First Drive: The return of Zetor’s Crystal tractor

Crystal Zetor with plough attached

Arable farmers will be anticipating the comeback of the six-cylinder Zetor tractor, which has not been seen in the UK since the 1980s.

Going two decades without a six-pot tractor in its line-up has forced Zetor to turn its attentions to the livestock sector – which it has done pretty well.

The simple, relatively inexpensive tractors have garnered plenty of favour among livestock farmers, particularly those that hanker after levers and cables rather than buttons and wires.

But now the Brno-based firm has reset its sights on the arable market with a return to the six-cylinder Crystal.

As with most of its four-pots, Zetor plans to keep the Crystal simple; a gear stick pokes out of the floor, there’s a manual spool valves and minimal electronics.

See also: Zetor revives Crystal six-cylinder tractors

The rise and fall of the Crystal

When Zetor launched its range of high-horsepower Crystal tractors in the late 1960s it caused a bit of a stir.

While mainstream makers were still cobbling cabs together out of tin and canvas, the Communist tractor maker crafted a proper, isolated safety cab with a flat floor, passenger seat and room for a dozen goulash-loving Czechs.

Power was impressive, too, with up to 160hp on tap and it had a torque multiplier, a two-speed pto and draft control.

The range did well in the UK, with farmers rating their simple operation, decent amount of grunt and decidedly reasonable price tag.

But the lack of any form of synchromesh in the transmission meant drivers had to think creatively to perform a successful gear change.

In 1981 – after churning out more than 44,000 Crystals – Zetor was forced by the Soviet government to transfer production of the Crystal to Slovakia.

The resulting Slovak-built ZTS tractors were sold under the Zetor brand in the UK up until 1989, but production stopped altogether in 2002.

How new is it?

Although Zetor is marketing the Crystal as a brand new tractor, it is based heavily on the four-cylinder Forterra.

That means the back end and 30-speed transmission is almost exactly the same as its four cylinder sibling.

The interior of the Zetor Crystal cab

It has been beefed-up a bit to cope with the extra power and torque, though, and the cab is also classic Forterra.

How powerful?

Zetor is launching two Crystals – the 150 and the 160 – and both will be fitted with a 6.1-litre Deutz that uses AdBlue to keep it clean.

As the model numbers suggest, these will deliver 150hp with 650Nm torque and 160hp with 740Nm torque respectively. 

Power has been capped at 160hp as Zetor says that’s all the back-end and transmission will take.

But a second-generation Crystal is already in development and this is likely to have a few more ponies under the bonnet.

What’s the transmission like?

The five-speed gearbox is pretty sweet, but the gear arrangement is odd with first down and left.

The long floor-mounted stick is also predictably clunky, but that’s what this tractor is all about – being simple and basic.

More modern touches are the gearstick-mounted buttons for the three powershift steps and another on the front that disengages the clutch.

Zetor has also fitted a simple auto-shifting mode and there’s speed matching of the powershifts, too.

Forward and reverse shuttle is clutchless and handled by a lever on the steering column.

For a simple tractor the Crystal is pretty well specced. All UK tractors will have front axle suspension, four pto speeds, a Cat 3 linkage with 8.5t lift capacity and three spool valves.

A front linkage and pto are also on the options list.

Crystal Zetor ploughing a field


List prices are £80,260 for the Crystal 150 and £81,236 for the 160, but with discount a base-spec 150 will come in just shy of £60,000.

Zetor is also working on a 200hp to 250hp tractor range that’s likely to be launched between 2016 and 2018.

Details are vague, but there are rumours that it will be called the Maxterra and that a prototype could make an appearance at the Agritechnica show in Hanover this November.

Old Crystal v new Crystal
  16045 (Built in 1980)      Crystal 160 (Built in 2015)
Engine 6.8-litre, 6-cylinder Zetor 6.1-litre, 6-cylinder Deutz
Power 160hp 163hp
Transmission 16-speed with torque multiplier 30-speed with three-stage torque multiplier
Top speed 25.5kph 40kph
Weight 5.3t  4.8-5.8t depending on spec
Price £16,480 £81,236 list


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