Before Aston Martin, David Brown built the VAK1 Cropmaster tractor
While flipping through The Times newspaper in late 1946, industrialist and engineer David Brown stumbled upon an ad selling a “High Class Motor Business.” Already steeped in the world of engineering and manufacturing, the Englishman’s interest was piqued. He visited the company headquarters only to discover that the company for sale was none other than Aston Martin. During Brown’s visit he had the chance to drive one of the company’s prototypes, and seeing great potential in it, he opted to purchase the company with which his name would forever be tied.
But before Brown swooped in to change the course of Aston Martin with the DB-line of sports and touring cars (to which he lent his initials), he manufactured tractors. He first worked in his grandfather’s David Brown Gear Company Ltd. (with whom he obviously shared a name), and by 1931 David had moved on from managing director and was running the family firm following his father Percy’s passing.
David Brown had been trying to break into motor vehicle manufacturing for some time, and the spark that made it happen was a partnership with engineer Harry Ferguson. Together they established the Ferguson-Brown Company in 1936, from which came the Ferguson-Brown tractor. Although the farm tractor was by all measures quite successful, Ferguson and Brown did not prove compatible, and after a bout of disagreements on design among other things, the partnership dissolved.
Afterward, while Ferguson fell into a doomed team-up with Henry Ford in Detroit, Brown quickly brought out a fresh tractor design of his own. The VAK1 “Cropmaster” tractor strutted its stuff at the Royal Agricultural Show in 1939. VAK stands for Vehicle Agricultural Kerosene, and it had a 35-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine and four-speed transmission. Breaking away from the gray paint that Ferguson was known for, Brown demanded the Cropmaster be painted Hunting Pink, or red.
The tractor couldn’t have arrived at a more ideal time, becoming a critical tool in food production during World War II. More than 7700 VAK1s were sold—a huge success for Brown.
The Cropmaster ran either on petrol or paraffin (tractor vaporising oil), and it came with a double seat that was designed for two people to ride. Later on, the style became known as the “courting tractor,” perhaps for those who hoped to kill two birds with one stone and mix tractor work with a little dating. While many other tractor designs have the brakes on the right side of the tractor and the clutch on the left, that system had to be modified for the dual-seat design.
David Brown enthusiasts take care in restoring these tractors, and the VAK1 Cropmaster shown here was fully overhauled before it was sold to its current owner in 2014. For your chance to court that special someone in the double-seat of agricultural and British manufacturing history, be sure to check out The Aston Martin Sale auction on June 2 at Reading, Englefield House in the UK.