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Collection, Preservation and Display of Old Lawn Mowers

Advice on Ransomes Marquis mk4a

Hello all,

I've just picked up my first proper lawn mower, a Ransomes Marquis mk4a 18" with the BSA sloper engine. The gentleman I purchased it from restored it himself and it runs well. Barely any smoke from the engine and it starts very easily first time. It's also quite a beauty! But I must admit I'm having a few issues getting to grip with it so I'm looking for some advice for the experts. Apologies in advance, I'm very new to all this!

Firstly, I'm struggling to actually control the mower. I raise the revs just enough to engage the automatic clutch and get the blades spinning but when I release the roller clutch I find I need to open the throttle a bit more in order to get going. Then once it has pulled away, I find it's going a little too fast so I have to drop the revs. By the time I've done that I'm almost at the end of my lawn (about 10m long) and I have to turn around.

Now I've only used it once so perhaps I just need more practice but I'm not really sure what I'm best doing when it comes to turning around. Should I disengage the roller clutch or just drop the revs so that the automatic clutch disengages? When I disengage the roller clutch, the engine of course revs really high and it's certainly not quiet! I'm quite taken aback by the power this old engine has. Maybe I need to get in to the rhythm of adjusting everything in sequence but let's just say my first experience was a bit stressful. Not too dissimilar to my first driving lesson! Especially as I have taken so much time over this new lawn that I don't want to spoil it now.

Is it possible to adjust the drive speed while maintaining the roller speed at a certain rpm? The only way I can think of doing so would be to increase the size of the cog which drives the roller and that doesn't seem like a realistic possibility. I'm finding that at a comfortable drive speed, the blades aren't spinning that fast and the cuttings don't make it in to the collection box. Would it be fair to say I've bought a mower which is not designed for a lawn as small as mine and prefers to run free (and fast) on acres of open land?

My other issue is that due to my lawn only being sown this year, I've had to raise the cutting height to it's maximum (30mm I believe) so as not to trim too short in it's first year. Although I've brought the height of the grass down gradually with my original rotary lawn mower, the first cut with the Marquis was not great. It seems to have missed a lot and I'm wondering if that's due to the issue I have getting the speed right (i.e. I wasn't going fast enough for the blades to cut properly) or if I need to make other adjustments. I know it's difficult to answer that one without seeing the mower and I can only trust that the seller did indeed set everything else up correctly. But some tips on what and how to check would really be appreciated.

I bought the Marquis partly based on the advice in this thread. The brief of the original poster was very similar to mine and I had the same questions in my head. Hopefully I can get to grips with the mower but if it is a bit too hard for me to tame, can anyone recommend an alternative which is easier to handle on a small lawn? Ideally one where I can control the drive speed independent of the blade speed. I had also considered a more modern Masport 400, ideally with either a Honda or B&S engine, but now I'm wondering if I actually should go smaller still and look at 14" models. All advice welcome!

Many thanks,

wristpin Wed, 22/07/2015

The short answer is that it's bordering on being too big for your lawn. However with a little practice you can probably master it; but the Marquis was built with large lawns in mind .

As you have found out, the Sloper is an ungoverned engine so there is no automatic reaction to variations in load. First make sure that the throttle lever and cable are lubricated and moving freely so that you can make small controlled inputs. Secondly, try engaging the traction clutch at tick over then increasing the revs to start the machine moving. It's sometimes easier to get a smooth take off that way rather than dropping the traction clutch in when the revs are already high enough to have engaged  the centrifugal clutch. The Sloper is quite a torquey engine and that together with the heavy clutch flywheel goes some way to overcome the lack of a governor. 

There is a slight possibility that the man who overhauled the machine may have assembled the centrifugal clutch shoes the wrong way round - the clutch still engages but is "  Snatchy" ; but before worrying about that try engaging the traction clutch before building up the revs.

As far as pushing the grass over goes the machine will not be at its best if being asked to remove more tha about half an inch at a time , particularly on young sappy grass. Make sure that the rotating blades are correctly set to the fixed bottom blade  and, if possible, vary your direction of cut.

hortimech Wed, 22/07/2015

As Wristpin has said, you need to learn to 'drive' it on the throttle, it should accelerate smoothly when the throttle is opened and shut down when the throttle is closed. If it doesn't work like this, then again I agree with Wristpin, the centrifugal clutch needs looking at. It should work ok on a 10 metre lawn, I have seen them working on smaller lawns than that, one problem is undoubtable the new grass, because like all cylinder mowers with a front roller, the Marquis is designed to just 'top' the grass. If you could remove the front roller, it would probably be able to cut 1 and half inches off the grass, but because of the roller, the grass gets pushed over and returns to upright in clumps and doesn't get cut correctly. It will not help if the cutters are not set correctly, make sure the cylinder isn't too far away from the fixed blade or worse, is hitting it.

Funny you should mention the Masport, these are made by a company that used to be called Morrisons in New Zealand, they were also made under licence from, you guessed it, Ransome!

willdashwood Thu, 23/07/2015

Thank you for all the advice, it's nice to have some reassurance. My neighbour has a huge, well established lawn with short grass so I'm going to mow it for them tonight to get some practice.

The throttle moves very freely although it is very sensitive. Given that I've probably only used 1/5 of the throttle travel I dread to think what would happen if I gave it the full beans! I'm sure I'll get the hang of it but I wonder if it's possible to adjust the throttle so that the full travel of the lever operates a narrower range at the other end, allowing for more precise control. Just a thought.

Thanks for the tips, I'll try them. From memory I wouldn't say the clutch is snatchy. It felt smoother that I was expecting given the torque of the engine. I just had a hard time controlling the throttle but practice makes perfect.

I think you're both right about the grass being the issue. I was probably expecting it to do too much in one go. I'll keep using the Honda HR17 to bring it down further, perhaps for the rest of the season. Then bring it down below 30mm next year ready to give the Marquis another shot at it.

Interesting that you should mention about Masport mowers being made under licence from Ransomes. There do seem to be a lot of similarities. Although to my untrained eyes, you could say that about a lot of cylinder lawn mowers! I like the look of the Masport as it can drive the roller and blades separately. But I'm not sure it allows independent speed control. Can anyone confirm?

Many thanks,

wristpin Thu, 23/07/2015

That sounds a good plan. As well as smooth take offs, practice judging when to close the throttle in advance of reaching the end of the lawn and remember that point will vary a bit depending on the resistance offered by the grass length and ground conditions. If you follow horse racing you will know that "the going" is reported as soft, good or hard and that some horses prefer a certain condition.

Several  models of cylinder mowers offer independent control of the traction drive but variable speed is confined to larger professional machines with hydrostatic transmission. 

The Marquis was possibly designed more with the professional user in mind and if you've ever watched on TV the groundsmen at Wimbledon or The Oval you will know that they don't hang about!