The Massey Ferguson 1200, a tractor that was considered cutting-edge when it was launched in late 1971, combined 4WD and articulated features and boasted a horsepower of over 100 – a significant achievement at the time. Although these features were not entirely new, the combination of them in a single package and their availability to farmers in the UK and Europe marked a significant shift in tractor design. However, it may have been too much of a culture shock for many at the time. Despite being over 50 years old, the Massey Ferguson 1200 remains an impressive tractor.
The design of the Massey Ferguson 1200 can be traced back to the mid-1960s as part of Massey Ferguson’s DX design project initiated in 1961 in Finland. Valmet had already produced a 4WD machine called the 363D, which was based on the company’s 46hp 361D tractor and aimed at the forestry market. The Valmet 363D featured a skid unit with an additional rear axle and came equipped with a dozer blade and winch. Although intended for a different market, the Valmet 363D served as a factory-built, skid unit-derived 4X4 tractor, a year before the new Massey Ferguson DX range was launched in 1965.
Once the new Massey Ferguson tractors hit the fields, it became evident that the demand for power was rapidly increasing. While 35hp might have sufficed for farmers who were accustomed to using horses, the next generation of farmers demanded more power from their machines. The DX project produced reliable tractors, but the demand for larger models was expanding. In the United States and Russia, big tractors, also known as prairie busters, were already in use on vast expanses of land. These large tracts of land required equally large and heavy machinery. During the 1950s and 1960s, smaller companies like Steiger began producing big tractors to meet the needs of these large farms. Unlike established manufacturers, these smaller companies were not limited by design parameters or corporate parts lists.
In response to these new competitors, Massey Ferguson developed three articulated tractors of its own: the 1800 with 210hp, the 1500 with 180hp, and the smaller European-oriented 1200 with 105hp. All three models were introduced in 1971, although the 1200 wasn’t available until 1972. The two larger tractors were built in Des Moines, Iowa, and powered by V8 Caterpillar engines, weighing nearly 8 tons each. In contrast, the 1200, built in Manchester, featured a straight six Perkins engine with 105hp and axles from the Massey Ferguson 178 tractor, which had a horsepower of 73. Despite being the smallest of the three, the MF 1200 was still a substantial tractor with an operating weight of just over 5 tons.
One claim made for these tractors is that they were the first to feature an integrated cab design. However, Valmet had already achieved this with its 900 model in 1967, which was created by an industrial designer rather than an agricultural engineer. In the same year that the MF 1200 was introduced, Valmet launched its rigid 702 model, which offered over 100hp, 4WD, and an integrated cab, albeit in a conventional format.
What set the MF 1200 apart from its competitors in the UK and Ireland at the time was its equal-sized wheels and pivot steering, which provided extra traction and agility. Ford’s major offering, the 7000, was a reliable machine but fell short in terms of power with only 89hp. John Deere and International Harvester had 100+hp tractors available in America, but very few made their way across the ocean. Those that did were often 2WD and lacked the optimal weight distribution of an articulated tractor like the 1200, which further enhanced traction. British farmers remained loyal to 2WD tractors throughout the 1970s and into the mid-1980s, possibly influenced by American farming practices. In contrast, all-wheel drive tractors were more prevalent on the continent.
Anglo-American companies were content to produce thousands of copies of a handful of tractor models without the complication of a driven front axle. This lack of incentive to change persisted for far too long.