Will Harry Ferguson revolutionize the car industry too?

He did it to farming with a pint-sized tractor that even Henry Ford marveled at. Now, with a Canadian millionaire ready to build it, he says he's designed the new car the world's been waiting for

Marjorie Earl June 8 1957

Will Harry Ferguson revolutionize the car industry too?

He did it to farming with a pint-sized tractor that even Henry Ford marveled at. Now, with a Canadian millionaire ready to build it, he says he's designed the new car the world's been waiting for

Marjorie Earl June 8 1957

Will Harry Ferguson revolutionize the car industry too?

He did it to farming with a pint-sized tractor that even Henry Ford marveled at. Now, with a Canadian millionaire ready to build it, he says he's designed the new car the world's been waiting for

Marjorie Earl

“A genius,” said the English novelist Edward Verrail Lucas, “is a man who does unique things of which nobody would expect him to be capable."

This definition fits without a wrinkle on Harry Ferguson, a small, neat, formidable inventor from the north of Ireland whose name became familiar in Canada in 1953 when it was added to the national institution of Massey-Harris. The Massey-HarrisFerguson marriage was brought about by a small, neat, formidable tractor whose name, also Ferguson, is familiar not only in Canada but in such distant places as Buganda, Antarctica and Tibet. Known as the Model T of tractors, it is now universally copied by other manufacturers because, like its inventor, it does unique things of which nobody would expect it to be capable.

Ferguson’s latest achievement is a new kind of

car or. as he says, a motoring principle applicable to all types of vehicle from a baby car to a tenton truck. Outside of his associates, only a few people have seen or driven the prototype, which has been deliberately camouflaged by a conventional body. They’ve all sworn to say nothing about how it works. But if the car is as good as Ferguson says it is, it will not only be unique, but in terms of brakes, traction and comfort it will make everything else on the roads look as old-fashioned as a one-horse shay.

From anybody except Ferguson a claim like this would be dismissed as the fantasy of a crackpot. But Ferguson is no crackpot. He is a man of ideas who has forced himself into the good habit of doing unique things when nobody would bet a plugged nickel on him.

In 1909, for example, when the first biplanes were being made of imagination and piano wire, he designed and built a monoplane. “There ain’t enough wind in all Ireland to fly that thing,” said wiseacres watching him haul it to the airfield. But in it Harry Ferguson became the first Irishman to fly single-winged aircraft.

Seven years later he concluded that the horse was the farmer's worst enemy and should be supplanted by a small, manoeuvrable tractor that carried the plow instead of dragging it, did not tip over backward if the plowshare struck a rock and had some simply operated mechanical control to regulate the plowshare’s depth in the ground. “A mechanical impossibility,” sneered many British engineers. But by 1935 Ferguson had perfected a dapper little tractor with built-in plow; it was

capable of doing nearly everything a horse can do and doing it better, faster and cheaper.

When he first demonstrated his tractor British farmers booed it off the fields and many called it “a bloody toy” because it was half the size and weight of conventional tractors. Ferguson argued that it would revolutionize farming, just as he now insists that his car will revolutionize motoring. British manufacturers remained stubbornly unconvinced. driving him to do another unique thing hitherto thought to be beyond any human being. He took his tractor to Dearborn. Michigan, and became the only man that Henry Ford, who had discontinued making his Fordson tractor in 1928, ever took into partnership.

In 1947, after the Ford-Ferguson tractor had helped speed the mechanical continued on page 86

Harry Ferguson continued from page 17

Will competitors match Ferguson’s mystery car? “There is no answer to Ferguson,” says Ferguson

revolution in farming, Henry Ford died. His successors in the Ford Motor Company repudiated the informal agreement he had made to manufacture tractors for Ferguson to sell, and at the same time they introduced a similar tractor of their own. Without a manufacturer Ferguson’s sales fell from fifty-nine million dollars in the first half of 1947 to eleven million in the second half.

Nobody thought him capable of pulling out of this hole. But Ferguson set up shop on Ford’s doorstep in Dearborn and in the record time of one hundred and sixteen days, while he supplied American customers through an infant company in England, he built the most modern postwar factory in the United States. Eighteen months after the break his sales had jumped back to thirty-three million dollars a year.

As if that wasn’t enough he had the unparalleled audacity to sue the Ford empire for a quarter of a billion dollars for conspiring to ruin his business and for infringing his patents. This time even some of his advisers thought he was stretching his capabilities. But five years later the Ford Motor Company agreed to stop manufacturing the tractor and to pay Ferguson nine and one quarter million dollars for royalties on his patents, a paltry figure compared with the advertising value his tractor got out of The Case, as it was known in legal circles. At the end of five years of newsworthy litigation Ferguson was selling more tractors than most of his rivals, including Ford.

In some respects Ferguson, who is developing his new passenger car at Harry Ferguson Research Limited in Coventry, resembles the late Henry Ford, whom he greatly admired and often calls “my spiritual brother.” He has the same high forehead and lean face, with alert blue eyes straining through rimless spectacles at a faulty world he considers it his duty to change. Like Ford he has a spare body that seems to give off waves of intense vitality that cannot be depleted by age. Ferguson Is seventy-two and, like the tractor that made him famous, he’s nimble, precise, impeccably neat and virtually indestructible. Although he stands a scant five feet six inches he contrives to look important, in the manner of an exclamation point.

L.ately Ferguson has been directing the full force of his energy on his car and incidentally giving the British motor industry the jitters. These have taken the form of flurries on the stock market; elaborate guesswork in popular, technical and financial papers; questions in the House of Commons; reports of “secret” visits by British and foreign military experts to Abbotswood, Ferguson’s sixthousand-acre estate near Coventry; the appearance of spies, foreign and domestic, in hedges around the test area; and boasts from certain manufacturers that they are preparing a car that will be “an answer to Ferguson.”

To this Ferguson replies with characteristic assurance. “ There is no answer to Ferguson.” he says. “I do not just think, I know that with all the latest inventions of the Ferguson team, Britain

can lead the world in the design of safe and efficient low-cost cars and trucks of

all sizes.”

Only fragments of evidence exist to explain these inventions. All Ferguson himself will say is that they embody a revolutionary transmission, suspension and chassis. He once said that he is opposed to front-mounted engines and “not in agreement with the theory that the best place for av car engine is in the rear.” A man who refuses to be quoted says positively that the car is an automatic four-wheel drive capable of economic manufacture. Sir Miles Thomas, once head of BOAC and a former director of Harry Ferguson Research Limited, says the car “embodies principles of construction that save a great deal of weight and consequently manufacturing costs.” Robert' Glenton, motoring correspondent of the Sunday Express, and one of the privileged outsiders who have seen the prototype, has described it as “the most startling car I have ever driven— with no clutch, no gears and smoother and more tlexible action than any car I have ever handled.”

Real safety is prevention

Ferguson does not object to discussing the basic faults of modern cars and the steps he has taken to correct them. One of the worst, he feels, is bad traction. He defines traction as “adhesion to the ground on all the varied surfaces ol road, trail and prairie that confront a world-used car in all conditions of ice, snow, sand and mud.” Then he speaks hopefully of “all the public money that can be saved by not sanding roads in winter.”

To show what he means by good traction Ferguson recently staged a private demonstration in which a group of ten popular cars were sent up a slight, grassy slope leading to a fairly steep bank. All spun to a standstill on the grass except a small, rear-engined German car which took the grass slope and the bank pulling a small empty trailer. It failed, however, with an extra passenger. The Ferguson car mounted the slope and the bank in a breeze, carrying five passengers and pulling a trailer loaded with five hundredweight of fertilizer and two farm workers.

Safety, Ferguson feels, should be another primary aim of the car of tomor row. Protective frills added to current models are not good enough. “Surely the correct course is to prevent crashes by sound and safe chassis design,” he says.

To illustrate the safety of his car in an emergency braking test Ferguson had ten popular cars approach a tape at exactly fifty miles an hour. As each struck the tape, a dummy man was thrown into the road forty yards from the tape. To the sound of screeching brakes and the smell of burning rubber all struck the dummy before slewing to a stop except the small German car which missed it by a yard. Without noise, smell, wheel locking or slewing, the Ferguson car stopped neatly and quietly eighteen and one half yards clear of the dummy.

Ferguson firmly refuses to speak about

^ when or how the car will be produced or how much it will cost. "The press does not go poking into the secrets of the airplane industry and try to tell the world what these secrets are,” he says impatiently.

Two recurrent guesses about the car have not been contradicted. One is that it will be demonstrated this year. Another is that the Standard Motor Company of Coventry will show it at the British Motor show in the autumn, and some time later produce it. If this happens, E. P. Taylor of Toronto will be next to Ferguson in the driver’s seat. For Taylor was recently identified as the mystery man who for the past eighteen months has been buying a controlling interest in Standard Motors. Standard Motors makes the Ferguson tractor for Massey-Harris-Ferguson and Taylor also controls this company.

The unexpected love match between Massey-Harris, the Canadian company one hundred and five years old. and Ferguson, with fledgling companies six years old in the United States and England, came as a surprise to the farmmachinery industry. Other companies, knowing Ferguson to be a most desirable match (“No man in the history of farm machinery has made so much in so short a time,” said one Massey-Harris executive), had courted him and been firmly repulsed. But in the summer of 1953 James Duncan, then chairman of Massey-Harris, now chairman of the Ontario Hydro, called on Ferguson in Coventry to discuss a subcontract for a semi-idle Massey-Harris plant in Manchester. Duncan was amazed when Ferguson suggested a merger.

"We were instantly attracted to each other,” says Ferguson, adding that "the meeting led to a discussion of whether we might get together to produce farm machinery at lower cost.”

Ferguson believes that most of the world’s ills can be cured by lowering costs and prices. His beliefs are laid down in three allied doctrines that he constantly propagates: The Ferguson

Plan for the Abolition of Poverty, The Ferguson Price-Reducing Crusade and the Ferguson Education Plan.

Applied to farm machinery, the first of these plans advocates reducing the cost of essential foods by eliminating the horse, which consumes the produce of five and one quarter acres in a year, and mechanizing farms. The second says, in effect: make it possible for a farmer to afford machinery by using efficient mass production to reduce prices. The Education Plan aims to teach the farmer, particularly in backward countries, how to produce the wealth to buy more of everything.

While not necessarily agreeing with these beliefs, Duncan could hardly fail to recognize their sales appeal.

“Ferguson is the most fantastic salesman 1 have ever seen,” says Duncan. “He could sell you the birds off the trees. He believes in his ideals so intensely that he makes you feel you are doing yourself, your country and the whole human race an injustice if you don't buy a Ferguson tractor.”

Ferguson has been called the world’s greatest salesman. He has also been called the archpriest of propagandists, the outstanding showman of his generation, and an agrarian messiah who has learned how to make brotherly love pay off.

But brotherly love comes before dividends. “I don't work for money. I do it for my country and mankind,” Ferguson says. His contempt for money caused Duncan and Col. W. E. Phillipps of Massey-Harris a moment of concern after they had drawn the main outlines of their

merger but had still to close a milliondollar gap between Ferguson’s asking price and Massey-Harris’s offer.

One afternoon during this final hiatus they were driving to a tractor demonstration when Ferguson took from his pocket a two-and-sixpenny coin. “Gentlemen,” he said. “I should not like to hold up our talks for a mere million dollars. Why don’t we toss for it?” Duncan and Phillipps exchanged nervous glances and felt their palms begin to sweat. “I always lose when I gamble,” encouraged Ferguson. “But I’m willing to have another go.” Forced to accept the challenge the Canadians tensed, then a moment later exhaled sighs of relief. Ferguson had lost. As a consolation prize they gave him a silver cigar box with the million-dollar coin mounted in the lid.

The tractor that led to this wager is, Duncan says, “the world’s most imitated product.” He also says that the hydraulic system of leverage that unites the tractor and implement and makes them unique is “one of the brightest ideas in the automotive industry.” Because of it Henry Ford I said Ferguson was “a genius whose name will go down in history with that of Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright brothers and Thomas Edison.”

Ferguson says he invented the tractorplow combination for the same reason lie invented his ear—because it was needed. Tractors in 1935, like cars today, were becoming heavier and more expensive, less economical and more dangerous to operate. They were relying on gadgets and sales talk to cover basic failures in design. By joining with Massey-Harris in 1953, Ferguson hoped not only to sell more tractors but to be free of business responsibilities, particularly in the United States, so he would have time to do for cars what he had done for tractors and in similar fields of inquiry: traction, hydraulics, safety, weight and economy.

The marriage was short and stormy. Under its terms Ferguson became chairman and was to have final authority over Ferguson equipment. Duncan, the administrative head, took the title of president. The two disagreed on costing procedures and on engineering changes to Ferguson equipment. At the end of a year Ferguson resigned and sold his shares, worth fifteen million dollars, to E. P. Taylor, a transaction that strengthens the belief that Taylor will be behind the manufacture of the car.

Massey-Harris people are baffled by the Ferguson organization. whose branches in England, the U. S., France, Germany, India and Australia were inherited by the Canadian company when Ferguson resigned. It is more like a religious order than a business, with everybody still following in the master’s footsteps even though he has gone. Called gray liners (because Ferguson equipment is gray), the Ferguson people tend to speak of Ferguson in the past tense and are fond of recalling the days when everybody shared in the profits, everybody believed in the doctrine and Ferguson treated them all, from managing director to office boy, like wayward sons. He told them what to think, what to wear and how to wear it, what to eat, when and how much, how to organize their lives and how to do their jobs.

“We weren't employees, we were converts,” said one Ferguson man. “Joining the Ferguson organization was like joining the church with Mr. Ferguson’s doctrine obligatory reading.”

When Ferguson was around there was a reason for everything and a motto to go with it. Everybody knew the most important motto by heart: “Beauty in engineering is that which exactly fulfills its purpose and has no superfluous parts.”

The others were guides to help converts toward Ferguson’s concept of beautiful living. Executives were to wear sober lounge suits with discreet ties properly knotted and the correct amount of white handkerchief showing at the breast pocket. Sports jackets and flannels were banned because they looked unbusinesslike. To men who wore them Ferguson said simply, “Go home, sir. You are improperly dressed.” Double-breasted suits were discouraged because they were uncomfortable when done up and untidy when undone. It was obligatory to carry in the left-hand jacket pocket a small notebook where each day’s ideas and program could be entered with a pencil kept in the right-hand vest pocket. (This disposi tion was decreed because both can be removed in one economical gesture.) As duties were done and ideas pursued thc_\ were crossed off and torn out. “Keep faith and keep time and anybody wil' lend you money,” was the accompanying motto. To check the presence of the timeand faith-keeping equipment Ferguson used to stop employees in the hall and ask them to take a note.

Ferguson himself often whips out his notebook at a dinner party and some times when beset by a baffling problem he sets his alarm for two a.m. for a ses sion of jotting down ideas.

Even the junk was tidy

Under him, order and cleanliness were a fetish. In the design office draughting boards were dressed off against a straigh' line and desks had to be clear of rub bish. Even the junk pile had to be tidy. Draughtsmen with dirty white coats or workmen with dirty overalls were told to change and reminded that the firm paid the laundry bills. Apprentice mechanics had to sign an agreement that they would keep themselves, their equipment and their place of work spotlessly clean. Once when Ferguson saw a man preparing to leave a dirty job without washing his hands, he asked, “Aren’t you going to wash your hands before returning to your work?” The man gazed at his employer with a shocked expression. “Oh, I’m not going to work," he said. “I’m going to lunch.”

Sixty of the six hundred employees in Harry Ferguson Limited in Coventry were professional writers, advertisers or statisticians who mass-produced Ferguson doctrine in the form of letters to the editor, letters to members of parliament, union leaders and farmers’ organizations; articles for magazines, newspapers and technical journals; booklets, moving pictures, film strips, slides, lectures, speeches, graphs, tables, charts, campaigns and crusades for everybody who could be persuaded to read, study or join them.

Ferguson checked every word and every figure. One employee said he made it a practice to write paragraphs for display ads in twelve different ways on identical slips of paper. If anyone complained about rewriting Ferguson’s reply was, “Look at the trouble we take over one nut and one bolt. Surely you can do the same with one word.”

In his band of devotees Ferguson’s exactitude caused little resentment for reasons explained by a convert who joined the organization shortly after the war. “Some people might think it irritating for a commander in the Royal Navy to be told, at the age of forty, how to knot his tie and how to fold his handkerchief,” he said. "But I soon realized that Mr. Ferguson, at sixty-five, was anxious to pass along to me his long experience at tie knotting and handkerchief folding and other essentials of a well-ordered life.

Besides, Mr. Ferguson was in the habit of telling everyone from the prime minister down what to do, so who was 1 to complain?”

Ferguson has exhorted every postwar prime minister to act against inflation and thus avert a wage crisis like that which paralyzed British industry last spring. He once told President Roosevelt that the New Deal was economic nonsense: the right way to recovery was not to spread more money around but to increase buying power by increased production and lower prices. He told the late Ernest Bevin not to nationalize Britain's steel industry because it would stille competition. He converted Sir Stafford Cripps, chancellor of the exchequer in the postwar Labor government, to the view that the Ferguson tractor could help to balance the dollar budget. Cripps told Standard Motors, which was planning a limited production of tractors for Ferguson, to produce in quantity or he would cut its ration of steel for cars.

Ferguson still bombards public officials, industrialists and editors with letters and propaganda (now prepared by an international public-relations firm). But since he left Massey-Harris-Ferguson his main theme is the need to fight inflation and to bolster the dollar-earning capacity of the British motor industry with the Ferguson car.

Cars and farm machinery have engaged Ferguson since boyhood. Like Henry Ford he left his father's farm at sixteen to work as a mechanic in a garage. Like Ford he raced cars with souped-up engines of his own design. In 1909. after Blériot flew the English channel, Ferguson designed an airplane but he abandoned aviation in 1911 after a series of near-lethal crashes.

He became interested in agriculture during the first war when he was owner of Harry Ferguson Motors Limited in Belfast, and the government of Northern Ireland, pressed to increase food production, appointed him inspector of farm machinery. He saw then that agriculture, the world’s basic industry, was its most backward, and he decided to change it. He soon became known in Belfast as “that Ferguson fellow who has it in for horses.” But in his efforts to drive the horse from the farm he found few to encourage him. One of the few was Charles E. Sorensen of the Ford Motor Co., whom he met in England in 1917.

"Had I been able to foresee the consequences of that meeting I would have avoided it,” said Sorensen reviewing the events that led to the Ferguson lawsuit in a recently published book. My Forty Years With Ford. In 1919 Sorensen invited Ferguson to take his first crude prototype plow to Dearborn to show to Ford. He writes that Ford took one look and said: “Hire him. With that plow we can use him in our business.” But Ferguson was not for hire. He returned to Ireland and worked for six more years before going into business with George and Eher Sherman, Ford’s largest distributors, in Evansville, Indiana. The FergusonSherman company made plows for use on the Fordson tractor until 1928, when Ford discontinued its manufacture.

By 1935 Ferguson had perfected his own tractor. After failing to interest British manufacturers in it he again went to Ford. He was demonstrating it, he relates, when Ford commanded him to stop. “You’ve got it,” Ford said. “I’m with you as far as you want to go." According to a witness at the patent action after Ford's death, the men agreed to go into business together with no contract but a handclasp. Ford was to manufacture and Ferguson to sell.

Ferguson says that the years between

1939 and 1947, when he was Ford's partner, were “among the happiest of my life.’’ Certainly they were profitable. He sold 306.000 tractors and 944.000 farm implements with gross sales of three hundred and twelve million dollars in spite of steel rationing that at one time cut his output by more than two thirds.

None but the principals know what caused the breach with the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford II. who succeeded his grandfather, said the Ford Motor Company was losing money on its deal with Ferguson. Ferguson says they want-

ed to manufacture on license and he refused. For whatever reason. Ford terminated the agreement in July 1947 and began marketing a tractor “identical to the Ferguson except for the paint.” according to one witness at the suit which Ferguson filed in January 1948. Charging conspiracy to ruin his business, he calculated his losses at eighty millions and sued for the legal limit of three times this amount, plus eleven million for royalties on his patents. When a Ford director first saw the brief he gasped, “My God! The Marshall Plan!”

“I’m not suing Ford and his colossal empire for money.” said Ferguson. “It's the principle.”

The Ferguson suit was the biggest three-ring circus in legal history. It cost more (about three million dollars), subpoenaed more documents (one million weighing several tons), engaged more lawyers (two hundred), filled more record (equivalent to 2,500 full-length novels), involved more money and more traveling than any other civil suit in an English-speaking court. Ford flew back and forth to London, Ferguson sailed

back and forth to New York. For several months Ford had to fly daily from Detroit to New York. Witnesses came from New York, Chicago, Detroit, Coventry, Belfast, London and Leamington Spa, near Stratford-on-Avon. At one point the entire district court of New York removed itself to Britain and set up in hotel bedrooms and dining rooms in Belfast, Leamington and London while it took depositions from more than one hundred witnesses who could not be compelled to come to New York.

Ferguson answered sixty thousand questions filling ten thousand, five hundred pages of record. One of his witnesses was on the stand so long that the judge said to counsel for the defense, “Are you proceeding on the assumption that old witnesses never die? This man has been growing old before our eyes.” There were charges and counter-charges of bribery and conspiracy and there was even a dramatic suicide. One of Ferguson’s witnesses, who had formerly been a Ford employee, jumped to his death from the fourteenth floor of a New York hotel leaving a suicide note: “My head feels tighter than a drum. Can’t crucify Ford. Tried hard. We have better product.”

In April 1952 the case was finally settled out of court for nine and one quarter million dollars, the largest amount ever granted to a plaintiff in a patent action. Ferguson was mowing the lawn when the news of the settlement reached him. “It’s a victory for the small inventor,” he said, and continued with his work. Then he finished mowing, went into his fine mansion, ate his usual frugal dinner and went to bed promptly at nine o’clock, a habit from which he never deviates, no matter who is at the dinner table or what the day’s drama may have been.

Tractors in the ballroom

One of Ford’s accusations was that Ferguson brought the suit for propaganda purposes. Certainly he used it. He hired a public-relations firm in New York, paid a retainer to a news agency in Britain, enlarged his staff in Dearborn and Coventry and managed to plant aspects of the Ferguson doctrine as the answer to drudgery, the horse, poverty, taxes, food subsidies, political unrest, communism, mass starvation and total war in every conceivable kind of journal in nearly every tongue from farm journals to The Times of London.

Ferguson the showman also played his part in publicizing the tractor. During the suit mass production began in England and his American publicists felt it would be appropriate to present the Ferguson tractor, which was small and even dainty compared to conventional makes, at a party in the Crystal ballroom of Claridge’s. probably the most aristocratic hostelry in the world. This barbarous suggestion caused the manager to blench. Coldly he pointed out that Claridge’s ballroom was the habitat of princes and potentates but not of farmers and certainly not of their tractors. But the proposition was put to him strongly, on a basis of patriotism. Britain desperately needed dollars, the tractor could earn them and Claridge’s, by swallowing its scruples, could play a decisive part. After long and anxious talks, Ferguson’s men were informed that they would be permitted to display the tractor on a ten-byfourteen-foot dais four inches from the floor at one end of the ballroom. But it would have to be dismantled and assembled on the dais. It was not to be seen even at the service entrance.

At the party, as the tractor sat looking

prim and neat but not very businesslike in the glare of two floodlights, certain of the spectators expressed doubt that it was as easy to handle as Ferguson claimed. A reporter from the Soviet Union was downright rude. This was too much for Ferguson. With icy politeness he answered the comrade, then leaped aboard his tractor, which a foresighted public-relations man had filled with gas. Then, to the music of cheers, he waltzed it around the dais in as pretty a display as had ever been seen in Claridge’s ballroom. His exit is still a favorite topic of conversation in the servants’ quarters. “Clear the way,” he called when the dance was over and as the spellbound assembly moved aside he drove the tractor off the dais, across the dance floor — pausing twice to back the plowshare within an inch of the gold brocade curtains—out the door and through the lobby, gracefully skirting astonished knots of knights and ladies foregathering for cocktails. As he bumped down the steps of Claridge’s red-carpeted entrance a doorman in velvet, brass buttons and a high silk hat watched him with an expression that seemed to say that the end of the world had finally come.

“Only one stunt could surpass it,” commented the Manchester Guardian in an editorial, “and that would be to take the thing to Buckingham Palace and get it presented at Court.”

When Ferguson demonstrates his car in public this year the show will probably be as good as this. The results are also liable to be much the same. Immediately after the tractor trot at Claridge’s, Ferguson announced an order from the United States for twenty million dollars’ worth of tractors. He has already stated that his car can not only solve the present dollar crisis for Britain but also save the British motor industry from ruin by German competition.

A persistent rumor says Ferguson will license his car to any manufacturer who will mass-produce it at a price everybody can afford. Sir Miles Thomas said that the British ministry of transport permitted him to become a director of Harry Ferguson Research Limited while he was still head of BOAC because they considered the Ferguson car so important to the nation. Before he retired from both posts Thomas said the car was a “world beater” and he claimed to have driven it “over ploughed fields, through river beds and actually towed other cars through swamps.”

"Who wants a car that will go through mud, snow, sleet, ice, sand, swamps and river beds?” asks another industrialist who has driven it. “Personally, Ld rather drive on the pavement in a Cadillac.”

To Ferguson’s ear this must sound like a prophetic echo of history repeating itself. When he was trying to convince farmers that his tractor was better than a horse he liked to demonstrate it in an enclosed space and sometimes, when it was raining, in a small tent. At one rainy demonstration a tweedy English gentleman propped on a shooting stick watched him back into the tent, execute a faultless figure eight then plow the ground without leaving a wheel mark. “Miraculous,” he murmured. “But the trouble is I don’t do my plowing in a tent." ie


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