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The Oliver 500: the company’s first foray into the small diesel tractor market

This tractor was a “twin” to the popular David Brown 850

IN THE SHOP with Rachel

By Rachel Gingell

The Oliver 500 is a great small diesel tractor. I only wish it had become more popular in the United States!

In the early 1960s, Oliver wanted to enter the small diesel market. This represented a big change for the company (and a big risk), so it decided to start the experiment by finding a trusted partner with a proven design to build on. This was a smart strategy that allowed the company to quickly expand its product line without sacrificing quality.

Oliver found a partner in David Brown, a tractor company from England. David Brown had built a reputation in the UK for solid, fuel-efficient diesel tractors. David Brown was eager to expand into the American market but lacked a distribution network. A partnership with Oliver seemed like just the ticket, and the Oliver 500 was born.

1961 Oliver 500
Photo: David McGuire/

The Oliver 500 was a rebranded David Brown 850. These tractors were essentially the same, except for one major difference: in a concession to the prevalence of gasoline in American markets, the Oliver 500 was offered with a choice of a gasoline or diesel engine. Very few American farmers purchased the gasoline engine, though – the diesel was far more popular.

The David Brown 850 was a great design. The 2.5L four-cylinder diesel engine ran like a champion. With 35 horsepower and great fuel economy, the model was quite popular in England.

Unfortunately, these tractors didn’t take off in the United States. Only 1,648 were built before Oliver pulled the plug on the joint venture in 1963.

Today, the Oliver 500’s design is still useful and relevant. However, parts are nearly impossible to find. These tractors were essentially “orphaned” in the United States. The David Brown equivalent model (the 850) was never exported to the United States. It’s a real shame! These tractors are solid, well-designed, and look great. I would have loved to see them take off here in the U.S.

Comments (2)

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David Brown tractors were imported to Canada and many can still be found in the hands of collectors and in salvage yards.
Ron Hanlin |May 25 2020 3:50PM
We’re in the process of purchasing and repainting an Oliver 500 for our local children’s museum. Could you please give us information on where we could get decals and also where the serial number/what number of the 1648 produced our 500 is. The emblem in the grille is missing and from looking at pictures on the web, I am unsure if we should duplicate an Oliver shield or a David Brown DB shield. Thanks
Nina Templeton |Mar 3 2020 10:19AM