Ford’s 70-series is an increasingly popular choice for cost-effective, easy-to-fix horsepower. Alun Jones, former Ford machinery dealer and now farmer, guides Geoff Ashcroft around his Ford and New Holland 8970 Genesis tractors.
Rather than remodel the TW – and its 30-series successor – Ford went back to the drawing board to produce its 70-series tractors. And in 1994, a four-model range appeared with 8670, 8770, 8870 and 8970 tractors spanning 170-240hp.
Only the 8670 could be linked back to the TW – the other three were heavy duty. Considered to be Ford’s most iconic tractor series, it holds many accolades including largest conventional Ford tractor ever produced; first flip-up bonnet in the world; tight-turning Super-Steer front axle; and one of the best engines of its day - the 7.5-litre Genesis motor.
It was a platform designed in the USA and built in Winnipeg, Canada, and the 8770, 8870 and 8970 were engineered from the outset to suit both wheeled and tracked applications.
The heavier 70-series skid unit could also be found as Cat and Claas 35, 45 and 55 models, plus Landini Starland plus Fiat and Versatile variants.
“This was the best tractor that Ford ever produced,” says Alun Jones, former Ford tractor dealer, who operates two 8970’s on his farm in Buckinghamshire. “It had the best engine of its time, it came with a superb Funk powershift transmission and it was the tractor that Fiat really wanted when the CNH Group was formed. At the time, it had Deere quaking in its boots.”
The Genesis range ran for eight years, and while early models carried the Ford name and were finished in Ford’s traditional blue livery, later models adopted the New Holland brand, and changed to a different shade of blue. Models with an ‘A’ suffix brought extra specification including electric remote valves, heavier front axle with a mechanical locking differential and 40kph capability.
The 7.5-litre six-pot Genesis engine was a big step up over Ford’s previous 6.6-litre flagship engine. Full PTO power came at 1,900rpm instead of 2,100rpm, and the largest two models came initially with an intercooler. From 1997, all models were intercooled, to help reduce operating temperatures.
Early models had a smooth front grille and a solid bonnet, with production modifications bringing a fluted front grille and cooling vents in the top of the bonnet.
In 30kph guise, the 18 by nine Funk powershift transmission had its top two gears locked out, while the 40k version accessed all 18 forward speeds.
An automatic transport feature brought auto-up/down shifts according to speed and throttle position. Programmable shuttle shifting and programmable up/down shifts could also be selected.
On-board diagnostics and calibration can reveal vital transmission information through the electronic dashboard, hinting at the available life remaining in the clutch packs.
“Operator error will shorten clutch pack life,” says Alun Jones. “You need to keep the engine revs above 900rpm to prevent oil starvation on clutch packs. And never use the clutch pedal for anything other than hitching up – it bleeds oil away from the clutch packs. So pay attention to how the tractor is operated.”
The manufacturer’s SuperSteer system was optional on the 70-series, and while it revolutionised in-field maneuverability with its 65-degree turn-angle, it was shunned by many on-road.
“SuperSteer could wander on the road, but you soon got used to it,” says Alun. “Greasing it is important – there is a lot of moving parts. And the easiest way with the weight-pack fitted was to go lock-to-lock to access all the nipples.”
He says early models had a Dana front axle with limited slip differential, where later models gained a heavier-duty CNH axle which brought a mechanical locking differential.
Hubs are visually different, with the outboard planetaries showing indentations for three planet gears in the heavy-duty axle, and four planet gears in the earlier version.
“The bigger planet gears were much tougher,” he says. “And better suited to front dual wheels.”
Front weight pack comprises 16, 110kg wafer weights, which sit on the SuperSteer axle, not on the chassis.
Six-post cab brought space and glass a-plenty. Combined with the sloping bonnet design, shorter sight-lines resulted from this design, improving the view over the front of the tractor. Right-hand side window could be opened for those seeking fresh air.
“Cab condition will tell you a lot about how the tractor has been cared for,” he says. “Look for excessive wear on control surfaces, pedals, seat and head-lining.”
“Check that everything works as it should, as there is a lot of electronic sophistication in here,” he points out. “Heating, ventilation and air conditioning should all be operational too. It is a good place to spend long days – the biggest downside is there is no suspension with the cab or front axle, which reminds you this is an 18 to 26-year-old tractor range.”
With the exception of the 8670, the remainder of the 70-series Genesis range gained its own beefed-up rear-end. It means 1,000rpm pto is standard on the top three models, with 540/1,000 on the 8670.
Electronic remote valves came on later models, with early tractors getting mechanical valves. A check-chain and drop link modification improved durability and strength for the Cat III rear linkage.
Optional Mega-Flow hydraulics brought 210 litres/min flow for the closed centre, load-sensing hydraulic system. Two pumps allow the system to run low flow/high pressure from one spool, and high-flow/low pressure from another, without over-heating the oil.
Bolt-on pto pack affords simple overhaul rather than delving into the rear-end, and a secondary plastic fuel tank sat beneath the cab helped weight distribution and improved range. Though it needed patience when filling through the tall neck, to make the most of its 416 litre capacity.
From Doe Hill Farm, Princes Risborough, Alun Jones (pictured above) farms just a few hundred acres, using a pair of 8970 tractors. His 1994 Ford-badged version is a low-hour, pre-production machine while the later 2002 New Holland-badged 8970A has 7,500 hours under its belt.
“I use the newer tractor for cultivations and drilling, while the older model does just a few hours each year corn-carting,” he says. “They are appreciating assets.”
Both have been equipped with Trimble’s retro-fit auto-steering system to improve functionality, improving what he believes is an already good package, and the newer model has been treated to an LED lighting upgrade.
“There’s nothing out there to touch the 8970 as a 240hp heavy draft tractor,” he says. “Such a strong machine, but one that is agile and adept at top-work too. There’s no emissions paraphernalia to worry about and it’s a mechanically simple tractor to work on. I’ll put it against any modern 240hp CVT, and it’ll wipe the floor with them all.”