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3 on the Tree?

I don’t know why I am asking such an useless triva question, but does anyone know the last make/model car using Column shifting (manual)? Last one I saw, was about a '79-80 Dodge Ram (SUV). thanks!

I think Ford Pick-ups used them around that time also.

I don’t know the answer to your question, but I liked that setup. It never really made sense to me to take up the center seating position on a bench seat with a floor mounted shifter.

I’ve got one on my '76 Chevy Pickup and I think you could still get them on GM trucks until the remodel in the 1980 model year. I also think it was great-- you can have a middle passenger without the awkwardness when shifting into reverse. I think I’ve seen 1984-ish Fords that still had them. Mostly what happened is that as gas mileage became more important, three-speed transmissions fell out of favor and I guess they thought making a four-on-the-tree was too complicated.

Some European cars these days have column shifters or shifters that sort of protrude out of the dashboard.

The last automobile that I ever saw with “3 on the tree” was a 1977 Chevrolet Chevelle. I think this was the last year that “3 on the tree” was available in a GM car. It was on a lot in 1978 at a very good price and I took it for a drive. It was a strippo and had very low mileage (10,000). However, it had a dent in the right door that had been pounded out in a rather amatuerish way and the inside doorliner had been torn, so I took a pass. I borrowed a Ford F-150 that was made in the early 1980’s from a friend and the truck had “3 on the tree”.

BTW, since you are asking a historical question, do you remember the vacuum assist on the Chevrolet cars with the “3 on the tree” shifter made between 1939 and 1948? I never did understand its purpose. In fact, one could purchase a mechanical shift conversion kit for under $5.00 from Sears to bypass the vacuum assist.

I want to say the 1983ish GM full sized pickups. But I’m not 100% sure

I seem to recall that someone is about to bring out a model with 3 on the tree. I wish I could remember for sure and where I heard it.

If someone is bringing it back, some questions come to mind:

Why would a vehicle manufacturer go back to only three speeds when 4 speed, 5 speed, and possibly 6 speed transmissions have become the standard? Surely gas mileage would suffer with only three gears.

Hopefully there would be less “slop” in the linkage than was common years ago. The difference in the length of shift throws between a column shift and a floor shift were substantial when both were available.

I used to own a postwar Chevrolet with a column shift lever and with the vacuum assist removed. I found the parts needed to restore the vacuum assist and installed them. The effort to move the shift lever was greatly reduced. It was a small touch of luxury in an otherwise low price car. These vacuum assists were often removed as they did not work well in cold weather.

I think most people who removed the vacuum shift mechanism added a long knob that extended the gearshift lever. The lever for the vacuum shift was really very short and didn’t give much leverage. In 1949, Chevrolet abandoned the vacuum shift and added a longer shift lever for leverage.

One other interesting item is that the column shift with vacuum assist was an option on the 1939 Chevrolet and I believe the cost was $10. I have seen only one 1939 Chevrolet with a factory 3 speed floorshift. All the other 1939 Chevrolets I remember had this optional column shift with vacuum assist.

One advantage of the column shift was that it was pretty much out of the reach of children. I had a 1950 Chevrolet pickup with the floor shift. As I was driving along with my 3 year old son, the engine suddenly began revving up, but the truck was slowing down. I then heard a grinding noise. My son decided to operate the gearshift. He had gotten it into netrual and was trying to pull it back. He couldn’t reach the column shift on my 1965 Rambler.

Didn’t Saab have a 4 on the tree in the 70"s ?

I had a three on the tree in high school as my very first car. It would constantly pop out of 2nd when slowing in gear. I actually got to where I could power shift the dang thing when drag racing on Main. Now that’s a vision: hunched forward, elbow out, fling that shaft up and forward without getting off the gas…


I do know that Saab had a column shift in the early 1960’s and I believe it was a 4 speed. The Hillman Minx of the 1950’s had a 4 speed that I believe was on the column.

When I was growing up, a modern car had the shift on the column while the older, low tech cars had the shift on the floor.

I can think of one disadvantage of the column shift. The father of the room mate that I had in College was an associate minister in a large church and did a lot of driving. On a meager minister’s salary, he had driven used cars–he had a 1951 DeSoto with the tiptoe shift fluid drive which he traded for a 1955 Oldsmobile with hydramatic. In 1960, he bought his first new car–a stripped down Rambler classic. He had suffered from gout and really began having pains in his right shoulder. The doctors could find no reason for the increase in pain. This pain continued until the Rambler was traded for a car with a floorshift. Suddenly the shoulder pain went away. The constant motion of shifting into and out of second gear which one does in driving in traffic with the column shift was causing the pain in his shoulder.

SAAB did have a 4 + reverse on the tree way back then Benzman. The old SAAB 95s and 96s used it. Some of them also had the 3 cylinder 2-stroke engine.

They also used 4 different wheel cylinders on the same front brakes; a LF top, LF bottom, RF top, and RF bottom.
Quirky to say the least.

Early 70’s SAAb did have 4 on the column. Also Renault of tha ttime frame had a stick shift in the center dash! I think it was a four no more.

The reason for the unusual wheel cylinder arrangement on those old SAABs was that they used a different dual-circuit hydraulic system than everyone else.

While other manufacturers split the brake hydraulic system into a front circuit and a rear circuit, SAAB had one circuit that consisted of both front wheels and the left rear wheel, and a second circuit that consisted of both front wheels and the right rear wheel. Having the brakes on both front wheels avaiable in the event of a break in a hydraulic line gave infinitely better braking than having to resort to brakes on just the front or just the rear wheels. And, in the event of brake failure, just throwing on the e-brake while pressing the brake pedal would give the driver braking ability on all 4 wheels.

While this was clearly a superior system in terms of safety, it was definitely more expensive to build and to service. Back in those days, I was a big fan of SAABs, simply because of the superiority of some of their concepts–with the obvious exception of the 2 cycle engine.

When they adopted the German Ford V-4 engine, I thought that they had designed the perfect car!

The old Datsun 1300 pickup also had a four-on-the-tree shifter. The Renault brings back memories (nightmares) of the Ferlec clutch/3-on-the-floor and later “automatic” motorized manual gearboxes.