How To Identify A Ford 3 Speed Manual Transmission

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It is easy to confuse Ford’s transmissions when working on them. This article will explore how to make a Ford 3-speed manual transmission identification.

Ford used various 3-speed manual transmissions over the years. The ID tag (located on the transmission housing) can provide the serial number. It is at the top of the bell housing or on the passenger side near the front case. Another method is to research online to learn the model specifications.

Discovering the transmission type during a restoration project can be a mind-bending puzzle, especially for Ford owners. While the design of these transmissions was often relatively straightforward and not nearly as complicated as the ones GM built, they still tended to confuse and confound classic car users. How can you match the correct transmission to the right car? Were early Ford manuals fully synchronized? So, whether it is your father’s old Mustang or the first Thunderbird you loved as a child that has your attention, let’s look at some of the Ford manual transmissions used and see if we can help offer some telltale markings on each.

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How Can You Identify A Ford 3-Speed Gearbox?

Normally, the easiest way to locate a transmission type would be to take advantage of online VIN decoders with just one click, but Ford VINs are pretty useless in giving this kind of information. Other manufacturers have a designated number in the VIN that shows the transmission, but Ford didn’t include it. However, just because the right info might not be found on the VIN doesn’t mean you can’t use it to help get a handle on things.

Get A Report Online

Many classic car owners order Marti Reports for vehicles built post-1967. These reports include information concerning engine type, transmission specifics, the place of the manufacturer, and vehicle history. Unfortunately, if you have a car or truck that is pre-1967, then VinData might be a better option. It is important to note that sometimes even the best reports can be edited or have the wrong source). Another paper method is to consult the original window sticker should you have it. There are online websites like researchmaniacs that can reproduce the OEM sticker printed with transmission information.

Find The ID Tag On The Transmission Housing

There is always an identification tag on the transmission itself. For older 3-speeds that were used from 1939 - 50, the tag is located on the top of the bell housing. This tag will have a series of numbers like 78 - 7006 (which represents the ‘39 - ‘50 case).

For the 3.03 manual transmission (which was on many Ford trucks 1964 - 73 for both three-speed and four-speed), the parts tag is on the passenger side near the front of the casing.

If you need help decoding the tag, call your local dealership and have them look up the information on their computer.

Look For Distinguishing Markings

Sometimes there are distinguishing signs on the transmission casing that will help you identify the type of trans your car has.

One example might be the ‘39 - ‘50 transmission (the one most restorers are searching high and low for), the narrow bell housing bolts to the block, and the transmission has two detents on either side of the top plate. (Non-39s have only one detent).

Another example is the 3.03 manual that was used in 1964 - 73. The identifying marker to distinguish between the four-speed and the three-speed manual was the three-speed has nine bolts on the top plate (the four-speed manual has ten). A three-speed has a 14.5 extension housing, while the four-speed was longer.

When Did Ford Use A Three-Speed Manual Transmission?

Ford has used a three-speed manual on more than one occasion throughout its history.

Model T

Ford was anxious to make their new car available to as many people as possible. The Model T designers used a “wet” clutch system with two forward gears and a reverse setting. It was billed as a “three-speed,” although that was a bit of a misnomer. Shifting the New Model T was an exercise in coordination for the driver. There were three pedals on the floor; the right side for braking, the middle as a clutch to shift between forward and reverse gears, and a left-hand pedal that had to be depressed with the movement of a gear lever on the steering wheel which was the clutch.

Three Speed Manual Flathead Transmission

Ford used a flathead top loader transmission on 1932 - ‘39 passenger cars and up through the early fifties on light pickup trucks. Ford marked the transmission with serial numbers. Most restorers feel that the best flathead was the one stamped with 78-7006.

Borg-Warner T85

The Borg-Warner transmission reached Ford, GM, and Dodge vehicles in the mid-fifties to sixties. The 3-speed transmission was a side-loader, meaning the gears had to be accessed by removing an access plate. The T85 was a monster of a transmission, designed for heavy-duty applications backing up larger v8 engines that most automakers were producing. Some manufacturers added an electric overdrive to help the high gear perform better on the highway.

The case was made of cast iron, as most transmissions were. The transmission case length was 9 ½ inches, and it weighed about 140 lbs. The first gear was not synchronized, though the other forward gears were. The gear ratios were 2.49:1, 1.59:1, 1.00:1, and 2.51:1 for reverse. You can find the T-85 in the ‘56 - 57 Thunderbirds and ‘65 - ‘71 Ford Trucks. (Borg Warner used the T85 to fashion the 4-speed T10, which replaced the T85 in most Ford applications.

3.03 Three-Speed

The top-loading 3-speed was a heavy-duty transmission that appeared in some classic muscle cars in the mid-60s (including six-cylinder Mustangs) but was primarily placed in Ford trucks for 1964 - 73. (The 3-speed with overdrive transmission appeared in F100s, F150/250s). The nicknames were derived from the appearance of the transmission. (3.03 was the distance from the countershaft to the main shaft. Top-loader was due to the access cover on the top, instead of the side as the previous transmissions were designed).

The gears of the 3.03 were fully synchronized (except for reverse), and the gear ratios were 2.99:1 (first), 1.75:1 9 (second), and 1:1 (third). The unit shared many components with the larger 4-speed manual Ford produced for other cars like the Cobra, Bronco, Galaxie, and racing applications. The manual speed transmission appeared in over a hundred and thirty different models.

The Ford transmission changed into several different variations in the years following. Ford experimented with other kinds of three-speed transmissions until the mid-80s but emphasized the more powerful, smoother-running 4-speeds with overdrive when it became clear that there was simply no demand for the weaker three-on-the-trees. Ford continued to offer some vehicles with three speeds well into the 70s (Maverick, Bronco, F100, F150). Most customers preferred the smoothness and convenience of automatic transmissions, and Ford capitalized on the trend by phasing out the three-speed manual. The last Ford vehicle with a column shifter manual was a Ford F150 in 1986.