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Collection, Preservation and Display of Old Lawn Mowers

Which mower to buy for everyday practicality?


Am new to the forum and am looking to buy an old lawnmower (either in need of restoration or fully refurbished).

Rather than buying from a collectors perspective, I'm purely interested in practicality; how easy the mower is to live with and, of course, the quality of cut. The mower needs to be self-propelled and is to be used on a fine, ornamental, medium sized lawn.

I confess that I'm not technicaly minded and wouldn't engage in repairs, servicing, tinkering etc myself. I need a mower that is reliable, does a superb job and doesn't ask much from me, other than refueling and making sure it gets a regular service.

The breadth of manufacturers and models leaves me somewhat confused. How does an Atco versus a Ransomes versus an Allett (for example) rate? And were some manufacturers producing first class machines in certain years and substandard in others etc?

Can any member offer guideance as to which manufactuers and models I should be focusing on and approximately what era? Logic would seem to say that the newer the model, the more 'advanced', reliable and efficient the mower shoud be...but I've read that some of the current models aren't nearly as good as older I end up going round in circles!

Thanks in advance for any help.


wristpin Sun, 09/12/2012

I think that your statement "I confess that I'm not technicaly minded and wouldn't engage in repairs, servicing, tinkering etc myself. I need a mower that is reliable, does a superb job and doesn't ask much from me, other than refueling and making sure it gets a regular service.", really rules out a "classic mower" as sooner or later it will need spanner work.

You don't mention your budget either!

I suggest asking around to find a good dealer in your area and then take his advice as he's the guy who will have to take responsibility for supplying and maintaining a machine to your exacting requirements!.

Oh - and add checking the oil to your minimum projected involvement!


Aled Sun, 09/12/2012

I would suggest to you a late 60s era early 70s Ransomes Marquis 18", but with a small Honda (example G100) fitted, Honda make superb engines which start first time, the parts are easily available for them and they run forever.

The Ransomes Marquis is a solid well built machine. Parts, cutting cylinders, bottom blades and bearings are still available for them, as well as a lot of second hand parts on eBay. I would say get a Ransomes over an ATCO, the similar age ATCO would use Suffolk engines, which are good engines, but they can be quite a pain to get running in top form, I find.

Also, the ATCO's have nasty clutch mechanisms and lots of fiddley bits which are annoying to work with, the Ransomes is a more simple machine to work with, although it'll be the dealer who conducts the repairs who will inevitably decides on that.…

This is an example of the machine I'm on about, but the BSA Sloper engine on there is good, but lets be honest, Honda are much better on so many levels (easy to work on, reliable, parts) so I'd deffo reccomend getting one fitted. The Honda G100 is the engine I've got on my Marquis, it's powerful enough to do the job, and the spares are still avaliable for them, even though that particular engine isn't made anymore.

nick777vvv Mon, 10/12/2012

Thanks for the tips thus far - I'll put the Marquis on the shortlist.

I'm not limiting myself to a specific budget - I'm prepared to pay the going rate for the right machine or for a restoration, as appropriate. As for maintainance, ideally I want a machine that can get through a season without needing intervention on my part.

If there's a model that's reliable enough to keep running well in between annual servicing then it'll be high on my shortlist.

hillsider Mon, 10/12/2012


Whilst I agree with all that has been suggested re your choice of mower I think that you do really need to consider the type of lawn that you are mowing and the quality of cut that you are looking for. From the comments that you have made I feel that you would probably get the service and reliabity that you are seeking from a good rotary mower possibly one with a rear roller to give you a striped effect.

Although not a classic mower in the sense of one with a cutting cylinder a rotary mower with a good blade can be capable of providing a good finish (unless you are looking for bowling green quality) but without the adjustments and maintenance needed to keep a cylinder mower in good condition.

The advice from `wristpin' is good, seek out a good local supplier of garden machinery dealer and seek advice on what is available without wishing to generalise I would avoid the `big box stores' for this exercise you may pay a few pounds more from a dealer but the information and after sales service should be better if the stores in my area are anything to go by. 

nick777vvv Mon, 10/12/2012

Thanks Hillsider.

Ironically, my current mower is a Honda rotary with a rear roller. It does an OK job - I just guess I'm a bit of a perfectionist and feel that a cylinder mower might give me a better cut and more distinct stripes...

I'm very happy to put myself in the hands of a good local dealer who can look after the machine - it's determining what the ideal mower would be that's the first starting point.

Any other alternatives to the Marquis or is the consensus that that is the model I should try and look out for...?

Thanks all.

Seb Tue, 11/12/2012

Hello Nick

I would recomend the Atco standard, it is a 1920s mower, very easy to source and therefore easy to source spares.

as long as you get a good one It should keep going and produce a lovely finish.

They were made in many cutting widths and should you buy one I would recommend

a 16",18" or 22", at first glance they look complicated but they are actually relitively simple,

there is a video of one here.

But the main points in my opinion are: Lovely to use, makes a lovely finish and not too much maintenance needed.

I hope this helps.

Best Regards


nick777vvv Tue, 11/12/2012

Wow. Saw the video Seb.

Is that true that a 90 year old machine would be an ideal candidate for someone that doesn't want to go too much further than starting, refueling and topping up with oil?

Seems amazing that a machine of this age would not need regular fettling...?




Seb Tue, 11/12/2012

Hello again

About two years ago I paid £50 for a 14" Atco Standard for my collection, it is in nice condition and I have never done anything but put fuel in it and start it and it has always worked and never failed to start.

So as long as you get a reasonable one or overhaul one that's not so good when (if) you get one then it should be fine.

One point: it is a two stroke engine so you don't have to check the oil, but you do have to mix oil into the petrol before refueling it; In the 1920s Atco recommended 16:1 (petrol:oil) but with modern oils I use 30:1 and it always works fine.

Best Regards


Aled Wed, 12/12/2012

Nice mower, but the self propelled runs at a very high speed, compared to modern machines. Also you'd probably need to swap the ignition coil out for a new one, which is about £80. The coils in those very old villiers engines tend to get rotten over time, so you're likely to get a weak spark which would stifle under compression or no spark at all.

Also to note is the servicing and repair of the Standard, because it is so old it's unlikely that any repair agents will take it on, since from a business point of view it just isn't economical to work on. Some repair agents may take it on, but going on the dealers around mine I'd find it extremely unlikely you will get much professional support with it, if you know anybody who works on old mowers, from the club perhaps, then they could help you out with it, on the other hand.

If you get a Marquis I seriously would urge you to get a Honda engine fitted.

nick777vvv Thu, 13/12/2012

You raise an interesting point Aled.

This will probably seem like heresy to old lawnmower devotees but how practical is it to marry a modern day engine with decades old machinery?

Does that give me the best of both worlds - an excellent cut from a solid peice of machinery combined with the reliability of a modern motor?

Or am I being too simplistic?!

Aled Thu, 13/12/2012

You're not being too simplistic, as long as the bearings and all the major stuff on the mower itself is in good condition, then you shouldn't have too much trouble, if any at all, there.

If you unbolt the BSA Sloper from the Marquis, you'll find the mounting holes are 80mm by 163mm between centres, which is the universal mounting positions for small engines of that size. You simply bolt on the Honda engine (other models of Honda engine would probably fit, I'm just saying G100 because I know that particular model fits and works well on the Marquis) using the same bolts and it should fit right up. You then wire the throttle cable up to the governer mechanism on the new engine.

What I'm not 100% sure on is the output shaft diameter on the engine, whether the BSA Sloper uses a 15.8mm diameter shaft or a 19.04mm diameter shaft. You'd have to find that out before you buy the replacement engine. You'd just have to measure the diameter of the output shaft on the Sloper engine once the clutch backplate has been removed.

It's not too complex of a job, and a mower shop would probably do the conversion for you if you needed, but most likely you would be able to pick up a Marquis with the conversion already done, if you decide on one.


Course it dosen't have to be a Honda engine at all, it could be a Briggs and Stratton engine, which tend to be equally reliable these days and have a very good source of spares avaliable for them, however I'm not sure which model would fit well on the marquis (probably the 3.5hp) and the avaliablility of those engines dosen't seem as good in this country as the Hondas. The conversion wouldn't really be any more complicated with a Briggs over a Honda engine, it's just personal preference.

wristpin Thu, 13/12/2012

The stripes come from the roller so it shouldn't matter whether it is a rotary blade or a cylinder in front of it but a Marquis Is possibly  a bit heavier than your Honda so may press the grass down a bit more.

I have a Hayter Harrier 19" (roller rotary) and both 18" and 20" Marquises plus a Ransomes 24 and on my quality of lawn (a lot of weed and ryegrass!) the only visible difference in the finished cut between any of them is the width of the stripe.

Unlee you have a super quality lawn a cylinder mower is unlikely to do a better job than a sharp roller rotary and will cost more in maintenance.

Going back to your original crteria or no mechanical involvement etc I would stick to (or update) your reliable Honda or a similar roller rotary.

redfernmowers Fri, 14/12/2012

Hey aled,

Sorry friend but I disagree with fitting a honda on a ransomes marquis or auto certes. In my honest opinion as both a restorer of vintage machines and designer of tailored machines, using a new honda engine will require modification of the output shaft to the flywheel and a change to the clutch springs with regards idle speed. not only that but you'll find that the  bsa sloper out performs a honda engine and is easier to service. the power transmission is better and funnily enough, with a meco module installed as ignition control, that engine will outlast a honda.

from my experience, I've had a number of machines in for restoration, modernisation, service, etc and as regards a mower for an ornamental lawn, I would recommend a machine with a 10 blade head for a smoother cut. I've used ransomes machines including (as seen on my website) a ransomes auto certes Mark 6.  which is a beautiful example of a powerful mower with an even cut.

Atco machines are very attractive to me and I love the feel and design of some of the older machines. it's just something unique about them.

A ransomes would be a good option for you. either an auto certes or a marquis. they're quite comfortable to steer if you get used to it and the engine sounds as attractive as a motorbike.