A very select pair!

Posted by Chris Graham on 1st October 2020

Bob Weir goes to Tayside to meet a big fan of David Brown tractors, and see his pair of 880 Selectamatics.

A very select pair

A very select pair!: As fine a pair of David Brown Selectamatics as you’ll find north of the Border. Neil restores his tractors to a high standard, with no expense spared.

Neil Reid, from Angus, is a qualified engineer who was brought up in the Tayside area. He lives in a rural community where tractors play a very important role in everyday life. “When I left school in the early 1980s, I served my time at a local David Brown dealership,” he recalls. “The tractors were popular, and I learned about them from the bottom up. I then worked on other types of vehicles for the following few years, including Volkswagen and Audi cars. After that, I decided to specialise in hydraulics, and started my family engineering business, Reid Hydraulic Services Ltd (RHS) in 1994, and have been growing the business ever since.

“We provide a 24-hour, on-site service for all our customers’ hydraulic needs. Our engineers offer a breakdown service for hose and hydraulic ram repair, and we can also fabricate, fault-find, design and build hydraulic systems. Alternatively, we can handle simpler jobs like replacing a burst hose. I stock a wide range of spare parts, and our store has an enormous range of hydraulic components, adapters and hoses. We also handle more specialist items, such as car transporter hydraulics.”

A very select pair

GGS 277E is an early example of the 880 Selectamatic, and ‘GS’ was a Perthshire registration until 1974. The extra hydraulic control made the tractor a force to be reckoned with.

Running your own business can be challenging and time-consuming, but Neil has found time to start his own tractor collection. Although his stable includes several makes, he still has high regard for David Brown tractors.

First blood
Despite his liking for most things David Brown, Neil’s first tractor was a Massey Ferguson MF 148. But, fortunately, it wasn’t long before his first David Brown came along; an 880 Selectamatic (reg. OGS 174H). He recalls: “The tractor was new in 1970, although I don’t have any information about the machine’s history. I have contacts with local dealers, and bought the tractor in 2003 from the Grassicks dealership, in nearby Blairgowrie. The tractor wasn’t in the best of condition but, as surviving Selectamatic models aren’t very common nowadays, I thought it was important to go ahead with it.”

Note the lack of dials on the left of the dashboard. This was remedied on later models.

The tractor was destined for a complete, bottom-up restoration, so the condition of the machine was academic. Apart, that is, from the hours of hard work needed to lick the David Brown back into shape! He explained: “I’ve opted for a full restoration for all of my tractors, barring the Massey Ferguson 148. I normally restore them to concours condition, and set myself the target of bringing each one to the condition ot would have been in, the day it left the factory. I replace any parts, even big-ticket items like the engine. Consequently, it can sometimes be an expensive process, but I think it’s worth the effort as there are not too many of these tractors left.”

Working space
Neil also likes to finish his restorations as quickly as possible. OGS 174H (serial no. 880A557504) is a typical example. He was so pleased to get hold of the tractor in the first place, that the work was completed in just a few months. Over the years, Neil has put together a fully equipped workshop, including all the tools and storage space.

The David Brown was considered to have a comfortable seating position, and good visibility.

“Mark you, it wasn’t at all like that back in the early days,” he told me. “I put aside a bit of space undercover at my depot but, basically, that was it. The tractors just had to make do. Keeping restoration projects protected from the weather is obviously important, especially during the winter months. I’m continually improving the work area, and have been adding to the facilities ever since. I’m particularly pleased with my David Brown toolkit, which has grown over the years. I’ve gained several items that are rare, including specialist tools for setting up items like the valves. I’ve learned, with the passing years, that you need to keep your eyes open and grab the opportunities when they come along.”

Second find
Neil bought his second Selectamatic, registered GGS 277E (serial no: 880A539667), in 2014 and came across it almost by accident. He recalls: “We used to buy and sell the occasional tractor, and I was visiting a local farm doing some work. While there, I spotted a familiar shape at the back of the customer’s shed, and realised it was a David Brown. Better still, it turned out to be a Selectamatic.

OGS 174H is another local tractor. Although a few eyebrows were raised at first, Orchid White and Chocolate Brown turned out to be a popular colour scheme.

“The customer’s father was well-known locally for showing prize-winning sheep. I was told he even employed his own shepherd to look after the animals. The Selectamatic 880 had been bought to help, although the tractor had previously been used by Ninewells Hospital, just down the road in Dundee.”

Ninewells Hospital is the largest medical practice in the area, and Neil assumes the tractor would have been used to help maintain the facility’s extensive grounds. However, the hospital didn’t officially open until 1975, and the tractor’s earlier history is a bit of a blank. “It wasn’t equipped with a fuel gauge, so it’s one of the early models,” Neil said. “As I recall, this dial was only fitted to later Selectamatics. When I first spotted the tractor, it was covered in pigeon droppings. This didn’t help the tractor’s appearance but, strangely, it seems as though the dirt had protected the metalwork.”

Later Selectamatic models benefited from a revised dash.

Pleasant surprise
Once Neil had finished giving the tractor an initial once-over, he found the tinwork to be in excellent condition. “Rust was very common with tractors from this period, so I was pleasantly surprised,” he recalls. “Although a lot of the tractors would run forever if properly serviced, the metalwork was usually the Achilles’ heel. I’ve seen a lot of tractors over the years in varying conditions, and the tinwork on the David Brown was well up to the mark.

“I gave the tractor a thorough inspection, but couldn’t spot many problems. My second son, Lindsay, was getting interested in the hobby by that stage, so I gave him the 880 on the condition that he helped with its restoration. He’s also interested in engineering, so it was a good experience for him.”

A very select pair

Lindsay with GGS 277E; restoring an old tractor is an excellent way of honing your engineering skills.

Besides the pair of Selectamatics, Neil also owns a David Brown 1294, which has been restored to concours standard. “I spend so much time restoring the tractors, I haven’t got around to actually taking them out to many shows,” he said. “I transported a couple of the David Browns down to the 2019 Scottish Tractor World at Ingliston, near Edinburgh, and they were well received. Lindsay’s Selectamatic even won the Young Restorer category, which bodes well for the future.”

David Brown tractors are a welcome sight at Scottish rallies, and Neil intends to go to more shows. He has already acquired a lorry to transport the tractors, and Lindsay is keen to help, but as Neil says: “As always, it’s finding the time.”

A very select pair

A trio of David Brown tractors with Neil (centre) and his two sons, Lindsay and Fraser.

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