One of the most popular tractors of all time, the Ford N-series tractor is an American icon. More than fifty years after the last 8N rolled off the assembly line, these tractors are still incredibly popular. You’ll see them all over – at auction sales and dealerships, but also alongside the road with a “For Sale” sign, at garage sales, and even at your favorite restaurant on date night (true story – as often as we’ve had to go home to get a trailer, we should really learn not to leave home without them!).
As beloved as factory original N-series tractors are, I’ve seen plenty that are rather… unique. Like the one I bought from an old hippie that was painted bright yellow, with flowers all over the hood. I thought I’d have to repaint it, but before I got around to doing so it was spotted by another customer who just LOVED the paint job. Problem solved, no paint required!
For a more serious collector, though, being able to identify exactly which of the N-style tractors (9N, 2N, or 8N) you’re looking at is very important. While we’ve gone into specific details about the year-to-year improvements in N-series tractors before (click here), today I’m going to give you a quick “field guide” to determining the model of an N-series tractor.
First, a quick history lesson: the 9N was introduced in 1939. It was followed by the 2N in 1942, and early models were greatly impacted by wartime rationing. Once the war was over, a new and much improved 8N was introduced in 1948.
As my hippie tractor will demonstrate, paint color can’t always be counted on. But since it is the first and most obvious clue available, you should know that 9N and 2N tractors were painted all grey, while a red and grey paint job was for 8N tractors. Plenty of people are unaware of this, though, and will paint their 9N or 2N red and grey as well. So don’t trust the paint job too much.
9Ns and 2Ns are rather similar, but there are some big differences between them and the 8N. So it’s easiest to see if you have an 8N first, and save the smaller 9N v. 2N differences for later.
You are definitely looking at an 8N tractor if:
- The rear wheel is dished, with a large nut in the center surrounded closely by 8 more lug nuts. In contrast, both the 9N and 2N models have a flat rear wheel with a ring of 6 lug nuts further out.
- There’s a 4-speed transmission. 9N and 2N tractors had a 3-speed.
- The hydraulic 3-point arms have a halfway position between fully “up” and “down”. 9N and 2N tractors only had draft control. The 8N introduced position control, which is a small up/down handle under the seat on the right side–this was an improvement to the hydraulic system.
- Both brake pedals are on the same side – 9N and 2N tractors were split.
- The serial number starts with an “8N.” I know this seems obvious, but it is important to note that both 9N and 2N serial numbers start with a “9N,” leading to confusion.
Of course, the 8N had plenty of other improvements over the 9N and the 2N – but these features are the easiest to spot and the hardest to modify.
If the tractor definitely isn’t an 8N, then you’ll need to examine more closely the differences between a 9N and a 2N. This can be hard to do, because the transition between the 9N and the 2N wasn’t as clean-cut as the transition to the 8N later on. Wartime rationing and a desire to reduce waste lead to a slower switch, as features were modified once the previous model’s parts were used up.
That being said, here are some clues that can help in most cases:
- If the tractor has a cast aluminum hood and/or a starter switch on the right side of the dash, congratulations! You’re probably looking at one of the first 9Ns produced – rare and highly collectible.
- Tubular radius arms indicate a 2N produced after mid-1944. All N-series tractors built prior to 1944 (every 9N and some 2Ns) had I-beam radius arms. However, 2Ns with I-beam radius arms are rather rare, so chances are good that any tractor with I-beam arms is a 9N.
- If the dipstick is on the inspection cover, you are definitely looking at a later 2N.
- If the serial number is readable, don’t assume that a “9N” prefix indicates a 9N tractor – as noted before, 2N tractors used this prefix as well. You’ll need to look up the entire number in a serial number guide (or my app!) to know for sure.
The dividing line is a little soft between a 9N and a 2N tractor. If these tips don’t give you a conclusive answer and the serial number isn’t readable, this article might help you figure out exactly what your tractor is.
But sometimes, you might have to settle for a 19N (9+2+8) – that’s what my family jokingly calls an N-series tractor that, over the years, has gained features from each model rather than staying true to it’s specific characteristics. The beauty of N-series tractors is that they are very common and very similar – this yields a steady stream of aftermarket modifications and parts swapping from one model to the next. While these happy hybrids with mixed parts and unreadable serial numbers might make purists cringe, I think Henry Ford would be happy to see his legacy of ingenuity and tinkering live on.