The Allis Chalmers D-21: The OG Muscle Tractor.

Nov. 17, 2022 • Interesting Iron

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Over on our Facebook page right now, there’s currently a debate raging about what people consider “the OG” muscle tractor. When I posted the question, I asked what the first muscle tractor was, in their opinion. (As I expected, nobody really paid attention to that, they just told us what their favorite muscle tractor was. There were lots of mentions of the 1206, the 6030, and the D-21, as well as a bunch of others – some of which were really weird.)

Well, today, we’re talking about what I think is the OG muscle tractor – the Allis Chalmers D-21.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s the tractor that defined the category as we know it today.

We don’t see these come up on the market nearly as often as I wish we would, but there’s a reason. For all their popularity, they really were a pretty low-production tractor, with just over 3600 of ’em built. (We’ll get into that in a minute, though.)

Right now, however, there IS a D-21 coming up on an auction in Illinois and it’s a pretty nice one!

Here’s the details:

Auction Date: 11/23/2022 – Lots begin closing at 10AM Central
Auctioneer: Sullivan Auctioneers
Format: Online-only auction (bidding is open now)
Location: Annawan, IL
Sale Bill

So let’s dig in on the D-21, and why it was such a game-changer.

The D-Line.

By 1957, A-C’s line of tractors was getting pretty stale. They’d had a pretty good run, especially with the WD/WD45 tractors, but as farms and equipment got bigger, the company knew it needed to grow as well.

So, in 1957, they released their first truly new tractors in ages – the D14 and D17. They were a clean-sheet design, with new styling and lots of new technical developments, and for the most part, the machines sold pretty well. Over the next few years, Allis released a full line of D-series machines to fill existing horsepower catagories as well entries into new ones where they hadn’t been able to compete before!

Allis Chalmers D-line
(From right to left) – An Allis-Chalmers D-17, D-10, and D-19 on the Sullivan Auctioneers sale for Mike Nordstrom. (Photo: Sullivan Auctioneers)

The tractors were successful, but when farmers asked for more power for bigger implements, Allis-Chalmers responded in a big way.

Enter the D-21…

The Big D. 

By 1963, Allis was looking to get into the market with a big 2WD row-crop machine, and do something that few companies had done up to that point. They wanted a heavy-duty row-crop machine that would make over 100 horse on the PTO. So, after several years of design and test work, they launched the D-21 in 1963. They hit their goals, too. The naturally aspirated 426 cubic inch inline six twisted the dyno at the Nebraska labs to the tune of 103 PTO horse!

Early Prototypes

Initially, Allis wanted a tractor that looked like the rest of the D-Line. However, once they saw it, someone must’ve gotten cold feet, because they scrapped the prototypes in short order and went back to the drawing board. As far as I’m aware, the only time anybody ever saw the prototype version was when it snuck into a dealer promo video. I’ve heard that a collector in Indiana is working on re-creating one, and it’ll be interesting to see what it looks like when it’s finished!

Here’s that video; watch closely starting at about 2:20 in.

To me, the original prototype looked like a slightly overgrown D19, but with more of a Wheatland-style short wheelbase. I doubt it would’ve sold very well. If the original version had gone to production, I think big farmers would’ve looked at it as a toy. That’s just my take, but I’ll stand by it.

At any rate, once they’d scrapped the original design, A-C went to a newly-formed design group in the company that had a more industrial and modern vision. What they came up with is what we know (now) as the D-21.

It was very different; it didn’t look anything like the rest of the D-Line. Everything was bigger and more rugged, which was exactly what A-C wanted. Function over form, able to handle the toughest tasks any farmer would throw at it. Standing nearly 8 feet tall and tipping the scales at nearly 10,000 pounds, the “Big D.” (as the marketing department called it) was an animal! It said, “I’m here to work, so let’s get to it!”

D-21 Ad
This was the first production D-21, built on July 6, 1963. I know this, because the guy who currently owns it is a friend of mine who lives in Texas! (Photo: Allis-Chalmers)

The D-21 Series II: The meaner ol’ Allis…

Allis-Chalmers D-21
The D-21 cuts a pretty imposing silhouette, doesn’t it? (Photo: Sullivan Auctioneers)

So if the D-21 was so good when they released it the first time, why is there a Series II?

Glad you asked.

Basically, it’s because of this tractor.

Allis-Chalmers 190XT
Little did A-C’s engineers know, but the 190 and 190XTs would put the D-21 Series I to shame… (Photo: Sullivan Auctioneers)

See, in 1965, Allis-Chalmers released the “Hundred Series” starting with the 190 and shortly thereafter with the 190XT. This small(ish) row-crop tractor came equipped with a pretty heavy-duty weapon under the hood – the 301. The 301 was a very stout little inline six that punched way above its weight class, especially when farmers opened up the pump screw. The turbocharged 190XT could handle a LOT of air and fuel, and shortly after the model’s introduction, farmers figured this out. It wasn’t at all uncommon to see these small-cube motors putting out close to 115-120 horse when farmers started to twist their tails a little harder!

Well that just didn’t sit right with Allis-Chalmers. Like the GM’s unwritten rule – the Corvette is king – the D-21 was supposed to be the king, and having a small-cube tractor from their stable being able to outperform it on the dyno just wasn’t going to work.

So, they improvised. A-C’s engineers re-worked the 426 into a slightly heavier-duty version, and then turbocharged it for good measure. The Series II D-21s responded well to the changes, testing at nearly 128 horse at the PTO shaft and over 116 at the drawbar.

Problem solved.

D-21 sales…

Allis-Chalmers D21 Series II
(Photo: Sullivan Auctioneers)

Honestly? They didn’t sell as well as you think. Allis-Chalmers only built 1129 D-21 Series I tractors between 1963-1965, and while the Series II tractors sold better, they still weren’t setting the world on fire. There were just over 2400 Series II tractors built and sold until the model was replaced by the 220 in 1970.

Competition was pretty fierce in the latter half of the 60s, and model development was being moved along at a pretty rapid pace. In 1963, there were only a few machines on the market making over 100 horse at the PTO, but by 1969 there were at least a dozen! Furthermore, with some of A-C’s own tractors also horning in on D-21 territory, farmers (even those loyal to orange) had a lot of options to choose from.

So, about this one in Illinois…

Allis-Chalmers D-21 Series II
This particular Allis-Chalmers D-21 is selling as part of the Mike Nordstrom Estate sale in Annawan, IL. (Photo: Sullivan Auctioneers)

This D-21 is special, not necessarily for what it is, but for the man who took care of it for the past six or seven years. His name was Mike Nordstrom, and sadly, he lost a battle with cancer about six months ago.

He was a die-hard orange guy who spent a lot of time on Allis-Chalmers tractors while he was growing up on a hog farm in Bishop Hill in the southern part of Henry County. There was a lot more to Mike than just his love of A-C, though. Mike loved farming and agriculture, and he loved to teach. For the better part of the 70s, Mike was an Ag teacher and FFA advisor in Henry County. He never lost that love, either, and instilled it in the family. His sons Scott and Matt have both followed in his footsteps in that regard, teaching Ag as well as advising for their local FFA chapters – and they still support them today!

Hatzer & Nordstrom

If you ever bought a piece of farm equipment out of Annawan, IL in the past 40-ish years, you might’ve met Mike.

In 1979, he got into the equipment business with a fellow teacher, John Hatzer. Together, they founded the Hatzer & Nordstrom Equipment Company. They sold primarily Allis-Chalmers and Case equipment for many years, and also hosted a great big consignment auction a couple of times a year. The consignment auctions were legendary, from what I’ve been told!

Hatzer & Nordstrom Equipment Yard
Get a load of this equipment yard! The Hatzer & Nordstrom consignment auction is a BIG deal! (Photo: Hatzer & Nordstrom)

Over the years as Mike & John wanted to slow down, so they did sell the business. Mike continued to farm, though – once a cattleman, always a cattleman. He raised livestock until cancer made it impossible. He was pretty darn good at it, too, from all accounts – he was honored by the Henry County Beef Association in 2021!

On the auction side, the Hatzer & Nordstrom name continues to live on with Andy Anderson, the new owner. The business has continued to grow, and they usually have to cut off consignments because they run out of room!

The collection.

I called Matt Nordstrom, one of Mike’s sons, this morning to talk about the collection – and his Dad.

As you might expect, Mike’s collection started with picking up nicer than average pieces that local farmers had traded in at the dealership (or on their auctions). However, it didn’t take too long before the collection was starting to outgrow the quonset huts and sheds at the farm! Matt told me that his dad loved the Hundred Series tractors because 190XTs were just about perfect for baling tractors, but that he really loved ’em all.

As for the D21, it was actually one of the later additions to the collection. Mike had only had it for a few years, but he’d had it restored and was really proud of that tractor. It’s outfitted with the bigger tire option (24.5 on the back, 11.00-16.00 up front) and it looks really good! No, it’s probably not 100% perfect (hardcore collectors could probably find something wrong with it), but he really loved it – and at the end of the day, that’s what’s most important.

Who’s the perfect buyer?

I asked Matt, “If Dad could’ve told you who he wanted these tractors to go to (generally speaking), what would he have told you?”

Matt sort of stopped to think about that for a minute, but then responded immediately. He told me that there were really three groups of tractors in his dad’s collection – restored, working (or could be working), and projects.

Restored

Matt said, “Dad would have wanted the restored ones to go to collectors who would enjoy them and show them off. He never really had the opportunity to show most of those tractors off like he wanted to because of cancer. His hired man passed away from cancer a few years go, Mom about a year and a half ago, and Dad thirteen months after her. He’d always wanted to put a bunch of them in parades and take them on tractor rides and things like that, but never really had the chance.”

There are quite a few tractors that I would fit into this category – everything from the letter-series tractors up to the D-21.

Working

Matt told me that Dad would’ve wanted the working tractors to keep working on farms as utilities or small choring tractors – or that they get fixed up so that they could go back to work. There’s a handful of these type tractors on the sale – Hundred-series tractors, a 7000-series machine or two, etc.

Projects

The last group were the non-runners. “There’s a bunch that had to sit outside – the ones that Dad never really got around to fixing,” Matt said, “He’d have wanted those to go to younger collectors and mechanically inclined high school kids to restore for FFA projects.”

To me, personally, this spoke volumes about where Mike Nordstrom’s heart was – and where mine is as well. He loved kids, and he loved the FFA, and he was passionate about supporting them whenever and wherever he could. I graduated college with a teaching degree myself, and although I never had a classroom of my own (which in retrospect, I’m very thankful for), I’m pretty passionate about helping the next generations learn. It’s a calling that never gets the respect it deserves, and that’s a shame.

At any rate, I’m very hopeful that a few ag teachers and FFA advisors are reading this (if not, text/email them this article, please!) and might take a closer look at a few of the tractors on the sale. Older A-Cs aren’t terribly difficult to work on, and some of the ones on this sale may go fairly reasonably.

Ryan Teacher

Once in a while, I still get to teach, but the classroom is a little different. I borrowed this young man from his grandparents when I saw him trying to take photos from the stands at the North Iowa Nationals this year. I’m honestly not sure who had more fun that night – him or me! (Photo: Jacey Thomas)

Wrapping up…

Mike Nordstrom’s got a huge – and interesting – collection of tractors. Lots of them are nicely restored, but there’s plenty that need a little TLC, which means that there’s a little something for everybody. You may not need a great big checkbook to take home a tractor with great potential, so I’d encourage you to check out the whole catalog for this one here.

From where I’m sitting, the market for D-21s is pretty strong right now, and I honestly don’t see it weakening. This particular tractor is nicer than most you’ll find at auction, and as far as I’m aware, it’s one of the only D-21s listed right now. Bidding currently sits at about $18,500, but I think we’re going to see this one get well into the 20s before the timer runs out next Wednesday!

D-21s are – to me, at any rate – the tractor that actually defined the muscle tractor category, and I know I’m not the only one who thinks that way. For that reason, they have a special spot in my heart and even here in my office!

Allis Chalmers D-21
This is about as close as I’ll ever get to owning an Allis-Chalmers D-21 Series II. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Auction Date: 11/23/2022 – Lots begin closing at 10AM Central
Auctioneer: Sullivan Auctioneers
Format: Online-only auction (bidding is open now)
Location: Annawan, IL
Sale Bill

By the way, if you or a kid you know buys one to restore, please reach out to me! I’d really like to keep up with the project and lend any assistance I can! I’m a horrible mechanic, but I do know a few pretty knowledgeable A-C guys out there who can help you find what you need!

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