The last tractor to roll off the line at Meltham, on March 11 1988 a two- wheel drive 1594 was spirited away by parent company Case to North America.
However, in recent years great work by individuals in the David Brown Tractor Club led to the repatriation of the tractor back to West Yorkshire, where it is now on display at the David Brown Tractor Club Museum a stone’s throw from the factory where it was built.
Five years before production ended the David Brown name had been phased out in favour of the Case logo, with the launch of the 94 Series tractors in October 1983.
This new range was introduced to overcome shortcomings of the DB 90 series launched in 1979.
David Brown regarded the 90 series launch as a hopeful sign of its future. Such were the high hopes that Monte Carlo was chosen as the venue for the launch.
Although in some respects the new 90 range was just a change of tin work and cabs, other changes were made but interference from Case in the US led to many shortcomings.
The excellent engineering and testing departments at Meltham identified the problems and rectified them for the new 94 range.
The choice of colours for the 94 series was an interesting one as new US regulations regarding leaded paint made Power Red too expensive to produce in unleaded format, so black was chosen for the skid unit.
The more cynical David Brown technicians suggested the black paint was chosen to mask the oil leaks that often plagued DB tractors.
The 94 series consisted of the 1194 at 48hp, the 1294 at 61hp, the 1394 at 72hp and the 1494 at 76hp, while an all-new 1594 sat at 95hp and finally the 1694 at 108hp. These were all built at Meltham.
The larger 2094 121hp model and the 2294 at 141hp and two artics, the 4694 rated at 236hp and the top end 4894 with 277hp, were produced in Racine, Wisconsin.
In 1985 International Harvester was in severe financial bother thanks to a world-wide tractor sales slump, poor industrial relations and trying to increase its presence in the construction sector. Such was its vulnerable state it came to a merger agreement with Case in early 1985.
David Brown’s future came immediately under threat, but the 94 series was to continue in a new colour scheme of IH Red tin work, black skid units and black and silver wheels.
This merger made sense to Case and to IH; it gave Case a larger footprint in world markets and it saved much of IH.
The situation in the UK initially saw an integrated range turned out in the new colour scheme. The 1394, 1494, 1594 and 1694 models continued to be made at Meltham, with the 1194 and 1294 models dropped to avoid conflicting with IH models. They were sold alongside International 85 Series models built at Doncaster and the larger German-built IH models.
However, some serious rationalisation had to be carried out among the dealership network which was now virtually double the size it needed to be. In many cases it was the David Brown dealers who faced the axe.
Ironically the 72hp 1394 was the biggest-selling tractor in this power bracket, and David Brown’s famed frugality on fuel would have made them a big hit today.
However, the dated three-bearing crankshaft engines would have meant DB/Case having to invest fortunes to develop new power plants.
A design team at Meltham was tasked with planning a new tractor range under the P100 programme, but following the rationalisation of the Case IH brand the team was relocated to the IH plant at Neuss in West Germany.
The outcome was the introduction of the Case IH Maxxum range, with Neuss-built engines assembled into tractors fitted with transmissions built at the IH Saint-Dizier plant in France.
The P100 programme initially intended engines to be built at Meltham, and then British Leyland offered to build them at Bathgate in return for Meltham taking over BL’s tractor business. Cummins in Darlington also threw their hat into the ring for engine production contracts.
The Case IH merger ended the speculation and finally ended the production of tractors at Meltham.
The last tractors carried the David Brown name and white rose of York and red rose of Lancaster emblem relating to DB factories at Meltham and Leigh.
In 1987 the tractors had been branded as the Commemorative Edition machines in an attempt to cash-in on the DB heritage and clear stocks quickly. Part of this sales drive was a competition to win an Aston Martin DB 6 car. Aston Martin too were part of the DB family when Sir David Brown bought the company and Lagonda cars in the 1950s.
Who would have believed at the heady launch of the 90 series in Monaco the David Brown name would be gone and the factory’s assembly line out of production in less than a decade?
Despite the gloom of the time the David Brown name lives on, with thousands of the tractors still at work or in preservation.
Fans are catered for by the David Brown Tractor Club and the DMR Machinery Club which caters for fans of all three constituent brands David Brown, Case and International, now under the Case IH banner, which itself is part of CNH after tying in with the New Holland brand.
Indeed the factory remained involved with tractor production as a new company employing many ex DB personal called Meltham Mills Engineering produced gearbox components for many different makes of tractor.
Case IH closed Neuss and shifted production to the former IH plant at Doncaster on the other side of Yorkshire.
It too has closed in recent years, but not before it became the production plant of the McCormick brand which built the successors to the Maxxum before production moved to Italy.
In fact the descendants of the Meltham designed Maxxums, the MTX range, have only been phased out now quite a tribute to the once great name of David Brown.