The John Deere 320
By Scott Weber
As our mothers always told us, you should never judge a book by its cover and that certainly holds true for tractors as well. At first glance, the 320 may look like only a cute little lawn and garden tractor. But if you think that the 320 is just another little tractor, you’ll be in for a surprise when you take a closer look. While the 320 weighs in around 2,600 pounds, it certainly packs a wallop of a punch with its 22 horsepower engine, which allows the 320 to tackle a wide array of jobs from cultivation, plowing, planting and yes, even mowing and turf care tasks. But being a little workhorse isn’t the only attractive feature of the John Deere 320 as it also ranks very highly among collectors. And why not, as the 320 was only in production for two short years and only a little more than 3,000 units were produced in that time. Plus, there were several changes that the engineering department put into play on the 320 throughout its two year production run that also add interest to the history of the 320. So while the 320 was only produced by Deere for a short time, its unique operating features and versatile size ensured that it would have a long and fruitful life.
The John Deere 320 was equipped with a “square” engine, as it had a 4 inch stroke with a 4 inch bore resulting in a displacement of 100 cubic inches. This engine churned out 22 horsepower at the drawbar and nearly 25 horsepower at the PTO. The 320 could be ordered with either a gasoline or an all-fuel engine but the vast majority of the 320s manufactured had the gasoline engine. So, if your 320 has two fuel tanks, you had better count your lucky stars as you are one of the few privileged people to own a 320 all-fuel!
Another feature of the 320’s engine was for those customers who knew they were going to be operating their tractors at elevations higher than 4,000 feet above sea level. The potential customer could indicate on the order form that he would be running the engine at higher elevations and Deere would kick in the “high altitude” engine option at no extra charge—talk about one heck of a deal!
The engine used in the 320 was reminiscent of its predecessors that had used the vertical two cylinder engine design; however, there were a few interesting events that happened to the 320’s engine during its short time in production. The first thing that I notice on the 320’s engine is a simple little detail, but it always warms my heart just a little bit nonetheless and that is the fastening method used to hold the cylinder head to the block. Right from the beginning, the 320 made use of actual capscrews with washers to securely hold the cylinder head in place. Now I’m not saying that studs are all bad, but boy, you have to admit that when Deere started to use capscrews to hold the head down, it certainly made life easier for the service technician. As I said, it’s just a small little detail, but it certainly is a welcome surprise for anyone doing any major engine repair work on the 320.
Another little surprise that the 320 has hidden within its engine was the result of the engineers trying to commonize parts across the different tractor models, thus the crankshaft and connecting rods were replaced with those common to the 420’s engine at serial number 320855. Another change made to the 320’s engine occurred at serial number 320896, which was the replacement of the oil pump drive gear. Again, this was an attempt to commonize engine parts between the 420 and 320, but also to improve the reliability of this drive gear. Otherwise, the rest of the 320’s engine remained untouched by the engineers throughout the rest of its production life.
The 320 was manufactured in two “official” versions, the standard and utility configurations. The standard 320 had 21 inches of clearance along with an overall width of 53-1/2 inches and an overall length of 115-3/4 inches. The utility 320 only had 11 inches of clearance with an overall width of 55-1/2 inches and an overall length of 119-1/4 inches. Not only were the physical dimensions bigger on the 320 utility when compared to the 320 standard, the price tag also carried an $80 up charge when the customer wanted a 320 utility. The 320 was also manufactured in a special configuration, unofficially known as the “Southern Special.” This unique version of the 320 was a modified 320 standard to help fill a relatively small customer market demand that desired a lower cost high clearance tractor that had all the bells and whistles of the 420V. Fewer than 70 of these “Southern Special” tractors were manufactured.
As I mentioned before, even though the 320 was in production for only two short years, the history of the 320 gets even more interesting as the production of the 320 can be broken down into two distinct categories based on a major engineering change which affected the steering on these tractors. From the very first tractor built in June of 1956 through serial number 322566 in July of 1957, the 320 had a vertical steering wheel, similar to that of the model “M.” The vertical steering wheel was a result of a steering shaft that ran parallel to the ground. While a simple and efficient design, it did lack a little in the departments of operator comfort and ergonomics. Therefore, as always, the engineering department realized that it could do a little better and decided to change the steering wheel from a vertical orientation to a somewhat slanted orientation. This change—which (surprise, surprise) was also incorporated into the 420—took effect at serial number 325001 in August of 1957. This new slant steering design was made possible through the use of a universal joint at the back end of the steering shaft. This universal joint allowed the steering wheel to be positioned at a little more comfortable angle and went a long ways to reducing operator fatigue.
Collectors have broken down the 320s into two groupings based upon if it has a vertical steering wheel or a slanted steering wheel—they are referred to as “Phase I” tractors (those with a vertical steering wheel) and “Phase II” tractors (those with a slanted steering wheel). If we take a quick look at the production numbers of the Phase I and Phase II tractors, one can quickly see that if you have a slanted steering wheel on your tractor, you should again count your lucky stars as there were only a little over 500 of these Phase II tractors built between August of 1957 and July of 1958.
Now for anyone who has experience using and operating the smaller Deere two cylinder tractors, you know that they can perform a very wide range of duties and are very versatile and adaptable to almost any situation. Deere also realized this simple fact back when these tractors were first being introduced and made sure that there were plenty of options available to ensure that anyone even remotely interested in a 320 could configure his or her tractor to meet their needs. There were numerous options available, but let’s step through a few of the more unique options available. One of my personal favorites is the orchard muffler. Now on most of the Deere two cylinder tractors, an orchard muffler simply means a muffler with a 90 degree bend welded to it in order to reduce the overall height of the tractor. However, an orchard muffler on a 320 is a little more complicated as it made use of a very unique casting which bolted to the top of the exhaust manifold with a sleeve between the manifold and this new auxiliary casting. This casting was basically an extension of the exhaust manifold, which then allowed a muffler to be rigidly mounted so that it was oriented parallel to the ground and situated just below the bottom side of the hood with the exhaust being directed to the rear of the tractor. While this arrangement did an excellent job of relocating the muffler so that the 320 could get into tight spots, it now directed the exhaust right at the operator. But never fear, the engineers realized this and made a deflector available, which was installed at the end of the muffler and directed a majority of the exhaust gases away from the tractor.
Another option, the rear exhaust, was also very similar to that of the orchard exhaust except that the auxiliary casting (which bolts to the exhaust manifold) was a little bit longer to allow the exhaust tube, which directed the exhaust down and to the back of the tractor, to be installed. Another popular option was the Dual Touch-O-Matic hydraulic system. This allowed a little more versatility and flexibility to the 320, as the operator now could control movement of both the left and right hand rockshaft lift arms either independently or together. While this added feature was a benefit to the operator in terms of controlling the implements more precisely, it did come with a penalty and not just the cost increase of $88 for this feature. Instead, the operator was penalized because the dual Touch-O-Matic quadrant ate up quite a good share of his operator’s platform space since the control quadrant is located on the right hand fender. With just the single Touch-O-Matic system, there is only one lever on the right hand fender—which is bearable—but when that second lever is added to accommodate the dual Touch-O-Matic system, well, leg space is sacrificed in an already cramped area, not the most desirable thing on a smaller tractor. Other options available on the John Deere 320 were a remote cylinder, foot throttle, belt pulley, a pre-cleaner for the air intake as well as a radiator shutter. So anyway that you slice it, you could outfit a new 320 to virtually fit any task that you wanted to get done within the 320’s 20-plus horsepower range.
So, is the John Deere 320 a tractor meant for you? Well, if you like a tractor that you can hop right up on, provides plenty of power and is just plain fun to drive, then the answer is absolutely! With the timeless styling tinwork and the classic two-color paint scheme, the 320 is definitely a tractor that is going to be popular for many, many more years to come. Plus, when you consider the fact that the 320 tended to get “babied” a little bit when compared to some of the larger two cylinder tractors, restorations can go a little bit smoother as you don’t have to deal with all the wear and tear that is associated with a tractor that spent its life pulling a three bottom plow through gumbo soil from dawn till dusk.
Now that’s not to say that when you begin to tear into the restoration of your 320, you’ll find like new parts, but odds are that a majority of the parts will still be serviceable. That’s not too shabby when you consider that you’re working on a piece of equipment more than a half-century old. So, if you own a 320 or are just an admirer of its good looks, keep in mind that this beauty was designed to get down and dirty and perform a hard day’s worth of work.
If there was ever a tractor with a dual personality, the 320 is it. On the one hand, its ruggedness has allowed it survive the day to day drudgery of being a tractor performing countless chores, while on the other side of the coin, its good looks and “cute” appearance have made its way into the hearts of owners and collectors, making it awfully difficult for them to part ways with their beloved tractor. Quite simply put, the 320 is a tractor that has the best of both worlds rolled up into one neat little package!