When was the last “three-on-the-tree” built?

April 1, 2010 | By Richard Prince


Last summer I bought a 1978 Chevy Nova. Unlike most other Novas that I’ve seen this one has a column-shifted three speed manual transmission. While “three on the tree” was the “standard” transmission in the ’50s and early ’60s, they seem to have disappeared from production in the past 20 or 30 years. When was the last “three on the tree” produced? What was the year, make and model?


Our fearless leader—Editor Ted Kade—says the final three-on-the-tree shifter in an American-made vehicle came in model year 1986 with the Ford F-150 pickup truck. I could not find another domestic vehicle that utilizes a column-mounted shifter after 1986 so I will defer to Mr. Kade’s boundless wisdom and agree that the ’86 Ford pickup was the last.

Elsewhere in the world, quite a few vehicles were produced with column shifters long after 1986. They were quite common in a lot of Japanese vehicles from various companies, including Toyota and Mitsubishi, through the late 1990s and remained in widespread production after that in Ladas and other Eastern Bloc vehicles.

Though it doesn’t exactly answer your question, the flip side is when the first column-mounted shifter appeared. According to GM, the column mount made its debut in 1938 on Pontiacs. It was a $10 option they called “Safety Gear Shift Control.” By keeping the driver’s shifting hand close to the steering wheel at all times it presumably enhanced safety, which is why they called it the “Safety Gear Shift Control.”