The 5 best column-shift muscle cars


My brother also owned a 1960 Pontiac 2 door Bonneville with with experimental 389/421 ? with three 2 set up, 456 rear and 3 in the tree around 1963 time frame.
Remember not much on the road could touch it in a 1/4 mile. Padded dash was cracked from hitting second gear so hard, good times !


I may have owned the earliest column shifted muscle car when I was a 19 year old kid in 1964. My first car had died and my dad agreed to finance another car but it had to be my cousin’s husband’s '55 Buick Century coupe. Dad was a Buick man, but he had no idea about cars. This '55 had been purposefully set up for the drag strip. Buddy, the car’s original owner and Fonz lookalike, had received it new as a graduation gift from his folks. He immediately yanked out the Dynaflow two speed automatic and replaced it with the entire clutch/transmission/pedals/column from a '54 Buick with a factory three speed manual (which was, I believe, the final year Buick offered a manual transmission). He had the engine bored and stroked at a speed shop with a great local reputation, which grew the 322 c.i. nailhead to 352 c.i. The car was equipped with a big AFB 4V, Jahns 11.5:1 pop up pistons, a Buick export cam, a Shaeffer aluminum flywheel, later '58 heads with bigger valves and a set of 4.45 rear gears. The thing was a terror on the street in stoplight-to-stoplight confrontations and could pass almost anything except a gas pump. I had the car for a year and actually developed a local street rep with it. Unfortunately, as a practicing stupid kid, I forsook the maintenance schedule and eventually wore through a cylinder wall, turning the engine into a chocolate milk shake machine. That car provided me with my personal auto shop course, learning how to change transmissions, clutches, rear ends, head gaskets, etc. and providing me with a life long love of fast cars.


I doubt the term “muscle car” existed in 1955, but my '55 Plymouth Belvedere, with Plymouths 1st ever V-8 is a 3 on the tree.


Awe… All you old guys quit reminiscing and start driving. Either get yourself an old 3speed car or truck or pick up a an older Mustang GT like I did. Re-live that clutch experience! You can put about 3-4K in these cars and they are little runners. Turn 65 and drive!


I’ve got the ultimate 3 on the tree for you. My first car was a 1971 Impala Custom with a 3 speed on the column - no joke - only one EVER made. Bought it from the original owner in 1981 for $300 with 101,000 miles on it. He had letters from John DeLorean when he was trying to get it built. I never did find out what car the column and pedals came from but the bellhousing and transmission was from a Chevy truck. I ended up putting a Hurst floor shift in it because it liked to hang up going from 1st to 2nd. Drove that car all over the U.S. when I was in the Army and got an honest to God 24-25 mpg on the interstate at 60 mph…and that was with the 245 HP 350 in it! I really miss that car!


I had a '62 Valiant which was three on the tree. I tried to install a floor shifter in it, but could not due to the placing of the crossmember a little above and behind the transmission.


My '59 Fury has a three on the tree. It’s a 4 door sedan, but with the manual column shift and 395 Golden Commando it’s a fun drive!


My first car was a 69 Pontiac Custom S coupe with the OHC 6 and three on the tree. Put over 200K miles on that car.


Really enjoyed this article. I once looked at an advertised " '68 Impala SS 427, manual transmission" I assumed it was a 4-speed. The car was indeed a 385hp-427 with a factory three-on-the-tree and gold brocade cloth bench seat interior, never saw another one like it. Didn’t buy it but should have and converted it to the floor at least.
Enjoyed carterhutchinson’s comment on the '66 Chevy. Looked at one like it, Impala SS with a 283, bucket seats & console and a factory three-on-the tree and, a long aluminum-clad console with no shifter cutout and just an ‘SS’ badge. It was advertised as ‘1966 Impala SS V8 - stick’ again I assumed it was a 4-speed. My buddy bought it cheap too! And another friend bought a '67 Impala SS427 4-speed with all the factory goodies advertised only as “67 Impala 2 door -manual transmission”


Had a friend in high school in 1969 whose one-car parents had a '55 Chevy Bel-Air with a 265 V8 4 barrel and factory 3 on the tree. His father still did not trust automatic transmissions and when he went to buy a newer car, bought a '65 Bel-Air 6 cylinder, with a 3 on the tree like he wanted. Every kid in high school looking for a '55,56,or '57 Chevy wanted that '55 his father had, since most factory 265 V8’s were powerglides and most factory sticks were 6 cylinders, best of both worlds without having to change transmission or engine (except to a bigger one or a 4-speed!).


My first car was a 1928 Dodge Victory 6 I bought off the showroom floor in March of 1928. Well, maybe it was August of 1969. I can’t remember. Then i bought a 63 Chevy LWB 283 PowerGlide that the motor puked in. Then I bought a 1967 Falcon fully loaded out with a six cylinder, three on the tree, a radio, and a heater. I actually liked that car. It drove well and was easy shifting. My college roommate named it Thunderchicken. I got my first buck at 70 miles an hour in that car, which totaled it. But we stitched it back together with insurance money such that it lasted long enough to get totaled again. It was hard to learn that car anything. That three on the tree was a great set-up though. I still like it.


Dont forget my grammies 1969 chevy window van I inherited. They bought it to pull their 2x foot airstream which is did VERY well as i used it to pull car trailers and other heavy things.
307 SBC with a FOUR speed on the column. That thing had a bunch of power and improved drastically once i put pertronix in it.

It was also technically a mid-engine as the fan blades were well behind the front straight axle.
If I could have figured out a way to get 6 lug front disc brakes on it and more than 11MPG, I probably still would have kept it.
(along with out 49 plymouth business coupe.)
no more rowing the boat for me anymore-my hip wont let me.

I still miss that van though


I learned to drive on my Grandfather’s ‘56 Fairlane with 3 on the tree. Just found one this year in good condition, so I bought it. It came from the factory with the 2-speed automatic, but sometime in the past it was converted to 3-speed manual with a floor shifter. For now, I’m going to leave the transmission as is.


I had a '60 Olds 88 convert, 3 on the tree, only option was a heater. Story was it was bought to convert to a race car, but converts were cancelled before that could happen.


The car I learned to drive, was a 3 on the tree white 1965 AMC Rambler American 4 door my Father had bought brand new when I was a couple months old. They had a 1961 2 door Impala Automatic that my Mom drove, and the Rambler was my Dad’s car. 6 years later, they traded in the 1961 for a brand new 1971 Chevy Caprice 2 door 400 cu. in. V8 Automatic with Vinyl hardtop, and, being 6 years old, remember them driving the Caprice off the lot with me standing between the hump on the floor looking at the dashboard from the back seat. Then the Caprice disappeared when my parents obtained a 1979 Chrysler Lebaron, but that little ol’ Rambler still chugged along and I finally got to get behind the wheel at 16 in 1981. (Dad did let me drive the 1971 Caprice on a long barren stretch of road when I was about 10, but hey, it was an automatic and a piece of cake to drive!) But as for the Rambler, loved the manual steering, manual brakes, and that 3 on the tree, will never forget it! The 1965 Rambler was eventually replaced with a 1985 Dodge Lancer ES Turbo. I was 20 at the time and should have bought that Rambler from Dad! What was I thinking??? I suppose, to make up for it, I ended up 5 years later in 1990 buying a cheap 1967 Amphicar 770 with twin sticks on the floor (1st stick is a 4 speed land transmission, 2nd stick is for the forward, neutral, and reverse water transmission for the twin propellers.) Still have the Amphicar to this day 28 years later, which is amazingly fun at lakes, car shows, etc. and I am glad I held onto the Amphicar as it’s been a much better accidental investment than the Rambler, but, of course, that little Rambler that was always a part of my life for the 1st 20 years will forever leave a small empty spot in my heart.


Still driving my '76 F100: 302 4-bbl and 3 on the tree -)


I grew up on six cylinder and 3 speed cars. Recently I picked up this 1960 Bel AIr with a 235 and 3 on-the-tree. Drives a nice as it looks.


A column-shift automatic Camaro is not in the same vein as the article.


This article is about 3-speed manual column-shifted muscle cars. I didn’t forget about the GS 455 because it never was available in that configuration.

Additionally, I bet most GS 455s were built with a column-shifted automatic, so not so unique.


@vanishingpoint, the Hemi was never available with a 3-speed manual. The list is rather complete excepting early hi-po cars like a 406 Galaxie, but I was working with performance cars that had image.