Financial Times

2022-09-23 19:43:25 By : Mr. JEZE ALEX

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It started last summer at Cheffins’ Shrubbs Farm Sale in Essex, where a tractor caused a stir. At the auction, now mentioned in reverential tones for the extent and quality of the machinery, a 1983 County 1474, muscular, blue, with the patina of a functional working life and each wheel the size of a Jacuzzi, sold for £210,112 – way exceeding its estimate of £60,000-£70,000. Soon afterwards a 1966 Northrop went for £79,864, nicely above the anticipated £40,000-£50,000. But that was only the beginning: this April, at Cheffins in Cambridgeshire, an immaculately restored 1982 County 1474 sold for £214,400 against an estimated £120,000-140,000. 

A County 1474 sold by Cheffins for £210,112

A 1940s John Deere Model B, sold by Aumann Auctions for $2,500

These spiralling prices are as mad as a bag of ferrets, bemused non-agricultural types might think. But it all makes sense to Cheffins’ Oliver Godfrey. “Tractors are a guilty pleasure for many,” he says. “We’ve sold punchy ones for lots of money to people who aren’t in agriculture – they just have a penchant for horsepower. They’re assets they can stick in a shed, play with – but [also] see where their money is.” 

I’d sooner talk antique tractors than eat

You can buy all sorts of vintage tractors now – even Porsches and Lamborghinis. Lamborghini, of course, specialised in tractors before entering the sports car market in the 1960s, while Porsche partnered with Allgaier to build them between 1953 and 1963. The names of the costliest vintage models are less well known, though: the world’s most expensive “antique” tractor (the favoured American term) is a 1913 Case 30-50, one of only five left, that sold for $1.47mn at Aumann Auctions in Nokomis, Illinois, in May 2022. It succeeded a 1910 Marshall Colonial that sold in the US in 2019 for $535,000.

A Massey Ferguson 1250, sold by Cheffins in May for £70,000

A 1913 Case 30-50, the world’s most expensive “antique” tractor, which sold for $1.47mn in 2019

Tom O’Connor bought the 1982 County 1474 this spring. “I like them in mint condition,” says O’Connor, a businessman who grew up on a farm in County Cork. At 11, he was driving a Fordson Major to the local creamery in an era when such was life; he now owns a dozen tractors of his own. “I’m mainly a Ford man – I have a Ford 3000, 5000 and 7000 in my inventory – but I like County tractors,” he adds. “I’ll not do much with this 1474, probably give it a run once a month.” He believes that his collection will “rise in value, and I’ll hand them on to the next generation”.

Wessex Historic Tractor and Implement Club

There are broadly two collector camps: traditional enthusiasts who discreetly research and buy; and nostalgic former country boys who have long preferred plough-pulling diesels over girl-pulling supercars. A good starter tractor, says Godfrey, “would be a ’60s/’70s David Brown 885 for £3,000-£5,000, a ’60s Massey Ferguson 35 for £4,000-£6,000, or an early ’50s David Brown Cropmaster at £8,000-£10,000.” At the other end of the scale, a 1903 Ivel Agricultural Motor sold in 2019 for £328,600 holds the UK auction record. Alex Albone, a Lincolnshire farmer and the founder of Pipers Crisps, bought it. “It’s a beautiful machine, designed by my great-great uncle in 1902,” he says. “I had to have it. It’s a temperamental so-and-so – some days it won’t start.” Only seven of the 480 built are left.

In Illinois, Kurt Aumann of Aumann Auctions is also “a farm boy”. “I’d sooner talk antique tractors than eat,” he says. “We get buyers that run the gamut from brain surgeons to mechanics. They’re all fascinated by the history, design and engineering.” Aumann says that the US market today is “strong – but when Case bids ticked past $1mn we were all going, ‘Wow’.” “Prairie tractors” like the huge Marshall Colonial were used to break virgin prairie, he explains. “They’d start ploughing at dawn and go in one direction at 3mph until noon, eat, turn around, and plough back.” Rumours abound of similar monsters lurking in barns.

A 1940s McCormick 04, sold for $12,870 by Aumann Auctions

A 1970s Oliver 2255, sold for $56,700 by Aumann Auctions

Entry-level US buying potential is as broad as a Marshall Colonial furrow is long: 1940s John Deere Model Bs, Oliver 60s, and International Harvester Model Ms are “nice, small” tractors for less than $5,000, says Aumann. Budget $20,000 for a massive choice. In Europe, Porsches and Lamborghinis are rare, but not too pricey, and some car collectors enjoy adding a workhorse to their thoroughbred stables. There’s a 1959 Porsche Allgaier AP22 for sale for €18,900 from InterClássico in Portugal and a 1953 model at €22,000 from Mecanic Import in Belgium. Further afield, you can find a 1954 P312 Coffee (sheathed in what appears to be aerodynamic bodywork, but designed for pushing through coffee plantations) ripe to restore for £20,000 in a private sale in São Paulo, Brazil, via

David Honeybun of European Classic Cars in Wiltshire sources Lamborghini tractors. “Early ones are nicer, with an attractive curved shape, some in orange and pale blue,” he says. He sold a 1986 R355 for £8,250 and has an early ’50s DL30 at £15,000, but “if you want to go a bit eccentric”, he adds, “around £20,000 buys a Cingolato ‘crawler’. Late ’50s, great fun, will traverse anything – at walking pace. It’s perhaps not the Lamborghini to drive to the pub, though.”