Automotive History: The Big B-Body Rarities – Six-Bangers and Three-Speeds

belair wagon

(first posted 5/27/2014)   The big B-bodies of 1971 to 1976 are certainly a love or hate type of automobile.  With Perry’s recent e-bay find of a ’75 Chevrolet Bel-Air wagon (here), and my subsequent discovery of one in the flesh ninety minutes after the article appeared, the various rarities of B-body prompted my curiosity about power train combinations.

Large and thirsty, these were the pinnacle of big car extravagance.  Yet despite their girth, there were some that simply didn’t fit into the stereotypical V8 with automatic transmission description.

Many might be surprised to learn Chevrolet still offered a six-cylinder engine until model year 1974.  Those bumpers were getting heavier and engines were more smog compliant, so loading down a six-banger could have been a recipe for disaster. However, it is the availability and build rate up until 1974 that is the surprise and the focus.

Chey six cylinder

The table above breaks down six-cylinder production by model for 1971 and 1972; there is no production information for the 1973 model year but the six was limited to the Bel-Air sedans for its final year.  Seeing a B-body of this generation having a six-cylinder is about as frequent as hen’s teeth and a full lunar eclipse.  Unfortunately, I could not find any information for production of three-speed manual transmissions for any of the three years.

1973 Chevrolet-16

However, Chevrolet did have a three-speed on the standard equipment list through 1973, hooked only to the six-cylinder engine.

If you think these Chevrolet’s are rare, let’s talk about Pontiac.

Pontiac three speed

Pontiac made automatic transmissions standard equipment in March 1971.  Looking at this, it is easy to understand why.  On the other hand, GM deserves a lot of credit for engineering all the mechanisms needed for a transmission that was hardly purchased.

1971 Pontiac Full Line-24

Finding one of the two Grand Villes with a three-on-the-tree would be quite a holy grail.  Click on any of these pictures to better read the verbiage.


Taking the next rung of the Sloan Ladder delivers us to Oldsmobile.  Quoting from page 613 of the Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946 – 1975, Revised 4th Edition, says about Olds:  “Three-speed manual transmission was standard on all but 98s and Toronados”.

One could have had a dandy ’71 Olds Delta 88 with a three-speed.  If available with a 455 (7.5 liter) V8, that would have been quite a fun ride, indeed.  For 1972, the automatic transmission was standard fare on the full-sizers.

1971 Oldsmobile Prestige-34-35

Oldcarbrochures corroborates my other source.  Something makes me think there is a three-speed ’71 Delta 88 lingering in a barn, waiting for rescue.

1971 Buick-16

Let’s not overlook Buick.  Again looking at the same source, and confirmed by oldcarbrochures, a three-speed manual transmission was standard fare in the LeSabre, LeSabre Custom, and Centurion series in 1971.  Like Pontiac and Oldsmobile, Buick only offered an automatic transmission for 1972.

In 1976, Buick made the 231 cubic inch (3.8 liter) V6 available for the LeSabre.

Do any of these still exist?  Undoubtedly one does somewhere.