No announcement yet.

Certifiably old: three-on-the-tree

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Certifiably old: three-on-the-tree

    My two daughters and one of their husbands were visiting last week, wanted a ride in the 1941 Commander Land Cruiser. They enjoyed the comfy seats and all the space in the back seat. But the "kids", age 46-51, were a bit mystified by the 3-speed gear shift on the column and the functioning of the overdrive. All of them have driven lots of manual transmission cars and trucks since learning to drive at 16 but they claimed they never encountered a column shift. I think Ford made a few column shift F150's through 1986, but three-on-the-tree seems to have disappeared from cars long before they learned how to drive. Wow, now I really feel old!
    Gary Ash
    Dartmouth, Mass.

    '32 Indy car replica (in progress)
    ’41 Commander Land Cruiser
    '48 M5
    '65 Wagonaire Commander
    '63 Wagonaire Standard
    web site at

  • #2
    My soon to be 18 year old son drives the 62GT with three-on-the-tree and OD as well as I do. Not ready to let him drive the 56J though, with the same setup. LOL


    • #3
      I had a buddy, in high school, who's Dad owned a '63 Mercedes. That I often rhode around in, with him. It was a 4 speed, column shift. Though, I'm sure more were made, I've never seen another such set up, in anything else?


      S2Deluxe = (5H - C3).


      • #4
        Originally posted by S2Deluxe View Post
        I had a buddy, in high school, who's Dad owned a '63 Mercedes. That I often rhode around in, with him. It was a 4 speed, column shift. Though, I'm sure more were made, I've never seen another such set up, in anything else?

        The first car I had in Europe was a wonderful 1963 Peugeot 403 with a four-speed column shift. It was a solidly built, good handling 4-door sedan, infinitely better all-around than any sedan built in the US in that day. The engine must not have been an interference design where the valves can hit the pistons at an angle. More than once, I had it wound tight in third gear and speed-whooped to fourth, only to get second gear. WHIINNNG, but no damage apparent. It was still running fine when my new 1969 BMW 2002TI was delivered.

        JMHO, but I've a long-standing hate relationship with column shifts; they're all gnasty to operate, but Studebakers are exceptionally bad. Lotsa cheapo pot-metal parts which wear and break. No telling how many Studebakers I've converted to floor shifter and always felt it was the best driving improvement for the money one could make.

        jack vines


        • #5
          My Austin A40 was a 4 speed column shift, although 1st gear was pretty much granny gear. It's probably why the Austin equipped Nash Metro has 1st gear blocked off, as I was told by Doug Dexter Austin Specialist.


          • #6
            Once owned a 2 cycle SAAB with 4 speed on the column. I've thought about teaching my 16 year old granddaughter to drive my column shift Champ but really, why bother. A totally obsolete skill.
            Don Wilson, Centralia, WA

            40 Champion 4 door*
            50 Champion 2 door*
            53 Commander K Auto*
            53 Commander K overdrive*
            55 President Speedster
            62 GT 4Speed*
            63 Avanti R1*
            64 Champ 1/2 ton

            * Formerly owned


            • #7
              Both my Saab 96 and 95 had four speed on the column. I also remember that an early Chevy Blazer that I owned had a three on the tree shifter. It was a long time ago, but don't recall there was a problem with either one of them. I guess I am not surprised that younger folks wouldn't know about shifters on the column. It does however certify that most of us are getting to be old aren't we?
              Joe Roberts
              '61 R1 Champ
              '65 Cruiser
              Eastern North Carolina Chapter


              • #8
                I have a '62 Panhard PL17 with a four-speed on the column. And I once owned a Ford Econoline van that was so equipped. It had a "Dagenham" transmission.
                Gord Richmond, within Weasel range of the Alberta Badlands


                • #9
                  In the 50's & later I think most european cars had 4 speed column shifters; Opel, Mercedes, SAAB, Peugeot, Citroen, Panhard, & so on... (I've owned all of these & more exept Opel) Even small trucks & vans had it. But the US cars only had 3 speed.

                  I'm one of the grumpy people who like dependable stuff so we have taps in the kitchen & bathroom with two handles (if they can be called that?); one for cold water & one for hot water & a while ago we had friends here & one of the kids didn't wash his hands & when I aksed him why not he said he didn't know how to turn on the water...
                  Last edited by Noxnabaker; 08-04-2020, 11:06 AM.

                  Champion V8
                  4d sedan


                  • #10
                    Reminds me of a story-not another one! During the 80's on one of our trips to Greece, my x-wife were on the beautiful island of Santorini. We rented a car to tour the island. The only available car was a Citroen with a soft top (think VW "Thing"). I'm usually able to drive about anything that I encounter, but.... when we jumped in the car I was thrown for a loop by a shift lever sticking straight out from the right side of the dash. There was no shift pattern diagram, or owners manual for reference. After a few minutes I went inside to ask for help. When I asked for help the counter man looked at me like I was either an imbecile or from Mars. It was obvious that he was not going to give me a driving lesson, but he did say that you just push it in and pull it out. Feeling thoroughly shamed, and realizing that this was all the help I was going to get, I went back out to give it a try.

                    My only chance would be if the transmission used the standard H pattern. So I guessed at where I thought 1st gear would be and let out the clutch. I must have guessed right because I got a low enough gear to move effortlessly. Then pushed it in and caught a higher gear. It only took about 5 mins to feel comfortable with the process.

                    Anyone familiar with the island will appreciate the sharp cliff edge, overlooking the ancient caldera. It is hundreds of feet straight down, and there wasn't a guard rail on the island. There were some dirt shoulder, pull-offs where you could enjoy the view, which we did. You could pull right up to the cliff edge, but thankfully I stopped about three or four feet from the edge, at our first viewpoint. Of course nose first, toward the cliff edge. After some time we got back in the car and I started it, but quickly realized that I still didn't know where reverse was. I tried first one position, and let the clutch out very slowly. The car moved forward, so tried another position, same result. Each time we would move a little closer to the edge. At a point much closer to the edge then I wanted to be, I gave up and shut the engine off. I told the wife we'er going to have to push it back. Thankfully we were on level ground. I'm not sure what we would have done if the road had been crowned, but we were able to get it headed in the right direction. I don't think I ever found reverse, but I never made that same mistake either.



                    • #11
                      They're a great anti-theft system, though I doubt anyone is likely to steal the two I have with three on the tree: 54 Stude pickup and 62 Impala. My wife, who is old enough to have learned to drive on a standard shift, despises them, though she whips through floor shift sticks just fine.
                      Skip Lackie


                      • #12
                        Another sign of old age: when you automatically do that little hitch going from first to second- from first up just past neutral; down to neutral; all the way forward to the second gate; and only then, up to second, all in one motion in about 2 seconds. Comes from years of driving worn out column shifters
                        Proud NON-CASO

                        I do not prize the word "cheap." It is not a badge of is a symbol of despair. ~ William McKinley

                        If it is decreed that I should go down, then let me go down linked with the truth - let me die in the advocacy of what is just and right.- Lincoln

                        GOD BLESS AMERICA

                        Ephesians 6:10-17
                        Romans 15:13
                        Deuteronomy 31:6
                        Proverbs 28:1

                        Illegitimi non carborundum


                        • #13
                          G.M. also offered a 4-spd col. shift in their vans in the mid-60's. They used the B/W T-10. Never saw one!- Jim


                          • #14
                            It was so sweet, my first Studebaker, jet green 4 door 1964 commander “three on the tree”, no overdrive. 6 cylinder, Just a nice sweet car that everything clicked just right. I had the shift well adjusted and lubed. A pleasure to use. Nothing at all wrong with column shift manual.


                            • #15
                              When asked about the column shift in my Champ truck I tell people it is an early form of anti-theft device. Younger thieves won't steal it because they can't figure out how to operate it.
                              Ed Sallia
                              Dundee, OR

                              Sol Lucet Omnibus