Across the ditch: 1925 Benz-Sendling tractor

By: Harrison Hunkin, Photography by: Jan Glovac


An historic 1925 Benz-Sendling tractor has come under the spotlight in Australia and been deemed by the Australian government of being 'of tremendous significance to Australian agriculture'

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A slice of farming history recently went under the hammer in Australia.

The rare 1925 Benz-Sendling tractor was not just another antique for sale but represented an iconic and unique piece of Aussie farming history.

In recognition of the special background of this machine, there was never any likelihood of this eye-catching Benz finding itself shipped offshore for display at a European museum or in an American barn.

That’s because the Australian government has determined this extremely rare piece of machinery to be of tremendous significance to Australian agriculture, and therefore must remain Down Under. 

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This Benz-Sendling tractor is a rare example of a joint venture between two German manufacturers – Sendling and Benz & Cle – before being shipped to Australia in 1925

Old-timer

It’s a tractor with one hell of a story, arriving in Western Australia from Germany just in time for the Perth Royal Show back in 1925. It’s believed to have then passed between a few local farmers’ hands before ending up in the possession of the late vintage tractor collector Norm Bates. 

It’s safe to say that, when Bates found the machine, it had seen better days. The cam shaft had seized, the fenders, radiator, and the clutch had been removed, and the head had been off the tractor for five years. With little to no trade experience, it took Bates two years to fully restore the tractor – a decision that proved to be worth the time and effort with the machine winning the 1986 Best Restored award by the Royal Agricultural Society of Western Australia.

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When Bates passed away in 2011, aged 86, his 750-lot strong collection of farm machinery was put up for auction in 2013. Among the collection was the 1925 Benz-Sendling tractor, which sold for more than AU$100,000 – a price Manheim Auctions was hoping to top as FFM went to press.

"Based on feedback from some of the potential buyers, there’s certainly interest that’s well and truly in excess of the previous auction’s results," says Manheim Auctions business development manager Richard McNicol.

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The decision to auction off the Benz-Sendling tractor again comes after the current owners’ near eight-year battle to try and get it back to Germany. However, his attempts were unsuccessful due to the Australian government’s Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986, which denies objects of cultural significance to Australia to be exported without permission.

Impressive pedigree

Such is the uniqueness of the machine and the historical ties it has to the Mercedes-Benz brand, the auction is also likely to draw more than just tractor enthusiasts.

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Why? Because it’s a Benz-Sendling tractor – the joint venture between former German engine-maker Sendling (Motor factory Munich-Sendling) – one of Germany’s first motor factories – and Benz & Cie, the manufacturing company that eventually merged with Daimler to create the iconic Mercedes-Benz we know today. It’s also one of the only known tractors of its kind in the world.

If not impressive enough, the Benz-Sendling may have been a changing force in farm machinery as Benz claims that the three-wheeled variant of this machine is the world’s first diesel-powered tractor. Shortly after, Benz-Sendling developed the four-wheeled variant we see here – a machine that inspired the more conventional-looking tractor that we’ve come to know.

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Spec-wise, the Benz-Sendling pushes out an approximate 30–34hp at 800rpm from its aluminium engine block. It has cast iron dry liners, cast iron pistons, a three-speed gearbox, a sprung front axle, and a diff lock – an incredibly modern piece of machinery considering its age. McNicol, who is also acting as the item’s auctioneer, says he hasn’t come across anything quite like the rare German tractor. 

"I’ve come across some old dozers before, and again that really opened my eyes but I wasn’t even aware that people collected these sorts of things and love all of their little secret treasure troves."

So, the potential buyer is looking at a piece of automotive history? McNicol thinks so. 

"We have appealed to various market segments. Those that are engine collectors, those that are curious about Mercedes-Benz, as well as your traditional tractor enthusiast. It has certainly appealed to a broader market that’s for sure," he says.  

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"It’s a piece of history; the fact it has survived so long and has been so well looked after is incredible." 

"It’s an honour to sell something so old; it’s not every day that you get to see these types of machines come up for auction and interest in the tractor has been energetic."

The outcome

With robust interest in the Benz, it was a West Australia collector who managed to secure this special piece for his collection, purchasing it at auction for AU$65,000. The tractor enthusiast is passionate about keeping it in WA.

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