My tractor is my favourite car | Thank Frankel it's Friday

08th December 2023
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

A while back, we moved to a house with a bit of land. A bit more land than I wanted to be honest, but where we live in the Welsh borders is not the Cotswolds where chocolate box homes are strewn around the countryside, which meant that (a) we could afford it and (b) we really had to buy it because there was no telling if and when another suitable place might come along.


Nor was I blind to the fact that this land was not without its advantages. We’d be surrounded by it, unable to see or be seen from another house. It would mean I could get some Hebridean sheep which my wife had always wanted because they’re small enough to be manageable, intelligent (yes, really), beautiful, almost indestructible and absolutely delicious. But actually? To me it meant just one thing: I was going to need a tractor.

At our previous place, a cottage where we’d split our lives between there and London before decamping to the country full-time, even a ride-on mower had been vetoed. To go from some hateful machine you had to trudge miserably behind to an actual tractor was like being upgraded from economy, all the way past premium and business, straight into first.

The problem was I knew nothing, and I do mean nothing, about tractors. I’d driven one once, at a farm when I was of school age and that was that. I knew only that it needed to be small, affordable and come with reliability as bombproof as that of my sheep. So I consulted a friend who lived on a sprawling north Somerset estate who was something of a connoisseur when it came to all things mechanical. ‘It’s easy,’ he said. ‘You need a Kubota. The Rolls-Royce of mini-tractors. Absolutely thrives on neglect.’


Unfortunately, he was not the only person who knew this. Decent Kubotas are not cheap and I couldn’t afford any of them. So I broke all the rules I’m constantly banging on about to people about how to buy second-hand cars and bought an indecent one instead. It was a grey import from Japan, of indeterminate age, though probably early 1980s. A rear wing had already rusted through, it had what appeared to be quite of lot of sand in the bottom of its sump and oil so thick and black it would be better described as sludge. But because the fields weren’t going to maintain themselves I thought I’d buy it, hope it’d last at least a season, by which time I’d of course have won the lottery I don’t play and be able to afford a better example. That was 16 years ago and, servicing aside, in all that time all this grotty old tractor has needed is a new water pump.

Which is just one of the things I love about it. It’s driven by a 1.1-litre, three-cylinder diesel motor with more than enough power to get you into a whole heap of trouble on the steep slopes and precarious traverses it needs to negotiate. It also has an extremely narrow track – because, I am told, it was designed to go up and down rice paddies – and no rollover protection whatsoever. If it ever started to tip, a rapid elective dismount would be my only chance. Truth be told, I’m quite scared of it. Which, idiot that I am, makes it all part of the challenge.

But what I love most about it is that it makes sure you are always busy. When I am making tight turns in the corner of fields while cutting back the undergrowth you can feel like a one-man band, so busy are your limbs. One hand to steer, the other to adjust the hand throttle, raise or lower the topper on demand – sometimes by minute degrees. One foot for the clutch, the other dancing on the two brake pedals which can be used together or, more usually, asymmetrically for the purpose of steering rather than slowing, while always being ready to kick the bar running behind my right heel which locks the diff solid and propels you out of any hole into which you might have sunk like a cork from a bottle.


I’m also fascinated by the fact that the bottom of its 12 gears is so low, if you let up the clutch at idling revs you could go and make a cup of tea, come back and find it still pretty much where you left it. Given the traction, I reckon it could pull over the Eiffel Tower.

Ultimately it’s just another example of what I love most about all vehicles, be it an old tractor like this or a Ferrari F40: these are machines that know what they are for, they are utterly involving, slightly frightening and there’s real pride and satisfaction to be had from knowing you’re operating them properly.

One day I’ll be too old to enjoy this land and we’ll have to go and live somewhere less good instead. And sometimes, after a good day in the fields when I’m parking it back in the shed with all the other old automotive nonsense that lives therein, I wonder if, of them all, it’s this silly old tractor I’ll miss the most.

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