The story of the Valtra tractor is an historical documentation of pioneering designs and technical innovations. As the Finnish manufacturer celebrates 70 years of tractor production, Simon Henley takes a look back at some of its milestone achievements.
During the past 70 years, Valtra has established a legacy which incorporates an impressive list of benchmark developments, many of which were industry firsts. Did you know the first tractors to feature hydrostatic steering, synchromesh gears, a rubber-mounted integrated safety-cab, a four-cylinder turbocharged engine and an in-cab radio were all designed and built in Finland?
The truth is, not many people do.
The Valtra story began in 1948, as Finland (Suomi) rose from the ashes of World War II, having been forced to repay 300 million US dollars in war indemnities to the USSR. This was also the year a farmer’s son named Olavi Sipila went to work at a Finnish state-owned foundry called State Metal Factories (SMF).
Mr Sipila had worked during the war as an ammunition manufacturing supervisor, and his new job included the development of post-war civilian projects. Mr Sipila suggested to the company’s general manager that SMF should develop a lightweight agricultural tractor. The outcome of his idea was a joint development between the two men which produced the Pikku-Jehu or Little John.
Production of the Valmet Little John tractor started in 1951. It was manufactured at a former ordnance factory in the city of Tourula, where it adopted the corporate brand name of Valmet Oy. Components for the tractor were built using modified precision machine tools, previously used for making weapons and munitions. The accuracy of these machine tools produced a high standard of engineering which would in time become a benchmark for all Valmet tractors.
Shortly after tractor production started, Mr Sipila resigned from Valmet to become the director of Takra tractors. Although superior to the Valmet Little John, the Takra tractor could not compete with the popularity of the new British-built Fordson Major Diesel and despite attempts to equip it with a Perkins P4 diesel engine, by 1954 the company was forced to close down.
In May 1955, Mr Sipila returned to Valmet as chief engineer. Here, as part of a three-man team which included an engine designer named Olavi Salminen, they developed a new three-cylinder diesel tractor which became known as the Valmet 33D.
Introduced in November 1956, the Valmet 33D was powered by a new 2.7-litre Valmet 309D three-cylinder direct-injection diesel engine rated at 37hp. It featured a two-range (fast-slow) transmission with six forward gears and two reverse gears, and a mid-mounted fuel tank placed between the clutch and transmission housing.
By the late 1950s, following a tender from the Brazilian government for investment by foreign tractor manufacturers, Valmet became one of six companies approved to set up a production facility in Brazil. The new company, Valmet do Brasil, was established in 1960.
Valmet started exporting its updated 359D model to Brazil in 1959. Identified as the Valmet 360D, it featured a 2.6-litre, three-cylinder 40hp diesel engine supplied by MWM from Mannheim in Germany.
Throughout the 1960s, Valmet would continue to update and improve the design of its tractors. The launch of the 52hp Valmet 565 Synkrotraktori in 1965, introduced synchromesh gear-changes on ratios two and three, a foot throttle and the famous V-emblem on the front grille.
In 1967, Valmet broke the mould once again with the launch of the Valmet 100 Series. The new four-model range of three and four cylinder tractors (54hp -115hp) debuted with the Valmet 900. The following year it was joined by Valmet 500 and 700 models, followed by the Valmet 1100 in 1969.
The new models introduced new styling with yellow livery, new engines, a new eight by two speed synchromesh gearbox and improved hydraulic performance. The Valmet 900 model was the first European tractor with a rubber-mounted fully-integrated safety cab design, which was equipped with interior cladding and rubber floor mats to reduce noise levels to 95dBA. It also featured a forced-air ventilation system with a windscreen defrosting system.
Another first for the Valmet 900 was the introduction of the first Danfoss hydrostatic steering system. The tractor also introduced the concept of tractor cab ergonomics, with the placement of the tractor’s primary controls and gear levers to the right of the driver’s seat.
As if that was not enough, the range-topping Valmet 1100 boasted the industry’s first turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which boasted 115hp. Also new in 1969, was a four-wheel drive option for the Valmet 900 and 1100 models, and the introduction of the world’s first in-cab radio as standard equipment.
In 1950, the Swedish manufacturer Volvo purchased a tractor manufacturer named Bolinder-Munktell and established a new division named Volvo BM. Despite some notable success in tractor development, in 1978 Volvo decided to sell its agricultural and forestry division and focus on construction equipment.
Volvo as a whole was a much larger company than Valmet, but by the mid-1970s the Finnish company was producing three times more tractors than Volvo BM. Keen to expand its agricultural business interests, Valmet struck a ten-year collaboration deal with Volvo BM which was finalised in October 1979. The name of this new venture was Scantrac.
The first Volvo BM Valmet tractors were introduced in May 1982, debuting four new 05 Series models ranging from 65hp to 95hp. Available in both two and four-wheel drive, the new models placed the tractors’ three and four-cylinder engines over the front axle, creating a space large enough to fit a new 180 litre fuel tank over the clutch/transmission housing.
Further new developments in the tractor’s transaxle layout enabled engineers to produce a cab design with a flat-floor throughout the cab structure. This allowed the use of 180 degree seating so the operator could use the tractor with a rear-mounted forest crane or back-hoe loader. All models featured a new red and black livery with white wheels.
In February 1985, the larger Volvo BM Valmet 2005 (140hp) and 2105 (163hp) models were introduced. Powered by a Volvo 5.5-litre, six-cylinder engine, the basic structure of the new models was based on the Volvo BM 2654 platform, developed during the early 1980s. Valmet engineers upgraded the design by adding a new ZF front axle and improved the hydraulic performance.
In preparation for the 1989 termination of the Scantrac collaboration with Volvo, Valmet started focussing on two new tractor ranges. These included the Mezzo 6000 Series, which would morph into the N Series in 2005, and the Mega 8000 Series which would develop into the T Series in 2007.
Developed during a collaboration with Steyr-Daimler-Puch (1986-1989), the new 6000 Series integrated many joint-developed components including the cab, a mechanical F/R shuttle transmission and a new generation of Steyr-Valmet diesel engines. Smaller versions of the larger Mega 8000 Series were designed and manufactured by Valmet. The larger 8300 (140hp) and 8600 (170hp) models were built for Valmet by Massey Ferguson in France.
The Valmet 900 model introduced a rubber-mounted fully-integrated safety cab and a hydrostatic steering system. The Valmet 1100 (below) introduced the first turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
Throughout the 1990s, Valmet engineers continued to extend the threshold for tractor performance with new innovations, some of which would soon become commonplace throughout the tractor manufacturing industry.
First came the 180 degree Twin-Trac tractor control system, which enabled the tractor to be operated in either direction without compromising operational control. Then came Sigma Power, the world’s first engine performance boost system, which was followed by EcoPower when the Valtra 8350 became the first tractor to use the new low-revving Sisu Diesel engine design.
Since the dawn of the 21st Century, Valtra as it became known officially in 2001 (see panel), has grown significantly. Since the company’s acquisition by Agco in 2004, the company has continued to thrive, with pioneering developments which have included the first tractor engine to use selective catalytic reduction (SCR) engine emission technology.
In 2008, the company debuted its Direct continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the T202 Direct tractor. In 2013, Valtra became the world’s first tractor manufacturer to offer its customers a factory-approved full customisation service with its Unlimited Studio Options program. And the list goes on.
Today, the Finnish manufacturer’s portfolio includes six ranges of tractors incorporating 35 different models, with power outputs extending from 75hp to 405hp. Valtra tractors are powered by Finnish-designed and built Agco-power engines, and offer a wider range of available options and integrated technologies than almost any other tractor manufacturer on the market. And to think, it all started 70 years ago in a disused World War II munitions factory.
In 1970, Valmet designated the trademark name Valtra to a new line of agricultural and forestry implements and equipment. Originally registered in 1963, the name Valtra was selected by Valmet as an alternative to the brand name Touro.
Following a reorganisation of the Finnish state, in 1994 Valmet tractors were transferred to the Sisu Group to create Valmet-Sisu. In 1997, the Valmet-Sisu Group was purchased by Partek, forming a 30 per cent partnership with the Finnish state.
In 1998, the Sisu name was dropped and the company was re-identified as Valtra-Valmet, but the right to use the Valmet name was limited to April 2001. Following the loss of its Valmet nomenclature - the company officially adopted the Valtra trademark as its new solo-name identity.