Opposite ends of the Porsche spectrum make for a strange encounter as a 1950s utility vehicle meets a state-of-the-art SUV: we haul a Porsche-Diesel tractor from Holland with a Cayenne Turbo.
‘What? Porsche make tractors now?’ ‘Well, no, not now, but they did in the 1950s.’ Check my furrowed brow (geddit?): that’s a typical take on our mission to Holland on behalf of Ruth Archer – sorry, Emma Fraser, farmer extraordinaire and spouse of my snapping colleague - to collect the venerable Porsche-Diesel ‘StandardT 217’ model she’s just bought. To execute this operation, we have the most formidable tow car imaginable,a mighty Cayenne Twin Turbo S, placed at our disposal by The Archers-friendly PCGB execs, with which to lug Mrs Fraser’s classic tractor back to Blighty. They’re both red, our doughty pair, but occupying opposite ends of the utility spectrum. Both have go-anywhere capability, but one is an austere, 1374cc, (90mm x 108mm) in-line twin-cylinder, single-seater with 26bhp that can do maybe 12mph, the other seats five in luxury and promises 175mph and 550bhp, making it possibly Britain’s most powerful tow car.
An old Dutch friend of Mrs Fraser, Jan Coen, has located the tractor for her, so Ant borrows a Brian James trailer from his old mucker Dobson, which happily mates with the Cayenne’s hidden tow bar (flick a switch on the tailgate and it’s ‘now you see it, now you don’t’). We rendezvous in the docks at Harwich.The overnight crossing to Hook-of-Holland aboard Stena Line’s palatial SS Hollandica is marvelous; not so much a ferry, more a cruise liner, certainly in the culinary department. We’ve had dinner and gone off to our cabins even before we’ve set sail, to be woken six hours later by the amplified strains of Bobby McFerrin whistling ‘Don’t worry, be Happy’ as we glide into the floodlit Dutch Europort. Liberated from the hull’s metal womb, the unladen trailer is restive over the drempels, but the on-board sat-nav helps guide us effortlessly via a blend of A-road, motorway and urban brick weaveto Laren, a village near Hilversum in central Holland. Cue Van Morrison’s “In the days of rock and roll”, where he quotes long-gone radio stations including Hilversum.Jan Coen’s large thatched house (1909) is set in a wooded enclave, and an ambiguous road sign sends us down a narrow single-track cul-de-sac. My cameraman is helming the Cayenne, and he masterfully reverses the rig a cool 100m to get us back on track.
Jan Coen backs the tractor smokily out of his garage, while his dog is driven bonkers by the racket. To fire up the two-cylinder Porsche-Diesel is a matter of switching the ignition on, easing the hand-throttle lever fully down, pulling the glow-plug switch up and holding it for half-a-minute, then pulling it some more and - yippee! -the starter engages. Brrrugggerdugger dug-dug-dug, it goes, a plume of black smoke ascending from the stove pipe. Loading the tractor is a matter of driving onto the trailer, stropping all four wheels to the deck and tensioning the winch. And with a waved Tot Ziens!toJan Coen, off we go, heading for OPC Rotterdam, where we have an assignation with our two-wheeling buddy Cees de Zeeuw (see the sand-beige 2.7’s antics in last month’s issue). Cees’s Porsche-Diesel ‘Junior’ tractor takes pride of place inside the showroom entrance, and it’s a diminutive gem, so immaculate you could eat your waffles off it, but even so he’s arranged for us to have a play with it.
Rotterdam OPC was founded by veteran Porsche racer Ben Pon in the 1960s. it’sa spacious, single-storey premises, full of the tastiest Porsches old and new, and situated close to the wide Nieuwe Maas river. We’re welcomed by head honcho Harrie van Ham, who gives us a tour of the workshops, and after some delicious Dutch club sandwiches, the Junior is trundled out of the showroom. Ignoring the downpour, Harrie drives it the half-mile onto the levee flanking the river, and I follow suit with Mrs Fraser’s Standard T 217.The Schaardijk towpath isa precarious single-lane road, and though other vehicles don’t stop, they are respectful enough to put two wheels on the edge to allow us through. We trundle down the hill on the landward side of the levee into a farmyard in a conservation area where there’s a huge, circular thatched barn. Its umbrella roof can be hoisted higher and higher up the supporting poles as it fills up with hay, and apparently these barns are fairly common in traditional Dutch farmyards. For now though, it’s the sheltered setting for our photoshoot.
It’s a juggling act, driving one of these tractors, no matter how dinky they seem by today’s leviathan standards. There’s a hand throttle, the gear lever’s between your legs, and the pedals are either side of the transmission casing, clutch left, brake right.There’s a foot throttle too, though I don’t discover that till later. The beefy handbrake clasp projects vertically from the right as well.So I’m perched on high, my seat mounted to the tractor by what looks like a large lever-arm shock-absorber, and the steering has to look after itself as I use both hands to shift ratios. And that farmyard dyke is looming awfully close! Woah there! Anchors on and geared down, I haul on the steering wheel and round it comes. These are physically demanding machines, though what would you expect in an agricultural context? The ratios are extremely close together, and there’s so much torque I almost needn’t bother with the bottom two gears. The lever that operates the transfer box for switching between high- and low-ratios emerges from under the seat and protrudes on the right hand side of the cockpit, just below my right knee.Of the two machines, the single-cylinder Junior is the more sprightly, though it’s almost certainly done less grafting than the Standard.
However, its clutch is so jerky, the wheelbase so narrow in relation to my elevated saddle that, no kidding, it’s actually more alarming than driving an F1 car (and yes, I did once, the ex-Jean Alesi Prost-Peugeot V10 AP03, if you must know). The two Porsche tractors’ respective handling and operational quirks are subtly different, given the variations in sizes, and though unrefined at first acquaintance, I’ve no doubt that, straw in mouth, one would soon become adept at harnessing farm machinery and pursuing agrarian tasks. Ooh argh!
Porsche tractors, though.Only connoisseurs of the marque are aware of this apparently incongruous sideline, hence incredulity is the inevitable reaction to our trek. In fact, the ‘Volks-Schlepper’ workhorse could have matched the longevity of Professor Ferdinand Porsche’s other contemporary pre-war design, the Volkswagen Beetle, if war hadn’t intervened. By 1934 he’d produced three prototype tractors, whose specification included a hydraulic coupling between the engine and transmission, a feature of Porsche-Diesel tractors until production ended in 1963. These early ’30s prototypes were petrol-engined, asthe air-cooled Porsche diesel engine was unproven, and the project was sidetracked by other demands made of the Prof’s fertile design talents – like the VW Kübelwagen and the bellicose Elefant and Maus tanks, for instance.
Among his post-war projects, Prof Porsche had four basic air-cooled diesel engine designs on the table: single-, two-, three- and four-cylinder configurations with interchangeable heads and barrels, ranging in power from 14- to 55bhp, and there were also renderings for a four-wheel drive tractor.Getting the tractors into production was not straightforward though. There was the small matter of World War 2, in the wake of which,the only German firms allowed by the Allies to carry on manufacturing were ones that’d been operational pre-war – like Volkswagen - and Prof Porsche’s prototyping endeavorson the tractor front counted for nought.Besides which, he was summarily ousted from the VW Chairmanship in 1945. After his 20-month incarceration he circumvented this manufacturing vetoin 1948 by aligning with automotive steel fabricators Allgaier GmbH and an Austrian firm, Hofherr Schrantz, who incorporated the two-cylinder version of the aluminium-cased Porsche drivetrain into their tractors, identified as Allgaier-System Porsche and Hofherr Schrantz-System Porsche, respectively.Porsche’s relocation to Stuttgart-Zuffenhausenin 1949 facilitated the liaison with Allgaier, who were based close by at Uhingen.
The factory they selected for tractor production was not so far away either, located in the Dornier seaplane base at Manzell on the Bodensee (Lake Constance) in Baden-Württemberg district,south-west Germany. No coincidence it was very close to Friedrichshafen, where the presence of much of the German aeronautical industry during the war attracted numerous Allied bombing raids. Thus, the only section of the Dornier premises fit for use post-war was the work’s canteen, and this building was pressed into service as the Allgaier construction site, where components manufactured in Uhingen were assembled by around 120 workers under the management of Porsche acolyte Dr Albert Prinzing. Professor Porsche, his son Ferry, and brothers Erwin and Oscar Allgaier launched the Allgaier AP-17 in Frankfurt on 9th June 1950, and the stage was set for a new line of Porsche-powered vehicles.
As the range developed,Allgaier built 9,452 A-P17 tractors between July 1950 and December 1953. Waiting in the wings were the 12bhp single-cylinder A-P111, a form of which was farmed out to Cisitalia through Porsche’s exquisite 360 GP racecarconnection – while, by coincidence, another budding supercar manufacturer was just starting to make tractors in Italy: raised on a vineyard, the Muira was not yet a twinkle in Ferruccio Lamborghini’s eye, but his tractors quickly cornered the Italian market. Meanwhile the distinctive rotund-nose Allgaier styling was introduced in 1954 with the new 22bhp two-cylinder A-P22 tractor. Touted as a potentially lucrative contract to supply tractors for the Brazilian coffee plantations, Porsche was prompted to send a prototype 312 tractor to South America as a demonstrator. A lack of diesel fuel in Brazil meant it had to run on ethanol, and when an order was placed for the 312 Plantation Tractor in 1952,it specified a four-stroke two-cylinder petrol engine be fitted, to avoid contaminating the coffee plants. Ironically, given the climate, the vehicle was clad in bodywork reminiscent of a bobsleigh. It wasn’t a big deal, financially, though. Production totalled 220 units, with 200 invoiced in Brazil and the rest exported to Argentina and Columbia. The following year Porsche design Types 535, 536, 537 and 538 were introducedas the A111, A122, A133 and A144 series; the clue to the number of cylinders the engine had was in the designation number, though true to form, their parts were 80-percent interchangeable. Inautumn 1954 the assembly line relocated to a new factoryby the Bodenseeat Manzell, and by mid-1955 output totalled 50,000 tractors, of which 35,000 were Porsche-based.
For a spot of cross-referencing, our friend Jude Haig, she of ’69 911T ‘Gloria’, hooked me up with her father, Dr Nigel Haig, who owns a 1955 Allgaier A111, bought decades ago at an auction as a wreck. ‘It didn't run,’ he recalls, ‘but most of the parts were there. It has a single cylinder 822cc diesel engine and weighs 18cwt.’ He restored it over two years, and it won 2nd prize at the 2003 Kent County Show. ‘It was well-designed for post-war Europe,’ he believes, ‘being usable in all kinds of harsh weather, unlike some contemporaries, for instance, being air-cooled, rather than water-cooled. The original oil pressure system had to be completely redesigned, though. It was also intended to be driven to market, and it has a simple seat for the farmer's wife on the left-hand rear mudguard. It has four-speeds, both forwards and backwards, and its flywheel weighs rather more than I do!’
Back in the mid-’50s, theGerman economic upturnmade steel pressing and metal stamping more attractive than tractor manufacturing, and in 1956 Allgaier sold up to Mannesmann AG in a deal that included the Porsche diesel engine and transmission design as well as the Allgaier chassis. A new division of Mannesmann AG, called Porsche-Diesel Motorenbau GmbH, was established at the former Zeppelin factory west of Friedrichshafen, and the facilitywas rebuilt and equipped with state-of-the-art machine tools.In 1958 they did a deal with truck makers Deutz to share technical expertise and parts sourcing; years ago I cruised the northern European waterways on a Dutch barge powered by a mid-’50s Deutz diesel truck engine; its six separate cylinders were air-cooled, it was noisy and smoked badly but was always reliable. I reflect that, if that was an example of Deutz sophistication, no wonder they needed Porsche input! By now, annual output of tractors numbered 20,000 vehicles, just ahead of the newly introduced six-model line-up, which comprised 15-, 20-, 26-, 30-, 35-and 55bhp machines.
Notwithstanding the expanded range, volumes fell to 16,000 tractors in 1960, with 10,000 invoiced in the home market and 6,000 exported. Final innovation on the production line was the incorporation of the new Bosch-Hydraulic ancillary equipment lifting system, enhancing practical versatility. Then,in 1963, Mannesmann AG called time on manufacturing Porsche-Diesel tractors. The assembly process rumbled on into early 1964, though done outdoors outside the factory premises, which had been requisitioned by MTU-Daimler on behalf of NATO as a tank engine building facility. Surely, one imagines, Mannesmann could have relocated tractor production or reached some sort of compromise. But evidently not; that was it, no more Porsche tractors. At close of play, the final tally of Porsche-Diesels created over the decade amounted to125,000 units. After production ended, Regie Renault was contracted to service Porsche-Diesel tractors worldwide so owners weren’t left high and dry.
Fortunately, we manage to remain exactly that, as the rain stops, up on our Maas-side towpath. En route to the conservation farm we’ve checked a spot beside the levee to park the Cayenne and its rig for a final bout of snappery, silhouetted against the sunset, and when we arriveback there in the gathering dusk we disturb a couple hard at it in their car. It’s by no means the first time we’ve had this harrowing experience! Anyway, the tiny beach enclave gives Antony just the setting he needs, and we don’t spare their blushes. Plough on, dude!
Hoek-van-Holland isn’t far from Rotterdam (cue The Beautiful South: ‘Rotterdam…is anywhere, anywhere alone.’) so we route through the intriguing, canalised heart of the city, mentally reminding ourselves to return for a nocturnal shoot some day. We’ve promised Stena Line some shots of their extraordinary cargo on quay beside the ferry, which proves mighty hard to achieve on account of a freighter filling up with innumerablecontainer lorries, endlessly to-ing and fro-ing in our line of vision. As we strive to attain at least some prospectthat encapsulates our mighty Porsche rig and the SS Britannica in the same frame, a port employee and tractor enthusiast regales us with tales of his collection, and unsurprisingly this is a regular theme when we park up anywhere. People want to know what constitutes a Porsche tractor. Would we attract similar interest as we pass through British customs, we wonder; the Dutch passport control isn’t bothered, and as it turns out, neither is the UK Border agency: ‘you going to restore it?’ is the height of their inquisition.
And that is the fate of Mrs Fraser’s new pride and joy: Dobson will go over it mechanically, and Bettinsons of Oakley will likely be entrusted with restoring the paintwork to its former bucolic glory. Meanwhile, Mrs Fraser is, like one of her cows, ‘over the moon’ with her new purchase, and the herd regards her with new respect, viewing the rumbling red rooster as some kind of deity that’s come amongst them. One thing’s for sure, though;she has bought probably the cheapest classic Porsche going, or certainly one made prior to 1970. And it can still be a farmyard workhorse. All together now, “Bumping up and down on a big red tractor, bringing in the hay!”