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A special Case: refreshing a classic MX120 tractor

It nearly never got bought in the first place. It also nearly got sold. But through various circumstances, an early Case IH MX120 has become a firm farming family favourite. James Rickard reports.

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Making use of a few rainy days, the refurbishment took about six weeks to complete.
Making use of a few rainy days, the refurbishment took about six weeks to complete.

For most farms, when a tractor reaches a certain point in its life, it is usually off to the dealers with it to get traded in. But for father and son dairy farmers Alan and Andrew Coar, their 1999 Case IH MX120 has become a permanent resident at their Lancashire dairy farm.

 

Not only has the tractor been kept hold of, but recently it has also been given a thorough refresh with an all-new paint job, upgraded lighting package and a new control console. While thorough, by no means is this a fastidious restoration job - the new lighting is not exactly period. Alan Coar explains; “This tractor still has to earn its keep, so we did not want to go too far with the refresh.”


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Alan (left) and Andrew (right) Coar.
Alan (left) and Andrew (right) Coar.

As a brand new purchase, the MX120 arrived on farm in March, 1999. It was a replacement for a previous generation Maxxum, a J-reg 5130, and a relatively early model from the new series. Alan says; “Although the MX120 was one of the first of the new MX Series, it was not really a gamble as the main components used were shared with the previous generation. It was only really an updated tractor with new cab and styling.”

 

But while the farm had run Internationals and subsequently Case IHs, it was not guaranteed at the time of purchase this trend would continue, as a competitive deal by a local John Deere dealer made the Case IH dealer work for its money. “In the end, Case stepped in and managed to get the price right.”

 

As the frontline tractor on the farm, the MX120 carried out forage harvesting, first with a trailed Taarup 622 then with a JF 1050. Once the grass was off, it was then kept busy with slurry tanking duties.

 

Throughout summer, it could be found on a 9.8m (32 foot) trailer, carting straw from Bickerstaffe near Ormskirk, back to the farm’s base near Grimsargh, Preston – a round trip of 60 miles. “I reckon the tractor would have done about 10,000 miles doing that job,” says Alan.

The Coars' MX120 still earns its keep mowing.
The Coars' MX120 still earns its keep mowing.

In its lifetime the MX120 has clocked up just over 7,000 hours. Now nearly 20 years old, it has taken a back seat for the last five years, as more powerful tractors have been bought as frontline machines; first a McCormick TTX190, which has since been replaced by the latest generation Case IH Puma 165.

 

Along with a four-cylinder McCormick MC115, it and the new Puma carry out the lion’s share of work on the farm.

Now on lighter duties, the MX still earns its keep and can now be found on a mower at silage time, and a hedgecutter throughout the wetter months. The addition of a genuine set of Maxxum front links, sourced from e-Bay, also sees the tractor support the farm’s Merlo telehandler on the silage clamp.

 

Once out of warranty, all servicing, has been done in-house. As for breakdowns, Alan says; “Internally, nothing has ever failed. Its only real ailments have been a burst seal on the front axle’s input shaft, a £1.50 relay switch which failed in the back of the dash causing the tractor to stop in the centre of Preston, and a stabiliser arm which sheared off. Apart from that, it has been bullet proof.”

The fresh paint job makes the tractor stand out.
The fresh paint job makes the tractor stand out.

Along with reliability, several other reasons convinced the Coars to keep the MX120. “Tractors of this age do not seem to be losing any value, so at this stage it is worth more to us to keep it as a second main tractor rather than trade it in,” says Alan. “All operators which have driven it like it too, particularly the sound from its Cummins engine. And it is a really simple tractor to drive.”

 

As well as the Maxxum 5130, other noteworthy front-line tractors the farm has had include the now famous Case IH 956, an International 885 and an International 674 from 1976, which is still in use every day as the farm’s scraper tractor.

Although in relative good condition, it was the faded red paint work which prompted the MX’s refresh (see panels below).

 

“Mainly down to sunlight, the paint, particularly on the top of the bonnet and cab roof, had really faded. There was also a couple of other areas which wanted tidying up while we were at it,” says Alan. “Now refreshed, it does stand out, so we may do one of the others. Like the MX, the MC’s red paint has suffered.”

Wash and strip

Wash and strip
  • Before anything could be done to the tractor, it needed a thorough clean down. Andrew says it was a three-part process which began with a pressure wash, followed by a scrub down with soap and water, and finally a rub down with a degreasing solvent.
  • Bonnet and side panels were relatively easy to remove he says, as were rear mudguards. “The cab roof was also surprisingly easy, with only four bolts needing to be removed. All electrics in the roof are connected by one central, multicore socket.”
  • All work lights were also removed in preparation for replacement, and mudguards (front and rear) disassembled for their own re-fresh.

Panels and roof

Panels and roof
  • Prior to painting, all red panels and the roof were rubbed down with a powered sander, which removed any rust or blemishes and allowed the paint to ‘key’ into the existing paintwork.
  • One bonnet panel was also slightly bent which required a bit of re-shaping and filling out in places.
  • For each panel, two coats of primer and up to three coats of paint were applied. The latter was a two part paint featuring a hardener.
  • Andrew adds; “To find the original shade of red for mixing, we looked under the cab’s air intake filter panel.”

Wheels and stickers

Wheels and stickers
  • Apart from a few blisters, wheels on the whole looked okay, says Andrew. “With wheels removed and cleaned, these just needed a rub down like the panels to allow the paint to key in.”
  • Before painting, masking tape was used to protect the tyres from stray paint. One coat of primer was applied before three light coats of Case IH silver, sourced from the local dealer.
  • New bonnet decals were also sourced, to add to the new look. For good measure, and for improved reception, a new radio aerial was fitted.

Old console

Old console
  • Inside the cab, the main control console had taken a battering over the years, particularly around the spool levers, which fouled on the console, says Andrew. “Everything still operated, but it was in need of tidying up.”
  • But although this type of console was used on McCormick tractors right up until 2013, the console used on early Case IH MXs differed from later ones which saw a PTO activation button used instead of a lever.

New console

New console
  • By having a look at how the McComick MC115’s PTO button was wired up, the Coars worked out that a newer console would be compatible with the MX, if the PTO lever was replaced for a button.
  • Removal of the console was a fiddly process, says Andrew. “Every knob, lever top and switch has to be removed before the console can come off.
  • “You also need to keep careful track of any wires you disconnect underneath. We labelled up each one as we went, so we would not mix them up when re-fitting.”

Lighting

Lighting
  • Many of the work lights, particularly the mid-mounted lights were beyond repair, says Andrew. “Not to put too fine a point on it, they were knackered. The worst ones had just rotted and fallen to bits.
  • “We priced up equivalent halogen lights but these were very expensive at £45 each so decided to fit LED lights. They are not quite the same shape, but they are a lot cheaper and brighter, and should last longer.”

Fitting lights

Fitting lights
  • Recycling the previous lights’ plugs, the LED lights were simply plugged straight into the tractor’s wiring loom using the existing routing holes.
  • “Just beware that LED lights do not work if you wire them up backwards, as I found with the first four I fitted.”
  • They also came with their own brackets allowing them to use existing bolt holes on the tractor. Only the roof lights needed spacers to get them to fit.

Black bits

Black bits
  • Like the red paint, both the front and rear black plastic mudguards had faded. These were simply re-sprayed with a can of black aerosol, to give a newer appearance.
  • For the chassis and the back-end, it was decided to leave this, says Andrew, as they were in good condition. “We regularly spray the tractors with oil to protect them, particularly before going into wetter winter work, which has really helped preserve the black paint work. We also did not want to go too far with the re-fresh. At the end of the day, it still has to work.”

Metalwork

Metalwork
  • Paint on the exhaust shield was fairly ‘scabby’, says Andrew, which saw the shield removed and painted with a black gloss. Once removed, cracking at the base of the exhaust stack was noticed which was welded before the main exhaust pipe was painted with a heat resistant paint.
  • Battery cover and wing mirror arms were also ‘tarted up’ with a coat of black gloss. Finally, steps where removed, straightened and re-sprayed.

MX120 specifications

MX120 specifications
  • Engine: 5.9-litre, six-cylinder, Cummins/CDC, Stage sod-all
  • Power: 125hp at the shaft, verified by a dyno test in 2005
  • Torque: Shed loads at 1,450rpm
  • Transmission: Semi-powershift, 16 by 12
  • Rear linkage lift capacity: 3,807kg
  • PTO speeds: 540 and 1,000rpm
  • Wheelbase: 2,700mm

Cost of refurbishment (excluding time)

Cost of refurbishment (excluding time)
  • Paint and materials: £150
  • Console: £158.42
  • LED lights: £106 for 10
  • Decals: £49.75 for each side of bonnet
  • PTO button: £37.99
  • PTO light: £27.22
  • Mudguard clips: £30 for 30 clips
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