22 October 1999

Outstanding in comfort and performance

Just a year ago, JCB

launched the 3000 Series

Fastracs. While there are

those who still believe the

true vocation for such

machines lies in transport

duties, one north Bucks

farmer relies on them totally

for all farm duties.

Andy Collings reports

SOME people may think it is a logical step for a one-time racing driver to become a keen advocate of the JCB Fastrac.

But Chris Metcalfe, who up to a few years ago raced top-level sports cars, insists his enthusiasm for these tractors goes far beyond their ability to travel at impressive speeds on the road.

Farming 380ha (950 acres) in north Bucks, Mr Metcalfe has been operating Fastracs almost since the day they were first introduced. His current machines are the 150hp 3155 and the 170hp 3185 – models that JCB introduced about a year ago.

"These are the only two tractors employed on the farm," he says. "And if they perform as well as the two 155s they replaced, all should be well."

Running a strong land arable farm majoring in winter wheat, oilseed rape and peas, Mr Metcalfe reckons to plough about one-third of the farm each year and minimal cultivate the rest.

"The 155s were good, but as I took on more land, I really needed more power to operate my 4m Simba FreeFlow drill, five-leg Flatliner and a 4.6m set of heavy discs if outputs were to be maintained," he says. "JCBs introduction of the 3000 Series – and the 3185 in particular – looked an attractive option from the start."

Post-harvest cultivation work is now in full swing, with the 3155 spending many hours discing down the stubbles and the 3185 on drilling duties. Both tasks are proceeding at a reasonable pace, says Mr Metcalfe, and, given the weather, should see the farm drilled up in good time.

But what is it about the Fastracs he finds so endearing?

"Its comfort and performance. Over the years, I have tried most breeds of tractor and I am convinced that none has matched the specification of the Fastrac in these two important areas."

A JCB enthusiasts opinion or one that can be substantiated?

"These latest models are quite capable of heavy cultivation work, drilling, spraying and hauling trailers. And suspension makes the ride in the large cab quite bearable for long hours of use."

Few could argue with that, but even Mr Metcalfe finds fault with some features of the new tractors.

"Overall they are stylish and well designed, but I have long believed that JCB, like many other tractor manufacturers, brings new models out too soon – before they are fully tested. Take the control layout in the 3000 Series, for example. The throttle, which used to be almost out of reach on the 155s, is now far too close for comfort.

"The digital dashboard is virtually unreadable and the switches to operate four-wheel-drive and pto are far too similar and close together for safety.

"These are details JCB should have sorted out before they launched these models."

Mr Metcalfe concedes there have been some siginificant improvements in the transmission department, but suggests that a full powershift box would be a logical development for future models.

"That is, providing such a transmission does not sap valuable engine power."

These criticisms apart, he likes the tractor weight distribution. The 3155, for example, has almost 500kg more weight on the front axle than on the rear – a logical distribution for a machine that is usually saddled to a rear-mounted implement.

"Its more than that, though. When a tractor is pulling hard, there is always the tendency for the weight on the front axle to reduce as the rear wheels turn. It just makes so much sense to start with a tractor with more weight on the front than the rear, rather than having to load up the front with heavy weights."

It has now been four years since Mr Metcalfe gave up the racing car scene.

"I still love speed," he says as he prepares to leave in his Overfinch V8 Discovery complete with modified suspension and racing steering wheel. "The Fastrac may appear to be a strange second choice, but it is the closest farming can offer!"

JCB Fastrac 3155/3185

3155 3185

Engine Perkins Cummins

150hp 170hp

Transmission 54 x 18 54 x 18

6 manual, low,

medium, high,

3-speed autoshift

Rear linkage 7000kg 7000kg

Suspension Front: coil spring

Rear: Hydro

pneumatic self-

levelling