The Massey Harris (MH) Model 101 Senior tractor is one of the most recognizable tractors in history with its streamlined hood, bright red paint scheme with yellow wheels, chrome trim and louvered side curtains on the engine bay. In an era when farm machinery was functional in style to say the least, the Massey 101 was revolutionary.
By 1936 the Wallis tractor designs MH had acquired with the purchase of the J.I. Case Plow Works were dated. James Duncan, MH’s general manager decided that the worst of the Great Depression was over and now was the time for MH to roll out new tractor designs. Money was still tight but Duncan knew of Chrysler Corporations new industrial flat head six cylinder motor of 201 cubic inches. MH could save money by using this engine rather than designing its own engine. Six cylinder engines at the time were desired by farmers as they were “smooth running”. Chrysler with worldwide operations also offered flathead engine parts and service worldwide. MH then did not have to stock as many parts as it could draw upon Chrysler stocks and technicians.
As Chrysler used these engines in trucks, the engines came with electric starters. Chrysler apparently believed in big production runs to save money and so would not agree to supply engines other than in the configuration Chrysler had settled on. Whether or not MH wanted electric starters on the engines supplied to MH was immaterial, MH got engines with starters and so the MH 101 was the first tractor with electric start as standard equipment.
The 101 was introduced to the market in 1938 and offered a four speed transmission, PTO, muffler and instruments as standard equipment. A lighting system was optional. Twin power was also a standard. The twin power feature resulted in the engine being governed to 1500 RPM when the tractor was being used for drawbar work. When used for belt work the twin power feature could be engaged which allowed for an engine RPM of 1800. This increase in engine RPM delivered more power to the belt. While the twin power feature was engaged the transmission was locked out to prevent damage to the power train from the increased power. The Chrysler engine when used in MH tractors was governed to a lower RPM than when used in trucks. While limiting RPM reduced horsepower, the lower RPM increased engine life and reduced possibility of engine and drive train damage.
The 101 could be purchased in either row crop or standard configurations. The row crop version also came with adjustable rear wheels, individual rear wheel brakes and a combined PTO and implement lift. MH also offered a single front wheel option for vegetable growers.
In 1939, Chrysler’s 217 cubic inch flat head six was offered as an option in place of the 201 cubic inch engine.
In 1940 the Twin Power 101 became the Twin Power 101 Super at the same time the 217 cubic inch engine became standard. Super however did not come from the use of the larger engine but as a result of the cylinder walls of the 217 flat head being finished with a finer grit stone resulting in a super finish. Other than the engine the remainder of the tractor remained the same. With the 217 Flat head six churning out almost 50 horsepower, the Twin Power 101 Super was one of the largest tractors being built in 1940.
Towards the end of the 101’s production run the styling altered with the side curtains on the engine bay being changed to a half panel design which only covered the top half of the engine bay and so exposed the sides of the engine with the exception of the head. The screened grill lost its chrome trim as well. The air cleaner was moved from behind the grill to behind the engine on the left side.
The MH 101 also came in a distillate burning version however this variation was badged as a MH 102. As well, the 102 used the same grill and side curtains as a MH 201. So the 102 had a somewhat different appearance than a 101.
The MH 201 tractor was built to a larger and different design than the 101. While the hood remained largely the same shape as a 101 hood the grill and side curtains were different shapes. In the case of the grill a cast iron grill was used on the 201 not the stamped steel of the 101. The MH 201 was introduced in 1940 to replace the discontinued MH Model 25. The 201 used a Chrysler 241 cubic inch engine with super finished cylinder walls. Later in 1940 MH began to use the Continental 290 cubic inch engine in the basic 201 design but badged the result as a MH 202. MH also offered a distillate burning version of the 202 which was badged as a 203. The 203 had a somewhat larger Continental engine and a small auxiliary gas tank on which to start the engine before switching to distillate.
To confuse matters more MH began offering the 101 Junior tractor in 1939. The MH 101 Junior was a completely different design from the 101 Senior being a much smaller tractor which featured a 124 cubic inch Continental four cylinder engine when introduced. The 101 Junior was designed to fill the bottom end of the MH tractor line up and compete with the Ford 9N. In 1940 the 101 Junior changed to a 140 cubic inch Continental engine and then in 1943 changed to a 162 cubic inch Continental engine.
One reason that MH switched to Continental engines was that Continental was willing to produce engines in a configuration that the customer wanted. Chrysler would not do this as changing engines on the production line from a standard configuration would slow down production. As well Chrysler probably had it hands full producing engines for military vehicles by 1940. Strange as it seems by today’s standards the Chrysler Flat Head Six design even powered tanks. Five flat head engines were arranged around and geared to a common output shaft to produce an engine called the “Multibank” or “eggbeater” that produced 500 some horsepower. These engines were installed in some 7500 American Sherman tanks. Most tanks with this engine were shipped to British and Commonwealth countries as lend lease military aid. As wild as this engine looked, apparently it worked well and compared very well to other engines used in Shermans. Chrysler’s flat head six design was nothing but versatile!