ONE OF the UK's most innovative agricultural machines of the last 50 years, the JCB Fastrac, celebrates 25 years of production this year and is doing so in some style, with new flagship models being added to the range.

The concept of a fast prime mover which could do pto and lift work in the field actually went back to the 1980s, but it was the early 1990s before the blueprints became reality at JCB's factory near Uttoxeter, in Staffordshire.

Its Fastrac 100-series prototype was first shown at the 1990 Royal Smithfield Show, in London, and this went on to fuel growth in the ag sector for the business – which is still owned by the Bamford family – and has now culminated in the new, high-tech flagship model, the Fastrac 8330 and it smaller sibling, the 8290, which replace the 8270 and 8310 models.

The most powerful Fastrac yet, the 335hp 8330 has intelligent power management which can boost this to 348hp under load. Power comes from an 8.4-litre AGCO Sisu diesel, with a new twin-turbo set-up which promises fast response and top torque figures, as well as meeting the latest emission standards via SCR technology. Its little brother has the same engine rated at 280hp, with power boost to 306hp.

JCB has also kept the AGCO parts department busy by retaining the Fendt-derived CVT transmission system in this latest Fastrac. It's a good move as the engine/transmission is already proven to work well in Fendt's even larger tractors.

In the 8290 and 8330, the V-Tronic can be used manually or in auto-mode, giving 15 speeds for field work and 10 gear for transport, with much improved cruise control functions over anything previously available from JCB. Control comes either via the foot throttle or via the Command-Arm.

JCB delivers to the package the superb new Command-Plus mid-mounted cab, as first seen on the 4000 series, which loses the rather claustrophobic feel of earlier models. It has been moved forward a few inches which helps visibility.

Allied to the unique all-round suspension system pioneered by Fastrac, this makes it the most user friendly model yet, though JCB has yet to add bells and whistles to the IT/Isobus operating system – it promises action on this soon.

Re-positioning the exhaust pipe to behind the C-pillar frees up visibility to the front right hand side and a revamp of controls produces a more intuitive base from which the operators can work, including the seat-mounted Command-Arm control system.

This houses all the tractor's main controls, while minor switches are now stacked on the right-hand pillar within easy reach. The leather seat has a swivel of 50-degree to the right and 20 degrees to the left for a comfortable working stance and the forward-raked cab windscreen gives a combine-like view of the front of the tractor.

A trip across rough terrain with the likes of a heavy cultivator behind really does show how the Fastrac has progressed. It's damping system of dual coils up front on hydraulic damping on the rear means the operator feels like floating cross field surfaces at speeds that simply could not be contemplated by conventional tractors. A move to all-round coils and dampers is planned for next year.

The current rear damping system is 'active', meaning that it responds to added loads from the rear hitch and also from the rear deck area's ability to host an implement or ballast of up to 2.5 tonnes. On the rear linkage, it can cope with up to 10 tonnes, while the optional front linkage can handle 3.5 tonnes.

Innovation continues with a new fail-safe steering system. JCB's engineers have had to comply with strict safety regulations for the 70kph tractor capable of hauling heavy loads and the steering must be solid, strong and reliable to cope with the loads asked of it.

They achieved this by using a twin hydrostatic steering system which is basically two networks in one, meaning that if one fails, then the other is still active via an intelligent control valve.

This is easier on the operator at low speeds, where a 'rapid steer' mode gives two lock-to-lock turns for the likes of headland turning, instead of four. It reverts to normal at transport speeds and is also compatible with GPS guidance systems.

High speed also means the brakes have to be up to it, and handling that is heavy duty all-round discs, with a 'real' ABS system as standard. This also has the useful hill-hold feature, which is thought to be unique on farm tractors and similar to that on modern cars.

The most capable Fastracs yet are coming on stream now and will cost £176,244 and £183,869, respectively.

Fastrac timeline:

1987: First high mobility vehicle (HMV) prototypes built to commence a testing, development and user evaluation programme for a tractor with higher speeds for transport operations but also capable of routine field work.

1990: Pre-production JCB Fastrac shown to the media before being unveiled at the Royal Smithfield Show.

1991: The Fastrac 100 Series is launched to the farming public at the Royal Show – two models of 120hp (125) and 140hp (145 Turbo) powered by 6-litre Perkins engine driving through an 18 x 6-speed transmission. It was the first purpose-built farm tractor with front and rear axle suspension, for road travel at up to 65kph or 75kph.

1992-93: Launched into European markets and further afield in Israel and Australia.

1993: Fastrac 145 is replaced by two models, the 135 with 135hp and the 155 with 150hp from Perkins 1000-series engines and a new Selectronic 36x12 transmission with two-speed powershift.

1994: Fastrac 185 launched at the Royal Show with 5.9-litre Cummins B-series engine developing 170hp (DIN) and uprated rear axle and Selectronic 36 x 12 speed transmission. All Fastracs get larger side better cabs and the Fastrac 155 is awarded a Silver Medal in the RASE Machinery Awards Scheme.

1995: Fastrac 1115 launched at the Royal – a smaller, lighter tractor weighing 5300kg with 115hp Perkins 1000-series engine, Selectronic 36 x 12 transmission and 50kph top speed. Joined by the 135hp 1135 later the same year, when the Fastrac 125 ceased production.

1995: JCB receives the 1994 Prince of Wales Award for Innovation for development of the Fastrac.

1996: Fastrac 1115 and 1135 tractors get optional Quadtronic four-wheel steering with selectable steering modes.

1996: Fastrac 1125 with 125hp launched at the Royal Smithfield Show, powered by a higher torque Perkins 6-litre engine. Twin ram hydrostatic steering and air-over-hydraulic brakes also introduced.

1996: JCB awarded the RASE Agricultural Machinery and Mechanisation Award and the Design Council Award for Innovation.

1998: Fastrac 2000 Series replaces 1100 Series, comprising three uprated models with Perkins 1000-series engines of 115hp (2115), 125hp (2125) and 135hp (2135), plus the longer wheelbase 148hp 2150 two-wheel steer model. Fastrac 3000 Series replaces 100 Series, comprising two models – the 3155 with 150hp from a new 6-litre Perkins 1000-series engine and the 3185 with a 170hp 5.9-litre Cummins B-series beneath a restyled hood. Earns a Silver Medal in the RASE Machinery Award Scheme.

1999: Sir Anthony Bamford receives the Burke Trophy from the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

2000: Hydraulic system improvements for all Fastrac tractors and the Royal Smithfield Show saw Smoothshift transmission on all models.

2001: Fastrac 2000 and 3000 series tractors become the first to feature an anti-lock braking system (ABS).

2002: Fastrac 3000 series uprated and get the rounded hood and roof panel styling. The 3190 has 170hp up to 15kph, 178hp thereafter and the 3220 has 185hp for field work, 200hp on the road. Both powered by a Cummins QSB5.9 engine.

2003: Fastrac 2140 with 142hp 5.9-litre Cummins engine and two or four-wheel steering becomes the sole 2000 Series model, while the 3170 with 155hp replaces the 3155 with styling and specification similar to the 3190 and 3220.

2005: Fastrac 8000 introduced in JCB’s 60th anniversary year. Powered by 8.3-litre Cummins QSC with 250hp driving through a 65kph (40mph) V-Tronic CVT transmission.

2006: Fastrac 3000 Series introduces 6.7-litre Cummins QSB6.7 engine to the range, with power outputs of 198hp (3200) and 230hp (3230).

2006: Fastrac 8250 capable of 105kph (65mph) gets JCB’s high-geared Dieselmax World speed record car rolling during the start-up procedure.

2007: Fastrac 8250 awarded Gold Medal by the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

2008: Fastrac 2155 and 2170 introduced to replace the 2140 with 165hp and 178hp from a Cummins QSB6.7 engine driving through the Smoothshift 54x18 transmission. Fastrac 7000 Series of three models launched with max power outputs of 178hp, 195hp and 230hp, joined the following year by the 270hp 7270. All introduced self-levelling hydro-pneumatic suspension for the front axle.

2011: Fastrac 3000 Xtra introduced with the P-Tronic 24x9 semi-powershift transmission, Xtra-Drive brake pedal stop-start and new 7.4-litre AGCO Power (Sisu) engine with SCR emissions control – 147hp and 172hp for the 3200 Xtra, 172hp and 201hp for the 3230 Xtra.

2011: Two Fastrac 8000 Series tractors launched featuring an 8.4-litre AGCO Power (Sisu) engine with SCR emissions control – 279hp for the 8280 and 306hp for the 8310.

2013: Launch of the Fastrac 4000 Series – three models with 175hp (4160), 208hp (4190) and 235hp (4220) – to replace the 2000 Series with a more powerful and advanced design featuring a 60kph stepless CVT transmission, self-levelling suspension at the front and rear, plus the new Command Plus cab and fresh styling.

2015: Full-scale production of Fastrac 4000 Series gets underway, the tractors rapidly attracting long-standing and first-time Fastrac owners alike for a wide range of farming applications.