The 5 best column-shift muscle cars

Four-on-the-floor seems like a natural for muscle cars, but generally the strong runners came standard with a three-speed manual. And most of those featured the shifter on the floor. But we found some sweet 1960s muscle that came with a three-on-the-tree shifter, just like Grandma’s Valiant.

1965–66 Oldsmobile 4-4-2

1966 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 front 3/4
1966 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 Mecum

There’s some irony with the 1965 4-4-2 because, just several months earlier, this special performance package included a standard four-speed, as referenced in its name (4-speed, 4-barrel, 2 exhausts). Oldsmobile changed the definition for 1965 since a three-speed manual was the standard transmission behind the new 400/345, with a four-speed and two-speed Jetaway automatic as options. However, it wasn’t just any three-speed—it was a heavy-duty M13 shifted on the column. In February 1965, Oldsmobile introduced an optional M14 three-speed with Hurst shifter to give enthusiasts a better way to row gears with the standard transmission. The same transmission choices continued into 1966, but for 1967 the standard three-speed manual moved to the floor with Hurst’s assistance.

1966 Pontiac GTO

1966 Pontiac GTO teal rear view
1966 Pontiac GTO Mecum

The song goes, “Three deuces and a four-speed and a 389” but in 1966, when the GTO went from a performance package to its own model, Pontiac offered a column-shifted three-speed manual as standard. There was the option of a Hurst shifter on the floor, in addition to the four-speed and automatic. Even its big brother, the 2+2, had a floor shifter for the standard three-speed. What gives, Wide-Track product planners? Some 1967–68 brochures show the GTO equipped with a column-mounted three-speed standard, but 1966 was the only year the Goat was built with a three-on-the-tree. Thanks to Mike Noun’s research at the Pontiac Museum, we now know that 412 (including 12 Tri-Powers) were built like this.

1967–68 Camaro SS 350

1967–68 Camaro SS 350 front 3/4 red
1967 Camaro SS 350 Mecum

The 1967 Camaro was the first pony car outside of FoMoCo to answer the Mustang’s calling. Chevrolet did an admirable job but, curiously, it offered a standard three-speed on the column—something the Mustang never did during this era. Even the performance-oriented SS 350 (the only Chevrolet to receive the 350 small-block in 1967) came with the manual transmission on the column. You could opt for a floor-shifted HD three-speed (which was standard with the 396/325), but most people went with the four-speed or Powerglide automatic. For 1969, the Camaro SS 350’s standard transmission went to the floor shifter only.

1967–69 Impala SS 427

1967–69 Impala SS 427 front 3/4
1967 Impala SS 427 Mecum

After the success of the Chevelle SS 396 in 1966, Chevrolet decided to apply the same formula to the full-size Impala sport coupe and convertible. The 1967 Impala with the Z24 SS 427 package became that manifestation by making Chevrolet’s biggest engine standard and offering a dose of image thanks to “distinctive hood ornamentation” and the “dramatic new roofline.” Unlike the Chevelle SS 396, the standard transmission for the 385-horsepower L36 427 was a heavy-duty three-speed manual with the shifter mounted on the column. This was true for 1968 as well, although the SS 427’s visual cues now included a domed hood and front fender louvers, plus the new Impala Custom (with Caprice-like formal roof) joined the sport coupe and convertible. Chevrolet continued to offer big car performance with a non-performance transmission into 1969 with the redesigned full-size series (including 5-hp bump), after which the SS 427 was laid to rest.

1968–70 Torino GT

1968–70 Torino GT 390 passenger 3/4
1969 Torino GT Mecum

Ford pulled some funny moves in the 1960s. In ’66, the Fairlane GT came with an S-code 390/335 standard, most famous being the GT/A with the Sportshift Cruise-O-Matic. However, in subsequent years, Ford demoted and decontented the GT and, accordingly, made the 390 four-barrel an option. The GT was rechristened a Torino starting in 1968, and the standard three-speed manual for the S-code (through ’69) or new 290-hp 351 Windsor (’69 only) went through the gears with directions from a column lever, with no floor option unless you upgraded to a four-speed or console automatic. For 1970, the 300-horse 351 Cleveland was the only performance engine that came with a three-on-the-tree standard.

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