The 5 best column-shift muscle cars


Four-on-the-floor seems like a natural for muscle cars, but generally the strong runners came standard with a three-speed manual. And most of those featured the shifter on the floor. But we found some sweet 1960s muscle that came with a three-on-the-tree shifter, just like Grandma’s Valiant.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/08/22/the-5-best-column-shift-muscle-cars


I learned to drive in Dad’s '71 Suburban with 3 on the tree. Someday I’ll buy a car like one of the above. Cool article.


I learned to drive a “stick” in a Three on the Tree Ford Econoline van. I’ll be on the lookout for a column shift car now. It was a blast to drive.


Sorry to bust your analogy, but Grandma’s '60 Valiant stick shift was Three on the Floor, not Three on the Tree. Just like the two that I had back in the late sixties. A '60 four-door and a '62 two-door.
'63 onward, I don’t know. I’ve had a few of those (Valiants and Darts both) but they were all push-button Torqueflites.


Who said I was talking about a '60? :slight_smile:


Could read it as ‘sixties’ I guess. Come to think of it, I had a friend with a '65 Valiant that had column shift manual.
I sit corrected.:slightly_smiling_face:


My first, and only three on the tree, was a 1965 Chevy Biscayne 230 6cylinder with 140 HP, back in 1990. I got it in Paradise, California from a first owner old couple who put 107,000 original miles on it. I bought it for $1,700. The engine was a little worn, leaky, and smoky, so I rebuilt it entirely at about 110,000 miles…

It took a little while to get used to the three on the tree shifting style, Especially the fact it was not synronized in first gear. It did cure my habit of California Stops, because you have to stop completely, shift quickly into second gear, then straight down to first or it will grind into first gear, something fierce!

The car now has almost 300,000 miles on it, I replaced the timing gear and main bearings in engine, around 225,000 miles, but I still haven’t needed to rebuid the tranny!! I put a new clutch in it at around 125,000 miles, but other than that, I replaced the rear tranny output shaft oil seal at 250,000 miles & also replaced the oil a couple times over the years, with really good quality Lucas oil products.

I never imagined they attached big block engines to these three speed column shifters! It kinda explains to me how I could have so many miles on this tranny w/o any issues, or rebuilds. It is because they were build to handle twice as much torque my Biscayne, that tops out at about 220 cu. ft., on specs.

After researching a little more info on my Biscayne, I found out today, that I could always stick this era four on the floor manual tranny on my same bellhousing, since, I prob wont find rebuild parts for this old three speed, once it sees it’s last days. Most stuff stuff on this classic is pretty much obsolete now! So, eventually I will have to stick a four cylinder turbo’ed fuel injected engine with a six speed manual tranny. That will be the day!!


My sister briefly dated a guy in high school around 1967 that had a ‘67 Falcon Sport coupe with a V8, three on the tree, cherry bombs and slotted wheels. It was Dark Green with a Black Vinyl roof and I thought it was one bad ride. Would love to own one today like it, but Falcons are kinda scarce. It was basically a Mustang with different skin.


I’d love to have my “three on the tree” car I had after high school - 60 Pontiac Bonneville tri-power convertible. It had a three speed HD Chevy truck transmission non synchro first gear- ordered from the factory that way. No power steering - it was a bear to drive - but fun. Sure wish I had it now. Larry


My first car was a 1965 Olds 442 with a 3 speed on the column. It was 2 years old when I got it. The transmission was actually a Ford top loader 3 speed (GM bought them from Ford) with a 3.03 ratio 1st gear. It was a sedan and was lighter than most cars. It was a terror on the street, 396 Chevelles, GTO’s, Road Runners, Fairlane GT’s were no match. I would drive away from them at the start and they could never catch up.


My brother has a 68 Skylark convertible with a 3 on the tree. It’s fun to drive, and to see people’s reactions who have no idea what you’re doing when driving it.


1965 Chevy II… 283…3 on the tree with positraction
Stiffest clutch pedal I have ever had


I cut my teeth driving my parent’s '51 Plymouth Cranbrook L-6 head with a three on the tree. It was a hot rod.
My first car was a '64 GTO with 3 on the floor, Carter AFB.
My current one is a '64 GTO convertible, 4 on the floor, tri-power.


I had 2 - 4 on the tree (non muscle) cars that I loved. A 3 cylinder 2 stroke ('65?)Saab Safari Wagon. It had 3 coils and 3 carbs, oil injection and free wheeling. Great car. I also had a '58 Mercedes 180 diesel with 4 on the tree and drove numerous of those when I was in the army in Germany.


I owned a 1966 Impala SS 327 (300HP) with a 3 on the tree (1981). The interior retained the console but had no cut out where a floor shifter would have been located, so this was an OEM setup. I carried a small ball peen hammer under the drivers’ seat for when it jammed up . I loved kicking the crap out of a lot of 79-80 trans-ams and z-28’s . It was a big land yacht, but once she got rolling, very hard to catch for those low hp cars. It surprised a lot of folks.


I had a 1961 Chevrolet Impala 2 dr. bubble top 6 cyl. column shift that I got from my dad in 1967. The engine was already tired when I got it. I managed to get a year out of it before the motor died. It was time to move on…to a 61 Volkswagen Beetle! lol


That stuck in my craw as well. How about a piece about three-on-the-floor cars? Let’s see… Mustang, Lancer, Valiant… could that be all?


When I was a sophomore at Pacific Grove High School, in 1963, the driver education vehicle was a 1963 Plymouth Valiant four door sedan. I remember it having “three on tree” and a 225 C.I. Six cylinder engine. It was set up with a second set of controls on the passenger side where Mr. Le Deux sat. It had been donated by the Plymouth/Dodge dealership in Monterey, CA.
I later, in the Navy, had a 1967 Valiant coupe that had an automatic tranny and a 225 c.i. engine that ended up in Sasebo, Japan when I was stationed there in 1970.
In 1996 I bought a used 1967 Plymouth Satellite coupe, the top of the line Valiant. It originally had a three speed automatic tranny and a 273 C.I. v-8. My buddy and I put a detuned 426 Pro Stock Hemi in it and left the original drive train intact. We had the 426 Hemi badges on it as well as a throaty dual exhaust system. What a sleeper.


in 1962, my dad came home from overseas with a new Mercedes 220SE. It had four on the tree. And this little sedan was really quick and fun to drive.


I have seen and restored two 1969 SS350 TH350 colum-shift Camaros, which had documentation showing they had colum-shifts from the factory. The partial VIN was on the engine and transmission verifying the came in the cars and both had the HB engine suffix codes (1969 350 with 300hp)… Also there are some COPO Camaros, both L72 and ZL1 versions with a column-shift TH400 transmission. DP Restorations.