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To be frank, the UDLX Comfortractor was a miserable failure when it came to sales. But the blame for this lies not so much with the tractor’s revolutionary design, but with the economy when the UDLX was introduced.
Farmers were still recovering from the Great Depression, so they weren’t chomping at the bit to plunk down $2,155 for a tractor that had more creature comforts than most of their cars.
And Minneapolis-Moline didn’t have great sales expectations for the UDLX because they realized it demanded a premium sales price. But Minnie management had to have been disappointed that only 150 UDLXs were ever built and sold.
If they were alive today, those leaders might find solace in the fact that the UDLX is one of the most sought-after tractors by collectors. The last UDLX that sold at a public sale went for a whopping $155,000!
The failure of the UDLX to sell should not cloud over the fact that it was one of the most advanced tractors of its time. Certainly its cab lent credit to this claim. This innovation marked the first use of a factory-built cab on a tractor.
More importantly, however, the UDLX established the need for an enclosed and fully equipped cab in the minds of farmers, although they wouldn’t demand this feature on tractors for several decades after the Comfortractor’s introduction.
The UDLX also introduced another engineering advance that would eventually become an industry standard – shifting on-the-go! Its transmission employed helical-cut gears on the third and fourth gears.
The design of those gears not only allowed shifting from third to fourth gear while the tractor was rolling, but also minimized road whine coming from the tranny.
To make the UDLX truly road-worthy, Minneapolis equipped it with a fifth gear that allowed road speeds up to 40 mph. Normally, the governed engine speed of the UDLX’s engine was 1,275 rpm. But when the tractor was shifted into fifth gear, that speed was automatically changed to 1,785 rpm to beef up road speeds. Also, the transmission utilized a second lever that controlled a countershaft throw-out, which disengaged all gearing inside the transmission except the fifth gear.
Fifth gear operated on a straight-through shaft. The idea here was to reduce friction drag by idling the other gears when running on the road.
Cab set standards
For all its technical advances, the main feature of the Special DeLuxe was its cab. Cabs had appeared on tractors before. Yet these were crude attempts at providing basic shelter against the elements.
But the closed car on the UDLX provided comfort rivaling that found in cars of this day. Its list of features included “air ventilation and temperature control,” Minneapolis boasted. The cab was also equipped with a complete array of gauges (mph, ammeter, oil pressure, water temperature), two cushioned seats, cigar lighter, ash tray, clock, and radio.
Minneapolis had high hopes for the UDLX, noting at the time that their research found 50% of farmers asked had expressed a desire for a tractor with a cab. That may have been true, but few farmers wanted to pay for such creature comforts – at least not for another 30 years.
Today, nearly every tractor over 100 horsepower comes equipped with a cab. True, the modern tractor cab puts the UDLX’s car to shame with air conditioning, stereo systems, and seats that rival over-the-road trucks. But today’s cabs all trace their design roots back to UDLX’s glorious failure.