Type Three Tuning Page -- Front suspension system

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Some first-hand input by Keith Park on the T3 front end. This was written by him and he gave me permission to post it on this web site, as I found it to be useful for beginners. Please note, however, that I do not share his view on lowering; yes, the more the car is lowered the greater the geometry will be affected and this needs to be considered. Removing the bump stops is something I don't recommend, either, but I prefer the mild drop (<3 notches) and not a radical drop (>3 notches).


By: Keith Park

The type 3 front end is a very well designed one and will last literally forever if properly maintained and not lowered but with improper maintenance and rough treatment can be shot in as little as 60Kmi. This article is to supplement the Bentley manual, and show some practical shortcuts and things that that were left out but you WILL need the torque specs and such from the Bentley and it is HIGHLY recommended you read over the whole chapter on the front end before proceeding with any work on it. I will write the article as a procedure to disassemble and adjust the suspension height. If your not concerned with doing this read through anyway as I will include the little things to look for that may cause other problems.

Begin by raising the front end of the car and supporting it with jack stands under the beam. Remove the front wheels. Next remove the spindles, the ball joint clamping bolts are a tricky breed and must be delt with appropriately. They are 9.8 Shanked bolts which means they are hardened and MUST be replaced with hardened bolts as they are torqued to 40 ft-lbs. The bolts may be broken loose with weight on the ball joint but must be removed without any weight on the stud or the stud will jam against the bolt and roll the threads over. Lastly, most of these bolts are frozen so you'll have to wrap the ball joint in a wet rag and use an OXY torch to heat the knuckle where the bolt threads in RED hot to remove the bolt. Don't even bother with a propane torch as there is not nearly enough heat and this is the LAST bolt you'll want to break off, its hardened so drilling it out is a nightmare. Take your time and get torch help where you need it and they will all come out.

Once you've loosened the lower ball joint stud bolt raise the lower torsion arm with a floor jack being careful of the stability of the car and shifting on the jack stands. Once you have the top torsion bar so that it is no longer pushing against the top rubber snubber you have relieved the pressure on the ball joint stud and you can fully remove the bolt. Next drive a cold chisel or wedge into the ball joint clamp to free the ball joint stud and raise the lower arm further until the stud is loose. Remember to check the car and make sure it isn't shifting on the jack stands but you may actually have to lift it off one with the jack under the lower torsion arm to get the arm high enough to remove the ball joint. Once it is free you can let the jack down and remove the top ball joint stud in the same manner only you won't need the jack. Hang the knuckle in such a way as to not stress the brake hose. If your just adjusting the suspension height or servicing the lower torsion bar you don't need to remove the top ball joint.

Now that your spindles are off remove the shocks making sure that the lower bushing on the shock comes off with the shock and that you don't rip it out of the rubber on the shock. Your now ready to take the bars out of the front end. Lower bars first, First, and most important, is to take a cold chisel and mark the stationary unloaded position on the arm and beam so you can put it back on the same spline later. Next remove the anchoring bolt on the opposite side and the retaining finger and thread in a longer version of the same bolt and pound it in till the bar comes loose and hangs free. These splines are notorious for rusting up and perhaps NEVER coming loose so be prepared for a showstopper here. You can heat but it you deform the end of the beam with the heat and pounding you'll ruin it and never get a proper alignment again. One of the locals here in town years ago had a tool he put on it and vibrated it along with heating that worked very well but finding this is probably an impossibility.

Get it loose? GREAT! Now carefully remove the bar, supporting its weight and keeping it in the middle of the hole so as not to damage the bushing and bearing surfaces in the beam on the way out. It will be VERY greasy so wipe it down and examine it. The bar should not have more than very minor surface rust and NO cracks. The bar should be concentric in the hole where it enters the torsion arm too… if it's just a little off OK but if its really noticeable then you have a bent arm and its scrap. This will cause the inability to get proper Caster on alignment. Look at the inner area of the arm where the inner bushing rode on it, if its shiny and just a bit worn its OK, if its scored or grooved but not worn into the arm its been improperly greased and is near end of life but if the wear is down into the arm its junk and so are the bushings in the beam. Look at where the needle bearings ride, there should be NO scoring or pitting here and NO rust. If you see rust your beam is probably rusted through under the clamps and needs to be replaced.

If the arm checks out you can loosen the clamp bolt, mark its position on the bar with a grease pencil (the bar is too hard for a cold chisel) and pound it off. These splines are also a bear and heat can be used but as a last resort and with care as the grease in the arm will melt and try to catch fire.

The inner beam bushings and bearings are replaceable but obtaining these part's is VERY difficult. The outer needle bearings are easily removable with a puller and a slide hammer but the inner bushings are a different story. VW had a tool to do it but it's hard to tell what it was in the literature and the bushings are usually really in there. I have used an assembly of washers on a rod filed on the edges so they will slide through and latch on the other side. This gave me limited success and installing the new ones must also be done with care using a punch that will hold the bushing and a lip that will pound it in to the correct depth. I wish I had better suggestions other than to hope the bushings are good but perhaps someone else will invent a better way of getting them in and out without damage.

Now that you've inspected the lower portion of the beam lets look at the upper stabilizer bar. These tend to work loose on the left side of the car so grab it and you should feel no in and out play, just rotational and the arms should both track with one another, both be tight on the bar. If you want to remove it just loosen the set screw on the left side or the bolt on the right side and rotate the arm up so it will slide off. NOTE that these also tend to rust solid and may need heat. Inspect the arms as you did on the lower ones but there shouldn't be a problem here as they are lightly loaded. If you had a loose left arm inspect the bar and arm to see of the edges are rounded off where it had been chucking around in there. This is a common problem and if left very long you will need to replace the arm and bar as they will never stay tight. If they look rounded or don't fit together tightly then replace them.

Now here's a hint...a REAL hint on how to improve the body roll of your Notchback or Fastback. The Squareback's, at least the late model ones, used a significantly larger sway bar and it's a direct swap with the other cars. This will make a very noticeable improvement on the cornering and only a small amount of increased stiffness of the front suspension.

Lastly, inspect the ball joints as they are good for about 180K on the bottom if the boots are good and will last forever on the top as they are lightly loaded. They should show no signs of rust inside and move freely with NO play. Sometimes they are a bear to remove and heating them is tricky as they have plastic parts inside them sometimes. Try just heating the nut and using an impact wrench. On the early joints you can grease them with a fitting but be careful not to blow the boot off. Inspect the tie rod ends the same way.

Start with the stabilizer bar, grease the entire length of the bar and arms and use anti-seize on the ends where the bar enters the arm. Tighten the arm on the left side, make sure it cant move around in the hole and then tighten the bolt that goes into the bar on the right side until the O ring seals (don't forget these) squish out. You want it just tight enough so you don't get any axial play but it will rotate smoothly. Then tighten the clamp bolt.

The lower bars should be assembled on the arms with plenty of anti-seize in the position previously marked. Grease the entire length of the arm and bar, use anti-seize on the splines and insert it in the marked position carefully not to scratch the bearings or bushings during assembly. Adjustments in ride height can be made but rotating one spline at a time for a very coarse adjustment and the Bentley manual gives the procedure for the fine adjustment. I have found that advancing 4 notches on the inner spline and decreasing 4 notches on the outer spline (1'20") change is the finest noticeable change. Be sure to keep the 2 sides even.. this is critical and you want the car, unloaded, with a half tank of gas, to have about 1/4 to 1/2 inch space between the upper rubber stopper and the upper torsion arm. This may take several tries as the car has to be assembled and let down each time to check the height. With the bars set to where you want tighten everything down and make sure the metal finger mounted on the inner bar bolt is rotated so its over the lip on the lower torsion arm. THIS IS A SAFETY ISSUE that is often overlooked or assembled wrong. This is the only thing that keeps your lower arm and bar from coming out completely when the torsion bar breaks and they do. The early beams had these fingers welded on the beam and they were bent over the arm once the arm is in place.

Install the top ball joint after making sure the boot is good and use lots of antiseize on the stud and clamp bolt. Make sure the clamp bolt is at least a hardened 9.8 shanked bolt. Now lift the lower arm onto the knuckle with the floor jack again making sure the car doesn't shift off the jack stands and let the stud down into the hole until the bolt will enter freely. Rotate the ball joint stud until the notch on the end faces front and tighten and torque this bolt now before letting the jack the rest of the way down. I don't install the shocks until I have let the car down and checked the ride height as it usually needs some tweaking.

Those that know me know that I shudder at the thought of lowering any type 3 so let me put my reasons down on paper.

First off, sit next to your car with the front wheel off and look at the front suspension. Now notice how little suspension travel there is, now imagine changing the lower bar angle by I notch which is nearly 12 degrees. Now where are you? Right against the lower rubber stopper! Now imagine how hard the ride will be! Also note that the Caster which should be 4 degrees is determined by how far the upper ball joint sits back from vertical from the lower ball joint. This is a function of the geometry of the car and is not adjustable. Now think how much the Caster will be reduced with the lowered stance. Yep! You'll lose it all with just one notch down. Without Caster or with negative caster your car will wander, especially in the wind and every bump you go over will steer the car in random directions (called Bump-steer). These conditions are dangerous for emergency handling characteristics and are just not acceptable.

I have seen some people remove the rubber stoppers to lower the car even more and this really exasperates the shock loads on the bearings and bushings in the beam which are so hard to obtain and replace. I've seen bent frame heads because the car bottomed out in a dip and hit the clamps. Your front end wont last long if lowered and those who say the handling feels good have probably never driven a properly set up, tight, type3 that's been aligned properly.

If your car is a trailer queen or a sunny Sunday car on smooth streets then lower away but for the daily driver, especially the highway car you probably won't be pleased with the high-speed handling and the suspension won't last long.


The one thing many customizers want to do is lower their ride. Luckily for the Type III crowd this is easily accomplished in a day as our front ends are splined like the rear end. Since the procedure is somewhat involved I will not explain how to do this as you should use a shop manual to help walk you through. I lowered my Squareback using the Haynes manual.

Some things to remember:

Empi-style after-market anti-sway bar:
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