To most observers, 1970 marked the high watermark of the first muscle car era. So it’s fitting that of the 487,582 Chevelles built in 1970, just 39,207 were six-cylinder powered. All the rest, like this Cranberry Red Malibu Sport Coupe, were powered by V-8s ranging from 307 to 454 ci. What makes this one weird is the column-shifted three-speed manual transmission. Stick Shockers
Steve Magnante – Photography by the Author
It’s time once again to venture forth into the Bowtie Boneyard. Here, we visited Bernardston Auto Wrecking (413-648-9300) in Bernardston, Massachusetts, where proprietor Dale Hastings runs a quiet but successful operation amid the pine trees and wild bears of the New England forest.
Our review was marked by a large number of manual transmission–equipped Chevys, just a few of which are presented here. Manual transmissions increase the connection between driver and car and also generally increase the fun factor. Let’s dig in …
Inside, the column-mounted shift lever is easily confused with the large number of ho-hum, automatic-equipped Chevelles built. And then we notice the clutch pedal. Though Chevrolet VIN tags didn’t reveal exact engine size until 1972, the VIN’s 136370R beginning sequence tells us the pedals and shifter once connected to a V-8. Specifically: 1 = Chevrolet division of General Motors, 3 = Chevelle or Monte Carlo, 6 = V-8 power, 37 = two-door Sport Coupe body style, 0 = ’70 model year, R = Arlington, Texas, assembly plant. The base column-shifted three-speed was only offered with sixes and small-blocks. The base three-speed manual in big-block SS models (and non-SS LS3 402 big-blocks) was a heavy-duty unit, which was always floor shifted.
Lots of folks incorrectly assume all Chevelle Super Sports came with front bucket seats. That’s only true for the ’64 and ’65 models. After that, buckets became an optional upgrade (RPO A51) for just over $120 in any two-door Chevelle. In this case, the horizontal stainless steel trim topping the door edges (and missing front fenders) rules out the possibility this is an SS396 or SS454. But still, someone had fun rowing gears behind a 307 or 350 small-block for decades before this one got to the junkyard.
New England and other regions with sub-freezing winter temperatures pose unique problems for manual transmissions left out to rot. Like an unprotected engine, water can freeze and cause damage. This Saginaw three-speed manual transmission was found in a pile. Without the side cover in place, freezing water fatally cracked the cast-iron case.
Unlike most liquids, water does not contract when cooled and expand when heated. On the contrary, when subjected to temperatures below 32 degrees F (4 degrees C) it expands. When completely frozen, water occupies 9 percent more space than when not frozen. If confined within a structure (like a transmission case), the water “jacks” the walls apart with disastrous results. This is why automotive cooling systems use alcohol blends in winter time. The petroleum-based gear oil normally used in transmissions doesn’t suffer this fate. But when partially disassembled transmissions–or engine blocks–are left to freeze, the end comes quickly.
1955 marked a major turnaround for Chevrolet. The stodgy six-cylinder era and its bloated body designs gave way to the youthful excitement of V-8s, Ferrari-inspired grilles, and a fresh performance image that lit the fuse on Chevrolet’s leading role among hot rodders. Not to be confused with the Nomad, this 150 series two-door Handyman station wagon is one of 18,496 built.
Unlike the Motorama show car inspired ’55 Nomad, the Handyman wagon (also available in the mid-level 210 line) roof panel lacked the transverse reverse-ribs, slanted B-pillar, and enlarged rear wheel openings of its much more expensive cousin. This 150 Handyman cost $2,005 new with its 235-cube Blue Flame six ($2,104 with the small-block 265 V-8). Often forgotten is the fact Nomads could also be had with a six-cylinder engine though most of the 8,530 Nomads built were V-8s. A six-cylinder Nomad cost $2,472, some $467 more than this 150 wagon.
The finger points to the spot beneath the taillight turret where chromed “Vee” emblems would appear on V-8 models. Not here, its original 235 six is still in place.
Originally built with the base column-shifted three-speed manual transmission, the Powerglide automatic was an extra $178.35. Freeway fliers could add overdrive behind the three-speed stick for an extra $107.60. Though hundreds—or thousands—of ’55 Chevys have appeared over the years with floor-shifted four-speed manual transmissions, each and every one was put there by a hot rodder. Chevy’s first fullsize four on the floor arrived in 1959.
Of the 370,834 Chevelles built in 1964–Chevelle’s first year–just 65,669 were Malibu Super Sports like this. Most of them were equipped with a 283 or 327-cube small-block V-8, though 8,224 six-cylinder cars were built. This one is a V-8.
Inside, one of the black bucket seats confirms SS status. Though buckets were not available in Chevelle 300 and non-SS Malibus, they were standard in all ’64 and ’65 Malibu SSs and offered as RPO A51 in the El Camino pickup. Seatbelts were an extra-cost Chevelle option until February of 1964 when they became standard issue. That said, in 1964 29,864 cars were built with RPO A62 seatbelt delete for an $11 credit. The aluminum bellhousing hints at this one’s manual transmission origins. What a shame.
Though the pedal assembly has been scavenged, the rear seat floor area is littered with the diaphragm pressure plate and clutch disc, further evidence of manual transmission hero status. Super Sports all came with a console-shifted four-speed manual or Powerglide automatic transmission. A small quantity of three-speed manual transmissions—also floor shifted—may have been produced.
More Boneyard Goodness:
Bowtie Boneyard – Small-Block Smoggers
BOWTIE BONEYARD – CRUSTY CAMAROS
Creatures from the Black Laguna – Bowtie Boneyard