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Kelly & Lewis History by Craig Pink
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This documents contains a breif history of Kelly & Lewis tractors written by Craig Pink.
For books on Kelly & Lewis Engines, refer to the
section of our catalogue.
For Bulldog tractor books, refer to the
Lanz section of our catalogue.
THE K.L. BULLDOG TRACTOR
Kelly & Lewis of Springvale, Victoria (an outer suburb of Melbourne) first announced to the public in late November
1945 that they intended to manufacture a tractor "of similar pattern" to the pre-war German built Lanz Bulldog tractors that K.L. Distributors Pty. Ltd. (a subsidiary of Kelly & Lewis) were the sole Australian agents for. They sold these hot bulb
KL hot bulb engine
ignition, crude oil burning Lanz tractors from 1934 until the outbreak of WW2. The Lanz 35hp "N" model proved the most popular of the Lanz tractors sold in Australia, so Kelly & Lewis had initial plans already under way before the outbreak of WW2 to build a copy of this tractor in Australia. Design work on the K.L. tractor was started before the end of WW2, various Blueprint drawings such as the original May 1945 crankshaft drawing survive today in preservation. The initial idea was to build an assembly factory close to the existing Kelly & Lewis works at Springvale, sub-contracting as much component parts as possible to outside contractors. Parts were to supposedly arrive ready for assembly at Springvale, but supply and faulty parts was an ongoing problem which was never overcome and contributed to the demise of the whole K.L. tractor project.
The immediate post-war period saw the Government of the time offer substantial "start up funds and incentives" to encourage local tractor production, (to be repaid once profits flowed). Not wanting to split up all available machine tools at its disposal the Government instead contracted to supply machined castings from the Government ordnance factories at Bendigo and Maribyrnong in Victoria. Earlier design work of the K.L. tractor was carried out in premises at North Melbourne while the assembly factory at Springvale was being built. A prewar Lanz 35hp "N" tractor was dismantled for the purpose of measurements, along with the use of German blueprints that were obtained which were converted to English. Part of the Government help also included a casting plant factory at Hobart in Tasmania, K.L. only leased this from the Government which supplied grey iron castings for machining at places like Bendigo and Maribyrnong. The first completed production K.L. tractor came off the Springvale production line on 21st of September 1948, and was completed just in time for display at the
Later production K.L. tractor at Melbourne Show, early 1950's, note the pressed steel fence post in the forground, another KL product
Melbourne Show. An official opening was held on March 16th 1949 which made newspaper headlines (not front page). The K.L. tractor was so close a copy of the pre-war Lanz "N" 35hp that over 90% of parts would readily interchange, the main difference being the rpm lifted from 540 to 600 on the K.L tractor, this increased horse power availabe to a maximum of 44 on the belt.
Front page of sales brochure
Company archives show that many problems were encountered, early and ongoing production was held up by a mixture of initial casting faults and also later machining faults, this required some parts to be imported from the German Lanz works. At times this included such parts as crankcase, gear case, piston and various other small parts.
Production estimates by the K.L. management and also the Government of the time were way out, encouraged by Government statistics K.L. stated very boldly in late 1948 that demand would be 1,000, then 10,000, some months later production of up to 17,000 tractors per year was also mentioned. After consideration K.L. then geared up to make 1,000 tractors in total. This was much more conservative, especially with the reappearance of the Lanz tractors in later 1949 with K.L. as their agents again. By this time it was settled that "K.L. TRACTOR SALES Pty, Ltd" would handle sales and parts for both K.L. and Lanz tractors, "K.L. TRACTORS Ltd" was by now another separate subsidiary of Kelly & Lewis.
The supply and faulty parts problems continued in the production of the K.L. tractor over the years 1949 to 1952, some later production tractors were even delivered new with an oversize piston due to a supply batch of inaccurately bored cylinders. The majority of the K.L. tractors were built in 1950 and 1951 which generated profits of some £10,310 and £22,300, 1952 saw a market down turn as the post war demand was now becoming filled, production was finally suspended in early December 1952 after building a total of just over 860 tractors. At this time K.L. tractors' liabilities of £357,384 exceeded assets by over £37,000, without a replacement tractor of a more modern design not even at a drawing stage K.L. Tractors was by now in deep financial trouble it would never recover from. The parent company Kelly & Lewis had many subsidiaries into which profits were generated for shareholders, the tractor venture being just a small part of annual income.
The Hobart foundry closed immediately with the suspension of tractor production and steps were taken to sell stock, assets and equipment at the Springvale factory. Most of the factory space was soon leased by the adjoining parent company Kelly & Lewis for a large engineering and fabrication contract. The Government soon stepped in and demanded repayment of £107,000 for the purchase of machine parts made by the Commonwealth ordnance factories between April 1948 and June 1952. In 1953 as the months went by, K.L. tried to come to an amicable settlement through negotiating with the Commonwealth, but this proved impossible. By mid 1953 K.L. Tractors Ltd, filed a claim with a writ of £275,000 against the Commonwealth for faulty parts supplied and for late delivery. In early 1954 a court order wound up K.L. Tractors Ltd with shareholders losing their money. The initial backer of the whole K.L. tractor project, the E.S.& A. bank (now ANZ) was the biggest loser.
By February 1953 Lanz Australia had set up with its head office in Sydney, Kelly & Lewis still being agents in some states, including Victoria. Sales of the new generation alloy piston full-diesel Lanz tractors (initially 17 to 28HP models - D1706, D2206 and D2806) started in Australia from around April 1953, followed later by the (D3206 "K") and (D3606 "O"). The hot bulb ignition Lanz Bulldog tractors still being sold after the suspension of K.L. tractor production, but had lost favor to more modern designs from their opposition. Mid 1955 saw the release of the more powerful range of the full diesel 50 and 60hp new generation alloy piston Lanz tractors, these were models D5006, D5016, D6006 and D6016 and were better known in Australia as models R, DR, T, and DT.
For further information relating to this unique Australian tractor
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