Whilst the 950 was taking care of the main end of the market, David Browns remained conscious of the fact that a smaller tractor would have a ready appeal. As we have seen Jack Thompson, the Managing Director. had already decided to discontinue the 2D in the latter part of 1960 and secretly a decision had been taken to introduce a small 3-cylinder diesel tractor of conventional appearance in its stead. As Herbert Ashfield now writes ‘As we came on with the 950. we began to look at the fact that there was a need for a smaller tractor.
We decided to designate this the 850, and aim for between 30 and 35 horse-power. Obviously we needed a new power unit for this machine, and one of the things we looked at was the Perkins 3-cylinder engine. It influenced our thinking quite a lot, but having decided that a 3-cylinder engine was cheaper to make in smaller powers than a 4-cylinder we began to design our own 3-cylinder tractor to put in the 850.’ However. it was to be some time before this unit was ready, and as the 2D was to be phased out, it was decided to bring in the 4-cylinder 3.5” bore engine producing 35 BHP into a dimensionally smaller version of the 950. Like its big brother, it was available in petrol (VAG2A model) and diesel (VAG2B model) forms, although these later gave way to the C and D variants in September 1961 when the 850 Implematic was given a new multi-speed pto.
At the same time a decision was taken to discontinue the petrol engine, but, because orders were still flowing through the system, the last petrol engined version did not go down the assembly line until June 1962. By the spring of 1963 the C and D models were seeing further developments, first with the introduction of a new, fabricated front axle and then with the facility of height control. In October 1965 serial number 317439 rolled down the assembly line, and production of the 850 finally came to an end. In many ways it was a stop-gap measure which could service the market at its smaller end until the 3-cylinder 880 arrived, but in the meantime it was a delightful and highly effective tractor in its own right and 14,242 were produced.
The 850 Implematic was available in either standard or ‘Livedrive’ form, and the list of standard features was every bit as impressive (and virtually similar) to the 950; these included Implematic hydraulic control; TCU; foot-operated Differential Lock; independent foot and parking brakes; a pto which could operate at 533 rpm on an engine speed of 1,600 rpm; 10-28” rear and 5.50-16” front tyres; 3-point linkage; 2,000lb psi hydraulic pressure; screw-type lift rod and geared levelling lever; front and rear wheel adjustment from 52” to 76”; and, for operator comfort, a de-luxe seat. Optional extras included power steering; 6.00-16” front tyres’ 11-28 rear tyres’; high-clearance swinging drawbar; 3-way isolator valve for external hydraulic services; belt pulley unit; a tractormeter which gave land, pto and pulley speeds; overload release and hand clutch; and external lighting.
If required the 850 could also be supplied with out a pto and hydraulics as a basic tractor for haulage duties. It was enough to interest the smaller customers all around the world and quite a few big ones as well, including the Oliver Corporation of America. In October 1959 several representatives from this famous tractor manufacturer had been to see the 950 tractor in action, and they were highly impressed with what they had seen.
They were to make several successive visits to view the 850, and on one of these occasions my uncle had been given the privilege of taking them to the field-tests in the firms’ mini-bus. It seems that they were so impressed with what they had seen they ‘could hardly contain their excitement on the way back to the works.’ A deal was subsequently signed. and Oliver began to market the 850 and the 950 in America. where they were respectively designated as the 500 and 600.
Finished in the distinctive green and white livery, the first Oliver rolled off the line on Friday 26th February. With David Brown junior sitting at the controls of an Oliver 500 (DB850) watched by a group of senior managers from the tractor division. Yet. despite the close tie-in with Oliver’s, this in no way affected existing David Brown dealers in either North or South America. The first consignment of 500s and 600s left Meltham station on a special train, hauled by Black Five 4-6-0 No.45101. The train of 49 ‘Oliver’ tractors left Meltham on Thursday 10th March for Salford Docks, where they were loaded on to the ss Manchester Progress for delivery to Chicago via the St. Lawrence Seaway. In the next few months a further 217 tractors followed the route of these pioneers.
It was good business which would eventually see the combined sales of 2,148 DB-built Oliver tractors. I asked Herbert Ashfield how the deal came about and why it subsequently ended; he writes ‘We were looking to sell more tractors in North America and oddly enough we were successful in both Canada and California, but we couldn’t get into the Mid-West of the USA where the real big market was.
Now, we’d always kept in contact with the American manufacturers but originally they used to sort of laugh at us, we were viewed very much as the poor relations. Then Oliver’s suddenly found themselves in trouble with their little machine, they couldn’t make it economically enough because they just hadn’t got a big enough market. So they began looking at what we were producing, and it must have appealed to them because their Sales Director said “you know we like your little tractor, would you do it in the Oliver livery and let us sell it for you.”
Obviously we said yes, and designed some cosmetic changes to its appearance and put in a few modifications which they wanted and it did very well. We were still increasing our sales with Oliver when Ford sacked all their franchise dealers in the USA and started supplying tractors through their own distributors, but they were also very short of a small tractor. Accordingly the Ford dealers came to Europe to find a tractor to sell and they chose David Brown, and we couldn’t turn down this business as it meant that we had a complete US franchise. So I was sent to Oliver’s to tell them we couldn’t supply any more tractors was a hard decision, but nevertheless a commercially correct one.‘