The History of the Continental

The History of the Continental

The Ferguson TE20 Continental was the first tractor to leave the factory in Coventry under the accredited name of Harry Ferguson Limited. Production ran from 1946-47 with an unknown quantity of tractors made, this being due to the engine used in the tractor. Over the years, many owners of the Continental have speculated over how many were made, in recent debates, there is an estimated 500 tractors across the country.

The engine used in this tractor is a Continental Z120 straight petrol variant which was made by the Continental Motors Company in America, namely Detroit. The factory in 1905 was state of the art and produced engines for many utility applications such as generators and trucks. Their biggest contract was in fact for the American military, of which engines were produced for military vehicles up until the end of the Second World War. After the war, like many things, the engines became surplus stock at which, after the dispersal of the Ford-Ferguson name, Harry Ferguson saw the opportunity and purchased a stock of these engines which were surplus and were imported in 1946 to the Standard Motor Company Limited’s factory.

The Continental Z 120 was the smallest variant of the Continental engine range, the other being a Z129, meaning 129 cubic inch capacity, this engine was used in American variants such as the T020. The Zl20 had an 81mm bore, producing 24HP, very similar to the standard petrol engine later used in the TEA20 and with overhead valves, this being a rarity at this time of engine production. It was a high compression engine with options to reduce this, in the form of a head spacer so paraffin could be used alongside the straight petrol.

In these early tractors, there were no greasing points on the trumpet housing castings unlike later models and there were many more preliminary features, such as aluminium bonnets likely foj’ very early examples. Continentals featured a brass badge on the front of the bonnet and casting numbers were applied to all major components, most evident on the bell housing. The gearbox was also reduced compared to later models, longer air filters were also a fitment as well as a Marvel Schebler carburettor, a common carburettor also used by Massey Harris and Allis Chalmers. An oil gauge which only read up to 40psi was also a fitment on early tractors.

Brian Pickering driving his Continental and Arnold Staples working the steerage hoe at the Humberton Working Weekend back in 2002.

The Ferguson TE20 Continental pictured at the start of this article is part way through restoration, its had three owners from new, myself being the latest. Purchased as a project in 2021 from a private collection, the cylinder head was seized as was everything else on the tractor and since then, it has had a nut and bolt mechanical rebuild including the backend and all bearings. The tractor is also fitted with a Loddons of Norfolk conversion kit, allowing the tractor to run on both petrol and paraffin and is fitted with the Zenith 24T2 carburettor.

This tractor was restored in the late 1990’s but was unused for the next 21 years but luckily retaining its original tin work. Additionally, to this article, I must thank Duncan Russell for his help with sourcing an age-related registration as the tractor now looks complete.

The Banner Lane TE20 production line.

Published in Journal No,106, Summer 2023: Fred Turner.