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Full-Size Standard Shift Cars, 1950-1973


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The last year for a full-size standard manual shift US car was 1973, and the car offering it was the Chevrolet (Bel Air model). Interestingly, that car was also available in six cylinders, and in fact, if you wanted the six, the only available transmission was the column-mounted three speed manual. I believe this is the only example of a 1970's US full size car that was available only with a manual transmission. What prompts this posting is that I actually recently saw a '73 Bel Air with the 3-speed/6 cylinder at a local car show. I would guess that less than 1000 of these were actually produced.

That got me to thinking: Between the years 1955 and 1973, which Big Three full-size US cars offered the manual transmission (either 3 or 4-speed), and how many have I actually seen (I was 8 years old in 1955); not photographs, but the actual car itself. Here's my tally, showing the car and the years between 1955 and 1973 that I have not seen the car in manual shift form:

Chevrolet: 1969, 1972

Pontiac: 1956,1959, 1960, 1965,1967, 1968-1973

Buick: 1955, 1957,1959-1962, 1965, 1967-1973

Olds: 1956-1973

Cadillac: 1955-1973

Ford: 1968-1970,1972,1973

Mercury: 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962-1973

Plymouth: 1968-1973

Dodge: 1955, 1956, 1958, 1966, 1969, 1971-1973

DeSoto: 1956-1961 (last year of production)

Chrysler: 1955-1960, 1964-1973

Would be interested in the experience for other Forum members.

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Well, first, calling the 73 Bel Air the "only" full size car available with only a manual trans is a little misleading, as the Bel Air, Impala, and Caprice are really the same car with different trim levels.

As for Oldsmobile, I can verify that a manual trans (in three-on-the-tree form) was last available in the 1971 Delta 88 with the 350 motor.

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Well, first, calling the 73 Bel Air the "only" full size car available with only a manual trans is a little misleading, as the Bel Air, Impala, and Caprice are really the same car with different trim levels.

As for Oldsmobile, I can verify that a manual trans (in three-on-the-tree form) was last available in the 1971 Delta 88 with the 350 motor.

You could not get a 1973 Impala or Caprice with the three-speed (column) manual. Only the Bel Air, and only in 6-cylinder form. That is what the guy who had the '73 Bel Air told me.

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We had a 1964 Chrysler Newport with a 361 ci - 2 bbl carb with a 3 on the floor - non-synchro low gear. Motor Trend tested one similarly equipped. Manuel steering and brakes as well - drove like a pickup truck.....

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Olds discontinued the 3-speed stick in the 1971 B-body cars mid-year due to low sales and emissions specs. They didn't sell enough of them to justify emissions certifications. I believe Pontiac ditched it at the same time. If Buick offered it in the B cars, undoubtedly they ditched it too. Interestingly, those transmissions were made for GM by Ford. Commonly called the "Dearborn" transmission. GM's in-house 3-speeds couldn't cut it behind the high-torque Buick/Olds/Pontiac engines and no more of them than they sold, it was cheaper to buy from Ford than to develop one in-house. So, when someone tells you their Oldsmobile has a Ford Top-Loader in it, they're not blowing smoke.

Oldsmobile stick production was generally less than 2 percent of total sales from 1949-64. It picked up some when the 442 appeared but Oldsmobile was rightly proud of having invented the modern automatic transmission and pushed it.

I think your friend with the BelAir is misinformed. The 3-speed was probably available ONLY with the six, but I doubt Chevrolet would have jeopardized their fleet market by not offering an automatic behind the six.

Edited by rocketraider (see edit history)
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The last year for a full-size standard manual shift US car was 1973, and the car offering it was the Chevrolet (Bel Air model).

Pontiac sold about 900 G8 sedans with a manual transmission in 2009. Chevrolet will be selling the SS with a stick-shift in 2015. Maybe I'm not understanding your premise, but those would be the last to me. They are both Australian built, but sold by US brands.

Edited by Buick64C (see edit history)
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My Dad ordered a 71 Chevy Impala Custom Coupe with 350 and three on the tree and manual steering and brakes. At first they refused to build the car even though it is specified in the 71 Chevy information. He even wrote to John Delorean who was Chevrolet's General Manager at the time who called our house and told my Dad he would get the car with a stick but with power brakes and steering. Probably a good move.They had the car for 10 plus years and I learn to drive in it and drove it to college. It was fun to drive with a 350 but the linkage would jam in second sometimes as it got older which we carried a hammer to tap the linkage. The next owner put a floor shifter in it. It was grey with standard hup caps but optional fender skirts. Maybe the only stick made in 71.

Tom Muth

Cincinnati, Ohio

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I think your friend with the BelAir is misinformed. The 3-speed was probably available ONLY with the six, but I doubt Chevrolet would have jeopardized their fleet market by not offering an automatic behind the six.

1950Dodge is correct. The Six was only offered with the 3-speed and only in the Bel Air sedan not the coupe. If you wanted an automatic you had to go with the 350 V8. See this Vehicle Information Kit from the GM Heritage Center. Look on page 43.

http://www.gmheritagecenter.com/docs/gm-heritage-archive/vehicle-information-kits/Chevrolet/1973-Chevrolet.pdf

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You could not get a 1973 Impala or Caprice with the three-speed (column) manual. Only the Bel Air, and only in 6-cylinder form. That is what the guy who had the '73 Bel Air told me.

The Bel Air was only a model in the B-body car line. It was not a separate line. Again, the Bel Air, Impala, and Caprice are the same car with different trim and base engines. All sheet metal and suspension parts interchange.

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I think your friend with the BelAir is misinformed. The 3-speed was probably available ONLY with the six, but I doubt Chevrolet would have jeopardized their fleet market by not offering an automatic behind the six.

Apparently, they did. Here are pages from the 1973 Chevrolet brochure. Note that the Bel Air was available with TWO standard drivetrain options, the 100 hp inline six with the 3 spd manual trans, AND the 145 HP 350 2bbl with the TH350. You could also order optional engines with the Bel Air, up to and including the 454 - scroll to the bottom of the last page.

Myth: BUSTED!

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I was amazed to find that a standard tranny I haveshows it to have been for a 72 Ford Galaxy. Not sure if it is three or four speed, probably three. Anybody needs it send a pm to me. Not sure how many different bell housings it would bolt to.

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That's just strange, but GM did stranger things. Chevy built beaucoups of six-cylinder automatic Novas in 73 and I'd wager some Chevelles, but if they didn't back the six with an AT in the BelAir, it had to be because of emissions certs in the B-body car. A full-size 73 Chevy was a lot of car for a 100HP six to tote around but a Turbo 350 wasn't that inefficient.

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Was the 73 Belair that you saw black? I just saw a black one at a show on LI not to good on the years after 69 but it had a six and was pretty sure it was a stick. It's pretty rare to see a six in any of the big Chevys after 1964

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It was in a past Buick Bugle, I believe, that a Buick zone manager

was retelling his experiences.

At one dealership, a salesman incorrectly coded an order, and

two 1965 Wildcats arrived with stick-shift transmissions. He was

aghast, and felt his job might be on the line. How could they

possibly sell them, he wondered?

Then, one young man happened on the lot. "A Wildcat with a

stick-shift! Wow! I can't believe I found one!" He bought it,

and the other one was sold also.

So somewhere in the country there may be at least a couple

Buick Wildcats with manual transmissions.

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I found a 66 Impala in the briars at a customers place back in the 80s. I walked past it several times before I noticed the big block flags. It was a four door hard top and it had a 427 in it with a three speed on the column. The old guy that I was working for drove a matching 66 El Camino but it had a 283 and a Powerglide.

He bought these cars at the same time. He had loaned the Impala to his grand son and now it makes a noise so it got parked.

He sold it to me for one dollar and other considerations. I pulled the engine to find that a wrist pin was dragging in the cylinder. I bored it 30 over and put std bearings in it, and painted it. Came out pretty nice.

WOW! was that a fun car,

It was stolen a year or so later and has not been seen since.

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December of 1964 I was hitch hiking from Concordia KS to Omaha and caught a ride in 1964 Chrysler Newport 2 door hardtop 3 speed floor shift, PS & air.

The owner was looking for a road car made a great deal as the 65's had been out for a couple of months. Seems a man in his early 20's ordered it with a $1,000 deposit and lost his job.

June 1965, an instructor at our school ordered a 1965 Chrysler Newport 4 door with a manual shift. I believe it had 3 on the tree with SP, PB, & Air.

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Great discussion.

To Tomcarnut: your dad did not have the only 1971 full-size Chevrolet with a 3-speed stick. I had one too. It was a '71 Biscayne (entry level model) with a 250 cu in 6, 3 on the column, power steering and power brakes. I bought the car used in 1973 when I got out of the Army. It had 42,000 miles on it and I paid $975 for it from the local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer who had taken it in trade. That price included a new clutch disc and TO bearing. It was also the first car I owned with PS and PB. I believe the PS and PB came standard on the car, which is probably why Mr. DeLorean told your Dad that he had to take the car that way. To Biscayne John: The '73 Bel Air with the 6/3 speed I saw was a very nice medium/dark blue 4-door sedan. It was in beautiful condition.

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Guest BillP

My Dad ordered a new '64 Chrysler Newport 4 door sedan, 361 with manual trans. It was a floor shift and sort of a cheap one, I had hoped it would be a Hurst. I assumed it was floor shift because Chrysler didn't have a steering column, stick or auto, that contained the bits to operate a shift mechanism. This because of the push-button automatic. I recall Valiants of the era were the same way. The transmission was a weak point in the 64 car, he only kept it 2 years and got a 66 Newport, 383 Torqueflite. That was the car I drove in my senior year and the summer before joining the Navy.

Years later ('74 or '5), I bought a '68 Biscayne, black, 4 door sedan. It was a former county car and had no options. It was a 6 cylinder 3 speed, column shift car. Good machine.

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I saw a '55 Buick (I think it was a Century) with a three-speed column shift being driven by a little old lady in the early seventies. She could barely see over the wheel! New York State used 1970 Ford Customs with a column shift, and I saw several 1963-65 Plymouths at Federal Government fleet auctions that also had a stick shift.

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I had a friend in high school who's father owned a (gold, 4-door sedan) 1971 Plymouth Fury I with a 3-speed on the column and a 318 V8. It was available that way for only 1/2 the model year. Supposedly he bought it off of the lot that way. I believe that was last full-size Mopar so equipped, with none made after 1971 (not 1973).

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Tid bit about Hurst shifters: In the emerging performance cars 1955-1961 Pontiac's add agency's Account manager Jim Wangers, and Pontiac's Director of advanced engineering John Delorean and Pontiac's general manager Bunkie Knudsen saw the connection of using performance products to use as a sales advantage. At the time ( 1961 ) it was against GM policy to use such products especially if the product name or logo was on the product. Wangers, a friend of George Hurst and the Pontiac division heads asked corporate for permission and was finally granted the use of Hurst shifter products on the T-85 and T-10 manual trans starting in 1961 and later for the muncie transmissions as well as the 1967-68 T-400 auto trans all from the factory as factory stock equipped.

Pontiac also did the same type of promotion with the Tom McCann GTO Tiger shoes sales promotion and Uni Royal Tiger Paw tires.

The people of the other divisions and the fans of those divisions have a lot to thank Pontiac for. Just think, if Pontiac hadn't broke corporate policy with the introduction of the GTO there would not be any SS 396's, 442's and Hurst built Oldsmobiles or Skylark GS's not to mention all the other competitors from the other car companies trying to play catch up.

Edited by helfen (see edit history)
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In the early 60's a kid up the ally from my folks place had several 1955 and 1956 Buick Century htps that had come with three speed manual transmissions, and that he street raced. He eventually converted them all to floor shift. He went through a lot of transmissions and you always knew when he had blown one up because the back end of the car would be jacked up to remove the torque tube to replace the trans. The joke was that he had used up all the standard Buick transmissions in the NW. The end of Carl's street racing was the result of a transmission letting go which completely destroyed the transmission hump and put about half a dozen large dents in the roof. He survived without a scratch but it frightened him and his parents so much that was it for him and the only Buick that I ever saw campaigned on the Streets of Seattle.

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In the early 60's a kid up the ally from my folks place had several 1955 and 1956 Buick Century htps that had come with three speed manual transmissions, and that he street raced. He eventually converted them all to floor shift. He went through a lot of transmissions and you always knew when he had blown one up because the back end of the car would be jacked up to remove the torque tube to replace the trans. The joke was that he had used up all the standard Buick transmissions in the NW. The end of Carl's street racing was the result of a transmission letting go which completely destroyed the transmission hump and put about half a dozen large dents in the roof. He survived without a scratch but it frightened him and his parents so much that was it for him and the only Buick that I ever saw campaigned on the Streets of Seattle.

Apart from the 1973 Chevvy Bel Air, the 3-speed manual column shift car that surprised me the most was a 1970 Dodge, either a Monaco or a Polara, I don't remember which. It was a 4-door sedan with a 318, power steering, power brakes, and 3-speed manual coumn shift.

Here's the story, which I got from the owner when I saw the car for the first time in late 1973: The owner always owned Oldsmobiles and always had 3-speed standards in them. It was time to trade in his 63 Olds standard shift for a new model so he went to the local Olds Dealer who told him he could not get the car that way. The literature said he could, so he went to other Dealers, but they all refused to order the car the way he wanted it. He went as far as the Zone Manager who also turned him down. In frustration, he walked into the local Dodge Dealer and said he wanted a 1970 full-size Dodge with the 3-speed manual and power steering, and he hoped that he wouldn't be given a hard time about it. Apparently the Dealer said something like, "Listen, it's going to be your car, and if that's the way you want it, we'll order it that way." The only thing the Dealer did was require a larger deposit for the car. He had the car for 12 years before it was totalled in an accident.

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I owned a 1960 Oldsmobile Super 88 Holiday SceniCoupe with 3-on-the-tree from the factory. My brother ordered the car new and I bought it after he moved on to another ride. It came with the 394 c.i., 4 bbl. and dual exhaust. It did NOT have PS/PB/PW.

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  • 3 months later...

My parents order new a 1969 Chevy station wagon 6 cylinder w three on the tree. No power steering or power brakes. It was a pain to drive, stalled easily and hard to parallel park (I did my drivers test in it.). My father hated it so much he never bought another GM car. He next had a 1974 Hornet station wagon w 3 on the tree. We always drove standards because my mother was afraid of automatics.

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1965 Impala SS triple black convertible. 409-400-4 speed with 4.11 posi. No p.s. or brakes. Just raw power, gauges, tachometer, power top and AM radio.That was in 1968. Bought it from the original owner with 3 drag racing tickets. Had 20.000 miles for 400.00. I was 16 at the time.

Not actual car in the pictures. But close. Probably the most rarest 409 car produced.

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Edited by countrytravler (see edit history)
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One of the first jobs that I had in high school was at a car wash near downtown Milwaukee. One of the managers at the time had a burgundy '65 Impala SS hardtop, with a 283 and 3 on the tree, with white bucket seat interior. I don't recall for sure if it had a console, but I think it did.

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Column Shifts from '67 and up in a Full Size are pretty rare for sure. Almost bought a '69 (believe it was an Impala 2-Dr HT) with a 6-Cylinder, 3-Speed, a few years back. But one of the coolest cars I ever drove was a '67 Olds with a Factory 4-Speed. Might have been a plain jane 442, but I remember thinking that it was like someone's grand dad's car, but yet with a 4-Speed Trans.

Bill

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A few years back, I got a ride in a friend's '69 Belair 4dr, with six cylinder and standard shift. It was in pretty nice condition except that shortly thereafter the frame broke and he had to get rid of it.

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We always drove standards because my mother was afraid of automatics.

That's funny! Made me think of my Mama after they bought their first AT car- 1969 Impala. Up to then they'd always had stick cars. She learned to drive on a 1937 Oldsmobile and continued thru their 1965 Impala, which was 3-speed column shift. Once she got in that 69 she took to automatics quite well.

At the time my dad also had a 3-speed column shift ElCamino. One day he told her to move it and she retorted that she "couldn't drive gears". And my Dad said "let me get this straight- you learned to drive on gears and drove gears up until last year, and now you tell me you can't?" And her comeback was "not only can't but won't! Move it yourself!" which played right into my 14 year old hands, because he let me move the car-truck. To my knowledge she never again drove a stick-shift car up until she quit driving at age 80.

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I had a 1966 Buick LeSabre Custom with the 340 2 bbl and 3 speed manual. It came with power steering, an AM radio, floor mats, white walls and wheel covers as the only options. I had the original dealer order. I bought it in 1999 when it had just 14,000 miles (known history) and sold it in 2005 with just under 20,000 miles. My wife and I drove it to the BCA National in Buffalo in 2001.

At the time I owned it, another acquaintance in town bought a base 1971 LeSabre in Montana and drove it back to Maine. It was a 3 speed manual, power steering, power brakes, Am radio. He kept it for 2-3 years and sold it - he advertised it in the Buick Bugle at an outrageous price - and ultimately sold it for what he paid for it. I regret not being able to buy it from him. To have 2 full sized Buicks with 3 speed manuals would have been a kick. This Buick was all black but did not have original seat coverings - the cloth had been replaced with a velour like fabric. Last I knew the car was in Boothbay Harbor, ME but that was quite a while ago.

My parents also had friends that bought Plymouths - and not very often. As a child, I remember that they had a red '49 sedan with a 3 speed manual. They traded that for a '59 Plymouth Savoy wagon with a V8 and 3 speed, no power anything and no radio. They had that until 1971 when they traded for a 1971 Plymouth Fury 1 wagon, 3 speed and power steering. No radio and no other options. They were an older couple and old school when it came to cars. Wanted them as simple as possible. They owned hthe '71 until they passed.

My uncle sold Chevies in New Hampshire and he came across some different combinations. My favorite was a 1964 Impala wagon, black with red vinyl, 9 passenger. It had a 327-250, 3 speed overdrive, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power seat, white walls, roof rack and a bunch of other small options. I was 15-16 when he took it in trade and was amazed that a car with full power options had a standard 3 speed. I remember he also sold a 4 speed '67 Malibu SS 396 to a fellow that had 3 teenage daughters. I was with him when he delivered it and took their '63 Impala SS 2 door hardtop in trade. That also had a 327 and 3 speed and a friend's parents had a '64 Impala SS 327 3 speed that they traded for a '67 Bel Air 2 door sedan with a 6 and 3 speed.

My other favorite was a '64 Fairlane 500 4 door sedan that our church's youth leader ordered new - silver, red interior, 289 and 4 on the floor. It also had white walls and wire wheel covers. All of us young guys thought it was so cool to see a 4 door with a 4 speed.

Almost forgot - my driver's ed car was a '66 Chevy Bel Air 4 door, 6 cyl. stick, manual steering and brakes. I think the only option was a radio. We had 4 driver's ed cars, 2 Bel Airs and 2 Fairlane 500 4 doors with the 289 and stick.

That's all the manual transmission cars I remember that I had any close contact with.

Edited by John_Maine (see edit history)
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My parents treated us to a new car in 1966, a dark blue Chevy Biscayne. It had a 230 and 3 speed, heater, no radio and was the first car we had with seat belts. It was a major victory when it was traded for a 1970 Mercury Montego with a 351 Cleveland, automatic and A/C.

Shortly after purchasing the Biscayne my great aunt passed away in Boston. We drove the Chevy from VA and my father rented a 12' or 14' U-Haul trailer (dual axle) to bring her furniture back. We ended up in a traffic jam going over the Delaware Bay and I thought for sure he would smoke the clutch before we got over the top trying to move that heavy trailer.

Edited by Gary Hearn (see edit history)
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I had in high school a 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne.

It was a former US Army staff car.

Three speed column shift, 250 cid six

The options were;

Driver's side sun visor and heater/ defroster

My parents treated us to a new car in 1966, a dark blue Chevy Biscayne. It had a 230 and 3 speed, heater, no radio and was the first car we had with seat belts. It was a major victory when it was traded for a 1970 Mercury Montego with a 351 Cleveland, automatic and A/C.

Shortly after purchasing the Biscayne my great aunt passed away in Boston. We drove the Chevy from VA and my father rented a 12' or 14' U-Haul trailer (dual axle) to bring her furniture back. We ended up in a traffic jam going over the Delaware Bay and I thought for sure he would smoke the clutch before we got over the top trying to move that heavy trailer.

That was the same as mine. Maybe mine was a 230 also.

Mine was a glossy Army green.

the inside was very light olive color.

I painted the outside white.

I painted the interior black

Replaced the Chevy seats with a wrecked Lincoln's black and white leather seats.

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....

That got me to thinking: Between the years 1955 and 1973, which Big Three full-size US cars offered the manual transmission (either 3 or 4-speed), and how many have I actually seen (I was 8 years old in 1955); not photographs, but the actual car itself. Here's my tally, showing the car and the years between 1955 and 1973 that I have not seen the car in manual shift form:

Chevrolet: 1969, 1972

Pontiac: 1956,1959, 1960, 1965,1967, 1968-1973

Buick: 1955, 1957,1959-1962, 1965, 1967-1973

Olds: 1956-1973

Cadillac: 1955-1973

Ford: 1968-1970,1972,1973

Mercury: 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962-1973

Plymouth: 1968-1973

Dodge: 1955, 1956, 1958, 1966, 1969, 1971-1973

DeSoto: 1956-1961 (last year of production)

Chrysler: 1955-1960, 1964-1973

Would be interested in the experience for other Forum members.

You will probably never see a Cadillac with a manual transmission in these years as the last one was in a 53 and in a 75 series limo.

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