or skip over the snow.  We were having trouble with our plow truck, and I think we just decided to look.  I would have been content with the 135, honestly.  The dealer where we bought the MF 135 had a few newer tractors – with hydrostatic drive, four wheel drive, and a good hydraulic system at a good price.  They gave us what we paid for the tractor two years ago, and cut a deal on the one we picked because it didn’t have a cab.

I once read that when someone says they want a Ford 9N or similar, what they are actually thinking of is one of these.  I’d agree with that assessment.  The N-series is a great series of tractors – next week I’ll write about the 8N we restored – but for anyone wanting to do some loader work, or use the PTO – these are just a bit bigger, have a super-sturdy powertrain, and are great-looking on their own.  I think they’re the best-looking tractors ever built.  The parts situation is still good, and the diesel engines are about the best ever put in a small tractor.  One fixed up would be my dream tractor.