By 1959, Perkins was under new ownership. Massey Ferguson (MF) had concluded the outright purchase of the company and a new future beckoned: the Perkins name was to be retained, but would become part of a worldwide operation, producing engines not only for the growing range of Massey Ferguson tractors and harvesters, but maintaining its independence of supply to other customers too.
Fitted to the new MF65, launched in 1958, the 4.192 had been the first Perkins engine to appear in a MF tractor. Now that MF owned its engine supplier, it was quick to take advantage and it wasn’t long before the MF35 – successor to the phenomenally popular Ferguson TE20 – was re-engineered to use the Perkins 3.152.
The MF35 – described in MF’s sales literature as having ‘a place on every farm…giving its owner extra energy to tackle fresh work and bring profit from every single acre’ was fitted with the three-cylinder A3.152 (all engines destined for Massey Ferguson machines were ‘A’ prefixed) offering a 37 hp output and reliable performance. It was used in all MF35s built between 1959 and 1964, until the MF135 appeared in 1965 – again using the 3.152, now modified as a direct injection unit.
Meanwhile, MF wasn’t the only tractor manufacturer enthusiastic about the 3.152. Two years before the MF purchase, the Fordson Dexta was launched. Based on the American-built 8N, the Dexta had been designed to appeal to European farmers with a tractor somewhat smaller than the Major. Fordson had already enjoyed success with the P6 as a factory-fitted option in the E27N; why would they not repeat that proven reliability with their new model? Admittedly, the Dexta never quite matched the success of the TE20 or the later MF35, but Perkins nevertheless supplied Ford with nearly 65,000 units of the 3.152 until Dexta production stopped in 1964.
But if the 3.152 was notable in establishing Perkins’ ability to supply competing tractor brands efficiently, then it was the 4.236 that would really define the company’s role in agricultural power. A logical progression from the P-series engine, the 4.236 was the four-cylinder version of the 6.354 – itself one of five significant engine models that were to receive considerable resources as the 1960s began.
Incidentally, it was at this time that engine nomenclature was standardised across the Perkins range. The initial number – 3, 4, or 6 – denoted the number of cylinders, while the second number indicated the cubic inch displacement.
Enthusiastically received by manufacturers, operators and the commercial motoring press on its introduction at the 1960 Commercial Motor Show, the 6.354 was immediately described as a ‘winner’. Similar sentiments arose when it was exhibited in agricultural form at the Smithfield Show, encouraged in no small part by an announcement of a £1m engine order from Claas featuring the 6.354. Ongoing interest in the six-cylinder unit, including Track Marshal’s attention-grabbing deployment in the new TM70 crawler tractor, convinced Perkins that a compact four-cylinder unit would be a commercial success.
Initially, the 4.236 was designed to generate interest across all sectors in which Perkins had an interest, as was Perkins custom. But the MF takeover focused engineers’ minds on tractor applications. In particular, the 4.236 was devised to meet MF’s emerging requirement for ‘frameless’ designs, where the engine itself became an integral part of the tractor ‘backbone’. A special version was developed, incorporating an integral flywheel housing, starter-motor pocket and a block front-end that could pick up a front axle mounting.
The tractor engine would also feature a balancer, driven from the crankshaft pulley, to damp out vertical out-of-balance forces and ensure smoother engine operation, given that there could be no isolation (rubber mounts, for example) between engine and chassis.
Another significant 4.236 feature (and another diesel technology ‘first’) was its direct injection technology. In fact, it was the first direct-injection four-cylinder engine offered for on-highway use, made possible through the adoption of machined induction ports and use of the CAV DPA fuel-injection pump. Highly innovative at the time, direct injection has dominated diesel engine design ever since.
By the end of 1961, MF Corporate Headquarters had approved an interim manufacturing facility for the 4.236. It’s quite possible the decision was helped by news that Perkins had attained the heady, milestone production output of 1,000 diesel engines per day. Perkins was officially the world’s largest manufacturer of diesel engines.
It wasn’t until August 14, 1964 that the first 4.236 rolled off the production line at Peterborough’s newly completed Factory Two. Covering 185,000sq ft, the facility was laid out to the latest design and technical standards: as one of Britain’s leading engineering firms, Perkins was very much aligned with Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s famous 1963 ‘white heat of technology’ speech. This cutting-edge strategy was something of a leap of faith, for the full benefit of the new, full transfer machine lines was only truly appreciated much later, once their ability to deliver extremely high volume was fully proven. Yet again, Perkins was demonstrating its belief in investment, innovation and technology.
The first year of 4.236 production was a success, with more than 16,000 produced. Rated at 80 hp at 2800 rpm, the engine proved highly suited to tractors and other agricultural machines not just for Massey Ferguson, but also Clark, Manitou, JCB, Landini and Vermeer.
Arguably, not only did the 4.236 establish Perkins as the leading provider of agricultural diesel power, but its engine architecture fired much of Massey Ferguson’s expansion during the 1960s and 1970s. Once the four-cylinder technology had been tried and tested, MF wanted to identify engine variations to suit tractor size and specification. By adjusting stroke and bore, MF could stop tractor owners uprating their engines with nothing more than an adjustment to the injection pump. What was more, by limiting engine power for a particular tractor specification, transmissions could be engineered accordingly – affording MF better control over product cost.
This one-frame/multipower approach allowed MF to create a huge number of tractor specifications, selecting engines, transmissions and axles from a set range of components. Industry stalwarts such as the MF275 and 285 saw their origins in this approach, and the 4.236 family became the most successful engine for MF around the world.
Soon, turbo and spark-ignition versions of the 4.236 arrived and later derivatives – the 4.248, 4.224, 4.212 and 4.204 – offered different capacities for different needs, as rated speeds increased to 3200 rpm.
Becoming the mainstay of production not only at Peterborough but also with overseas licensees and associates, the 4.236 is the engine that secured Perkins global reputation for power, efficiency and reliability in agriculture. It’s no mean feat that in starting with the tried-and-tested designs for the P-series, the company used its technical excellence to improve and develop it for the new age. And what an age that would be: the engine dominated the agricultural world for more than 30 years, always benefiting from the two-way approach between Perkins and OEMs that remains the company’s customer service hallmark today.
Peterborough alone produced more than two million examples of the 4.236 during its lifetime; worldwide, millions of 4.236s remain in service today. Yet the DNA of the 4.236 lives on in modern engines, having been the progenitor of later designs such as the 1000 Series, Phaser and 1100 Series. It’s a remarkable story, and one we never tire of telling.
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