“This bloke said to me would you like to have a break and have a drive,” he recalled. “And I got on this thing, which was quite high up, and I just thought it was absolutely out of this world, this tractor. I really thought this was it. But I never thought I’d ever own one.”
Today, some 70 years later, Jeffrey, who lives in Essex, UK, owns not one, but two, carefully restored, P6 powered, show quality tractors, a Fordson E27N and a Massey-Harris 744P. His Fordson was built on July 8, 1951, and the Massey sometime in 1948. Based on its serial number, it’s the 27th one built with a factory installed Perkins P6 engine.
Launched in 1938, the P6 was part of the second generation of Perkins engines and quickly became the engine of choice for a wide variety of commercial trucks, wartime military vehicles and even small ships in a marine version. Developed in only five-and-a-half months, the Panther, as it was initially designated, had a significant impact on Perkins and the diesel power industry.
The P-family included the 3-cylinder P3 and 4-cylinder P4 as well as the 6-cylinder P6 which remained in production until 1969 making a major contribution to Perkins’ global reputation for quality, efficiency and reliability in a broad range of applications. By 1948 more than 6,000 of the total of 7,000 engines Perkins produced that year were P6 models.
Jeffrey’s affinity for the P6 is a bit more personal.
“It ticks like a clock and there’s nothing else like it,” he says. “A man at the Essex Agricultural Show once listened to the P6 in the Massey and said to me ‘when you listen to that it’s like poetry in motion’. He was right, and I’ve never forgotten that.”
Introduced in 1945, as an upgrade of the very popular N model, the Fordson E27N gave UK farmers the first tractor fully equipped from the factory. Its 27 horsepower engine, however was a relic, having been designed in 1917.
But, the 45 horsepower Perkins P6 was a natural substitute. Perkins retrofitted one to an E27N to prove the concept, tested it, and shipped it to Ford for an assessment.
It didn’t take Ford long to reach a decision.
The first Perkins P6(TA) powered E27N rolled off Ford’s Dagenham assembly line in 1948 with the Perkins badge firmly affixed to the radiator. Jeffrey’s 1951 vintage E27N was manufactured near the end of the model’s production run.
With a bit of false modesty, he says “It’s not a lot to look at, but it’s a cracking good machine. The engine runs like the day it left Peterborough.”
The Massey-Harris 744P is a UK-built version of the Canadian model 44K. It was produced from late 1947 to 1953 at Massey’s Manchester plant and subsequently at Kilmarnock in Scotland. While the Canadian Model 44K used a petrol engine, nearly all of the more than 17,000 model 744P tractors manufactured in the UK were powered by a Perkins P6 engine.
Being a very early example, Jeffrey’s 744P actually has components that were modified from the Canadian version.
“The bonnet has patches where the 44K radiator, air cleaner and exhaust would have been,” he explained. “The location of those components were all different on the 44K than on the 744P, but they used the patched originals on the very early production tractors.”
In addition to his early farm experience, Jeffrey spent his career as a fitter and later a salesman for a farm equipment company. Today, at age 86 he still does his own service, maintenance, repairs and restorations.
His E27N, for example, was purchased from a widow and came with a cracked cylinder block and other challenges.
“It spat oil out of the exhaust,” he said, “and with a cracked block I didn’t want to take a chance of causing more damage by pressing in a new cylinder liner.”
Instead, he replaced the engine with a P6 he kept as a spare. The replacement, as previously mentioned, “Runs like the day it left Peterborough,” and starts at the press of the button.
His Massey 744P was found as a “derelict laying in the grass” and carefully restored to show quality.
Jeffrey also currently owns a self-described E27N “wreck” that will either be restored, or serve as a source of spare parts for the running E27N. He is justly proud of the fact that he does his own mechanical and restoration work and has a complete “spare” P6 and an eclectic assortment of pistons and other engine and chassis components on hand.
As a recognised expert on classic farm equipment, Jeffrey often judges at agricultural shows and exhibits.
“You have to be very diplomatic,” he says, “because some people spend a lot of money to have things restored professionally, while others take pride in doing everything themselves. It’s very easy to get on the wrong side of people, particularly if there are prizes involved and I’m happy there usually aren’t at these shows.”
Jeffrey also shows his tractors, particularly when he can use the occasion to raise money for charity. That, of course, was curtailed during the pandemic, but the show circuit is reopening and he has several completed and more scheduled.
Because his tractors are operational, Jeffrey also needs spare parts, and particularly oil and fuel filters to keep them running. It’s an ongoing challenge because some of the required items simply aren’t available anywhere at any price.
That, of course, has not stopped Jeffrey from innovating. He has, for example, worked with a friend to produce filter elements for Massey oil filters.
“They are just a stack of pads of different thicknesses that fit around a perforated centre stem inside the housing,” he explained. “But you can’t find original ones anywhere today, so we got together and made our own.”
His solution for E27N fuel filters is even more innovative. His wife, Peggy, sews them for him.
“They’re pleated, like a lady’s skirt,” he says. “Peggy sews them and then closes the ends with string. The fuel passes through the cloth and comes out clean.”
Jeffrey also has developed innovations to alleviate the cold weather starting problems that early diesels frequently had. The P6 installed in his 744P is a good example. It now has two glow plugs in the manifold instead of the single one on the factory engine.
“There was a perfect flat machined next to the glow plug,” he said, “so I drilled a hole and tapped it for a second glow plug. I don’t know why they machined the flat at the factory and didn’t install the second glow plug. Now when I open the manifold and press the button it smokes like a toaster and the old girl starts right up.”
Jeffrey’s early experience sitting “high up” on an E27N was the prelude to a long career in the agricultural equipment industry and a life-long affinity for classic tractors and Perkins P6 engines. As he says, “I could write a book about tractors and farm machinery.”
Indeed, he could, and more than a few hope he does.