Mechanical engineer Frank Keutz stumbled, unwittingly, on an incredibly rare David Brown tractor – an 880 Selectamatic. Richard de Florennes meets the man and his amazing machine
Sometimes, the proverbial beginner’s luck can strike in the world of old tractors, and 51-year-old Frank Keutz, from the German town of Frankfurt am Main, illustrates the phenomenon perfectly. After moving from the metropolis to the comparatively lonely, but beautiful, German Eifel mountain region in 2003 – not far from the famous Nürburgring motor racing circuit – Frank gradually developed the idea of buying his own tractor. “In addition to the house I bought, I also became owner of my own small forest, as all of the heating for our house is provided by wood.
“As I had no suitable vehicle for transporting wood from the forest, which has steep slopes and often muddy terrain, I thought that a tractor, ideally equipped with four-wheel-drive, might be a good solution,” the mechanical engineer with a university degree recalled. “I began searching on eBay for something suitable available in the Eifel region and, in 2015, I finally found one. Cosmetically, it wasn’t very nice – roughly painted red, but technically it was in a good state.
A David what?
“It was a David Brown – a tractor brand that I’d never heard of before. However, in my defence, you should be aware that David Brown wasn’t very successful in Germany, and any remaining examples are a rare sight here today.”
This explains why neither Frank nor the previous owner – a farmer from the small town of Nettersheim in the Northern Eifel region – were aware of the fact, that an 880 Selectamatic with four-wheel-drive is actually something very special! Therefore, Frank was able to buy the tractor for ‘only’ €3,500 (around £3,000).
After the deal was done, Frank began researching the historical and technical background of the Selectamatic, getting in touch with the British-based David Brown Tractor Club. “As soon I learned more about David Brown, I decided that I wanted to bring my poor-looking tractor back to its original state – at least as good as I could.
“I especially liked the white-brown-red design of the original 880 Selectamatic. It looked very noble in my eyes, and I wanted my example to look exactly that way. But I could not find any illustrations of a four-wheel-drive 880, nor any other information on the Internet. That was when I began to realise that there was something was strange about my tractor.”
What a rarity!
Frank also got a hint from one of the David Brown Tractor Club members, who stated: “We believe that only four were made as prototypes, two in France and two in Germany. There was never one recorded coming out of the Meltham factory.” This message led to more questions, of course. Prototypes for what, and for whom? Why in France and Germany? And why was the four-wheel-drive 880 restricted to only four examples?
Frank didn’t find all the answer he wanted, but has a theory that might be a good explanation: “In the early 1970s, when my tractor was built, four-wheel-drive tractors had already been introduced by most other tractor makes in Germany, like Deutz, Eicher, Fendt, IH and John Deere. This allowed for a direct comparison of the four-wheel-drive David Brown with its German counterparts.
“Selene, which had built the front axle for my tractor, was also well established in Germany, France and Belgium as a supplier of front axles for four-wheel-drive conversions of the Ford 1000 Series tractors, for example. Most probably, it was David Brown dealers here in Germany and in France that converted at least four 880 Selectamatic for testing, and later sale.”
There’s also a leaflet on the 880, 990 and 1200 four-wheel-drive tractors, which confirms that they were equipped with Selene axles supplied from Italy, and that the tractors were special builds. Thus, if the customer requested his new tractor to be equipped with four-wheel-drive from his dealer, then it would be built exactly to this order.
It was only later, with the introduction of the 1210, that David Brown produced its own front axle. But this didn’t enjoy a good reputation, and was dropped after only a short time, in favour of the equally costly Kramer MkI, then the MkII. Finally, David Brown four-wheel-drive tractors were equipped with Carraro axles.
As hardly any four-wheel-drive 880s can be found today, it might be that the aforementioned tractors acted as prototypes for later four-wheel-drive conversions of other David Brown models, such as the 990 Selectamatic.
Irrespective of his unanswered questions, Frank began restoring the 46hp tractor (serial number 8806E560072/SF) in 2016. “It was the first tractor that I had restored, so I wanted to be careful and work as precisely as possible to achieve a good result. I’d gained experience working on vehicles with my father, who wasn’t shy of repairing his own cars. I worked on my own motorbikes and later my car engine, too, but also learned a lot about engines and vehicles during my education as a mechanical engineer.”
Frank obtained help from Lee Roebuck in England, who owns print templates, and reconstructed the German text based on photos provided by Frank. “For the gear shift decal, no printing template existed anymore – so I reconstructed it myself using computer-aided design and gave it to a punching shop for punching and printing.”
Time was also taken to relieve the tractor of its red livery, after which the 880 received an anti-rust paint as primer, before being sprayed with synthetic paint in its original colour scheme. Frank chose not to use any filler to repair corroded parts of the tractor’s metal work, and welded in new metal instead. “I think that this method gives better and longer lasting results,” he told me.
Before painting was completed, however, Frank completely renewed the wiring harness from scratch. Part of the loom was protected in metal conduit under the mudguards. As this conduit was corroded and not available as spare parts, Frank also constructed that from scratch, along with felt seals and metal covers.
He also renewed all the hydraulic pipes, as well as the half-shaft seals and any nuts and bolts that were metric. “Here in Germany, screws and nuts in the metric system are standard and, therefore, all tools are, too. I bought a complete set of imperial tools for restoring my David Brown!” Frank told me.
When trying to remove the left-hand front wheel nuts, a problem arose: “The nuts didn’t move, despite using a 1.5m-long bar. After some investigation, I found out that only the nuts on the left-hand front wheel have left-handed threads.”
Though the Selectamatic hydraulic system was considered an important development by David Brown, Frank won’t not have much use for it. After discovering how rare and precious his tractor really is, the 880 isn’t going to become the workhorse it was destined to be when purchased, five years ago.
In the time he’s owned it, Frank has spent at least 100 hours working on it, and invested more than €1,500. “I’ve bought myself an old Daihatsu Feroza off-road car for most of the transport work, but I will use the tractor’s front loader for some tasks, and mount a log-splitter on the category II rear linkage, which will be driven by the 880’s two-speed PTO.
Finally, I’d like to congratulate Frank for the result of his restoration project, and hope to see his David Brown at work very soon!
|Tech specs: David Brown 880 Selectamatic
|6 fwd, 2 rev or 12 fwd, 4 rev
* Over steering wheel
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