In 1943 G. S. Reekie set out David Brown’s development position saying ‘Our agricultural and industrial machines will be just as vital after the War as in the present circumstances and the plant and equipment is therefore poised for quick expansion, as soon as more stable conditions permit the divergence of materials to the constructive purposes of peace. Given the freedom of action we should be in a position to make a very large contribution towards the large number of tractors that the Ministry of Agriculture estimate to be the annual post-war requirements for the British lsles’.
While the main efforts of the company were concentrated on the VAK1 and military requirements throughout the war, design work went on and an improved agricultural tractor, the VAK2, was conceived for peacetime conditions. The four main improvements envisaged for this model were a) a combined inlet and exhaust manifold to give better idling on kerosene; b) a gearbox with six forward and two reverse speeds; c) a hydraulic system which was in-built instead of optional; d) more robust final drives. Yet this model never came to fruition, as sales in post-war
just before the VAK1 ended its production run. ‘They were on VAK1s when I started and very soon afterwards we brought in the VAK1A, which was the first tractor that we had built which had got all the bugs out of it. We would have got rid of what should have been teething problems in the new design years earlier, but the war virtually stopped our agricultural tractor production and we had no chance to bring in improvements. After the war the demand was for more and more tractors, and in these the farmers were wanting increased horse power and diesel engines.
The war had really changed things; farming, manufacturing, people’s perceptions (including ourselves), and above all our ideas at David Brown’s. So, as we became accustomed to peace-time conditions, we gradually began to improve as we went along. Most times we were overcoming problems that had arisen between 1939 and 1945; sometimes these were production problems, or service problems and sometimes even sales problems, all of which were holding back the tractors at various times. Now around this time we had a market research programme undertaken, which had told us Britain were very buoyant and all the production capacity was needed to fulfil orders for VAK1s.
Indeed, a continuing restriction in the supplies of various raw materials, coupled with the national austerity period, necessitated the continuing production of this model, and the company found it very hard to institute the much needed changes that it both wanted and had to make. However, with the decision taken not to produce the VAK2, the company opted to progressively introduce the improvements it had decided to embody within this tractor into a modified version of the VAK1. Thus was born the VAK1A, which appeared in the early spring of 1945. In this model the improved inlet and manifold was incorporated, although the other three features were not to appear for a further three years when the VAK1C was introduced.
Tom Lazenby was involved in these early days of post-war development, having started with the company that the market for tractors was at least a hundred thousand a year in Great Britain. Nobody in Britain had the capacity for that production, so a great deal of the tractors would have to be imported, though David Brown I reckoned we could easily make and sell one hundred tractors a week. I would have thought that we were the only people in the tractor business that knew what the demand was likely to be, and we set our stall out to capture the potential business that we had calculated from the rate at which it was judged that farmers would change from horses to tractors.’ It was abundantly clear, that in this time of change the VAK, hastily introduced and still suffering from basic shortcomings in the original design, would have to be modified if David Brown’s were going to break into the tractor market in a big way.
Herbert Ashfield recalls how the development came about; ‘By the end of the war the days of the VAK1 were coming to an end, as it was only natural they should, because it had been made in a fair hurry in 1939 and its short-comings were well known by 1944. After the VAK2 tractor was dropped, we decided to modify the VAK1 and the idea was to produce further models known as the 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D. The main problems with the VAK1 were associated with the manifold and the fact that you had to run it quite a while on petrol, before switching over to paraffin; even then, when it idled, it used to pop and back-fire. It was quite a problem so one of the first things we did was to put in a new manifold and diverted the exhaust round the intake, so that the exhaust warmed the intake air. With this, once it had warmed up it would idle without any trouble. At the same time Ford tractors were having a great deal of trouble with paraffin running down the cylinder walls causing a lot of wear, but with the new manifold we didn’t get any of these problems.
We also redesigned the transmission, and the power lift and we were well satisfied that the VAK1A would carry us through the next couple of years until things became a bit more settled. Unfortunately, the 1B, which was the tractor with a new gear box, didn’t go ahead as sales of the 1A did very well indeed and production of this model ran a lot longer than we ever thought it would.’ As with the VAK1, the 3.5” bore engine was petrol or TVO, and it had a 4-speed gear box and all-speed governors, though an optional 6-speed gearbox was introduced in 1948. From 1949 onwards, when David Browns began making a diesel engine option for the VAK1C, farmers could add a new dimension to their VAK1s with the purchase of a manifold conversion kit.
The Sales Manager JCR Birney, later wrote ‘In view of the large numbers of the earlier David Brown models that were still in service, the firm offered a conversion kit for all its TVO engines. This was available at about one third of the price of a new engine, it prolonged the life of many of those tractors and it bred a new era of brand loyalty to the David Brown Marque.’ Altogether 5,350 VAK1As were produced at Meltham Mills, with a final batch being sanctioned at the end of January which ran to some 352 in total.
The last VAK1A (No.9852) rolled down the assembly line in June 1947, in the midst of a string of VAK1Cs which had come into production two months earlier. The VAK1A had been an admirable stop gap, but it was the advent of its successor which would really set David Brown’s name and product range in the list of all-time great tractor manufacturers.