“Bolt-On” VW Performance Improvements for your Stock VW
The following modification and upgrade recommendations will give you the biggest grin-per-dollar for dollars you invest in your car! Most of the VW performance modifications in this article are easily reversible, and do no damage to your stock VW. This article is for the aircooled VW owner who asks “What relatively straightforward modifications can I do to make my aircooled VW faster and even more fun to drive — without breaking the bank?”
To help you stay in your budget, this guide attempts to present modifications in the order that will maximize the performance boost or drivability benefit per dollar you spend. Of course there are more involved VW performance and drivability modifications you could do, but this article focuses on mods that you should be able to make to your stock VW in a course of a just a few hours up to a few days.
by John Connolly, Aircooled.Net VW Parts
original written: December 29, 1999
last updated: Oct 12, 2018
VW Shifter Modifications
Urethane Shift Coupler, Shift Rod Bushing, and Quick Shift Kit: Approx $40 and 3 hours work.
Unless you KNOW they were changed recently, the shift coupler and shift rod bushing in your car ARE SHOT, so replace them. Your first level of “upgrade” is the quick shift kit ($7), which will shorten the shift throw and make driving more fun. If you have something other than a Type 1, then use this link to find your VW Shift Rod Bushings and other Shifter Parts.
Custom VW Shifter: price varies, 20 minutes work.
Be VERY careful when choosing a custom VW shifter – many are junk, especially the ones under $100! ORIGINAL Hurst Shifters (NOT the Chinese copies) are excellent with a “Long Throw”, but they haven’t been made in over 20 years, so you will only find these at Swap Meets, on eBay, or in The Samba Classifieds. You can never go wrong with a Gene Berg Shifter, but these are pricey and you often have to wait for them to do another run of the model you desire. The good news is that Vintage Speed Shifters are excellent, and readily available too! You aren’t going to be disappointed by buying one of these instead of a Berg. This is quite an endorsement, since Berg Shifters were, and still are considered THE STANDARD for VW Shifter Excellence for over 30 years due to their deserved reputation. You can spend $400 on a shifter, but you don’t really need to! The shifters we recommend all perform just great, and so your choice will boil down to price, application and your preference for “look and feel”. So here we go with a run down of your shifter options!
If you are trying to keep cost to a minimum, EMPI’s 12″ Aluminum T-Handle Shifter is really your only “budget” option (under $100) if you want to replace the whole shifter with a “good” one (which we define as one that won’t be trashed or worn out in a year or 2). Most other sub $100 shifters you’ll be replacing again very soon because they break and/or get sloppy. Aside from that unit, or the possibility that you might score a sweet used deal from someone that doesn’t know what the shifter they have is worth, you’ll need to budget at least $150.
When we published the first version of this article in the late 90s, there were only a couple shifters we recommended. But now over 2 decades later, there are a ton of good shifter choices, depending on what you want! For Beetle, Ghia, THING, and Type 3 here are your choices. The first option is the Scat Drag Fast Shifter, made for both SCAT Drag Fast Shifter For Early Beetle and All Karmann Ghia and SCAT Drag Fast Shifter Fore Late Beetle and all Type 3. Scat Drag Fast Shifters made a huge splash when they were introduced over 30 years ago, and are still a popular choice. The SCAT Drag Fast shifters have a REALLY tight pattern. This author’s opinion is that the SCAT Drag Fast pattern is a little TOO tight, because if you have anything “not perfect” with your transmission or shift linkage, there is no forgiveness and you’ll immediately be grinding gears and hearing bad noises! But if you want the tightest shift pattern possible, Scat Drag Fast is for you.
The 2nd shifter option is perfect for guys who wish to keep the “Vintage” look, but want to feel like they are shifting gears instead of rowing a boat; the Vintage Speed Line of Shifters! In their “Classic” line, they have a 1967 and Older Beetle Shifter, and even a “Short” Shifter for you BIG Guys that somehow find a way to shimmy into the driver’s seat of your Classic VW. The Vintage Speed Short Shifter accommodates your long arms! If you don’t want a “Vintage” appearance and “Custom” is more your thing, for the Beetle, Super Beetle, THING, and Karmann Ghia you can choose from the Vintage Speed Black Mamba Sport Shifter for 4-speed, or the Black Mamba 4-Speed with a CNC Base. There is also a Vintage Speed Black Mamba Sport Shifter for the Berg 5-Speed too, as well as a 5-Speed Version with the CNC Base.
For Type 2 VW Bus, Single Cabs, and Double Cabs, you can either go with Scat Drag Fast Shifter for Early Bus, or Scat Drag Fast Shifter for Late Bus which have been around for a little over 20 years. In 2012 Bugpack extended their shifter line up to include the Bugpack Billet Plus Shifter for Type 2s. Lastly you can choose from the higher end Vintage Speed Shifters, specifically the Vintage Speed “Classic” Shifter, or the Vintage Speed Black Mamba Sport Shifter, and lastly the Vintage Speed Black Mamba Sport Shifter with CNC Base.
Upgrade your VW Headlights
Install H4 Headlights: Approx 1 hour to replace the headlights in an aircooled VW. You may have to fight rusty screws, and/or stripped screw heads, but if not this is an easy upgrade! Not only will you see so much better, but the other cars will SEE YOU so much better too!
We offer H4s in several versions,
Aside from the actual H4 assembly listed above, you have 3 choices in lighting! H4s come with a 55W Halogen bulb, but now there are also 2 HUGE improvements in lighting too!
Here at ACN we carry 3 levels of lights. You buy the H4 Assembly you want, then choose the lighting (“Bulb”)
- H4 Halogen Bulbs, which come with the H4 Assembly (Good; Nice upgrade in lighting)
- H4 LED’s (Light Emitting Diode) (Better; Super easy installation, most expensive)
- H4 HID (High Intensity Discharge) (Best: Inexpensive, light color choices, but 2 hour installation)
Words can’t even describe the improvement in light and visibility with the upgrade to LED’s or HIDs. The added bonus is these only draw around 1/3 the power of the stock headlight too! So they are a great option for you guys with meager 30A generators, or big stereos.
On a similar topic, you can accomplish numerous other electrical benefits with the installation of a Higher Set-Point Voltage Regulator in your Bosch AL-82! This regulator kicks the set-point voltage up to 14.5V, which will result in vastly brighter lights (head lights and tail lights), faster wipers, AND a fully charged battery (for a change!). Installation takes less than 5 minutes, and you don’t even have to remove the fan belt!
Add a Custom VW Steering Wheel
Install a Custom VW Steering Wheel: Approx 1 hour to replace the steering wheel in an aircooled VW.
If you want to keep your steering wheel, but just make it feel a LOT nicer, simply put a Leather Steering Wheel Wrap on it! These take 1 hour to install, and look and feel FANTASTIC! This is a really great upgrade for cheap! The ones we carry are made by a company called Wheelskins, and the product is made and sourced in the USA! We feel they are the best, and we have them for most stock steering wheels.
The next level of upgrade requires actually changing the steering wheel. The smaller the steering wheel, the more difficult the steering effort, but the quicker the steering response will be! Stock wheels were sized at 15″ so grandma could drive the car and maneuver in a 5mph parking lot. Since you are most likely stronger than and drive faster than Grandma, you can take advantage of a more responsive, smaller steering wheel, and you will also get more choices in color and style. Years ago, the Formuling France wheel was the “standard”, but that company went out of business, so finding a new Formuling wheel is next to impossible (swap meets and the occasional junkyard find). Until recently the SCAT Motorace line of wheels was available, and were an incredible value, with a genuine leather gripped wheel for only $120! But they are now gone from the VW Market too, so the standard performance wheel for your car has changed to the Aftermarket VW Steering Wheel.
For years the steering wheel of choice for a nice VW was made by Nardi, a hand-made Italian steering wheel. But with recent economic changes they have priced themselves completely out of the VW market. Fortunately, Volante Steering Wheels have come to the rescue! We recently brought in Volante Steering Wheels, along with their adapters, into our parts lineup. These are definitely a step up from the Grant line, and is less than 1/3 the price of the Nardi (and almost as nice)!
VW Bus Owners Please Note: We don’t recommend adding a small custom wheel on your VW Bus, since steering effort becomes too difficult, especially in parking lots and tight spaces where you really need the leverage! Stick with a 15″ steering wheel for Type 2s. It is okay to install them on Vanagons if you have power assist steering though!
VW Disc Brake Conversion and Suspension Options
In previous versions of this article, we treated front suspension and brakes separately. But as of the 2012 edit of this article we combined them because (in the case of Super Beetles) you have to take a lot of the same stuff apart to access the brakes, suspension, and sway bars. With Standard Beetles you run into the same issues because the best method of lowering the car is to install Drop Spindles, and you often have different spindles from Drum or Disc Brakes. So, it makes sense to do both at the same time so you aren’t buying parts twice! On to knowledge and recommendations!
VW Disc Brakes are self adjusting (VW drum brakes need to be manually adjusted). In wet weather, you will have great stopping power because they are “self cleaning” and shed themselves of excess water and dirt. Drum brakes do not do this. So Front Disc Brake Kits are a REALLY good idea! Another good one is that in many (most) cases, you may have brake parts that are already worn out beyond specifications! Rather than spending a bunch of time and money to refurbish things only to get stock braking power, you have the perfect opportunity to UPGRADE! In most cases we recommend discs in the front but stock drums in the rear, discs in the rear are simply not needed in our light cars! Follow along as we guide you along on your front brakes and suspension! The stock rear brakes are “OK” when in good operating shape, and this can be improved upon by installing our Super Stopper Brake Shoes instead of the stock organic brake shoes. If you simply do not have the money for a disc brake kit, get the Super Stopper Brake Shoes for sure.
VW tried to give us a headache when they were changing the car through the years, because not only do we have to worry about King and Link or Ball Joint front suspensions, but they changed from 5 Lug to 4 Lug wheels in 1968 for the Type 1, and made a change to a small 5 pattern in 1971 for the Type 2.! So you have Link Pin Stock Height 5 Lug, Ball Joint Stock Height 5 Lug, and Ball Joint Stock Height 4 Lug, and Ball Joint Lowered 4 Lug.
In the rear no VWs of our kind had rear disc brakes, it was drum only. So rear disc brake kits are not as prevalent as the fronts. Rear Disc Brake Kits are much heavier than drums, and we feel they are not needed on our light cars, so we usually use disc brakes in the front, and drums in the rear. We list all our VW Rear Disc Brake Kits in one place since it is rather confusing. 4-lug car owners can also consider changing rear brakes to the type 3 units; scrounge the junkyard and get everything from the backing plate outward. They bolt right on and are about twice as effective as your stock units, and retain your stock E-brake; be sure to replace the brake shoes and wheel cylinders, and check the drums to make sure they are within spec. The problem with Type 3 rear brakes nowadays is finding them, it has become more difficult over the past decade, AND more of them are very worn out, and you wind up buying expensive type 3 specific drums and wheel cylinders, if you can find them. But the price of rear disc brake kits has come way down, so Type 3 Drums are not your only option anymore. If you do not want to upgrade the entire rear brake package to Type 3, there’s another trick you can use! We only recommend this if you have a “mismatch” of front and rear tires (if your rear tires are significantly larger then the front tires). If this is the case, install the Super Stopper rear wheel cylinders to provide massive braking power and restore the front/rear braking balance to your car. For drum brake owners, we also have added our Super Stopper brake shoes (front and rear) which increase braking power even with your existing drum brakes. These Super Stopper brake shoes are an excellent alternative to the much more expensive and complex disc brake conversion.
Front suspension: Check to make sure your steering components are not worn out or sloppy. (If your Super Beetle suffers from a “shimmy problem” , it will be addressed in a separate article). If the front of the car is lowered, you MUST add caster shims between the lower beam tube and the frame head of the car (a 15-minute job) to correct front-end geometry. This will also make the car run nice and straight at higher speeds; slightly increased steering effort is needed at parking lot speeds.
NOW is the time to decide on Ride Height, either Stock Height or Lowered. And if you are lowering, do you use Beam Adjusters, or Lowering Spindles? This decision must go along with your Disc/Drum brake choice, since the spindles used on the 2 are DIFFERENT! A mistake here will cost you $200+ in additional expenses!
The “Old School” method of front end lowering was the Cut and Turn of the torsion leaves, or Removing Leaves (NOT Recommended). Then some guys figured out a way to do this while keeping the height ADJUSTABLE. There are 2 Types of Beam Adjusters, the Avis Adjusters which Gene Berg has been selling for decades, and the SAW Style (“SAW” = Sway-A-Way). Link Pin Sway-A-Way Adjusters are here, and Ball Joint Sway-A-Way Adjusters are here. Both SAW and Avis style require welding of the adjusters to your axle beam! So if you have the skills and more time than money, weld in adjusters will accomplish the goal. They will give you a 4″ RANGE of height adjustment once welded in place. So you can set to Std Height to 4″ Lower, or 2-6″ lower, or even 2″ lower to 2″ raised, or 2-6″ raised for Off Road Cars. Use Link Pin SAW Adjusters for cars up to 1965 models, or Ball Joint SAW Adjusters for 1966 and Later cars. However, the more you lower the front end, the “worse” the angle of the tie rods are (especially the driver’s side), and the Bump Steer Kit will help alleviate some if not all of this problem. The Bump Steer Kit (or “Flip It” kit as it’s also known) puts the tie rod end into the spindle or steering box arm, in from the OTHER SIDE. This reduces the tie rod angle, alleviating the bump steer problem, OR giving you much needed room for tie rod clearance!
Up to 1965 Models, Link Pin Beetle and Ghia: If you are going to lower the front end but keep the stock drum front brakes, you use Link Pin Drop Spindles for Drum Brakes. If you want to install front disc brakes with a stock ride height on your Link Pin Beetle or Ghia, get these! Next option would be to install front disc brakes while also lowering 2 1/2″. When you are doing the brakes, be sure to get some Stainless Steel Brake Hoses since the stock rubber ones are likely shot. Don’t forget a HD Front Sway Bar. and Caster Shims, which should accompany ANY lowering job, whether it’s Lowering Spindles or Beam Adjusters. If you are adding Disc Brakes, you can keep the Single Circuit brakes (try them, see how it works, they might be fine!). The simplest solution if you need to change master cylinders is to change to a Bus Master Cylinder which is 22mm bore for less pedal travel but bolts right in, but the Bus Master Cylinder requires the use of the Bus Brake Fluid Reservoir which a lot of guys prefer anyways because they are less likely to leak, but filling it is more of a chore. The best option/upgrade is to switch to the better Dual Circuit Master Cylinder from later Type 1s while using a Volvo Brake Fluid Reservoir which simply snaps into the stock Brazilian or European Dual Circuit Master Cylinder (it does NOT fit the German ones)!
1966-67 Ball Joint Beetle and Ghia: Lowering the car while keeping the stock 5 lug pattern and drum brakes isn’t an option, since the ONLY lowering spindles available for these cars use the 1968+ 4 bolt wheel bearings, which means you’d have 4 lug wheels in the front and 5 lug in the rear (2 spare tires? I don’t think so!)! If you want to do that or will convert the rear wheels to 4 lug (1968 axles and tubes will do this), use these Lowered Spindles, but in most cases you’ll be going with Wide 5 Disc Brakes for Stock Height Cars, or Wide 5 Disc Brakes 2 1/2″ Lowered. When you are doing the brakes, be sure to get some Stainless Steel Brake Hoses since the stock rubber ones are likely shot. Don’t forget a HD Front Sway Bar. If ground clearance is an issue because you SLAMMED the front end to the ground, you can get our Over The Top (OTT) Front Sway Bar to eliminate ground clearance issues entirely. Don’t forget Caster Shims, which should accompany ANY lowering job.
1968 and Later Ball Joint Beetle and Ghia: The Karmann Ghias of this era ALREADY had front disc brakes! In fact, most countries of the World got the front disc brakes except for North America (They held out on us!). All of the kits we are listing here are compatible with the stock Dual Circuit Master Cylinder. These can be upgraded by using a Volvo Brake Fluid Reservoir that snaps into the stock Brazilian or European Dual Circuit Master Cylinder (it does NOT fit the German ones)! Keep the stock disc brakes (which are GREAT), and use these Ball Joint Lowering Spindles to get the stance you want! If you have a Beetle or Super Beetle, you definitely want to upgrade to disc brakes! If you were really budget constrained and HAD to choose between Lowering the front end OR Disc Brakes, we recommend the Disc brakes! Our Front Disc Brake Kits use stock disc brake components from the Late Model Karmann Ghia, which had Disc Brakes from the VW Factory, to upgrade your car. Now that that verbose explanation is over, the Stock Height Disc Brake Kit is here, and the 2 1/2″ Lowered Disc Brake Kit is here. Don’t forget a HD Front Sway Bar. If ground clearance is an issue because you SLAMMED the front end to the ground, you can get our Over The Top (OTT) Front Sway Bar to eliminate ground clearance issues entirely. When you are doing the brakes, be sure to get some Stainless Steel Brake Hoses since the stock rubber ones are likely shot, and even when new they are very “Balloon Like, the Stainless Steel Brake Hoses will firm up your brake pedal! Don’t forget Caster Shims, which should accompany ANY lowering job. They will make the car feel more stable at speeds over 50mph.
Super Beetle: Super Beetles have Macpherson Struts in the front, basically if you look just inside the front tire you’ll see a big coil spring sitting there; that means you have a Super Beetle. Super Beetles have a larger trunk, bigger fuel tank, tighter turning radius, and ride nicer (when they aren’t shaking!). How to get rid of the Super Beetle Shimmy is covered in another article. But if you have a Super Beetle you need to know if you have an “Early” or “Late” Super Beetle. The “Early 3-Bolt Struts” were used in 1971-1973 1/2, and use 3 bolts to connect the Strut Housing, Spindle, and Ball Joint together. The “Late 2-Bolt Struts” were used in 1973 1/2 and Later. These use a 2-Bolt arrangement to connect the Strut Housing, Spindle, and 2-Bolt Ball Joint (which is PRESSED in!) together. You WILL need to look at what you have but a quick peek under the front of the car. This information is required any time you are ordering pretty much any/ALL front suspension parts! Next, the Super Beetle Front Disc Brake Kit is a MUST DO FOR EVERY YEAR OF SUPER BEETLE! We never liked Super Beetle stock front drum brakes, we’ve had nothing but headaches and problems with them, so this is a GREAT upgrade and can’t be more highly recommended for Super Beetle owners! The Super Beetle Front Disc Brake Kit RETAINS the stock spindle, and because of this it’s priced such that it’s almost the same as if you replaced the stock brake shoes, wheel cylinders, brake adjusting screws and star wheels, and front brake drums. While you are doing the disc brake conversion, be sure to get some Stainless Steel Brake Hoses since the stock rubber brake hoses are likely shot. Last item for attention on the Super Beetle are the 40 year old (worn out) Suspension Bushings. Just suck it up and replace them, it IS worth it! 3-Bolt Strut Urethane Bushing Kit for Early, and 2-Bolt Strut Urethane Bushing Kit for Late.
We strongly recommend lowering the front of your Super Beetle, since the rear is probably already sagging! This is a very common issue, and by lowering a front to match the normally sagging rear, it really balances the look of the car out. If you lower more than 3″, you will need to install a Bump Steer Kit to prevent the tie rods from hitting the bodywork. Sometimes you will need to trim back the metal a little bit with a Sawz-all or Jig Saw. If you plan on using tires less than 205mm wide (165s, 185s, 195s, etc), you can lower the car with “Regular” Lowering Struts. This is pretty inexpensive to do, but you’ll need a spring compressor to do the installation. In most cases when you lower, you want to replace the sagging stock strut springs with Stiffer Tapered Front Strut Springs so the suspension doesn’t bottom out. If you are going to put some really wide front tires on there, you’ll need to go a slightly different route, with a smaller diameter strut housing and spring, to clear all that rubber! The Maxx Adjustable Lowered Strut Kit for “Early” 3-Bolt Struts, or the Maxx Adjustable Lowered Strut Kit for Late 2-Bolt Struts are needed if you are going to use some huge front rims and tires.
Super Beetle Owners should know that most front sway bars are 7/8″ instead of 3/4″, because Super Beetles already had a decent sized front sway bar on it when new from the VW Factory! This was because Super Beetles are much heavier and simply need a stronger bar! But Super Beetle Owners also have to select between Lowered and Non-Lowered Sway Bars, the differences of the two are the angle of the bar where it goes into the Control Arm Sway Bar Bushings. Lowered Cars have a different angle here, and if you try to use a non-lowered bar on a lowered car, the bar gets “Sprung” and will fight your lowering efforts, and risk snapping the sway bar! So you have 4 different sway bars, Early 3-bolt Stock Height Sway Bar, Early 3-bolt Lowered Sway Bar, Late 2-bolt Stock Height Sway Bar, and Late 2-bolt Lowered Sway Bars. VW Super Beetle Strut Braces will really stiffen up the “Noodley” strut towers, by triangulating them to eliminate body flex during cornering. If you are putting a Sway Bar on the front of a Super Beetle, you should do the Front Sway Bar, Front Disc Brakes, 3-Bolt Strut Lowered Struts, 2-Bolt Strut Lowered Struts, Strut Springs, Early Front Suspension Bushings, and Late Front Suspension Bushings, at the same time. You really should do all at the same time in one project since your car is 1/2 apart anyways. No fun to do jobs twice!
Bus (Type 2): these had disc brakes beginning in 1971 models, the main improvements are 1970 and older. These are HUGE upgrades to the lame braking power on these rigs, especially since replacing all the components of the stock brakes costs a small fortune already!
VW Sway Bars and Shocks – Ride vs. Handling
VW Sway Bars, Front and Rear: Plan on 1 hour of labor per bar (but the Super Beetle front bar takes a little longer to install, because you end up fighting rusty bolts and nuts).
Stock VWs came with only a front sway bar – no sway control in the rear. If you want to improve your handling by upgrading your sway bars, upgrade the one in front first, or do front and rear together. But never add one ONLY to the rear without simultaneously upgrading the front. If you put a Rear Sway Bar on a car with no sway bar up front, or one with a stock sized front bar, the handling will be unpredictable, and it’s not recommended. If you only have the money to add just ONE bar, make sure to upgrade the front! You can then upgrade the rear at a later time without issue!
The standard heavy duty sway bars are fine for most street driven aircooled VWs. If you plan on hill climbs or Auto-X, you will want adjustable sway bars so that you can tune your suspension to get the last inch of performance which many of the other guys won’t be able to get. Our New Parts Catalog is setup so you search for VW Front and Rear Sway Bars by what year/model car you have. We don’t lump all the sway bars together, because it gets too confusing that way! We’ll give you an overview of your basic choices here.
There are two types of Rear Suspension on VWs; IRS and Swing Axle. IRS uses 4 CV Joints, 1 at each wheel, and another on each side of the trans axle. With IRS Rear simply add a Rear Sway Bar. But do NOT add a rear bar unless you have ALREADY added a 3/4-7/8″ bar in the front! On Swing Axle you have 2 choices, Swing Axle Rear Sway Bar, or can use something called a Camber Compensator. Both work very well, and there is no clear advantage of one over the other.
Upgrade your VW Seats
Stock VW seats were budget-minded, but they are anything but supportive and/or comfortable for faster-than-stock driving. Once your VW is going a little faster, the stock VW seats just don’t cut it! There are several easy swap out seat options. We have full interior upgrade kits or individual seat/track systems in the seat section of our catalog.
Time to swap out seats: Approx 3 hours
Upgrade your VW Shocks
Don’t go overboard here! SuperBeetles can use 2-Bolt Gas Struts or 3-Bolt Gas Struts in the front, which give a higher performance ride (stiffer) — but Standard Beetles MUST stick with Link Pin Oil Shocks or Ball Joint Oil Shocks (unless you like having your fillings rattled loose!) Don’t bother with heavy duty shocks either (same problem). Trust me, it isn’t worth it. If you are trying to install your new front shocks onto the lower shock mount and the shock doesn’t fit, the steel sleeve from your old shock is seized on the mount and must be removed. A grinder, heat, and Kroil Penetrating Oil will get it off. In the rear, use Low Pressure Gas Shocks for Swing Axle and IRS Rear. High-pressure gas shocks are available, but the ride is stiffened a good bit, and they WILL RAISE THE HEIGHT OF THE VEHICLE BY ABOUT 1 ½”. This can be useful if your bus/bug has the rear-end sag that is common on some high mileage vehicles. But, if your car is “normal” in appearance, the addition of these shocks will make your car look like a 70’s retro-ride (remember the High-Jackers?).
If you want the best performance possible, you have to think KONI! In the front we have Koni Adjustable Shocks for Lin Pin Beetle and Ghia, Koni Adjustable Shocks for Ball Joint Beetle and Ghia. Back in the rear you have the same options, Koni Adjustable Shocks for Swing Axle Beetle, Ghia, and Type 3, and also have Koni Adjustable Shocks for IRS Beetle, Ghia, and Type 3s!
Time to change shocks: All four in 1 hour – that’s the time AFTER you get the bolts loose!
Upgrade your VW Wheels
Once upon a time (in the 70s thru 90s), VW Owners had a really limited selection of wheels. If you didn’t go to a custom Porsche Pattern (5 x 130mm), which required redrilling the brake drums and rotors, you really only had 2-3 options. The most common was the addition of some “Mangels”. These were stock style wheels that were made in Brazil, it was basically just a stock wheel that was chromed. Some people just want a “clean” wheel that isn’t stock. The Mangel is the one to have, it’s just a clean chrome. We have them in
Aside from this very common option, the style options for wheels are now incredible! The extensive use of CNC machining has brought the costs down on wheels to unbelievable levels! Also, since they really don’t need a mold anymore, there are so many choices! Rather than try to list them all here, it’s best to just look at the wheels available in the “Bolt pattern” categories.
Time to change wheels: All four in 1 hour – that’s the time AFTER you get the tires mounted!
VW Engine and Transmission Modifications
Synthetic Gear Oil: 30 minute job. If you are sick of difficult shifting when it’s really cold, replace that dinosaur gear oil with a good Synthetic Gear Oil. It will shift like butter in even the coldest temps, and give a slight increase in mileage too! If you have a new transmission, do NOT use synthetic initially (during the break in period). You can start using Synthetic Gear Oil after your new transmission has about 5-6000 miles on it, the new syncros will be properly broken in by that point in time. Your front axle beam likely hasn’t been greased in FOREVER, this is a VERY common problem! So, get some Synthetic Racing Grease and grease it up. Grease is important because it drives out the WATER that will rust and corrode everything! Another little known tip is to drill the shock towers and install a grease fitting. Then fill up the towers with the same Synthetic Racing Grease and it will keep out the moisture which rusts the axle beam out from the inside!
You took care of your car for Winter with the synthetic lubricants, but what about you? Many VWs suffer from the “Arctic Blast” on your chest through your dashboard, one way to really lessen that is to install the Mexi-Bug Hood Seal to prevent cold air from making it’s way into the trunk, which then makes it’s way onto your chest! These really work well, so well you don’t even need the stock seal anymore! We also have a Mexi-bug Deck Lid Seal for the engine lid.
Broken throttle cables can be a really frustrating experience, so installing a 9′ Bulletproof Throttle Cable for VW Beetles, Karmann Ghias, and Things, or an 11′ Bulletproof Throttle Cable for Type 2s, is a comforting feeling to have done! Limping the car home at “idle speed” stinks!
Add an Oil Filter: The stock engine has a strainer, but not a filter. You can extend your engine’s oil change intervals from the original 1000 miles, to 3000 miles by adding a real oil filter. There are two ways to do this:
Use a Filter Pump Assembly. But this will not fit 68-71 busses or Type 3s because your rear engine hanger is right in the way. We put our reputation behind 2 versions. The OEM VW Oil Filter Pump is outstanding, but ONLY fits 4 bolt cams, which were used on 1972 and later engines. Many of these engines when rebuilt were changed back to the earlier 3-bolt cam style, which is much more common. Aftermarket cams are almost exclusively the 3-bolt style. If you have a 4-bolt cam, your only filter pump option is the excellent Filter Pump Assembly from CB. WE DO NOT RECOMMEND ANY OTHER FILTER PUMPS (they are ALL CHEAPLY MADE GARBAGE).
Use our Full Flow Filter Kit. Most folks will get the Beetle, Ghia, and up to 1967 Type 2 Full Flow Kit. But we also have a Full Flow Filter Kit for 1968-71 Type 2s, and a Full Flow Filter Kit for Type 3s too! The installation of Full Flow Filter Kits requires that the engine case be drilled/tapped, but not many know that if you have a Dual Relief Engine Case you can use our Oil Return Adapter for a completely bolt on solution for your oil filter needs!
Install Ratio Rocker Arms: 1-2 hour installation time. If you can adjust valves, you can install these, but they MUST be used with shorter push rods. We have 2 quality 1.4 rockers to choose from; SCAT 1.4 Ratio Rocker Arms, and CB Performance 1.4 Ratio Rocker Arms are both outstanding on stock engines! We feel that 1.25 rockers give you almost no gain for your work; waste of effort. 1.25’s work well with some high performance cam shafts but you have to know what you’re doing! We feel that 1.25s and 1.3s have their place, but it’s normally when used WITH a matching camshaft. For stockish engines, any of the 1.4 Ratio Rocker Arms we carry will really wake up a stock dual port engine IF YOU HAVE ADDITIONAL CARBURETION (Carburetor Options are covered in just a bit!). Replace your Valve Cover Gaskets at the same time you are adjusting your valves, or replacing your rocker arms. If you have problems with leaky valve covers, you have a LOT of VW Valve Cover options!
First off, many will argue with us on this subject (everyone is entitled to their opinion), but the ONLY time we recommend Bolt-On Valve Covers are for off road use, because Bolt-On Valve Cover’s won’t have the bail knocked loose or off by a stick or rock, which you don’t find out about until the oil light comes on! Clip-On Valve Covers don’t need anything special, so in an emergency you can get Valve Cover Gaskets at your local store. But Bolt-On Valve Covers will also need a seal at the hold down bolt which is not nearly as easy to find, so if that goes bad and you don’t have a spare you are dripping! So Bone Stock applications should make sure that you use Genuine VW Valve Covers and OEM VW bails. If you have a “Show Buggy” you can use Chrome Valve Covers, SCAT’s Clip On Valve Covers, or EMPI’s C-Channel Bolt On Valve Covers. The only other Valve Covers we heartily recommend are SCAT’s Cast Aluminum Valve Covers. Really Nice and a great price too! We also carry Valve Covers with a -8 Vent, and Valve Covers with a 1/2″ Tube for slip on breather hoses, Both are set up for an easy connection to your breather box! There is also a Plain Racing Valve Cover With Vents if that’s your style. No matter which valve covers you wind up with, Silicone Valve Cover Gaskets are the best! Never buy them again! 914 and Type 4 VW Engines have very limited options, Porsche and Type 4 VW Bolt On Valve Covers and Type 4 Silicone Valve Cover Gaskets.
Have your flywheel lightened: (engine removal is required for this modification). If you are uncoordinated at driving a stick, or have a HEAVY car (baja, bus or type 3 or 4), this modification is NOT for you. The Economy Lightened Flywheel will allow the engine to rev faster. We carry many different versions, but since this is our introductory article to modifying your car, you’ll do just fine by adding our Economy Lightened Flywheel, which is great for up to 140hp or so. You likely won’t read this advice anywhere else, but we recommend AGAINST adding a heavy duty clutch or pressure plate unless you get an 8-doweled crank and flywheel to keep the flywheel on tight! You can use our Economy Lightened Flywheel just fine if you keep the stock clutch, even with the 4-doweled crank! Going to a heavier clutch means you really need to 8-dowel the crank and flywheel connection, which means total engine tear down (outside the scope of THIS article). Know that changing flywheels requires you to re-set the crankshaft end play, using an End Play Measuring Tool and Flywheel Shims. It’s also strongly recommended (by me) that you change your Flywheel Seal (main seal) and Flywheel O-ring. It is also a good idea to put in a New Gland Nut; it’s actually a BOLT, but I don’t know why the name Gland Nut stuck! Don’t forget to check your Clutch Disc!
Beyond these, you are looking at much more involved engine modifications, which require engine disassembly or machine work. Those are jobs for their own articles!
VW Ignition Upgrades
Replace Points and Condenser with a Points Replacement Device: 20 minutes to install. Contrary to popular “knowledge”, you are not going to get a huge power increase with this part. However you WILL get a no maintenance item (unless you love adjusting points and timing), which gives rock-steady ignition timing under all conditions. In my opinion, this is a must-do modification even for stock cars! Getting the rubber grommet into the hole properly is the hardest part of the job (I’m not kidding). We also now have the Pertronix II Points Replacement Device which is a big improvement over the Pertronix I.
Upgrade your Distributor: this upgrade usually astounds VW drivers! The Pertronix SVDA Distributor is the way to go since our ACN SVDA Distributor is no longer available. This distributor gives a “stock appearance” to the engine. If you have a 34 PICT carburetor, this is the distributor for you. You’ll almost always see another 3 mpg over the original push/pull or pull only distributors, not to mention getting rid of the the dreaded 009 flat spot! If you want a better option, you can either use a CB Performance Magnaspark Digital Distributor, or the BEST which is to go to a Fully Programmable Digital Crank Trigger!
Unfortunately the ACN SVDA Distributor is no longer available, so the best distributors to use at this time for the majority of engines are the Pertronix Flamethrower SVDA Distributor, which also comes in a Pertronix Flamethrower II SVDA Distributor, and a Pertronix Flamethrower III SVDA Distributor. The Flamethrower II Distributor has a feature which prevents electronics damage if you leave the ignition on while the engine is not running. The Flamethrower III Distributor has this, AND has a built in programmable rev limiter too!
Another option is to keep your existing distributor, lock out the advance, and then install CB’s Black Box Programmable Timing Module! This lets you keep your old look, but have super-modern timing control from your laptop!
Replace your stock pulley with an Aluminum Degree Pulley: 30 minutes to change it out. Doing so will make ignition timing much easier. The stock steel pulley comes in five different versions using notches for timing marks. The notches are in so many different configurations and since pulleys may have been switched several times during the life of an engine, you can’t know what you have unless you measure it, which is a tedious process. The easy way out is to put the Aluminum Degree Pulley on, and instantly know where you are at. They are also pretty to look at :0)
Add a CDI to your Ignition System: under an hour. The Pertronix Second Strike Capacitive Discharge Ignition provides a major ignition upgrade, and can be installed in under an hour. Another option is the Pertronix 510 Digital Capacitive Discharge Ignition, which is available in a super conpact size! Your spark plugs will last a lot longer. Though some guys will open their plug gaps to .040″ (1mm), we recommend keeping the stock .024-.028″ gap, even though you have a lot more ignition power. In return for the investment in a CDI, you get 3-4 mpg better mileage and your starts with a quick turn of the key even on cold mornings (instead of 2-3 seconds of cranking before it fires up). SMOOTH running, even before it’s warmed up! A CDI must use some higher quality plug wires. We recommend the Pertronix Flamethrower Plug Wires for guys who want to retain a 7mm plug wire (which fits into the stock plug wire separators), or the Taylor 8mm Plug Wires for the fatter plug wire look. We even have Taylor 10mm Plug Wires for race cars! This is because the higher energy produced by the CDI can overwhelm stock or used wires. You can finish off the ignition ensemble with a new set of NGK Spark Plugs, which we feel are better than Original Bosch.
Type 4 engines (1972-83 Type 2s, and 4 cyl 914s) can benefit from our Super-Mag Plug Wires For Type 4 Engines. We even have Super-Mag Plug Wires for Water Boxer (WBX) Engines.
Replace the Distributor Cap & Ignition Rotor: 3 minutes (give or take). Bosch is the ONLY brand of these parts that I recommend you install. Leave the clear distributor caps for the show cars (they look nice but really run like crap!). Make sure you switch wires one at a time so you don’t mess up your firing order!
VW Exhaust System Modifications
A lot of guys don’t want to do the expense and work of replacing their muffler with a VW Header. There are a few options for you guys that want to retain the stock muffler, and just change the exhaust tips!
A common mod in the 70’s and early 80s was the installation of the Zoom Tube. This replaces the stock pea shooters, with an unbaffled tube that is a lot more visible to boot. If this is too much for your liking, there are other options.
- Tapered Tail Pipes
- Stock Pea Shooter, Stainless Steel
- 2″ Pea Shooter, Stainless Steel
- Diagonal Cut Exhaust Tips
install like stock. You have the option on diameter and shape.
Also, if you choose a stock size tip, you can accessorize with the Cheese Grater Accessory for Stock Pea Shooters.
For mufflers, your first option is a stock muffler. But did you know you can get a Stock Replacement Muffler in Stainless Steel? If you want a little more, you can replace your stock Muffler with 1 3/8″ Exhaust Header, and your favorite compatible muffler; Hide-a-way, Single Quiet Pack, Dual Quiet Pack, or Glass Pack: Plan on 3 hours for a header installation if it’s your first time. This is an easy bolt on item, and is a great way to start building mechanical skills needed if you own a vintage VW! Don’t forget KROIL for those rusty nuts and bolts, and use a GERMAN muffler kit, or flange kit for a no-leak install. Don’t get the flange kit if you get a Ceramic Header, since you’ll ruin the Ceramic Coating on the header doing the cut and weld or braze! Stick to 1 3/8″ in header sizing unless you have some pretty decent flowing heads, AND have removed the heater boxes (they are a restriction) OR used a high-flow set of heater boxes. The hardest part of a header installation is getting your old muffler off without breaking the exhaust studs! You’ll need a muffler to use with this header. Our personal favorite for stockish engines is the Hide-a-way Muffler which offers superb ground clearance and very quiet operation. If you want to retain the stock pea-shooter appearance, you have 2 options. The less expensive one is relatively new product, the “Tri Mil Hotdog Muffler”. Another step up from the “Tri Mil Hotdog Muffler” is an all Stainless Steel Pea Shooter Muffler, which comes in 125hp Stainless Steel Pea Shooter and even a 150hp Stainless Steel Pea Shooter Muffler version. For your “Bolt On” application, the 125hp version is more than adequate! If you have a Type 3, the choice is obvious! Get Tri-Mil’s Type 3 “OTT” or “Tuck-a-Way” Type 3 Header and Muffler!
VW Fuel System Upgrades
Before you do anything else with your VW fuel system, I strongly recommend that you replace or upgrade to cloth braided fuel hose. Every 6 months, you should inspect it! Bend it over 180 degrees, and if it cracks or is stiff, REPLACE IT. Leaking fuel hose is the #1 cause of those smoldering VWs you see on the side of the road. Don’t be a statistic! Install the fuel filter next to the transmission or beneath the fuel tank. Even both places is fine, but you should NOT have a fuel filter between the pump and carburetor! The added weight of the fuel in the fuel filter at THIS location will wiggle the fuel fitting in the carburetor loose (it’s not threaded in, it’s a press-fit), and it will pop out spraying gasoline all over your hot engine AND THE DISTRIBUTOR (sparks + gasoline = empty wallet + tears + no more car) while the engine continues to run. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Replace your VW fuel hose: Approx 1 hour.
VW engines are EXCEPTIONALLY under-carbureted. You have many options, all of which require more exhaust flow (you did that already, remember? — see “Replace Muffler with 1 3/8″ Exhaust Header”).
If you want to keep the stock carburetor, know that it has a 26mm venturi (if you have a 34-3 dual port carburetor). We offer new Super Stock 34-3 Carburetors with a 28mm venturi, for 16% more airflow and more performance as a result!
Install our Super Stock Intake Manifold! This intake can even be used on single port engines, with the use of the Single Port End Castings. The main advantage of the Super Stock center section is it’s anti-reversion design, and it has a little more plenum volume. It is dual drilled, so you can bolt on any 30, 30/31, or 34 PICT carb on it. But note that if you are trying to get more power you should absolutely get a 34-3 or our Super Stock 34-3 Carburetor.
Here’s something that will save you from wasting a lot of money and time: If you run ANY center mount carburetor, you need a lot of intake manifold Pre-heat. The main problem with ANY of the aftermarket headers EXCEPT the Vintage Speed 125hp Stainless Steel Sport Muffler with Pre-heat Option selected, is your “Good Pre-heat” is GONE. What we are saying is that your exhaust selection will have a huge impact on your carburetor choices! If you are going to use a regular 1 3/8″ Street Header, or the Tri Mil Hot Dog Muffler, or any other header, you are pretty much forced into using dual carburetors to have the carburetors work properly. WE CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH! YOU MUST HAVE GOOD PRE-HEAT IF YOU USE A CENTER MOUNT CARBURETOR (Including the Stock Carburetor). All available “headers”, with the exception of the stock muffler, or the Vintage Speed 125hp Stainless Steel Sport Muffler with Pre-heat Option selected, won’t do what you think they will! The cheaper mufflers that have flanges don’t provide enough heat! A lot of guys paid extra for something that doesn’t work, and then chase their tail trying to figure out why the center mount carb runs like a bag-o-nails, even they are drilled out as instructed! So that being covered, we can move on with carburetor discussion.
SINGLE PORT ENGINES: Your best bet is to get the Dual 34mm ICT Webers.
DUAL PORT ENGINES: you have a lot of options, we’ll start from the bottom and work our way up, with the accompanying logic so you can follow along. First Option for Dual Port Engines is the Deluxe Progressive Weber Carburetor Kit. If you already have the Weber or Holley Progressive Carburetor from a junk yard or your buddy, you can simply get our null
If you have decided against a Center Mount Carburetor, or have a non-Center Mount friendly exhaust, you are in Dual Carburetor Territory. Dual Port Engines have Dual 34mm ICT Webers. We used to really like the Dual 35mm Solex PDSIT’s for Dual Port Beetles and Dual Port Busses, and Dual 35mm Solex PDSITs for Dual Port Ghias , but the quality on the PDSIT carbs from Brasil has really gone South. So for now your best bet are the Dual 34mm ICT Webers or the CB Performance Dual Weber IDF Carb Kit. For stockish engines with a worn out stock carb or for someone who just wants a little bit more performance without the headaches of constant carburetor maintenance, these are the carbs to get. If you have a Single Port engine, don’t fret, we have too!
Single port engines should use Dual ICTs for Single Port Engines. The ICT kit has a steel crossbar (not center-pull and NOT aluminum) linkage.
Your third option is the center mount 2bbl in either a Deluxe Progressive Carburetor Kit, or a Weber IDF Center Mount Carburetor Kit. Both of these can be very difficult to tune, and both REQUIRE manifold heat from the exhaust system. Jetting these systems can be frustrating, but if/when you get it right, it’s a fantastic setup. The Center Mount systems ONLY work on upright engines (type 1 and 2), since type 3 and 4 engines don’t have manifold heat nor an easy way to provide it, and the result is that the center mount carb WILL ice up and be a nightmare to drive!
Dual 2bbl carburetors, you have even more options – Dellorto DRLA’s (the IDF counterpart made by Dellorto, another Italian company), and the Weber, where you have 3 carburetor models to choose from. Weber makes the IDF as their main carburetor, and the 48 IDA, which is primarily a race carburetor set. You also have the Weber DCNF. Another carburetor that was used a lot in the past on the Porsche 356 is the Solex 40P11. In years past guys put these on their VWs. Dellorto DRLAs are outstanding, but the company stopped making these beauties over 20 years ago, moving to Fuel Injection exclusively.
IDFs come in 40, 44, and 48mm sizes. Nice carbs for street cars, but the factory making them has closed down so availability is getting scarce. These are also the carburetor of choice for off road cars! Off road cars should run a center mount (instead of duals), either progressive or IDF.
IDAs are race carburetors. Contrary to popular opinion, these CAN work very well on the street! Not much of a progression circuit, so in unmodified form, they are either off or on! (Idle or full throttle). Modifications properly done will make them more “driveable”, and once modified they work VERY well. Many guys routinely report 8-12 mpg (yikes!) but in these cases they are jetted all wrong. 25-27 mpg on the highway is correct when they are properly set up, even on large engines. However, IDAs do not have provisions for vacuum advance which we feel is a requirement for a true street carburetor.
Solex 40P11 are old carbs, rather rare, and work very well IF they aren’t worn. The Solex 40P11 is similar to the IDF and DRLA in appearance and function.
Weber DCNFs are getting to be very tough to find parts for, and easily flood if the going gets rough off road. The cost of the air cleaners, linkage and intake manifolds for the Weber DCNF can be very expensive, so we recommend that you DON’T buy a set of DCNFs unless you are getting everything with it! Your best bet on dual carbs for the street now are the Dual Weber IDF, in 40, 44, and 48mm sizes. We offer these with a “setup and adjust” option to minimize your headaches, just bolt them on and go!
Our preference in most cases is the dual IDF Weber Kit. This is covered in more detail in our carburetor article, but it’s worth a quick mention here. The carburetors are the same in all the kits that WE sell, because we refuse to sell the kits that have the Chinese carburetors. We strongly discourage the use of the Chinese Weber Copies, the “HPMX”, and the “USA Webers” which are made in China but assembled in the USA; these are worse than the HPMXs are! We only sell the Spanish made Webers. The differences in our kits are the linkage, intakes, and air filters used. SOME guys that have a buggy or trike, have clearance issues and simply can not use a Cross Bar Linkage, so we have the Weber IDF Kit with Center Pull Linkage. We can even upgrade the kit with lower profile filters and intake manifolds if the customer needs it. The other option is the CB Performance Dual Weber IDF Carb Kit. The CB kits have a better filter housing and seal better (Filter Better), and don’t rust because they are cast aluminum instead of any sort of steel, than other kits. Most guys are running the CB Performance Dual Weber IDF Carb Kit because it works quite well, but we feel that no matter who’s kit you get, the carburetors requires setup and re-jetting for VW Use. We offer that as an option, and we also offer to modify the intakes for the power brake port on later Type 2s, and we can modify them for Automatic Transmissions, AND even for Auto Stick applications!
I run either the stock carb, or any of the dual 2bbl carburetors. I see no point in dual 1bbls, so I skip these for my own use. Venturi size (the narrowest part in the carb throat) should be about 3mm smaller than intake valve on stock or mild engines, and about SAME size as the intake valve on high output engines. All 2bbl Dellorto and Weber carbs have changeable venturis, so you can match the carburetor to the engine somewhat by tuning and re-sizing – but don’t expect a set of 44 Weber’s to work on your stock 1600 cc engine!. Remember that venturis and jets are expensive, so it’s best to start with your carburetors sized properly to begin with, to prevent this expense. Re-jetting a set of dual 2bbls will cost about $100-150 by the time you are done changing the venturis, idle jets, main jets, and air jets. It ain’t cheap and it takes HOURS to dial in.