In the early 1930s, driving a tractor was hard, often brutal work. With no cab to sit inside, freezing winds, rain, and snow could make life miserable. Today, many tractors have enclosed cabs and some fancier ones have all of the modern luxuries of a car. But that wasn't always the case and there's one tractor more than any other that deserves credit for changing that—the 1938 Minneapolis-Modine UDLX, and a perfectly restored one is headed for auction.
The Minneapolis-Modine UDLX is one of the funniest looking vehicles I've ever seen. It has outrageous proportions and truly combines the designs of a tractor and a 1930s car. It sort of looks like a child's drawing of a tractor and it's adorable. But it's also one of the most unique and interesting vehicles I've ever heard of.
In the mid-1930s, Minneapolis-Modine realized that there was a market for tractors with enclosed cabins, as farmers wanted to get out of the weather. However, Minneapolis-Modine got a bit too ambitious and tried to blend the tractor and the car, to create one vehicle that could be used for both types of driving. So it took its successful Model U tractor, added a cabin with some interior niceties, gave it the front-end styling of a sedan, and the UDLX (U Deluxe) was born. Inside the cab, drivers had a speedometer, a clock, sun-visors, window vents, and even a glovebox. For a tractor, it was surprisingly well-equipped.
Its engine and gearbox were from the Model U, so it had a four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission. Fifth gear was a direct drive and, if you drove it on the road, there was a lever to lock out the first four gears and remove the rev limiter. Under normal operations, the engine wouldn't rev past 1,700 rpm or so and had a top speed of 25 mph. But if you derestricted it, it could hit about 40 mph, which meant it could drive on public roads. So if you were farming all day but needed to head to the shops quickly, you could've done so without ever leaving the UDLX. Although, while you could've, you likely wouldn't have wanted to.
Despite its adorable appearance, the Minneapolis-Modine UDLX could sometimes be a painful experience. It only had one entryway, a set of double barn doors on the back, so getting in and out was a hassle. After opening those, the driver had to climb over the rear differential, which sent axles to the massive wheels and tires with no suspension. While the cabin was heated, there was obviously no air conditioning. And since you were essentially sitting in a steel box, with the powertrain's running gear in the cabin with you, things got hot quicky. And because it had literally no suspension to speak of, it was about as comfortable as falling down a flight of concrete stairs. But there was a jump seat, so didn't have to be miserable alone.
Only 150 of these Minneapolis-Modine UDLX tractors were made and they never sold very well, for a number of reasons. For starters, they were too expensive, costing $1,900. The average John Deere tractor at the time would run you about $1,000 and the average Ford cost between $500-$750. So you could get both for the price of one UDLX. But they were also looked down on by farmers, who felt they were for the weak, and their front fenders made navigating tight areas difficult. Of the 150 built, only around 80 are still known to exist and very few are known to be in restored, or even running condition.
Which is why this one headed for the Mecum auction is so cool. It's been fully restored, has a rebuilt engine, new tires, and has a period-correct radio and heater. I'm not quite sure what the market is on rare restored tractors but, according to Hemmings, examples as nice as this one have sold for as much as $110,000. This one hits the auction block November 17-19 and it will be interesting to see what it sells for.