What Was the Final US-Market Car to Get a 4-Speed Manual Transmission?

Now that the automotive world is locked in a transmission-speed-count arms race, it’s interesting to learn when certain obsolete transmission types finally disappeared from the American marketplace. For the once-ubiquitous three-on-the-tree column-shift manual, that final year was 1987; for the three-speed automatic, it was 2002 (you can still buy a new four-speed automatic, but just for a few more months). Now we’re going to talk about the very last new car with a four-speed manual available in this country.

The “four-on-the-floor” manual transmission goes way back; the super-cheap Volkswagen Beetle had one from its birth in the late 1930s, for example. Detroit mostly stayed true to the three-speed until the late 1950s, at which time the four-speed manual became the high-performance transmission of choice. It wasn’t long before surf bands were singing hymns to the mighty four-on-the-floor. Then the five-speed moved in; by the early 1990s, car shoppers were hard-pressed to find a new machine equipped with a four-on-the-floor.

In 1993, American car buyers could still get a four-speed manual transmission in a new Hyundai Excel (and its Mitsubishi Precis twin), a Pontiac (Daewoo) LeMans and a Toyota Tercel (plus a handful of Jeep and Ford trucks, but we’re just talking about cars here). By the following year, only the Tercel remained in the four-on-the-floor club.

All the way through the 1996 model year, the base-grade Tercel could be purchased with a four-speed manual transmission here. At a mere $10,348 (about $15,930 today), this was the absolute cheapest new Toyota for sale in the United States, but most buyers opted to pay the additional 700 bucks for the automatic version or to fork over a full $1,070 extra to move up to the Tercel DX with a five-speed manual.

The Tercel remained available here through 1998 (after which it got shoved aside by the new Echo), but just the five-speed manual plus the three- or four-speed automatics were available for the little Toyota’s final two years in the United States.

The fine print at the end of this 1996 television advertisement makes it clear that you had to take the two-door Tercel with four-speed manual if you wanted that amazingly low price.

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