Skip to main content
Collection, Preservation and Display of Old Lawn Mowers

Is a vintage mower a practical proposition?

Hi everyone


I am really very keen on an old cylinder mower - I Iove vintage machinery, bikes and so on - I restore vintage watches, so mechanics are no concern for me. 

We are lucky to have a reasonable size garden - it's about an acre in total, although there's lots of paving, but the lawn is still a decent patch. 

My plan is to keep my current rotary mower for the first couple of cuts of the season, but would like to use a traditional style cylinder mower for most of the cuts thereafter. The lawn isn't dead flat, but it isn't like the Somme either. 

Am I fooling myself? Is this just a pipe dream? Will I struggle with an older mower or is my plan realistic?


Also, because of the size of the garden, I'd like a self-propelled mower, presumably I can tell those which are by looking for a clutch lever?


Thanks for any help and advice you are able to give. 


villiers98 Wed, 26/08/2020

Depending how much lawn you have ( ie how long does it take you to cut it with a walk behind rotary ) I would say this is quite possible- just a question of how old and how large a mower. All will be self propelled. some with trailing seats if the lawn is flat and unimpeded by beds, narrow bits ,paths etc.

Bear in mind cylinder mowers do  need  flat turf and tree stumps, concrete edges etc are a great danger to the cutter.

Until recently I cut a large domestic  lawn weekly for 20 years with a Ransomes Minor 18 with few problems but something like a Dennis 24 or Ransomes Mk 8a may be more suitable  ( 1950s ). Also Atco 24 or 30 which are relatively simple and made currently by Allett. All models from about 1966 much the same . See also Ransomes  Matador 24 or Mastiff  36- made til quite recently I believe.

I guess they wont be that cheap and maintenance will be important if its doing some hours of work a week. A new equivalent is £3k to £9k so parts, if available, will be dear . Most older ones will have imperial bearings so you may need to get on well with a bearing factor. Quite easy to end up with a spare mower, and then another one just in case.

I'm sure others will be able to offer useful advice.

wristpin Wed, 26/08/2020

You don’t mention the width of cut of your rotary or whether it’s a four wheeler or has a rear roller. As someone whose post retirement “ hobby” is refurbishing and selling on 16 - 24” cylinder mowers , mostly Ransomes, I’m going to play the devil’ s advocate and say, have you considered a 19 or 22”  roller rotary with a grass bag?  On the average lawn and with a sharp blade the result is almost indistinguishable from that of a cylinder mower, and the running costs are far less.

That said, wandering up and down with a sweet running 1960 to 1980 Ransomes Marquis , can be quite therapeutic;  but cylinder mowers of that age will require regular lubrication and adjustment to keep the blades “ in set”; but  I do convert most of my refurbished machines to electronic ignition to give them “modern mower “ reliability.



Messorestore Thu, 27/08/2020

Hi, I was by profession a landscaper / gardener. In my opinion unless the lawn is reasonably flat without too many lumps and bumps then you would struggle with any cylinder mower with a base plate ( the bottom plate that the blades make contact with to cut ) You would probably find that even quite small lumps would get 'shaved'  by a cylinder mower. Sometimes the front wooden rollers do allow you to almost 'over-step' the bumps. If the imperfections in the lawn are just very tough old tufts of coarse grass then continual 'tight' cutting with a rotary will improve things. I have an Arundel Coulthard ( Presto ) which manages fairly well on a less than perfect lawn. However my Pugh Atco struggles. Raising the front rollers slightly helps improve the situation but you then won't have such a tight cut. I suggest you spend a little time improving the lawn first with other machines before migrating to cylinder. Don't give up though as the finish of a good cylinder cannot be beaten. Be careful of the enemy of all cylinder mowers namely stones which can in severe cases chip the base plate or cutting cylinder or at best bend either. A quick walk over the lawn first normally sorts this out.
Sorry to ramble on but these are my suggestions. Other members may have better ideas / suggestions than me. Good luck with it all Sean

DickBrowne Fri, 28/08/2020

Thanks everyone - there's some good info here. 

Our lawn isn't perfect, but it isn't terrible either, I'm hoping that the weekly drudge of grass cutting will be rendered far more pleasurable just by pottering around behind something with a bit of character, a proper exhaust note and quirks and foibles. 

I shall spend some time reading through the mowers mentioned, I haven't a clue how big the cut of my current mower is, but it's not massive. I have some fairly small gaps to go through, so I may need a slightly smaller machine anyway. 

Time is on my side here - I'm having a new shed built in October/November and can't really house anything until that point, so I feel that I have all of the winter to find and buy the right machine. 

This is the first step of the journey!

stonethemows Fri, 28/08/2020

If your weekly grass cutting is a drudge then something is definitely wrong. You are either using the wrong mower or have the wrong garden. Even if one is obliged to use one of those ghastly rotary mowers some satisfaction and pleasure should be derived. A thirty to thirty-five year old Honda HR194 or 216 is the tool for the job.

Without the benefit of seeing exactly what is involved it is likely that you will find a Ransomes Marquis hard to beat ( as long as it has the ' sloper ' engine ). These are still readily available and it isn't necessary to pay a lot of money. They are relatively easy to look after and built to last. Ideally find a trustworthy, reliable source, there are one or two potentially useful Club members in your area and others with sound advice and knowledge on here.  Don't be bamboozled by some of the dubious offerings/prices  on a certain auction site.  

I had to smile at your ' reasonable size garden ' which a lot of people would find rather intimidating. Here we are kept entertained and amused by a couple of acres but sadly have no lawn, only loads of grass. 

Enjoy the ' hunt ' and subsequent therapeutic weekly grass cut, though it should at times be twice weekly - even more fun with the right machine.

Mower1 Mon, 31/08/2020

I cut my lawn approx size 100ft x 30ft using one of my Ransomes Ajax mowers.It cuts and sounds lovely and I believe I could easily cut a larger lawn with it.I have a Haytor Harrier rotary mower in the shed that I purchased from new sometime ago which doesn’t get used as much since taking up the interest in vintage lawnmowers. The Haytor gets used at the start of the cutting season and then several times after that, but most of the time I use a Ransomes Ajax.

DickBrowne Fri, 18/09/2020

There's some stuff to consider there, thank you for the reply. One (possibly daft) question - is the Ransomes Ajax motorised? I've taken a look at some pics and can't see an engine, but the post above says that it makes a lovely noise, which I guess could be the sound of the cylinder rotating?

I like the look of an ATCO, with the cigar-shaped tank, but are they only available in larger sizes? I have some narrow gaps to negotiate so that may not be suitable. 

wristpin Fri, 18/09/2020

I shall spend some time reading through the mowers mentioned, I haven't a clue how big the cut of my current mower is, but it's not massive. I have some fairly small gaps to go through, so I may need a slightly smaller machine anyway. 

You Sir, are what we would have termed a nightmare customer, giving so many mixed messages that you will end up with the wrong machine. At least get your ruler out and measure the width of cut of your existing machine, the size of these gaps and, if you are feeling helpful,  the size of your grassed area ( sq yards or metres )  



hortimech Fri, 18/09/2020

I would agree with Wristpin, more information required, Other than what has already been mentioned, what finish do you required, how often do you intend to cut the lawn (if it is a lawn, or is it just a 'grass' patch ?), how short do you intend to cut the grass, do you want a push mower or do you want a powered mower, if a powered mower, electric or petrol. I could go on, but to advise you correctly, questions like this need to be answered.

DickBrowne Fri, 18/09/2020

Mr Pin, sir, if you think that's the only reason I'm a nightmare customer, you aren't looking anywhere near close enough ;)

I am, by profession, a consultant and it is in my nature to explore all of the options before even starting to commit to a certain path and, for me, there are a number of factors which I think are important. The most important senses to me with regard to a mower are smell, sight and hearing - I am a bit of a vintage fan, I love old motorbikes, old bicycles (both of which I own and have restored from a pile of parts) vintage wristwatches (again, I'm more than capable of taking a pile of old parts and making a ticking, almost accurate timepiece with very few parts left over. Mostly). I love old cars but don't really have the space at the moment and I'm a fisherman, using tackle that is mostly older than I am. 

The common thread through all of these is how these items make me feel - do they appeal to me visually? Where they generate noise, is it a sound that I like? If they generate a smell, is that smell offensive or does it make me reminisce about simpler and sometimes happier times? Mostly, though, is how they make me feel. Almost without exception, using an old version of something I can buy brand new will be less convenient, harder work and more of a commitment, so I have to feel happier with the thing than I felt without it, if that makes any sense at all. 

My current mower is locked in the garage at the moment, I had to take my old shed down a week or two back to allow for a new concrete base to be poured for my new shed/workshop and so getting to it isn't that convenient, but I will, over the weekend, be taking it out to cut the grass. I shall measure the blade then. 

I am really a frustrated engineer at heart. When I left school, I wanted to be an engineering apprentice, but the only place to do that in my home town was an old fashioned car company called Aston Martin, and my exam results weren't nearly good enough for them, so I drifted into software and have been making myself happy ever since by becoming a tinkerer. I still work in software, and I'm a writer of terrible novels too (available on Amazon, folks!), so I spend most of my time alone in my head. Shed time is precious and it keeps me sane. 

So, I'm summary, please excuse the questioning and exploring - I'm working my way through various parts of this forum and I promise that I only ask really daft questions when I cannot find the answer elsewhere. 

As I suggested above, I have many more ways of annoying people than those people have names for, but it's done with the best of intentions :)

Lee Smallwood Fri, 18/09/2020

This thread has been making me giggle so thought I'd put my two pennies in, 

I am a Suffolk lawnmower fan, and I'd be quite happy sitting next to my Suffolk colt idling away for hours if it wouldn't upset the neighbours, bit odd I hear you say, I'm quite happy sat on the riverbank for hours and not catch a fish too (been doing that a lot recently)

The 75cc motor is a Cracker, maybe consider the Suffolk range as they made motorised roller mowers in a range of sizes from the 12 inch colt, and the 14 and 17 inch punches, the engine sizes upgraded to 90 odd cc for the larger machines, easy to work on, looks great and smells fantastic, can cope with slightly undulating ground but obviously flatter the better for roller mowers. The weight may put you off as they are not light, but worth a look.

Good luck with your search, 

hortimech Fri, 18/09/2020

Don't get me wrong, but from my experience, a consultant is someone who who knows virtually nothing about anything and tries to tell everybody about everything. I am not saying you are one of those 'consultants', but you are coming across as someone who puts form over practice. Yes, a mower can sound nice, look great and smell wonderful, but can also be useless and you would look daft cutting your lawn with a triple Greensmower. This is why we need to know more about your lawn etc. Finally, if you want a mower that smells wonderful, get a two stroke Atco and run it with Castrol R in the fuel.


Mower1 Fri, 18/09/2020

@Dickbrowne  - with respect to your question “is a vintage mower a practical proposition” then the answer is yes!  


DickBrowne Fri, 18/09/2020

The very fact that I am asking the question I started out asking should tell you one thing, if nothing else. I am the other sort of consultant. That is, I'm the sort who,will ask,you lots of questions, take all the information and then tell you everything you have just told me, at great expense to you. If I had only had the wile to work for myself, I could potentially be quite wealthy by now, but instead, I have spent my life working for other people and am virtually penniless. But happy. 

Form over function? Potentially guilty, To an extent. The thing (whatever it is)has to do the job, that's the minimum. If it's a critical piece of equipment, function is also critical and form takes a backward step or two. More leisurely pursuits afford the luxury of using more gratifying tools, at the cost of extra effort needed.

What I'm trying to establish is what is needed for doing the job, and I hear all of the questions being asked - some were questions I knew I'd need to answer, some are questions I didn't know were relevant, so I've learnt already (which, to be fair, is the job of a consultant, although I'm not really that sort of consultant). 

To answer those questions that I can, the lawn isn't really a formal lawn, neither is it a particularly rough piece of land. It's reasonably well cared for, has some undulation but nothing too terrible. The worst piece is where we had some turf laid last year and it's in a dip. I'm sorting that with repeated scattering of soil to build up the levels. 

The house stands in a reasonable patch, but we've had a number of patios laid, and there are lots of trees. The actual grass is not perfectly square, but if you were to allow around 60-70mx30-40m, you wouldn't be far out, so not massive, but a reasonable size. Through this grass are a number of trees, some quite large and old, there are gaps as small as 24 inches between some obstacles, but I can circumnavigate so that these do not become an issue. There are gates, which are insurmountable and the smallest is around 30 inches. 

I like to keep the grass short and tidy, but not to bowling green standards. I will keep my rotary mower for the first cut or two of the season and then plan to use the older machine after that - mainly because it will be more rewarding than the modern mower. 

The other requirements I definitely have are that the mower should be motorised, capable of self-propulsion and four stroke (I know, Castrol-R - that takes me back). I have a number of two stroke tools for the garden and was once unable to use my brush-cutter because I'd forgotten to purchase more two-stroke oil. Once-bitten and all that,

I am, as I mentioned, enthusiastic about mechanical things and love to work with my hands. I see an older mower as a way of turning a dull routine job into something I am able to enjoy, and to enjoy for longer than the task of cutting the grass takes. 


DickBrowne Fri, 18/09/2020

@Lee Smallwood - I think you sum me up quite well. A lawnmower is for life, not just cutting the lawn, and if I gain extra enjoyment from the maintenance, cleaning and even just hearing it run, that's what I'm looking for (I really like your Suffolk, btw). 

As for fishing, I've often said that my days out are sometimes ruined by fish - just being out in the open air is reward enough. Catching fish is either a bonus or a curse. We are really lucky to have the River Ouse run past the back of our house and I can fish for free within a 5 minute walk from home. Good chub, barbel, perch and roach all within easy reach. 

hortimech Sat, 19/09/2020

OK, from what you have posted, start looking for a Suffolk 14" Punch or Super Punch or the 17" punch. Another one you could look for is the Atco deluxe, available in 14", 17" and 20" sizes. All of these use the very reliable Suffolk iron blocked G14 engine, I would suggest you steer clear of any of these machines fitted with an alloy engine, or you will spend more time cleaning the carb than mowing.


Will Tue, 01/12/2020

Did you ever get sorted @dickbrowne ?

i would have thought a Ransomes Marquis in either 18" or 20" cylinder size would be ideal. Loads of parts available both new and used, and surely one of the best small engines ever made! Also they're not expensive to buy, there are loads on ebay


Triumph66 Fri, 04/12/2020

I run a gardening business and I use several of my vintage Bolens garden tractors at my customers' gardens. I have used one of my Rotoscythes, a County, to mow several strips of rough grass around an orchard. At home, I have mowed my lawn with several of my push cylinder mowers during the peak growing season and have used my vintage Sisis  Lawnman to prick the lawn surface of my own lawn plus a few of my customers too. I also used a Victorian Skelton bulb planter at several customers too. In short, yes a vintage mower can be used if you have the inclination to maintain the machine and the grass. Perhaps have a modern rotary  mower as a back up too.

DickBrowne Sat, 05/12/2020

I haven't sorted anything yet!

The plan was always to wait for my new workshop to be built before buying anything and, as you may be aware, things in the garden building game have been absolutely wild this year - every man and his dog are having offices and the like built.

All of which means that the new workshop Chez Browne is going to be available for playing-out in next week. Then I'll need to do first fix, insulating, lining and painting before it's ready to receive a new (old) mower.

I've been spending my time narrowing down my choices and learning what I can - from this forum, internet blogs and YouTube. I'm thinking that, indeed, a Ransome Marquis will be a good option, either that or a Suffolk Punch - I'm keen for it to be a 4 stroke, either of the two sizes you mention will be adequate and I really want to have something with a good spares supply because half the fun of this is the maintenance. 

I don't intend to get rid of my current mower - a Mountfield rotary - because the first cut or two of the year may be rough on a cylinder.

Will Sat, 05/12/2020

Sounds good! 

I don't think you can go wrong with a marquis, perhaps with £20 worth of electronic ignition fitted... they also have a fantastic slow tickover if you like that sort of thing

the only 'negative' I can think of is that they are very heavy

good luck whatever you go for!

DickBrowne Mon, 07/12/2020

Heavy isn't necessarily an issue - I have a plan for a lifting bench using the parts of my motorbike lift, so maintenance will be a thing of joy.

A question, though, if I may - specifically about the Ransomes. I see some have a BSA engine and some a Briggs and Stratton. Is there a significant difference between the two? Is one worth more, easier to maintain, a better worker or even a "nicer" sound? The idea of a really slow idle, chugging away, is very appealing.

There are a couple of eBay at the moment for reasonable money, and the new shed/workshop arrives on Wednesday!!!!

wristpin Mon, 07/12/2020

The BSA / Villiers F12 “Sloper” engine is the classic vintage engine for the Marquis and its low revving high torque characteristics of the ungoverned engine are well suited to the machine’ s centrifugal main clutch. The final versions of the Sloper had electronic ignition for reliability but well maintained “ points” machines are usually reliable, or can cheaply and simply be converted with an aftermarket module. They are  quite happy on unleaded fuel.

 The Briggs engine’s recommended  idle speed of around 1600 rpm did not suit the application and required the fitting of stronger clutch springs to overcome its tendency to “ bog down” when the throttle was opened from too low an idle. However, the Briggs is a governed engine requiring a less delicate throttle finger once under way. Early Briggs had points ignition , later ones electronic. Again, the early ones are easily converted and also run on unleaded.

The Sloper wins on “Chugability” !


Will Mon, 07/12/2020

The sloper is just a fantastic engine, absolutely superb. I would never choose any Briggs over one :) that's just my opinion of course

i also love the way you drive the marquis on the throttle, sadly my own rather small lawn is not really big enough to justify one but I have an A15 electronic ignition version (as Wristpin mentions) that I keep in the garage just because I like it so much. I can't recall your location but if you're in the north west I know a man with a shed load of the things


DickBrowne Tue, 08/12/2020

Thanks both - BSA it is, then!

Oddly enough, Pandawill, I'm in the South East, well, South East Midlands anyway (about 5 or 6 miles from the MK Museum, but not in Milton Keynes itself I hasten to add!), but my in-laws live on the Wirral so, on any normal year, I'm in the North West on a regular basis.

Could I ask the rough location of this shed of dreams? 

hdtrust Sun, 13/12/2020

Getting back to the original question

It is perfectly practical to use a classic if not vintage machine for your own use,as long as your knowledgeable in engineering and have time on your hands.

Not for commercial use,totally impracticable,as we say in the trade,if that strimmer does not start on its third pull you are loosing money, and time.

hortimech Sun, 13/12/2020

Speaking as someone who spent their entire working life in the lawnmower trade, I wouldn't recommend using a Black & Decker domestic machine in a commercial application either.


wristpin Sun, 13/12/2020

Not for commercial use,totally impracticable,as we say in the trade,if that strimmer does not start on its third pull you are loosing money, and time.

Hence the reason that having retired eight years ago from owning and running a garden machinery business for thirty years, all my hand held equipment is battery electric and the regular mower is robotic.  My time on this planet is limited and my pulling arm ain’t as good as it was !

Meanwhile, I amuse myself refurbishing vintage polluting machinery for connoisseurs of British engineering at its horticultural best; so not really poacher turned gamekeeper!

Best wishes in these uncertain times to all OLC members and contributors to this forum.