3-on-tree is slang for a three speed standard transmission, which has its shifter on the steering column as opposed to a floor shifter. Prior to the advent of the automatic transmission, most American automobiles used a 3-speed manual transmission. Originally the shifter was mounted on the floor's transmission tunnel, but in the 1930s the shifter started moving up to the steering column as both a convenience and permit three people in the front seat. Three speed manual transmissions was the base transmission offered in all but luxury cars through the 1970s -- before fading away in favor of automatic transmissions becoming the standard offering.
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