The writing was on the wall in 2006. We knew we probably wouldn’t be seeding in the spring if we didn’t get a four-wheel drive tractor. At the salvage yard we ran back then we had a nice, clean, low-hour Versatile 700, Series II that needed a new engine. We decided to install a new engine in it and put it to work instead of buying a new tractor.
But the original 555 cubic-inch Cummins V-8 diesel used in these tractors was notorious for having a short life. So, we opted to drop in a six-cylinder, 855 cubic-inch Cummins instead. It was the obvious replacement choice. Versatile used them in their larger tractors and the engine has a stellar reputation.
We discovered we could buy a used highway truck powered by an 855 for about the same price as an engine alone, so we picked up a suitable Ford LT9000 at an auction. Its 855 had a factory setting of 350 horsepower, but this one was uprated to 400. We removed the engine and sold the other truck parts and chasis to help reduce our investment.
Two important features we needed from the 855 were a front-sump oil pan — which is essential for an ag tractor — and a bell housing that would bolt to the Versatile clutch cover. With the LT9000’s engine, we lucked out on both.
Rigging the clutch was probably our biggest challenge. The truck’s clutch was larger than the original in the tractor. Our first choice was to use the truck clutch but the splines on the discs were for a larger-diameter output shaft. We couldn’t use the original tractor clutch because the bolt pattern on the 555 flywheel it was meant to mate to was different. We found a flywheel from a wrecked Versatile with a six-cylinder engine, but it was a smaller diameter, and the starter wouldn’t engage it. Using it would have required changing the bell housing as well, which wasn’t an option.
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I discovered the 4586 IH tractor used the same clutch as a Versatile and it mated to a flat flywheel, which is what the engine was equipped with. We had a machine shop drill new bolt holes in the flywheel and that solved the problem.
At the front of the engine we had to find a used fan hub. We also had to switch the serpentine accessory belt system back to a V-belt arrangement. On the 855 ag engine, the hydraulic pump drives off the front. The truck engine didn’t have the necessary opening for the pump, nor the internal gears, so we had to change the timing cover.
Changing the front timing cover also forced us to buy a different front motor mount, because the change meant the existing one couldn’t be used.
When we looked at the fuel system, we found we had to install a governor, because the truck engine didn’t have one. We couldn’t re-use the pump from the 555, because it rotated the wrong way. After finding a pump at a wrecker, we had it and the injectors serviced at Cummins and rated them for 280 horsepower.
During the installation, dealing with the longer six-cylinder engine meant we had to reposition the radiator forward to make enough room for it, but that wasn’t a problem. And there was at least two feet of room behind the old V-8 and the cab, so space wasn’t a problem. No frame modifications were required. After lowering the new engine in and getting it square and level, we simply welded the new motor mounts to the 700’s frame.
For the finishing touches, we salvaged an exhaust system off an 8870 John Deere and used an air breather system we pulled off a New Holland TR96 combine. Of course, we had to fit new control cables and install a compatible tachometer inside the cab.
To run an airseeder fan, we installed a separate hydraulic system. We used the existing reservoir on the tractor and it has worked well, even without an extra oil cooler.
The downside to replacing the original V-8 engine with a six cylinder is you lose road gear speed. Six cylinders pull best around 1,800 to 1,900 r.p.m., whereas the V-8s worked best at about 2,800. That means you lose about 30 per cent of your top-end speed.
I don’t think I’d put this much time and money into a project again. However, it’s hard to put a price on the satisfaction of running a machine you built yourself, especially when it works as flawlessly as this one has.
Editor’s note: Do you have a classic farm machine or truck that you’ve modified or just kept running over the years? If so, tell us about it. Send an email to [email protected], and we’ll try to feature it in a future issue of Grainews. Be sure to include some good-quality photos.