"Three on the Tree" (for car enthusiast or those of a certain age)

Posted By on February 2, 2021


Earlier in the years, this image of a “Three on the Tree” manual column shifter-pattern was tweeted by a automotive friend and it triggered memories for me. Younger people nowadays might not even remember manual shifting on the column with a clutch .. or for that matter ever shifting a “Four on the Floor” … or even manually shifting and using a clutch no matter how many gears!  It brought me back to my life even before learning to drive … or should I say, BEFORE I was really suppose to be driving.

When I was 13-15, I worked with a friend who’s dad was a Lake Erie commercial fisherman. We were paid to pick up dead fish from their holding ponds using an old pickup truck on private property. We would pile up the dead “grass carp” at the edge of the pond (they only shipped “live fish” in aeriated tanks big city fish markets .. and they were “carp” … fish we never or would ever eat) and so the young boys had to keep the ponds clean and bury the 79-nova-driver-s-manual-shiftdead fish using an old manual shift “Three on the Tree” truck to haul them around.


I know you are asking – yes it smelled, but just as with cleaning manure out of barns, working in dog kennels, printing companies (chemicals), etc., you do get use to the smell. (the above truck is not the one from the ponds, but close to what I remember) 

My second memory was still before I was 16, although may have been very close to driving. I worked on a farm (age 15-16) and again their “more modern” 1970s pickup truck had a 3-speed on the column manual transmission … with the “normal” full width bench seat … universal in trucks for those days. (again, not the truck below but similar)


So the question that came to mind for me was … “when was the last column-shift manual transmission car sold in the United States?”

If you ask a bunch of nitpicky car-history freaks to name the very last car you could buy new in North America with a three-on-the-tree, you’ll get a wide range of answers, delivered with varying levels of vehemence. The main candidates will boil down to the Chevy Nova, the Dodge Aspen, and the Ford Fairmont (and the badge-engineered siblings of those cars). The final new truck you could buy with a three-on-the-tree is another subject, but we’ll cut to the chase by letting you know it was a 1987 GM product.

BTW … here is a great article in Autoweek


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