If she’s not blue, she won’t do” or, “If she’s not red, leave her in the shed!”
These lines reflect the age-old rivalry between Ford and Ferguson tractor enthusiasts. All such rivalries have some basis in fact, and this particular rivalry goes right back to the two great men themselves: Henry Ford and Harry Ferguson.
No one is quite sure how this little blue tractor got its name, but it quickly found favour on many farms
The Ford Dexta was launched in the late 1950s and quickly grew in popularity. It became well-known for its easy-starting diesel engine, lightweight size and its manoeuvrability with attached machinery. No one is quite sure how this little blue tractor got its name, but it quickly found favour on many farms and established itself as the well-behaved little brother of the larger Fordson Major.
It is widely recognised that the Dexta was introduced by Ford to cash in on the popularity of the innovative Ferguson 20 and, later, the Ferguson 35. While Henry Ford and Harry Ferguson were once quite good friends – consulting on design and manufacturing projects – a row over Ford’s use of Ferguson’s three-point linkage system ended up in legal action.
The irony of all this is that, when Ferguson’s patent eventually ran out some years later, his system was copied by all tractor manufacturers – everywhere
Ferguson argued Ford had infringed its patents and took the Ford company to court; forcing them to pay out almost $10m in a 1952 settlement. The irony of all this is that, when Ferguson’s patent eventually ran out some years later, his system was copied by all tractor manufacturers – everywhere. The whole thing left Harry Ferguson with a very sick tummy and, in all likelihood, contributed to his death in 1960 at the age of 75.
Ford pulled out all the stops to make the Dexta extra special. They modified an old gear box design they had by adding an extra two gears, and fitted a Perkins P3 diesel engine. In the end, it turned out to be a very similar engine to what was eventually installed in the rival Ferguson 35 tractor in 1959. Regardless, the Dexta began to roll off the assembly lines in 1957. Ford also came up with a new range of smaller, lighter implements that were more suited to the tractor’s new 32hp engine while continuing to use Ferguson’s linkage design.
The 35 was a tractor, but the Dexta was more
Gradually the Ford blue began to impact the grey and red Ferguson. Pound for pound, the Dexta was as good at the Ferguson 35, but the prestige of owning a Ford made the owner feel he was well ahead. The 35 was a tractor, but the Dexta was more: it was part of a great motoring tradition, going all the way back to the Model T. The Ford Dexta was something to be proud of; its brand name and cool trademark left many a simple farmer feeling he was part of a great worldwide institution – and, sure, maybe he was.
I can still see an old man who used to save turf on the local bog driving his Dexta home each summer evening with a huge load of turf piled high on his 10 × 6 trailer. The tractor chugged along in low gear, out the bog road and onwards to the top of the hill on the main road. Then, I could hear the engine relax as he changed gear and rolled for home, more than five miles away. Actually, I never thought his engine sounded great.
You see, we were spoiled – we were used to the sweet purr of our own little Ferguson 35 engine.
The slightly larger Super Dexta was launched in 1961 in the same familiar blue and orange colour scheme. The Dexta itself was discontinued in December 1964, but remained, working hard, on many small farms throughout Ireland for the next few decades. Right up to this day, the Dexta is a firm favourite among tractor enthusiasts everywhere... or, at least, for Ford enthusiasts!