Production Period: 1985-1987
Engine: Briggs & Stratton MAX 4.0 HP 11 c.i. 110782, Walbro Carb/Paper
Width/Blade: 22" Cut, Arnold High Lift 22" Blade
Deck Style: Rear-Bagger
Similar Models: 302/304 (Pre-Compliance 20"), 342/343 (Pre-Compliance 22"), 364 (Blade Brake Clutch instead of Zone control)
So I bought this mower used in 2005 from a Pawn Shop for $60, reason being I had just moved into a house with a friend, and we needed a lawn mower, and the landlord did not provide one to take care of the yard.
I went out originally with the intent of finding some older post-compliance 18-20" push mower to do the job (something like a Sycamore 19", or Vulcan 18", or an old 19" cast deck Lawn-Boy at the most luxurious). However, the first pawn shop I walked into had a memory of my early childhood.....the same mower our maintenance guy had at the apartment that I lived in as a kid.
That mower was likely a model 364 with Blade Brake Clutch, but I always liked the look of these old red MTD rear baggers with the "striped front hubcaps" as a kid. All the things fell into place - I had $60.00 left from moving, an okay lawn to mow, and for what I had left over, I could have what I always wanted (or at least, close enough).
The Briggs & Stratton MAX engine is a hearty beast. It's basically a classic series engine with a walbro carb, paper air filter, a bigger plastic gas tank, fuel shut-off, and a "finger guard" over the flywheel. It provides plenty of raw power to pull the monster along at a decent pace.
And Speaking of the self-propelled drive, this is a very simple system, far from the complex mess of gearboxes we deal with these days on such a machine. Basically, the engine has a Auxilary PTO perpendicular to the crankshaft, which drives a belt, which drives the real wheels via another pulley, and a pair of sprockets with a chain on them. The drive is engaged by an idler pulley tightening slack in the belt. It's a very positive and responsive drive but so simple that any issues are easy to fix, and worn out belts are easy to replace.
The bag is centered over the rear wheels in just the right spot so as more grass is put into the bag, the weight helps the drive move. Getting tired? Just let the mower do all the work to get to the grass recycle bin.
With the high lift blade I used, the Snapper Hi-Vac better lookout, this thing munched up every clip of grass and every leaf, filling the entire bag, something rare on today's department store specials. At one point it looked like I'd jammed the bag full of grass....nope, the mower really did all that.
Overall, it's a good little mower, it eats up everything in the yard like a hippo with a bad case of the munchies, starts on one pull, is easy to fix, easy to find parts for, and apparently, takes life in the elements very well. Did MTD galvanize the deck or something?
The Briggs & Stratton engine is not perfect, in the case of the MAX, one folley (as usual) is the carburator. It uses a float-bowl Walbro carburator, with lots of little tiny passages, and what takes the gas to these passages but a rubber hose from the big plastic gas tank to the carb. Over time, this fuel line can deteriorate and start sending small particles of rubber to the carburator, blocking the passages and causing the mower not to start. This summer, I got most of the way through a friend's yard before a 3 month fiasco of finding out what was blocked by what wound up being a little piece of rubber in the inlet jet stopping fuel flow. It even lead to a post on MTF.....which felt rather, well, stupid as I've fixed Walbro powered equptment before (Lawn-Boy 8125p, Snapper Hi-Vac with a 2 stroke Tecumseh, and a Murray with the same engine the MTD has except 3.5 HP).
Also, the Pull Cord "throw" length is a little short. Even with 88" of rope, one can only get about 2.5 feet of cord to actually start the mower with before it bottoms out (I tend to like a lot, I'm a tall, long armed guy and I can get a good 4-5 feet of cord out before I stop sometimes).
There is one drawback to the drive design. If one neglects the idler pulley, and it seizes, you can melt the idler pulley, or melt the belt, I did both, and fixed up the idler shaft, wheel, and replaced the belt - all is well now.
If one has the misfortune of getting the "flip-top" grass bag, one is better off just to zip-tie it shut as the flip-top won't stay on. It's not uncommon to find a mower in this series with large office paper-clips holding the top shut. On mine, I just zip-tied it shut and use it like it does not have a flip-top....problem solved.
Other than that, it's a good, solid, reliable mower of an era when one could buy a good machine at the local warehouse hardware store or wholesale store or department store. Some versions of this model may also have been made under the name Lowes, Belnap Bluegrass, Hardware Hank, Lawn Cheif, Mastercut, or Powr Kraft/Montgomery Wards.