Farmer Iron

Retooling a Legend

Nationally known designer brings a 4020 tractor to a new life. Check out the pictures and video of this interesting project.

There was a lot of excitement as the trade show for the 2010 Commodity Classic fired up Thursday in Anaheim, Calif. A media crowd ringed a machine covered in a shroud, all awaiting the unveiling of a tractor that would carry the unique stamp of nationally known car "redesigner" Chip Foose.

When the cover came off on the "super" John Deere 4020, the crowd got an eye-full of a tractor that while staying true to its mechanical roots, definitely had a new look. Nickel-plated fuel lines, hot-rod pipe exhaust, a lower profile and a unique take on the traditional 4020 hood that adds a point to the front and a gentle slope to the steering wheel.

Chip Foose talks enthusiastically about the 4020 project, offering his vision for the design approach he took with the machine.

This tractor is a looker (you can see the unveiling in the video below), as the photos on this page show. What surprised me, however, was the discussion I had with Chip Foose himself. This is a man who does a lot to cars, conducting more than 80 redesigns on machines for the cable show "Overhaulin'", yet has always maintained a kind of integrity to the original machine.

"We wanted to maintain the integrity of the tractor," he says. How this was done was to stick with the sheet metal and bring forward a design that builds on the original. While there are a fair share of custom parts on this machine, you'll also find a lot of stock Deere parts as well.

The "new" 4020 with the Chip Foose style features a point to the nose that Foose carried from hood through the grill. Note the "weight bar" is now a smooth nose. You might recognize it from a sprint car racer.

Foose says the tractor could have any of his add-ons removed and it could be returned to stock form. Of course, looking at it why would anyone want to do that?

The designer, who was admittedly very proud of the creation, says the biggest surprise to him for the project was how heavy everything was. "14-gauge steel is structural in a race or stock car," he points out. "Here' is used for the hood!" He joked with some media about the need for a "bigger hammer" but Foose and his shop team was challenged by that aspect of farm equipment.

And while the finished product is definitely a show tractor, they did start it in the exhibit to a round of applause from the crowd. "This tractor runs and could be returned to work," Foose says proudly.

One gearhead to another

It was fun to spend a few minutes with Foose talking about the work done on the tractor, seeing his almost child-like excitement at success of another job finished. He talked about the custom front axle that allowed them to lower the nose about 13-1/2 inches, and changes to the rear wheels that brought the back end down about seven inches.

This custom front axle includes that bent bar that the Foose team produced in their shop. As you look at this one part, you can see the attention to detail from the paint to the coating on that axle.

"We had to custom bend the bar for the front axle and redesign that end," he says. "But you could easily remove this and put a stock axle back on there." Again, why?

Sergio Almadar, a customer service and support person for AA Equipment, the Deere dealership that supported the Foose project, talked a little more in-depth about the project.

He notes, for example, that lowering the rear end was a challenge. The tractor came with 60-inch ag tires and wheels but Foose was looking for that changed profile. "We found that as we tried for smaller-diameter tires we couldn't find the right fit," Almadar says. "Eventually we went with the turf tire and got the 50-inch size Chip wanted."

Of course, moving to a turf tire on a 4020 also meant building custom rims for the rear end because there were no turf rims for this model in the Deere parts catalog. But there's a boat-load of new Deere parts on this machine and Almadar made his fair share of visits to the Foose operation in Huntington Beach, Calif.

In fact, Almadar joked that he looked for the excuse to deliver parts to the project in process. "I'm on the road doing service, I could easily make that trip to drop off those parts," he recalls with a grin.

It's just fun to see what you can do with a piece of equipment if you bring a fresh perspective to the project. Foose talked about how he felt the design of the tractor, with it's narrower front end was reminiscent of early Indy cars, and he played off of that in his design vision.

This "boat-tail" rear end shows some of Foose's vision in the project. This is taken right from vintage Indy-style racers from the turn of the century. That's the picture Foose had in mind when he took on the project.

For a few more details: The tractor came from a farm in Ohio and while it was in working condition, it turns out some rebuilding of the engine was in order. The tractor's engine, transmission, clutch, fuel system and other major components were updated - so the machine is mechanically sound.

This custom machine will hit the road to be exhibited at more than 60 Drive Green Tractor Experience events held by John Deere across the country in 2010.

As you look at the photos here - and the video at the end of this story - keep in mind that all the work is in steel, Foose didn't take a fiberglass shortcut here. The chrome and nickel plating are extensive. And best of all, one of you - dear reader - could own this tractor.

John Deere is giving this machine away. All you have to do is visit your local dealer to enter. The winner will be announced later this year.

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