25th November 2019

Porsche: from barn to ’bahn

A beautifully proportioned and styled open-top design. Unburstable air-cooled engines and legendary Porsche engineering. Affordable asking price. You probably think one of those sentences is the odd one out. However, not when we’re talking Porsche tractors.

Although not as famous as Lamborghini’s tractor heritage, Dr Ferdinand Porsche saw the agricultural industry as being just as important as his Italian rival. He began development of the Peoples’ Tractor – “Volksschlepper” – in 1937 and production began in earnest as part of a collaboration in the 50s. Due to post-WWII restrictions, only companies which had already been manufacturing tractors were allowed to continue after the war. As Porsche had not yet begun production, it signed licencing agreements over to German company Allgaier and Austrian manufacturer Hofherr Schrantz. This resulted in the sale of two tractors both using the same Porsche design and engines: Allgaier – System Porsche, and Hofherr Schrantz – System Porsche.

It’s a slightly confusing backstory that evolved again in 1956 when Mannesmann AG bought both the Allgaier tractor design and Porsche engine blueprint. At this point, production was significantly ramped up using the old Zeppelin factory and a host of modern manufacturing techniques and modern machine tooling complemented a typically precise vehicle range with a tractor suitable for any use.

Around 125,000 Porsche tractors were eventually built between 1950 and 1963, when production ceased, comprising a compact yet highly modular and focused range. From 1956, at the height of production, the range of Porsche-Diesel tractors consisted of the Junior, Standard, Super and Master. Engines were available in 1-, 2-, 3- or 4-cylinder air-cooled diesel configuration with between 15 and 50hp, and each featured individual and interchangeable cylinders and heads. By far the biggest seller was the Junior 108.

The Junior 108 was the smallest and cheapest in the range and was powered by a single-cylinder diesel engine that earned a reputation for robustness and an ability to be fixed in the field. Precisely what farmers needed in the 50s and 60s. The tiny engine boasted only an 822cc capacity and a peak power of 15hp at 2250rpm, but it could work hard in the field, all day, with minimal maintenance. It was also designed with a power take-off to enable the operation of farm machinery, featured early Bosch diesel injection and a 6 (yes, 6!) speed transmission. How long did Porsche car drivers have to wait to earn that many gears?

It’s clear that Porsche’s engineering reputation was just as much earned in the barn as it was on the autobahn, and you could even argue that Porsche Tractors offer a more elite ownership experience that their road-going cousins.

Are you ready to trade in your Clubsport for a Junior? Or perhaps you already have a road-and-field-going air-cooled Porsche collection. We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.