Starting in the earlier 1960s, MOSTS automatics were not performance-oriented, by observation. IF you had "sporting intentions", you got a 4-speed with a good floor shifter. Espeially so in Fords and GM cars. For example, I saw a '63 Impala SS 2-dr hardtop with a 327/300 V-8, 4-spd, and factory a/c at a future Mecum auction listing. BUT Chrysler had their excellent TorqueFlite which could run with a 4-speed car, performance-wise. Even manually-shift it too! But manual-transmission cars had a different feel from an automatic, even in the same model and such. BTAIM
ONE reason Chrysle was so late to the 4-speed transmission game was because the TF was so good in performance applications (on the street or drag strip). But then they started to lose sales, they got one.
In the GM world of Buick and Oldsmobile, they had 4-speed optiions, too. Those production numbers were generally less than 700 cars/year, at best. A few Buick and Olds operatives have documented a good number of them. Buick Wildcats were in the same price/orientation as the Chrysler 300s back then. With the Wildcat having a 3-spd manual as standard equipment. Still, these were "luxury marques" back then, so the general trend was to opt for the automatics and be upscale and not have to shift gears.
Think of doing a "two-lane blacktop pass" in a manual trans car and an automatic. With the manual trans, you HAVE to know the speed/rpm/gear relationship in order to plan things out so they work well. As in being in the right gear for best acceleration and not having to upshift at an inopportune time. THEN, geing in that lower gear for a while before the opportunity to pass arrives , you then make things happen. Yet, with a TF, just nail the throttle, get a lightning-fast downshift into 2nd, and steer. So much less activity for a better general result, to me. No possibly over-revved engine, either!
Certrainly, a 4-speed manual trans car is not that much different from a 3-speed manual trans car, but it IS from an aluminum-case TF car.
When I was going to order my '77 Camaro, I toyed with the possibility of ordering a 4-speed car vs a THM350 car. I KNEW I could do fluid and filter changes on an automatic transmission car, BUT I had friends who labored to change the clutches in their 4-speeds, especially in getting the clutch/pressure plate assy lined up correctly. I ordered it with a THM350 after not much thought, plus as I wanted to enjoy it on trips, too. Just worked out better for me.
In my earlier years at the dealership, I was in a '76 Scottsdale 6-cyl pickup. 3-spd manual, 3.73 gears, with LR78-15 tires on OEM 15x8 Rally Wheels. It was fun to drive, just needing a front sway bar for better cornerning. I wondered how much different it would be with a 4-spd, but did not want to give up the floorspace for the floorshifter (as I had a box I kept in that space on the tunnel). I had calculated the speeds/gears relationship with my trusty slide rule.
Whenever I was going to be near a freeway on-ramp, I'd make sure I would have a clear shot in front of me at the red lights before I got to the ramp. One day, that was not possible, but I though that if I staged it correctly, I could get around a dump truck in front of me. I laid back a bit in low gear, then nailed it and made my move. Not really getting the calculation of a moving van's speed, approaching speed. But I got out and started around the dump truck, WOT and hainging on, edging around the truck and staying out of the moving van's way. When I noticed power dropping off, I realized I needed to shift. So I did that quickly (as the moving van went by), glanced into the mirror to see a big puff of white smoke, then proceeding on in 2nd. When I did that shift, it was at about 50mph. YIKES! But that Chevy 250 six just kept on running like it knew what to do. Checked the oil the next morning and it was right where it was supposed to be. So . . . I knew not to do THAT again! Later figured out it had to have been past 5Krpms when the WOT power went downhill. But for a general drive-around pickup, it was fun to drive. In 1st gear, it would leave a red light really good, but as soon as the shift to 2nd happened . . . . it was more "cruise" than "accelerate".
In the old '51 GMC pickup with "Compound" 4-speeds, performance was about getting the rear tires to turn, Trying for a quck take-off in 1st, rpms happened quick, but took so much effort to get it into 2nd that all momentum was lost. Generally, 2nd gear was the normal starting gear on those vehicles. Interesting that most of the modern automatics have low gears in the same ratio range!
Just my experiences,