The L1-R Series: Kubota’s Reverse Tractors

A Kubota L1-R24 in its rearward operating configuration.

A Kubota L1-R24 in its rearward operating configuration.

We recently received a comment from Ian King, an OrangeTractorTalks reader from British Columbia, Canada (map), asking for some information on his recently acquired Kubota L1-R26 tractor. Unable to find much, if any information on it, Mr. K and I decided to answer some of Ian’s questions with a feature story on his unique Kubota!

The L1-R Family Tree
In North America, an L1-R Kubota is extremely rare and seldom seen – built exclusively for the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) between 1983-1988. Since it was a JDM tractor only, Kubota North America brands the L1-R series as gray market tractors. The L1-R series tractors consist of the L1-R20, L1-R22, L1-R24, L1-R26 and L1R-28 – all of which are a marvel of Kubota design engineering. Ian’s bidirectional Kubota is from the L1 Series of Kubotas that include these models:

  • Early L1 Series
    L1-20, L1-22, L1-24, L1-26, L1-28, L1-33, L1-38, L1-43, L1-45

  • Later L1-5 Series
    L1-185, L1-195, L1-205, L1-215, L1-225, L1-235, L1-245, L1-255, L1-265, L1-275, L1-285, L1-295, L1-315, L1-325, L1-345, L1-385, L1-435, L-455

Ian's Kubota L1-R26 in the forward configuration with a front end loader ready to do some work.

Ian's Kubota L1-R26 in the forward configuration with a front end loader ready to do some work.

The R designation in the model number means the tractor can be driven and operated in either the traditional forward facing manner, or with a few quick adjustments they can be safely operated and driven with the driver facing backwards. Finding a use for a backwards running tractor may seem a little odd at first, but, they are more common than you may think. In fact, Kubota is not the first manufacturer to develop and build a bidirectional tractor…

Bidirectional Tractor History
You have to hand it to the average hard working farmer – masters of ingenuity, dreamers and developers, they have come up with some of the most creative ways to get things done, make things work, or repurpose old machinery for a new task. It is this line of thinking that gave birth to the bidirectional tractor.

In the late 1960s, a couple of talented brothers, Peter and Dan Pakosh from Manitoba, Canada (map), were building grain augers, drawbars and field sprayers under their own brand name, Versatile. Credited with being the first company to mass produce 4WD farm tractors, brother Dan thought that a market existed for a multipurpose tractor that could be operated bidirectionally. Surely the world was ready for such an innovation!

The D100, the world's first mass-produced 4WD farm tractor. Produced by Versatile in 1965.

The D100, the world's first mass-produced 4WD farm tractor. Produced by Versatile in 1965.


Photo credit: Tim Ingles

Since the tractor could be used to either push or pull an implement, it was marketed as being “a number of self-propelled machines in one”. The concept was an immediate success. With 4WD and a switchable operator’s platform, bidirectional tractors had arrived! 20 years later, when was Versatile sold to Ford-New Holland, the design engineers at New Holland brought Dan Pakosh out of retirement to help them modernize the bidirectional tractor, taking it forward into the next century. The result was the New Holland TV-140.

The Ford-New Holland TV-140 - a result of redesigning and bringing the bidirectional tractor into the 20th century.

The Ford-New Holland TV-140 - a result of redesigning and bringing the bidirectional tractor into the 20th century.

Simplified Timeline

  • Late 1930s – Early 1940s
    Peter Pakosh goes to work for Massey Harris honing his skills as a designer, draftsman and inventor.

  • 1960s
    Peter and his brother Dan become the first to mass produce a 4WD farm tractor, the Versatile D100.

  • 1977
    Versatile brings the world’s first bidirectional tractor to market – the
    Versatile Model 150.

  • 1982
    Versatile iterates on their design and introduces the Model 160

  • 1987
    New Holland buys Versatile and starts developing the next generational of bidirectional tractors – the New Holland TV 140.

  • 1983-1988
    Kubota brings out their own line of bidirectional tractors, the L1-R Series.

Service Department Vic standing beside a Versatile 160 bidirectional tractor. Versatile built the 160 from 1982-1983.

Service Department Vic standing beside a Versatile 160 bidirectional tractor. Versatile built the 160 from 1982-1983.

Engines, Drivelines, Nuts and Bolts
Ian’s L1-R26 is equipped with a Kubota V1512 direct injected 4 cylinder engine. The V1512 was used in a number of JDM Kubota tractor models including the L1-265, L1-285, L1-295, L1-315 and was also used in the L1-R28. Depending on injector pump pressure and timing, the V1512 was rated anywhere from 26-32 horsepower at the PTO.

Transmissions and final drives are shared on Ian’s Kubota with the Kubota L2250, L2550, L2650 and L2950. While these North American models had 4 ranges and 4 working speeds to the transmission (16F), the JDM versions offered 20F speeds. Both the Japanese Domestic Market and North American models feature a mechanical shuttle shift.

PTO Speeds
All L1-R’s have 4 speed PTOs which operate at these speeds (@ 2500 engine RPM): 566 RPM, 774 RPM, 938 RPM and 1250 RPM. Interestingly, all L and L-1 gray models have 4 speed PTOs and gray market B series have 3 speed PTOs. For North American models (non gray market equipment), Kubota limited the PTO to only 2 speeds.

Going From Front to Back and Back Again
An owner of a L1-R series needs to a few things if they wish to switch from front operation to rear-facing operation:

  1. The steering column is detached from its location by unscrewing a set bolt located adjacent to the PTO speed change lever.

  2. Steering wheel release located next to the PTO speed lever.

    Steering wheel release located next to the PTO speed lever.

  3. The dash blank out panel is unclipped and stowed.

  4. When switching to the reverse configuration, this blank out panel is removed and the seat is installed in its place.

    When switching to the reverse configuration, this blank out panel is removed and the seat is installed in its place.

  5. The seat is released and mounted where the dash blank out panel was removed. Note that because of the placement of the speed change lever and shuttle shift, control of the tractor is still natural feeling in either forward or reverse configurations.

  6. A close up of the L1-R shuttle shift - its placement means operating the tractor is not awkward regardless of forward or reverse configuration.

    A close up of the L1-R shuttle shift - its placement means operating the tractor is not awkward regardless of forward or reverse configuration.

  7. When operated in the reverse position, the driver’s feet would rest on foot pads, one located on the right hand side of the seat by the position control, and the other rubber foot pad on the center of the transmission tunnel where the transmission is filled.

  8. Driver's feet rest on foot pads that are normally under the seat.

    Driver's feet rest on foot pads that are normally under the seat.

  9. The brake and clutch pedal pads are connected with bolts on Kubota’s Reversing L-1 tractors, rather than welded on as they are on the L1-18, 20 etc. For reward operation, these pads are removed and are installed on redundant pedal “posts” that are located on either side of the operator’s seat. A complete set of duplicate pedals – gas, brake and clutch are sitting under the seat!

  10. Redundant gas, brake and clutch pedals are located under the seat (shown here tipped forward). Photo credit: <em>OrangeTractorTalks</em> reader Keith

    Redundant gas, brake and clutch pedals are located under the seat (shown here tipped forward). Photo credit: OrangeTractorTalks reader Keith

  11. The steering column is reinstalled where the seat used to be.

  12. The final detail would be to swap the tires from side to side in order to maximize the traction of the R-1 Ag Grips.

An L1-R24 before and after swapping from forward to reverse operation.

An L1-R24 before and after swapping from forward to reverse operation.

Cab Versions
Cab versions of L1-R Series Kubotas were equipped with front and rear windshield wipers, and in addition to having lots of glass, the cab versions had a glass window that was at the back of the tractor behind the seat.

An L1-R Kubota equipped with a cab - note the rear glass panel for viewing ground near the PTO and the rear wiper.

An L1-R Kubota equipped with a cab - note the rear glass panel for viewing ground near the PTO and the rear wiper.

Non-cab versions had a plexiglass panel just behind the seat which incidentally, had two armrests rather than a single armrest seat version installed on non-Reverse models. This opening made viewing the ground right at the 3 point hitch possible when operating in the rearward facing position.

What were these Tractors Used For?
Since these tractors provided a very detailed view of the goings on at the PTO end of the tractor, the L1-R Series of Kubota was used in much the same way as its Versatile and New Holland ancestors were:

  • precision seeding
  • planting and tilling
  • bidirectional mowing
  • PTO operation of a rotary brush or broom
  • snow blowing
  • lifting pallets
  • trenching
  • hoe operation
  • bulldozing

Anywhere that increased maneuverability and tight handling were needed, the L1-R Kubotas were pressed into use! You can see from these videos that show the L1-R Kubota in action (thanks to OrangeTractorTalks reader Dan Alex for finding them and forwarding them onto us).

There you have it, a history and overview of a rare and unique Kubota. If you have more detailed questions or comments regarding the L1-R series, ask away in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer.

Service Department Vic

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