Blast from the past – Porsche’s tractors

Some people are often surprised to learn that their favourite supercar brands also produce vehicles that are more at home in a field. The first Lamborghinis, for example, were tractors, and are still manufactured today (after approaching Ferrari about a broken clutch on one of his cars, Ferruccio Lamborghini was told that as a tractor manufacturer he couldn’t know anything about sports cars, a mistake that led Lamborghini to peruse the creation of the perfect grand tourer). Then there’s Aston Martin, which was acquired by Sir David Brown, founder of a company of the same name that began manufacturing tractors with Harry Ferguson in 1936. Brown later purchased Aston Martin in 1947 and, although the two companies are no long aligned, what has become known as the ‘David Brown era’ saw the production of the famed DB series, the best known of which is probably the DB5.

Porsche falls under the same category. Their older tractors are quite rare, and quite expensive if they’re in good condition – late last year a lovingly restored 1959 Porsche Master 419 was put on sale via Done Deal for €49,500.

Humble Beginnings

The firm’s history is the inverse of Lamborghini. Before founding Dr. Ing. h. c. F. Porsche GmbH in 1931, Ferdinand Porsche had worked for an electric company in Vienna and, while there, developed an idea for an electric car with an electric motor powering each of the wheels. Following a move to work with Jackob Lohner, a carriage builder in Vienna, where he won the Grand Prize at the Paris Universal Exposition for the Porsche-Lohner Chaise, a two-wheel drive, battery powered electric vehicle with between 10-14 hp and a range of 48 – 80 km.

Porsche’s next project saw him join Austro-Daimler Motor Works in 1905 where he developed a more conventional car, using later versions to compete in motor racing events. As Europe moved closer to war in 1913, Porsche began designing engines for military aircraft and then built a tractor for the Austrian army, designed to haul 13.5mm guns (built by Skoda, incidentally). Electric motors in the wheel hubs were powered by a generator, which was in turn powered by a petrol engine.

Porsche began designing engines for military aircraft and then built a tractor for the Austrian army, designed to haul 13.5mm guns (built by Skoda, incidentally).

Having moved to Daimler-Benz in 1923, Porsche began to focus on producing diesel engines, and by 1934, three years after founding his own company, had also constructed three petrol-powered prototype tractors. Porsche would also later go on to develop the Volkswagen, subsidised by the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, who sought a ‘people’s car’. Though a dedicated factory was built in Wolfsburg, production was stunted by the advent of World War II, and Porsche instead spent the war years working of military vehicles such as the Kubelwagen (a military version of the VW), and several mostly unsuccessful tanks.

Post War Growth

Following the war, Porsche was one of only two companies allowed to produce tractors, and licensed a German company, Allgaier, to make its designs a reality. The first of these were introduced to the world in 1947, a 1-cylinder engine, diesel-powered Allgaiers. Though these early models were relatively spartan, later designs were more streamlined. By the time production ended on the Allgaier tractors in 1955, an estimated 40,000 vehicles had been built. Mannesmann AG acquired Porsche’s diesel engine design, and Allgaier’s tractor design, and moved operations to Friedrichshafen in West Germany to a more modern and fully equipped factory. Some of Germany’s best selling tractors became the Porsche Junior, Standard and Super tractors and, by 1962, the company had sold a further 120,000 tractors. A year later, Porsche’s tractor production came to an end.

Coffee Train

One of the more interesting models produced during these years was the Porsche P312, manufactured for coffee farmers in Brazil, also known as the Kaffeelug or ‘coffee train’. An Allgaier tractor was used to form the basis of the P312, and it was modified at the factory to run on petrol, possibly due to concerns on the part of the coffee farmers about the impact of diesel fumes on the flavour of their coffee. Around 300 of these unusual machines were made, each powered by a 1.8l engine producing 24.2 bhp. Looking more like a submarine or an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile than a tractor, its unusual design was the result of a need to be as unintrusive as possible while moving through the delicate coffee plants.

Around 300 of these unusual machines were made, each powered by a 1.8l engine producing 24.2 bhp.

The Irish Connection

Many people may also be unaware that Porsche’s tractors have an Irish connection. According to PorscheTractor.com, an Irish civil engineer working on the Caledonian Canal in Scotland was searching for an alternative to water cooled tractors that froze in the cold winter temperatures and would also run well in warm summers. His search led him to the Allgaier tractors that proved to be reliable, and he contacted Porsche to secure the rights to assemble these vehicles in Ireland. He succeeded in doing so in Borris-in-Ossory, Co Laois, between 1950-1965, selling the tractors across Ireland, the UK, and even as far afield as Iceland.

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