The engines that made Perkins

It’s our 90th anniversary year and we’re re-examining the engines that defined the Perkins approach to power. In the third instalment of our ‘heritage’ series, our timeline moves closer to the present day with a look at the Series 1000 – the successor to the famed 4.236.



By the mid 1980s, the 4.236 had become the diesel engine of choice for many OEMs, and not just in agriculture. Despite its design age – nearly a quarter-century in production – engine orders were increasing.

Caterpillar was busy fitting the powerplant to models rolling off the production line at its new backhoe plant in Leicestershire, UK. Manitou was another advocate of the 4.236 for its loaders and telehandlers, as was French stable-mate Jeanneau – the yacht-builder – which specified the 4.236 in many of its luxury models. Meanwhile, Massey Ferguson itself was building the UK’s best-selling tractor and held more than one-fifth of the total UK tractor market.

Yet its popularity masked the fact that the 4.236 was by now on borrowed time. Greater emphasis was now placed on designs that could reduce exhaust emissions and reduce noise. Moreover, both the 4.236 and the 6.3544 were engines designed and built-in imperial measurements and although the U.S. – a prime market – was still keen on metrication, the rest of the world was moving on.

Coupled with soundings from Perkins’ original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) – its close relationships with manufacturers have always been instrumental in guiding product research and development – it was clear a new engine was needed. Cleaner, quieter, and more fuel efficient, it would also be an engine that could be maintained and serviced with a metric toolkit.

Against this background came the Series 1000. Launched in 1986, its publicity material espoused a bold claim: the 1000 was ‘the most important engine family in decades’. Internally at Perkins, this was almost certainly true – the new design had required massive investment, from new castings to computer-aided design – but it was a justifiable claim to the world, too, for this was not just any new diesel engine launch. It was a diesel engine launch from the world’s leading diesel engine manufacturer.

That singularity should have been enough on its own, particularly given the production longevity and multi-sector ubiquity of the engines the Series 1000 was replacing. But as one might expect, Perkins was not going to miss out on an opportunity to claim an innovative ‘first’.

For the Series 1000 was the realisation of major investment in design and research, including newly developed combustion research techniques. In what was regarded as highly advanced technology during the 1980s, laser doppler anemometry (now used in applications as diverse as health, defence and even space) and complex computer modelling were applied, resulting in the most important feature of the new engine: the ‘Quadram’ combustion chamber.

This attention-grabbing combustion system used a unique four-lobe chamber within the piston to control the air motion within the cylinder. Optimising the balance between air swirl and turbulence more thoroughly mixed fuel and air, improving combustion efficiency.

In addition to improving fuel consumption by some eight percent over the then industry standards, the Series 1000 also offered a ten percent increase in power and a 13 percent torque uplift, while reducing the environmental impact of emissions and noise.

While all these figures spoke for themselves – and would certainly be noticed by Perkins’ OEMs – they were also necessary to lay the foundation for compliance with future emissions standards. Tier 1 wouldn’t be introduced until the mid-1990s, but its framework was already being laid. If the Series 1000 was to enjoy even half the lifespan of the 4.236, Perkins would have to stay ahead of the game and ensure that it not just met the standards but would comfortably exceed them in the years to come. Not all customers were convinced and for some there was a reluctance to switch to the new engine from a tried and very much trusted design.

One factor that would help sway the decision was the decision to use the basic engine design, with its Quadram chamber, across two main markets: the Series 1000 itself was pitched straight into the industrial and agricultural markets, while a Phaser model was developed to match the needs and expectations of road vehicle manufacturers. The whole portfolio comprised 4- and 6-cylinder naturally aspirated, turbo and turbo charge cooled engines, across a power band from 87-180 bhp.

It didn’t stop there. As previously mentioned, Perkins was already well-known for its willingness, indeed its expectation to work with its OEMs to ensure that, in choosing Perkins power, they would receive an engine that was ideally matched to their requirements – the ‘uncompromising commitment to their specific needs’, as the Phaser launch brochure confidently stated.

Now the whole engine range would offer a full range of options – filter positions, fan heights, even the position of the dipstick – to remove any need for vehicle and equipment manufacturers to compromise their designs. It’s one of the many recognisable Perkins design ‘genes’ that came to prominence in the Series 1000, and which endure in today’s engine designs and engineering support, such as the Customer Machine Engineering Team (CMET) service.

Significantly, the Series 1000 also reflected major changes in engineering practice at Perkins. While computers duly deserve credit for helping to advance core engine designs at Perkins, other factors were also at work. The search for leaner production practices, more efficient assembly lines, and tighter quality assurance saw part numbers for the Series 1000 drop by a massive 35 percent over its predecessors. The year before, 1985, had also seen the announcement of ‘Engineered Engine Finish’ (EEF), an initiative to improve the appearance and durability of Peterborough-built engines. All external hardware was switched to nickel-plated finish, durable black primer was applied to iron and steel components, and aluminium left unpainted, before the entire engine was sprayed with a clear lacquer. The Series 1000 was thus the first Perkins engine to begin its production run in EEF – a move that provided very good feedback from customers and end-users.

That increase in ‘perceived quality’, coupled with the vastly improved performance of the Series 1000, undoubtedly ensured the engine met with a positive reception. Truck manufacturers such as Seddon Atkinson, Dennis and Metro-Cammell opted to specify the Phaser, while JCB placed orders for three versions of the Series 1000, in 4- and 6-cylinder variants, to power its new wheeled loaders. Power, torque and exceptional reliability were the cited factors in their decision. And just six months after the engine’s launch, the Industrial Sales team had taken orders totalling £6 million. The Series 1000 was indeed off to a great start.

That early promise, and the enthusiasm shown by OEMs, never diminished. The Series 1000 remained in production for nearly 30 years, with production of the last variant – the 1006 – ceasing only in 2014.

In the history of Perkins, it’s a truly significant engine: a crossover between the original engine designs and the new technology-led era. A design that – through transmitting DNA such as nomenclature, design elements and key components to today’s 1100 Series and others – arguably went on to lay the foundation for Perkins modern success.

Global focus library

Perkins 1000 Series
Perkins 1000 Series
Perkins 1000 Series