Curbside Unicorn Hunt: 1970+ Full-Sized Cars with Manual Transmission, Part 2 – Ford Edition

In Part 1 of this series, our big game (and I do mean big) was 1970-1973 GM full-sized cars with a three-on-the-tree transmission. We came back with our unicorn bags, if not overflowing, at least filled enough for 1,300+ words and over 100 comments.

This time, we will be training our sights on full-sized Fords from the same period. Fair warning: For whatever reason, the survival rate of these early ’70s full-sized Fords is vanishingly low (they are among Paul’s least favorite cars for a reason), especially when compared to their GM counterparts which are still (relatively) abundant.


Prior to 1970, Fords equipped with the 4-barrel “Thunder Jet” 429 were available with a four-on-the-floor, making it one of the last full-sized muscle cars (which was also one of the reasons I chose 1970 as the cutoff for my Unicorn Hunt). The 429/4-speed combo was supposedly available on all 1969 full-size Ford models, even the LTD and Country Squire wagon.

For 1970, the 3-on-the-tree was the sole manual transmission on offer. While Chevy limited their three-speed to just the six-cylinder Bel Air, Ford offered their manual on every engine up to the 390, and on every model, meaning that it was possible to get an LTD or even a Country Squire with a three-on-the-tree. Perhaps we will find some interesting combinations?

1970 Ford LTD

I found this 1970 LTD with a 351 and a 3-speed on YouTube. I couldn’t find any proper photos, so we will have to make do with video frame grabs. This one supposedly had the same owner from 1970 to 2014.

Options on this model are sparse but do include an electric clock ($16), power steering ($105), an AM radio ($61), and wheel covers ($26), so it is not a total stripper (to say nothing of the extra standard equipment you got on an LTD). A base 1970 Custom 500 4-door sedan listed for $2,872 (about $23,500 in 2023).  This LTD sedan, with options, would have stickered for $3,621 (about $29,500), so clearly the three-on-the-three was a choice and not an economic necessity. Or to put it more pointedly, who would have ordered a car with vacuum-operated headlight covers. but without an automatic transmission?

Unlike most of these other manual-transmissioned unicorns which offer tantalizingly few clues as to their origin stories, this bizarre LTD actually has some documentation (more of which can be seen in the linked video). As you can see from the sales order above, the buyer (who paid cash, or brought their own financing) was able to negotiate the price all the way down to $3,015, a discount of almost $600, or a hefty 16% off the original sticker price.

So it appears that the buyer was given a considerable discount to take an otherwise unsellable car off the dealer’s hands. But what dealer would have ordered such a strange car in the first place? Perhaps a mistake on a factory order form that wasn’t caught until the car showed up? I’ll leave it to the commenters to further speculate.

In any case, there is no malaise going on here. The 351 and three-speed make for a potent burnout machine, as demonstrated above.

1971 would be the last year the SyncroMesh was available in full-sized Fords, with the SelectShift Cruise-O-Matic (yes, Ford really still called it that) becoming standard in 1972.

1971 Ford LTD Convertible with 3-speed transmission

1971 Ford LTD Convertible with 3-speed transmission

My next find will have to be filed as a unicorn sighting that got away. I found a blog post from 2014 discussing a 1971 Ford LTD Convertible with a 351 and a 3-speed manual that the writer had seen on eBay. While the original eBay auction is long gone (irretrievably so, despite my best efforts), the author did include one photo from the original auction, which I have included above.


For the 1970 model year, A 3-speed manual was the standard transmission on the Monterey, Monterey Custom, Maurader, and Colony Park full-sized Mercury models (the C6 automatic was standard on the Marquis and Marquis Brougham). By 1971, the Marauder was gone, and the Colony Park now had the C6 as standard equipment, leaving only the Monterey and Monterey Custom as the remaining shift-yourself models. Like Ford, an automatic was standard on all full-sized Mercurys starting in 1972.

1970 Mercury Monterey with 3-speed manual transmission

While only God and Kevin Marti likely know for sure, the number of 1970 and 1971 full-sized Mercs equipped with a three-on-the-three has to be minuscule. But could it actually be zero? After several hours of searching, I was starting to think so, when I struck gold with this 1970 Monterey with few options and a 3-speed transmission.

The seller claims that it has power steering and brakes, but that doesn’t look like a power brake booster to me.

With only 17,000 miles, not only is it a rarity, but it is a veritable time capsule. The chrome wheel moldings, assuming they are factory, would indicate that is a Monterey Custom. Assuming power steering is its only option, the base price would have been $3,635, or about $30,000 in 2023. By the time you factor in the additional standard equipment (like the 390 V8), you are within a few bucks of a comparable Ford LTD, which really underscores the problem Mercury faced for decades.

Alas, my search for 1971 full-sized Mercurys with three pedals bore no fruit, but such is the life of a unicorn hunter.

Be sure to come back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion to this series in Part 3. Believe it or not, the best is yet to come!